Labor Debate With Robert Reich and Robert Mosbacher

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, December 5, 2003, that was edited for clarity.

Watch Your World w/Cavuto weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: What does [Friday’s employment data] mean for the president, and the longer term, for our economy? Former labor secretary Robert Reich says the report is a disappointment. Robert Mosbacher, the former commerce secretary, says it’s not. This is OK.

Robert Reich, to you first. Why disappointment?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: You know, 57,000 [jobs created] so far is less than we need. Even to keep you up with population growth you need 150,000 a month, and we are way, way behind.

This is the most anemic jobs recovery we have had in anybody’s history, anybody’s living history. In fact we are still 2.7 million jobs behind, considering 2000 to end of 2003.

We’re not out of the woods, and I join Republicans and independents, everybody saying, let’s get it going, we want a good, solid jobs recovery. We aren’t getting one.

CAVUTO: Rob, what do you think of that?

ROBERT MOSBACHER, FORMER COMMERCE SECRETARY: I think we are getting a good recovery, and we’re getting a constant recovery, which is the important part.

We have the trend going the right way; we’ve got more jobs coming on all the time, unemployment going down all the time. And I think, whether it’s a lesser number or a greater number, month by month is not important. It’s the trend that counts. It’s the way we’re going. And it’s steady, and it’s right and it’s better than big jumps.

CAVUTO: All right. Now, one of the things that comes up, Secretary Reich, is the idea that we’re going to have to see an appreciable gain in jobs to have a dent on the perception that it’s still a jobless recovery. What would be your best guesstimate, what would you like to see, in terms of average monthly gains?

REICH: Well, Neil, we know if we have to have 150,000 jobs a month just to catch up with population growth, we probably need another 100,000 beyond that; 250,000 jobs a month would be a healthy jobs recovery.

In the 1990’s, when Bill Clinton was president, I was labor secretary. We had a jobs recovery averaging 220,000 to 270,000 jobs a month and that went on for years and years and that...

CAVUTO: Wait a minute, secretary -- I’m sure you remember -- after you left office and Alexis Herman took your place that started to subside substantially. So we, in fact, know in the last year of the administration as you know full well, sir, that was not the case.

REICH: Neil, I was not labor secretary. I was not responsible!

CAVUTO: There you go.

REICH: But, let me just say the total over eight years was 21 million net new jobs. That’s a lot of jobs. We’ve lost 2.7 million over the Bush administration, and I’m not blaming the president.

But the fact of the matter is, the tax cuts have had only a marginal effect. You had interest rate cuts, that is down, the short-term interest rates down to 1 percent. You also have a $500 billion deficit. Now if at the combination of those two can’t get jobs going, we’ve got a big problem.

CAVUTO: We’ve pretty strong economic data, though. What do you make of his argument that this is kind of a sputtering response to jobs?

MOSBACHER: This is an excellent response and a steady response. We don’t want to have a big bubble like we did in the ‘90s and then going off again like it did in the late ‘90s. What we want to do is see a constant response which is just when we see what the market sees.

CAVUTO: But Bob, you’re well connected politically, and I don’t want you to give away family secrets here. But are they concerned that the jobs growth is really not robust yet?

I mean, it’s 328,000 over four months. You have to crawl before you can walk. I know that. But it’s not been gangbusters. Do people in the administration tell you that if it doesn’t pick up we’re in deep doo-doo?

MOSBACHER: No, quite the contrary. What I think they see, just as I do, is this is the direction you want to see. I would be very frightened if I saw a big 250,000-person gain in one month. It would scare me to death that it’s going to jump and then level off. This way, I see it continuing over the years ahead.

CAVUTO: But you would take it if you had it, right?

Robert Reich, what if we do not start seeing that kind of gain? In other words, they keep to these gains: 50,000, 60,000, maybe 100,000 and that’s this trend. Played next fall, for the presidential election, what’s the fallout?

REICH: Well, I think you’ll see a lot of Democrats say it’s jobs, stupid! That becomes a campaign refrain. Not only do we have problems in the Middle East, but we have problems getting the economy going.

And by the way, Neil, it’s not just the jobs issue. I should also add, the deficit of $500 billion this year, a structural deficit that could be $400 billion as far as the eye could see, even the Congressional Budget Office says that.

CAVUTO: Wait a minute. You don’t put any stock in any of those estimates, because even today with the improving economic numbers, they said the economy and money coming into Uncle Sam is more than earlier thought. So you can’t keep track of these predictions any more than I can about diet resolutions.

REICH: But Neil, we know that the war against terrorism in terms of $300, $400, $500 billion a year, plus, on top of that, $400 billion for a Medicaid drug benefit, plus all of the benefits for farmers, the increase in farm price support, and on top of that the $1.7 trillion tax cut, well, that’s going to spell deficit trouble, right?

CAVUTO: In the midterm elections, when the economy was in far worse shape, the Republicans still picked up seats, because I argued it wasn’t the economy, stupid. In all respect, I think it was being about being alive, stupid. And post terrorism that’s what mattered more to Americans, right?

REICH: Neil, right now you look at every single poll that’s coming out, Americans are much more concerned about the economy and jobs than they are about the Middle East. Now that may change. Foreign policy may become preeminent, but even if foreign policy becomes the dominant issue...

CAVUTO: I don’t know, Bob, I think they’re much more concerned about being alive and safe. And Rob Mosbacher, could that be right?

MOSBACHER: Absolutely. It’s a matter of fact.

REICH: Neil, it’s also Social Security and Medicare.

MOSBACHER: People were first concerned about our boys and girls over there. But beyond that, then overall of course, they’re concerned about the economy. It is the economy, stupid!

And all these signs are so good and so steady and so constant that I think most people, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, feel very good about the future of this country now, the economy moving up, and the fact that we’re getting fuller employment all the time.

CAVUTO: All right. Two secretaries, too little time.

REICH: I must say that in the first Bush administration, one was made to say to Americans everything is going well, when in fact Americans knew it was not going well. And this second Bush administration could fall into the same trap.

CAVUTO: Even though these numbers look pretty good?

MOSBACHER: Numbers look good. His numbers look good.

REICH: What numbers? Fifty seven thousand new jobs -- doesn’t look good at all, Neil.

MOSBACHER: The constant, two Roberts just don’t agree on everything, right?

CAVUTO: All right. Two Roberts don’t agree. Two secretaries, too soon. Thank you both very much. Good having you both. Have a great weekend.

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