THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT, AND CLARENCE PAGE
TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 4, 2001
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 5-6, 2001
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Tito's 2001 space odyssey.
DENNIS TITO (American space traveler): (From videotape.) It is so spectacular, it is so rewarding. I believe that I am extremely privileged to have had this opportunity. I think professional astronauts, maybe circulating among themselves, take this for granted. But I'll tell you: There is nothing like this as an experience.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the American, Dennis Tito, hurtling around the globe in the International Space Station after having been delivered there by a Russian spacecraft. Get that. An American becoming the world's first space tourist, but having to do it with the help of Russia, not the U.S. In fact, NASA opposed Tito's flight, saying he wasn't trained long enough, that he increased the danger for the other astronauts, and possible liability problems if Tito hurt himself or others on board.
Jerry Linenger, a former U.S. astronaut who spent four months on MIR, underscored the risk.
JERRY LINENGER (former U.S. astronaut): (From videotape.) You're out there on the frontier. You never know what's going to happen. And you don't want a weak link in the chain.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the Russians were dead set on getting Tito's $20 million transit fee to Alpha. No Tito, no flight, they said. After Tito signed waivers freeing NASA of liability, NASA backed down. Tito says: What's the big deal, anyway?
DENNIS TITO: (From videotape.) One does not have to be superhuman to adapt to space, and it's very doable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: NASA head Daniel Goldin clarified this week that NASA in principle is not against tourists in space. But the space station is not yet ready for non-professionals, he says, and that creates serious problems. "Tito's space trip has put an incredible stress on the men and women of NASA. Mr. Tito does not realize the effort of thousands of people, United States and Russia, who are working to protect his safety and the safety of everyone else."
Question: Does Goldin have a point? Is Tito inhibiting the mission? Is he imposing on his fellow astronauts? Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: Well, John, Dr. Goldin, who was originally appointed by Dan Quayle, kept in by Al Gore -- interesting bipartisan linkage there -- I think is taking a pretty cramped view of the space program here. I don't know about all the specifics of the space station, but I think there is a case to be made for a much more expansive space policy. Jim Pinkerton, the Wall Street Journal, advances the idea that President George W. Bush should show the same level of interest in expanding space power that Theodore Roosevelt and Admiral Mahan showed 100 years ago with sea power. They should reverse Dr. Goldin's cancellation of the X-33, the next generation space shuttle, and encourage more civilian and U.S. military in space.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very well stated, Michael.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think Daniel Goldin usually has a very good instinct for marketing and salesmanship and public relations, but he's really made a mistake here.
First of all, this -- people can respond to the romance of an individual going to space, but you didn't mention the fact that Mr. Tito paid $20 million to the Russians, and their annual space budget is something, I think, like $14 million. NASA's at $145 billion, so we can afford to turn down this great offer of money. But space travel is inevitable. The space station's going to be out there at some point; a joint venture between the U.S., Russia and 16 other nations, and at some point this is going to become commonplace. And now Goldin is in the awkward position of scrambling to develop guidelines for who can travel in space.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Tony? Are you going to defend Dan Goldin?
MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely not. Goldin is simply typical of the NASA attitude from the beginning, which --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: NASA.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- NASA -- which is that they want to be a monopoly. They've always been -- tried to keep out any kind of commercialization in space. They insist on the one big boosters rather than opening up other options that would allow more commercial ventures. And I think it was the right attitude up through, perhaps Apollo, but from space shuttle on it's been the wrong attitude and it still persists. But Goldin has been a very good bureaucrat; he plays the game very well. He was perfectly glad to let a senator come up, he was perfectly glad to let a teacher --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was Jake Garn.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- yeah, a teacher to go up. Unfortunately she, of course, blew up. But when it was politically useful for constituency groups --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- they went with it. And now that it's not, he's opposed to it. But the problem isn't Tito, the problem is the NASA mentality.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He also let a congressman, Bill Nelson, go up.
MR. PAGE: That's right. No, NASA doesn't mind --
MR. BARONE: And Senator John Glenn.
MR. PAGE: Yeah, as a very celebrated trip --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course, Glenn is an astronaut.
MR. PAGE: Yeah, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the others are not astronauts. They also --
MR. PAGE: It doesn't matter. The point is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Russians let up, by the way, a Japanese news man for $28 million in 1991 and then there was a woman who went up; a chemist from Britain that the Russians brought up.
MR. PAGE: Good, John, your knowledge of history is, as usual, impeccable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no, no -- (laughter.) What year did your -- and also the Russians were the first ones to send a man into space. Who was that?
MR. PAGE: You had to remind -- Yuri Gagarin.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What year?
MR. PAGE: 1957.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: '61.
MR. PAGE: Oop. (Laughs.) Do I get the booby prize?
MR. BLANKLEY: (Off mike.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who immediately followed?
MR. PAGE: That was the Sputnik in 1956.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, Alan Shepherd, about three weeks later.
MR. PAGE: Alan Shepherd was America's -- yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they went straight up and straight down.
MR. PAGE: That's correct.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who was the first one to circumnavigate?
MS. CLIFT: John Glenn.
MR. PAGE: John Glenn.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What year?
MS. CLIFT: Oh, gosh -- (chuckles).
MR. PAGE: '62.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: '62 is correct.
MR. PAGE: We're back in class again, aren't we? What happened here?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't care; we're doing all right here. (Laughter.)
MR. PAGE: Can I pontificate a little now, John?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ah, yeah, go ahead.
MR. PAGE: Thank you. I want to concur with my colleagues in saying that I think -- well, actually, Tito will be remembered as a pioneer; the first space tourist. And this is the wave of the future, and NASA, like most bureaucracies, has a difficult time "turning around in the water." It's a big ship, not a speedboat. Even Dan Goldin, who I admire and respect a great deal --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Dan Goldin was tone deaf on this one, that space is --
MR. PAGE: Well that's why -- he was late. He missed it by a beat. I mean, I think he's still thinking about the past tragedy with the schoolteacher and he's thinking about past practice. And for NASA to shift now and endorse space tourism opens up a whole area of liability that they don't care to deal with.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You agree with Tony that NASA wants to keep it a monopoly and they fear that this could spread and there will be other space wayfarers who will develop to transport tourists?
MR. BLANKLEY: There are organizations who want to start sponsoring tourism in space at something less than $20 million a year. But you've got to have a lot more access to the technology developed by NASA before that's going to be possible.
MS. CLIFT: Well, it can't be a monopoly because this is a joint venture, this space station, between --
MR. BARONE: Well, it's government-to-government.
MS. CLIFT: -- 17 -- right --
MR. BLANKLEY: A governmental monopoly.
MR. BARONE: But we've also --
MS. CLIFT: And also, the Russians are really learning the capitalistic arts. I mean, they did have a Pepsi logo outside the Mir Space Station.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're learning.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, NASA wouldn't allow any logos, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CLIFT: And they trailed a 30-foot Pizza Hut banner from a booster rocket. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do you think of the Russians playing the capitalist game in the true spirit of entrepreneurs going where no one has been before? They've also established that there's a market for this.
MS. CLIFT: It's like -- it's like Willie Sutton. I mean, you rob the banks because that's where the money is. I mean, they need the money.
MR. BARONE: The Chinese have established a market -- (cross talk) -- the Chinese have got these rockets that are used to launch satellites, and that's what the big space contractor, the big defense contractor Loral was helping the Chinese aim its rockets --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know that the New York Times worked a --
MR. BARONE: -- because they wanted to get their satellites into space.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The New York Times worked up a real head of steam on this. Take a look at this: "Mr. Tito has bulled his way onto the station over the objections of the other partner nations and is now realizing the dream of a lifetime while the professional astronauts aboard slow their work schedule to serve as baby-sitters." It then goes on: "There is something fundamentally offensive about letting people with a few million to spare piggy-back on space vehicles built with billions of dollars of public money."
What would they think -- or what do they think of a millionaire driving a Lamborghini down Route 98? Do they think that he is also sponging off the other taxpayers? What kind of -- what kind of logic -- what has happened to the editorial board of the New York Times?
MR. BARONE: What has happened? Please. (Laughter.)
MR. PAGE: There may some envy among our colleagues here, that they weren't invited along, but, you know, when radio was invented, a similar thing happened. The government wanted to control it. They wanted to use it for strategic purposes. But eventually it opened up to private use.
MS. CLIFT: Maybe -- maybe --
MR. PAGE: And the government regulated it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MR. PAGE: And I think that's what will happen with space tourism.
MS. CLIFT: Maybe the New York Times is worried that some enterprising politician will see this as a way to reward campaign donors, and they're just trying to preempt it along the way. (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: Well, that goodness Bill Clinton's not in there anymore when that idea comes up. (Laughs.)
MR. PAGE: President Bush would never send -- (inaudible due to cross talk.)
MR. BARONE: I used to be an editorial writer, and I'll tell you something, there's a temptation to harumph when you're an editorial writer -- (laughter) -- and I'm afraid that that was the New York Times harumphing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they could have pointed out that $20 million given to Russia probably wound up with Russian scientists, and that might keep them from making Iranian nuclear bombs. So what Tito has done is serve our national security, correct?
MR. BARONE: Well -- (inaudible) -- rationalization. We have no idea where that money goes.
MR. BLANKLEY: The circuitous argument.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, we consistently knock the Russians. We make fun of them. But the Mir Space Station, the first space station went up in 1986. It was up there for 15 years. And they practically had to blow it up to get it out of space. And then it was Yuri Gagarin. The Russians are darn good at this. And they have no money.
MR. BARONE: They've built good -- (inaudible) -- 1942, John, but, I mean --
MR. PAGE: As we used to say, John, their German scientists were better than our German scientists. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what is -- do you think that NASA has egg on its face?
MR. PAGE: Right now? Well, not for a long time, though. I mean, the fact is, this is a brief dust-up. Dan Goldin did shift gears quickly enough so before Tito did step into our space station, he gave the go-ahead. So he's on the right side of this story now.
MR. BLANKLEY: It's encrusted on their face. If the government had treated aviation the way it's treating space, people like Tito would be paying $20 million to get a jet flight from L.A. to New York. I mean, they are just pressuring down the possibility of fully exploiting, particularly inner space.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. I'm going to go out --
MS. CLIFT: Well, that's because it's so expensive. And in fact --
MR. BARONE: Cost goes down when you --
MS. CLIFT: Right. And that's why the American public loves the idea of putting a man on the moon and exploring Mars, but they don't want to pay the price tag. So NASA does have the difficulty of balancing the incredible cost of this, which is why I would take Mr. Tito's check. Good idea.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This exit question may be superfluous, but I'm going to hit you with it anyway. Tito cracked the space barrier between civilians and professionals. For the most part, was his way the right way, or for the most part was his way the wrong way, as Goldin would lead you to believe, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: Well, I suppose it was his only way into space. The man lives in a 330,000-square-foot house in Pacific Palisades. It wasn't room enough for him, so he found a way to get up in space.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think it was the right way.
MS. CLIFT: His enthusiasm is contagious. I think he's got the right stuff. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right! He's caught the spirit of the astronauts.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's romance. There is --
MR. BLANKLEY: He paid for it, fair and square. Nothing wrong with it at all.
MR. PAGE: That's right. In the long run, this will benefit the space program, because it'll start to excite people again about it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is yes. And whenever you can find an anti-bureaucrat, support him.
When we come back, George Bush has three domestic policy steamrollers rolling on Capitol Hill: Social Security, education, and tax cut programs. Will it be a trifecta for him?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Steamroller trifecta.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Today young workers who pay into Social Security might as well be saving their money in their mattresses. That's how low the return is on their contributions.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD, Senate minority leader): (From videotape.) I would ask anybody, a year ago, if you had a choice of investing in your NASDAQ account or investing in Social Security, which of those two accounts would be better today, which would be --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush's domestic policy agenda rolled forward in high gear this week on three fronts, a domestic steamroller trifecta -- Social Security, education, tax cuts.
Item: the privateers. To keep Social Security solvent for the baby boomers, Bush endowed a blue-ribbon commission, headed by former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to come up with a formula. Get this: Every one of the Social Security commissioners, starting with Moynihan himself, favors privatizing Social Security. Democrats are outraged.
Question: Was it a smart move for Bush to create this commission and put the distinguished Democratic former senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan in charge, Eleanor Clift?
MS. CLIFT: Well, creating a commission is about all he could do to advance this idea right now. And former Senator Moynihan has served presidents of both parties. He commands a lot of respect.
But this is going to challenge his managerial talents, because it's not -- I mean, it's a nifty idea to privatize Social Security, but doing it, it's -- the estimates are, it would cost a trillion over 10 years. You would either have to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, or raise taxes in order to be able to afford it. Nobody is willing to make those tough choices. If they can come up with something they can all agree on, that could actually get votes on Capitol Hill, you know, hooray. I don't think that's going to happen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Eleanor, do you think that the stature of Moynihan is enough to shame the shameless Democrats into backing the reform?
MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughter.) Senator Moynihan chaired the Finance Committee and couldn't come up with a health care bill when he was serving a Democratic president. I don't think he's a magician.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, Moynihan is an excellent selection. But the best thing about this commission is, it's not open-ended. He's given them six or seven guide points that he -- in other words, he knows what -- the policy he wants to go to, and he wants the experts to pull together the best practical way to do it. Now, it's going to be a fight. I agree it's going to be a fight, because we heard Senator Daschle say another silly statement, he'd rather invest in Social Security than Nasdaq. Over any relevant period of time, that's idiocy, because the Nasdaq's gone up in the past, it'll go up in the future. He's just trying to key into the news cycle, which is what the Democrats are going to try to do while the markets aren't doing well. Over any long period of time, the stock market goes up well, over the history of the country, and that's why privatization makes sense.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the commission is justified, in order to provide political cover? In other words, spread it around?
MR. PAGE: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because there are going to be difficult things ahead.
MR. PAGE: Well, yes, there will be difficult things ahead, and Tony's quite correct that the Nasdaq is a better investment over time. But I really have been astounded; when you go out to the Democratic districts, people, especially the elderly, are very wary of privatization, and this recent decline in the stock market has only fueled the fear. This is going to be a very tough sell --
MR. BLANKLEY: They're not going to be affected. They're not going to be affected, because the system is going to be kept as it is --
MR. PAGE: Well, very good, Tony. Go along the Hustings and sell them on that.
MR. BLANKLEY: Nah. I think it's --
MR. PAGE: I'm telling you, the political realities are that Democrats are still concerned about their own self-preservation, and this issue is still a hot one for them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know -- Michael, you know that presidential commissions sometimes work. Can you think of one, in the '80s?
MR. BARONE: What, well we had the Greenspan Commission on Social Security in the '80s, where it was a somewhat different commission. They had --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about Bob Strauss's commission in the '80s also? Do you remember that?
MR. BARONE: No, I don't remember Bob --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Deficit reduction?
MR. BARONE: Deficit reduction.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that was the basis for Gramm-Rudman?
MR. BARONE: Had some basis, and that actually cut the deficit in half. I think this one is obviously -- it is better politically to have Pat Moynihan and Richard Parsons up there and these other 12 members writing -- in effect, writing a bill, than having it done internally within the Bush administration. And, you know, I think that Moynihan carries some weight. He is the senator that would have handled this as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, if the Democrats had a majority. Tom Daschle was certainly happy to vote for him for chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and never suggested taking away his duties.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he may have the stature to really propel it.
MR. BARONE: Yeah. And of course the cheap shot of -- the Daschle cheap shot about the low stock prices, this is a good time to get in, isn't it, when prices are lower than they were a year ago?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It certainly is, and --
MS. CLIFT: It's not a time to get out! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's got to learn how to handle it, you know, over a few years.
MR. BARONE: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Bush's steamroller number two: new rules for schools. (Music: "ABC" by the Jackson Five.) Bush's education agenda is ambitious. "No child left behind," he calls it. The program cleared major hurdles in the Senate this week, and it's not far behind in the House. Still intact: one, Bush's 11.5 percent school spending boost. More than any other department and more than Clinton; two, mandatory tests and a chance for pupils to bail out of a failing public school for another public school -- no private school vouchers. Bush abandoned that fight, disillusioning in the process GOP conservatives like Congressman Peter Hoekstra. (Quoting the aforementioned congressman.) "This is no longer a George Bush education bill, this is a Ted Kennedy education bill," unquote.
Despite conservatives' -- GOP conservatives' hand-wringing, President Bush's Cabinet officer in charge of education, Secretary Roderick Paige, says there is reason for optimism. Watch.
RODERICK PAIGE (U.S. secretary of Education): (From videotape.) Most of the elements of the reform program are still intact. Now we would like to have more school choice involved and still have not given up on that. But we've got to appreciate what we've got, that we've got pretty much what we want in the package.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Secretary Paige right, Tony Blankley?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I wish he was. There's not much of choice. The only thing is going to be some voluntary tutoring, so that they can have --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is that key to the success?
MR BLANKLEY: But it was always a small part of it. I think it has to be said that this is a decision where Bush has decided to go to the center, rather than to the right. He's going to upset a lot of people on the right because it's not a traditional Republican plan. But it's the greatest politics a Republican president has ever put forward.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there is a 50-50 distribution in the Senate. That means deep compromise. So he had to sacrifice vouchers, right?
MR. BLANKLEY: And he's going -- and he's also going to give away a lot more money, several billion dollars -- 25 billion.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But there is still a lot of accounting left in the bill, meaning that you have to account for the expenditures --
MR. BARONE: Yeah. Well, John, there's also --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- so they can shut down failing schools.
MR. BARONE: They have skimmed back on the accountability things in terms of what kind of tests are required. They've gone away from the requirements of having a NAEP-like test, the National Assessment of Educational Process (sic) Test, and have given the states more leeway, which means you're going to have less rigorous testing.
I think the principle of accountability that's in here is important. It's good that the Democrats have swallowed it. We're no longer giving money, shelling it out to the teachers' unions, without asking results. But we're not asking them tough enough questions about results, and we're not giving poor kids enough of an alternative.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that for the first time in decades, I would say, the Republicans have seized the education issue, and their party is now ahead of the Democratic Party, having reversed a 20-point deficit, and is now regarded as the stronger party for effecting educational reform.
MS. CLIFT: It's very clever politics on the part of the Bush White House. It may be the reason that he won the election. It was the one issue where he truly came across as caring about the people and being genuinely --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will that pull in -- wait a minute. I want to ask you a question. Will that pull in the conservatives who are now griping?
MS. CLIFT: Oh, they'll gripe, but they're not going to do anything about it.
And you know, liberals aren't so happy with the bill either. They think Ted Kennedy gave away too much. The interesting thing is, the only genuine bipartisanship that's happened on the Hill is Senator Ted Kennedy and President Bush -- a very unlikely duo. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Teddy.
Okay. Bush's steamroller number three: the art of the deal.
It's the deepest cut in taxes in a generation. Bush asked for 1.6 trillion (dollars) in tax cuts, and no more than 4 percent in new spending. He's getting 1.35 trillion in tax cuts and no more than 5 percent in new spending. That's the Senate compromise Bush won this week. A swing group of 14 Democrats and two Republicans, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee and Vermont's Jim Jeffords, finally came over.
Question: What will happen with the immediate $100 billion in tax relief? This is a round robin. I ask you, Michael.
MR. BARONE: Well, I think the answer is, they haven't scoped it out what the actual tax cut is going to be; they've just given themselves an overall figure. But I think there will be tax -- immediate tax relief in that range, because people are worried about the poor economic growth.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a refund, so to speak?
MR. BARONE: I don't think it's going to be a -- just a one-time rebate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do not?
MR. BARONE: I think they're going to try to do it as a rate cut.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it will be formulae?
MR. BARONE: I think -- yeah, I think that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or they'll try to bring it back to January 1?
MR. BARONE: Start it January 1, '01.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't know.
What do you think?
MS. CLIFT: I don't think they have any idea how they're going to make this happen. And they've got at least $2.6 trillion worth of tax cuts they've promised to fit into this $1.35 trillion package. This is a real challenge for the Senate Finance Committee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's less of a challenge than what to do with a hundred billion.
What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, this is going to be a dog fight on the Hill. I think there are going to be some, probably Democrats, who are going to want a one-time rebate. There are going to be a lot of other arguments on the Republican side. We won't know for a few months.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think is going to happen to that hundred billion immediate tax relief?
MR. PAGE: We're only talking about a budget here which is not law. They have to, over the next few months, as Tony says, have the fight over just how are they going to meet their expenses versus their income. And as Eleanor said, they haven't even begun to explain how they're going to do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What they're going to do with the 100 billion remains an impenetrable mystery.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughing) Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The biggest accolade I think the president deserves is holding the spending to just at 5 percent. That was a real miracle.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, that won't happen either! (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: Which is a lot more than it was in 1993, '94, '95, '96 and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he still held it there, when they wanted 8 percent.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Congress underwrite the Bush missile shield?
MR. BARONE: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Underwrite is the right word. They'll put a little bit of money in. They're not going to give him the money he needs to make that a reality.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, they will. It will be a little less than he wants, but enough to keep the project launched.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence?
MR. PAGE: I agree.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Anthony and Clarence are both correct.
Next week: Will Congress pass a resolution, soon to be before it, condemning "The Sopranos"? We'll tell you, and we'll tell you why.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Democrats' 100-day report card. Last week, we gave out President Bush's 100-day report card. In the McLaughlin Group tradition of unfailing even-handedness --
MS. CLIFT: (Chuckles.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- we will now present the Democrats with their 100-day report card. Here we go.
The first measure of a political opposition is its ability to uplift from its ranks a vivid personality to speak for it.
Tony, how would you grade the Democrats on that criteria?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course, the Republicans, in their time, had Newt Gingrich, the Democrats, in their time, had Tip O'Neill, and now they have Tom Daschle -- D-minus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "D" for dull?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. He can't make news, he can't inspire leadership, he can't arouse the ranks, and so he's not getting the kind of coverage he ought to be getting as the leader of the opposition. And he also has done a pretty poor job of keeping the Democrats supporting their positions.
MS. CLIFT: Look, the Democrats don't have a compelling voice and a compelling figure right now. Bill Clinton is damaged goods, Al Gore is in hiding. But Tom Daschle is as good as it gets, and it's pretty good.
MR. BLANKLEY: That's why Republicans are happy!
MS. CLIFT: He's smart -- he's smart, he makes a good case for the Democrats, and on Capitol Hill, they've trimmed the president's tax cut, they've knocked out vouchers, and they have made George W. Bush look like a total troglodyte on environmental issues.
MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, that's ridiculous! The only --
MS. CLIFT: That's not bad for 100 days. (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's terrible. They've --
MS. CLIFT: Terrible for Bush!
MR. BLANKLEY: They've left the tax cuts --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence?
MR. PAGE: Well, I would think Democrats are --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence, do you think that Bill Clinton is really neutered?
MS. CLIFT: Never! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the last dog has died?
MR. PAGE: But seriously, you didn't ask me about Hillary Clinton now, and she's the rising sun.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ah! Ah, glad you brought her up. What do you think?
MR. PAGE: She's the rising sun. Bill is her adviser, you see. But, no, I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, right now she's not out, but she's being counted out, but she's not out. She's going to come back, isn't she?
MR. PAGE: Well, as George W. Bush would say, "Don't misunderestimate her." The fact is -- no, Democrats are playing what I call the "Briar Rabbit" defense right now; they're laying low, because why jump in and get burned --
MR. BLANKLEY: They've been laid low.
MR. PAGE: Well, why jump in and get burned in the spotlight of Bush's honeymoon right now? The fact is, Daschle and Dick Gephardt both provide the kind of quiet, even-tempered leadership that the Democrats need right now. But they do need a more spectacular figure to rise up when campaign time comes, though.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Hillary is biding her time and building her base in New York?
MR. BARONE: Yeah. She's spending time on these Upstate New York issues. She seems to be working pretty hard in the Senate, keeping her head down and not asserting first lady prerogative. But --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And she looks good -- she's looking better, that is.
MR. BARONE: She looks okay. I think what the Democrats' biggest problem here, in a sense, is that this is a country that is generally in the mode for consensus. That helped Bill Clinton in 1996, it helped George W. Bush in 2000. Al Gore was such a contentious guy, he lost that advantage. And now, when you hear Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt in their very reasonable sounding tones, they are, nonetheless, giving you a very contentious message. They're root and branching, giving sort of extravagant criticisms of George W. Bush.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BARONE: I question whether that's in their best interest. Now, a lot of time till election. A new nominee in 2004 could establish a consensus-minded message, if that's what the public is still in the mood for.
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. BARONE: But confrontation -- they didn't like confrontation from New Gingrich, and they won't like it even in reasonable tones from Tom Daschle.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm surprised that no one has brought up the name of John Breaux. Isn't he becoming the de facto leader of the Democrats?
MR. BLANKLEY: Of enough Democrats to swing the vote for the tax cut.
MS. CLIFT: Well, Democrats call him a "dealocrat." I mean, he's there to broker the deals, and that's a very valuable service in a 50- 50 Senate. But he's not looking to be a national figure, I don't believe, and run for president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, Eleanor, you're wrong! The South will rise again.
MS. CLIFT: Well, maybe, okay! (Laughs.)