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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE DATE

TAPED: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2005

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Social Security Surgery.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From State of the Union address.) I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. You will be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours and the government can never take it away.

We'll make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds. We'll make sure that your earnings are not eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees. We'll make sure there are good options to protect your investments from sudden market swings on the eve of your retirement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: In his Social Security plan, what details did the president omit? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, there's a lot of them that were omitted. Of course, it's complex. One of them is, of course, the personal accounts will advance and deepen the Social Security deficit. Another one is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By how much?

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, immensely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eight hundred billion to $2 trillion?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. Another one is that white women -- it's a tremendous program for them. They live -- the average is 78, where African-American men, half of them are gone by 65. But, John, the key thing here is the president of the United States has addressed a serious, very serious national problem. He has ideas. It's going to be tough. He is making sacrifices for it politically, whereas the Democratic Party got up and hooted and jeered like a bunch of boo birds at Camden Yards and hurt themselves badly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, did he not leave out another detail, and that is that if you go forward with the private account, that means a corresponding reduction in your -- elimination of your Social Security benefit?

MS. CLIFT: It's a total shell game that he's putting forth, and the Democrats did the right thing in trying to hoot it down. It's going to be a grand political fight that lies ahead. The president left out the fact that it would require borrowing $1 (trillion) to $2 trillion to get his program started because of the money that would be taken out for the private accounts.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is that going to come from, Treasury bonds?

MS. CLIFT: Borrowing, which puts our markets at risk, because how much debt can we sustain? Secondly, these personal accounts that you get to keep the money -- you read the fine print, you would only get to keep if they earn over 3 percent, which is highly unlikely, given the conservative nature of the accounts that would be available. So nobody's going to get rich on this.
Another thing he left out is the fact that his tax cuts over a 75-year period, since we're now talking long-range, his tax cuts come to $11 trillion. The shortfall in Social Security is $3.5 trillion. So all he would have to do is give up a portion of his tax cuts for people earning over $350,000 and, voila, the problem would be fixed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor goes to the point, Tony, of how much does an individual have to earn with a private account to match or exceed the guaranteed benefit. The White House says the private account must grow by at least 3 percent annually every year to match the government benefit that will be forsaken. But the Wall Street Journal estimates that the private account, which will not be inflation-indexed, must actually exceed that by an added 2 percent annually to keep pace with inflation.

That means, after management fees, the account must earn at least 5 percent annually every year to match the foreseen government benefit. To be a better deal, it must exceed 5 percent annually every year, and (more of?) inflation picks up.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, isn't that quite a hump to get over?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, there's a lot of different numbers going out. The Washington Post on Friday, after correcting their story on Thursday, estimated, when the dust settled, that the average retiree would make about $67,000 more, which would be about $5,000 a year at the payout.
But this is, if not beside the point, it's not the central point we have to be looking at right now. Right now what the president has done, he's laid out on the table, said all the options are there, identified some of them. He's now going to let the Republicans in the House, and such Democrats as want to work with them, come up with legislation; my guess is by Memorial Day.

The Senate, after the House does that, will work bipartisan together, because that's the way Baucus and Grassley, the chairman and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, will then work on their bill. And it's going to be so different from any of the details we're talking about now, because if the Democrats are in on the final package, there's obviously going to be some revenue increases there. And a lot of conservative Republicans want to see the privatization part be faster and deeper than the president's proposal.

There's not 218 votes for anything right now in the House. So I don't think focusing on these narrow details -- I think it's a little premature. And I think we need to be able to work on the architecture of the bill.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me see if I can give you the big picture in my words. Where is the heat now? Is the heat on the Congress or did he successfully -- and successfully move it there? Or is it on the White House?

MR. PAGE: It's both. Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not on the White House.
The president didn't advance any plan. He paraded, did he not, a list of warmed-over and repeated --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- points that have been made by previous people who have looked into it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me explain why it's both. He is passing the ball to Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And letting them work out the details.

MR. BLANKLEY: But if he sits back, they'll do nothing. So he's got to get in there and force them to move forward. So the heat's on both of them, but the bigger heat is on the president, because the Congress can always do nothing and walk away from it. The president has got his name and his reputation on the effort to accomplish something, and if something doesn't happen, he'll pay a certain price in national prestige.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Politically extremely skillful, would you not agree?

MR. PAGE: This week was very skillful for the president. He won the week, obviously, in a big way. I don't know if the pressure is on him so much right now as it is on the Democrats. And how are they going to respond? Are they just going to say no, or are they going to respond with an alternative measure of some sort?

Now, Bill Clinton back in '99 at that time talked about how there was a problem coming down the road, and he proposed then using part of the surplus to pay for it. Well, there's no surplus now. We're deep in deficit. And Democrats, many of them feel rolled after compromising with the president on No Child Left Behind and on prescription drugs. And are they going to get rolled again now with a program that's going to be a Bush program, and they're not going to get any percentage out of it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MS. CLIFT: They're not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before we go on, let me ask Clarence this question. Do you think that the driving force behind these private accounts, as expressed by the president, is fiscal or economic or political?

MR. PAGE: I think it's political, because President Bush and Karl Rove want to establish decades of dominance for Republicans now.

MR. BUCHANAN: And the younger generation.

MR. PAGE: And the first thing to do is go after that big behemoth called Social Security.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

MR. PAGE: Right. And people under age 55, who right now about 60 percent support --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you characterize it as ideological in the sense that they want to eliminate FDR's welfare program?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, John. John, it is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They want to resort to rugged individualism, social Darwinism.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's nonsense, John.

MR. PAGE: This is not Barry Goldwater. I think this is Bushism. This is a new modified version where you keep Social Security but you put the Bush mark on it. You change the program.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it stops there? It stops there, or does he want it eventually to evaporate?

MR. PAGE: That's a big change, John. It's a radical change we're talking about. This is not the old Social Security.

MS. CLIFT: This has nothing to do with saving Social Security, because the White House conceded in a briefing that if you have these private accounts, it makes the fiscal shortages in Social Security worse, not better. So this is ideologically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean there is nothing --
(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. She's making a key point here.

MS. CLIFT: This is ideologically driven. And George Bush, as a --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it is political.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- as a congressional candidate in 1978 was talking about this. And Grover Norquist, the godfather of the modern conservative radicals, you know, wants to shrink government to the point where you can drown it in the bathtub.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MS. CLIFT: And transforming Social Security --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it is --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Divesting the government of the guaranteed benefits and passing it off to Wall Street shrinks government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- you don't think -- and I think you can make the case that it doesn't do much to address the enormous shortfall that is foreseen for Social Security --

MR. BUCHANAN: False.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, it really is not there.

MR. BLANKLEY: The full package is going to --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you've got the full package --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no. Is this converting the safety net into a hair net?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that's a clich‚. Look, what the president realizes is there is a serious problem. He's going to address that. That's going to be the tough part of it. But the personal accounts are both philosophical and they are political, because kids know, 20- year-olds, it ain't going to be there.

You get them into these sort of little IRA accounts that are Social Security accounts; they will grow and grow and grow. And those kids will turn into conservatives and Republicans. They will like that program. And you're right, Eleanor; down the road, the young people will say, "Put more in, put more in, put more in."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You favor the private accounts, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Eventually -- yes, I do.

MS. CLIFT: You can't tell? (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: The president cut them to that -- I mean, they're not for me. The president cut them to that much. But if you get them in there, they will gradually expand --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, are you going to support means-testing? You know what that would mean for you, pal -- curtains.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think they ought to. I think they ought to curtail the benefits for the McLaughlins and Buchanans at the top level if that will help.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Blankley here? He was a child actor. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Blankley's a child still. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, you know, he's got all of those --

MR. BLANKLEY: I hate to say I'm protected under this bill, darn it. (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: Me too, darn it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we've covered the bases here. You think it's ideological?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's all of the above, John. I think it is a brave act of presidential leadership; bold. It's politically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know how excited -- Bush, by the way, was magnificent this week.

MR. BUCHANAN: He was excellent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see how excited he gets with an audience when he says, "It's your money, and you can build that account and you can pass it on, and the government can't touch it"?

MS. CLIFT: But he is manufacturing --

MR. BUCHANAN: Let's take the African-American --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait. Let her finish.

MR. BUCHANAN: Take the African-Americans. Half of them die before they're 65. Under the personal accounts, all of that money -- they don't get any Social Security, obviously. Personal accounts, it all goes to their kids. Is that not a good thing?

MR. PAGE: Just one caveat on that. The reason why that statistic comes out that way is because of the high teen homicide rate. In fact, if I can make it to 65, in fact, my chances of survival are a little bit better than Tony's, actually.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. PAGE: Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Democrats are relishing this fight and the Republicans are terrorized by it?

MR. BUCHANAN: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think so.
(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear from him.

MR. PAGE: Both sides have reason to be nervous. This is still a third-rail program. All that we're talking about here is very confusing to a lot of people. There's a lot of voodoo involved here right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think --

MR. PAGE: It's got to be debated out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think --

MR. PAGE: But Bush still has to show that this promise is better than what they've got now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Democrats that I talk to, they think that the president has finally fatally overreached --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. PAGE: They may be right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and they can win in 2006 on this issue.

MR. PAGE: They may be right. Young people do believe Social Security won't be there. There's really no reason for them --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, Tony. We've got to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MS. CLIFT: There's a reason why Pat uses the word "personal" instead of "private," because they poll-tested and "private" makes people nervous.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick non-poll --

MS. CLIFT: And there is not a vote on Capitol Hill today for private accounts carved out of Social Security. If the president wants private IRAs for everybody, fine; do that separate and see where he gets the money for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, on merits, favors it. You do not favor it.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you favor it or not favor it on merits?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You favor it on merits. That's all I want to hear. Do you favor it on merits?

MR. PAGE: On merits, it's not necessary -- not necessary. We're not in a crisis. We have a problem. It can be dealt with. We don't need to take this step on the merits.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand, by the way, there's nobody talking here about the baby-boom immense impact that's going to have on Social Security. If you want to talk in terms of crisis, you've got a double crisis.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, the baby boomers -- in 2009, the first wave of baby boomers hits 63, and in 2013, 66, when they're going to be eligible. John, the Democrats are cutting their throats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is a very close --

MR. BUCHANAN: They're cutting their throats by being negative and "Just say no."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On economic or fiscal terms, this is a very close call. My feeling is they ought to continue to tinker with it the way we have in the past; adjust it.

MR. PAGE: That's the true conservative approach.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is an extreme measure, in my view. I think it's too extreme. We don't know where the dust would settle.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And let's just make it --

MR. BUCHANAN: Politically, how do the Democrats help themselves --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bandage it up and put it back together.

MR. BUCHANAN: How do the Democrats --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a probability scale of zero to 10 -- zero meaning zero probability, 10 meaning metaphysical certitude -- how probable is it that Congress will pass President Bush's Social Security before 2006 midterm elections?

MR. BUCHANAN: High five.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Five. That's equal money.

MR. BUCHANAN: Equal money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Zero as now proposed. If he wants to deal and make private accounts separate, if he wants to give up part of his tax cut, then maybe there's some talking. I'll tell you how the Democrats benefit. They benefit the same way the Republicans did when they killed Hillarycare in '94.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: Seven.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seven?

MR. PAGE: Three or less in its current form.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're close. It's a four.

Issue Two: Just Say No.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From State of the Union address.) By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Since the November general election, Democrats have been trying to figure out a strategy for the next four years. So far, that strategy appears to be hardline resistance, like the loud shouts of "No!" in the House chamber to Mr. Bush's claims about Social Security.
Earlier, Senator Ted Kennedy set the Democratic course.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): (From videotape.) I categorically reject the deceptive and dangerous claim that the outcome last November was somehow a sweeping or even a modest or even a miniature mandate for reactionary measures like privatizing Social Security.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But wait. There is another way -- Hillary's way. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton recently spoke out on a very sensitive issue -- abortion. The senator strongly restated her support for Roe v. Wade, but the heart of Hillary's speech to abortion rights supporters was this. Quote: "There is an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate. We should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be wanted, cherished and loved. We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women. Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do."

Question: Why is Hillary sounding this centrist note on abortion? I ask you, Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: For the same reason that her husband, as president, said that we should make abortion legal, rare and safe. This pretty much hits that middle ground that most Americans are in, that wobbly middle on the abortion issue. No one's comfortable with it as far as abortion itself, and she articulated that very well, the misgivings people have. At the same time, the idea of taking away all choice is something that crosses party lines and works in favor of Democrats. She's trying to carve out that middle-road position.

MS. CLIFT: Right. As James Carville says, people want you to be pro-choice but they don't want you to be all that enthusiastic about it. And I think Hillary is trying to find a way to open up a conversation with the red states, and she did very well with upstate New York. And 40 of New York's 62 counties went for Bush. And she feels that she can communicate across the blue-red divide, and obviously she's thinking about a presidential run in 2008.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How's her health?

MS. CLIFT: Well, she had a bout with the flu, but she seems perfectly healthy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's why she collapsed.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, she keeled over, in the tradition of the first President Bush. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: She's doing all the right things, not only on abortion. On immigration she's coming out tough. She's pretty much pro-defense on the Armed Services Committee. She's being pretty solid there. She supported Gonzales and Rice. It's all the right moves.

Now, I think that the Republican senators are going to, sometime before 2008, force her to cast some votes on abortion issues, and then we'll see whether her money is where her mouth is. And the problem she has, like anyone who's established a strong image in the past, is can she finesse it or does it look like hypocrisy? But she's going exactly where any Democrat needs to be to try to win in 2008.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: She is Nixonian in the best sense of those terms.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, in the 1960s -- in 1960 Nixon was very much a moderate and a centrist. Then he saw the party moving in the Goldwater direction and he moved partway to Goldwater.

She's a fine politician. She's an excellent politician. And she's smart enough to know that the Madame Defarge image has got to go. So rhetorically she's softening her stand. But as Eleanor points out, she hasn't moved a single point from all-out support for Roe v. Wade.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does she have a talent for reinventing herself?

MR. BUCHANAN: That's what I mean by Richard Nixon. Between '60 and '68 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that true when she was --

MR. BUCHANAN: I didn't think she would win the Senate seat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- when he was governor?

MR. BUCHANAN: I didn't think she would win the Senate seat in New York. And she ran the best, toughest, most persistent campaign, to go up there and talk to those tough people whose jobs are gone and who could not stand -- who don't like feminist women.
And she did very well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember when she went back to baking cookies?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: Well, she was brushed back after losing health care. She discovered that she could carry out the role of a more traditional first lady but still get a lot of things done. I mean, she's an icon around the world and she really speaks to women's issues. And she worked quietly behind the scenes on, you know, loosening adoption laws. And so she discovered other ways to accomplish the policy goals that she has.

MR. BUCHANAN: She's liked and respected on the Hill -- both parties.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think this matter of which way the Democrats are going to go, centrist or left --

MR. BUCHANAN: They have to go centrist somewhat. They have to go somewhat centrist to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will that be determined really by whether or not Bush prevails on his Social Security effort? If he prevails, they can only go one way. What way is that?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think the Democrats have no way to go to the center. However, I will say this. It's not Social Security. That's going to be decided one way or the other. It's going to be Iraq. If Iraq's in terrible shape, it is going to be very, very tough for the Republicans to elect --
MS. CLIFT: Well, the Democrats are --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer your question. If Bush does well, the Democrats have to move to the center. If he's weakened the Republican Party, they can indulge in their leftist instincts.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but they can't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the hard right in the -- the hard-ball players, not the hard right -- the hard-ball players in the Democratic Party position is decimated if Bush wins on the Social Security issue.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's exactly right.

MS. CLIFT: The Democrats are an opposition party. They've got to draw some bright lines. And they didn't draw bright enough lines in the election -- you know, "I voted for it before I voted against it." And nobody knows where the Democrats stand. And a recent survey had Democrats leading on all the issues in the minds of the American voters except one -- "Which party knows what it stands for?" Republicans had a 28-point advantage.

MR. PAGE: Absolutely.

MS. CLIFT: I mean, the Democrats have just not made --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's get into some theory here. Which political strategy will better serve the Democrats, obstructionism or accommodation? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: What the Democrats should do on Social Security is fight, fight, then talk, talk. In other words, be very tough. But they're going to have to come up with some ideas, maybe raising the tax base. They cannot simply be total obstructionists or the country will write them off.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want them to go soft and become accommodationist.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I think they should obviously fight the president's program, but come up eventually --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- with ideas of their own that ameliorate it so we solve this problem as a country and as a people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see the way Barbara Boxer was able to kick off such a positive response from the Democrats by her interrogation of Condoleezza Rice? You saw that in the LA Times --

MR. BUCHANAN: On foreign policy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- all those letters saying, "Right on, Barbara."

MR. BUCHANAN: On foreign policy, if I were a Democrat, I would take the lead on the war in Iraq if I didn't believe in it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're saying go left but accommodate if you have to.

MR. BUCHANAN: On foreign policy. On foreign policy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On foreign policy.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I'd pick up on what Pat's saying -- authenticity. You've got to believe in what you're saying. I think the Democrats have to fight. They also have to come up with some ideas. And they are doing that on Social Security.

MR. BLANKLEY: What they need to do is what Benjamin Disraeli proposed and did in the 19th century in Britain. They have to oppose all the time with a firm program of their own, but not obstruct. You oppose on principle all the time. You lay out your agenda. You fight for that. But you don't obstruct the process. And that's what the Democrats should do.

MR. PAGE: In recent history, we saw in '92 it takes the Democrats a couple of big losses to come around to really focus on what it's going to take to win, and that includes figuring out what you stand for. The party stands for a lot of different things right now. Republicans have the advantage of that kind of unity of purpose that Democrats --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, well --

MR. PAGE: Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is still the strongest contender right now for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think obstructionism is the answer. I think that Bush won the election by about 70,000 votes in Ohio. I think that his approval rating is below 50, and I think he has a glass jaw in politics.
Issue Three: Quit smoking, or just quit.

There'll be no smoke in your eyes, or anywhere, ever, if you work for Weyco Incorporated, a Michigan company that administers health benefits. If you smoke, you'll be fired or asked to resign, says Weyco. That means no smoking anywhere -- at work or at home or on the street corner -- anywhere.

The total ban went into effect January 1. Weyco employees are now subject to random testing for tobacco use by having their blood screened for nicotine. Fifteen months ago, workers were given advance notice of the test. Smoking cessation classes, acupuncture, pills and other methods to help kick the habit were company-provided. Twelve employees quit working. Four quit Weyco.

The company justifies its policies by citing skyrocketing health costs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates one smoker can cost the company $3,400 a year in lost productivity and medical costs.
Labor unions are fuming over Weyco. "If you weren't thinking about a union before, you are now. This really shows the vast power companies have under at-will laws." So says John Cakmakci, a Michigan union organizer. Union contracts often limit employer at-will powers.

Question: Does an employer have a right to terminate an employee whose voluntary habits increase health care costs for all employees?

MR. BUCHANAN: Certainly he does. An employer has a right to hire and fire, with the exception of the Civil Rights Act, and that right ought to be retained.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it prejudicial against smokers? After all, the obese incur just as many of the negatives as described for the smokers.

MS. CLIFT: I'm waiting for somebody to bring a lawsuit here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: I believe Mr. Allawi will be out as prime minister within a matter of weeks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wow. Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The more Americans learn about the details of Bush's Social Security plan, the more dubious they will become.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got two seconds.

MR. BLANKLEY: The House will pass Social Security by July 4th.

MR. PAGE: The Bush anti-gang initiative won't be any more successful than Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" drugs initiative.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republicans now hold the House of Representatives. In the 2006 elections next year, the House will be seized by the Democrats.
Don't forget, you can watch the McLaughlin Group on streaming video worldwide at McLaughlin.com.

END.