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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; NORMAN ORNSTEIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE

TAPED: THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2006
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 2-3, 2006

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Secularism Now.

September is here, and school is open. American public education today is facing a difficult new challenge -- not from segregation, not from private schools, not charter schools, not voucher systems, not gangs, not illegal drugs. The new challenge -- get this -- holidays, religious holidays.

School administrators find themselves trapped between basic attendance requirements and an expanding universe of religious observances. If a student claims he or she was absent from school because of a religious feast, it's okay. Certain ethnic and historical events also carry legitimate attendance waivers. Then there is the domino effect. When one school system chooses to allow an excused absence for one group of students -- say, Muslims -- another group -- say, the Hindu community -- may protest that it wants its holy days recognized also.

New Jersey now offers 76 excused religious holidays within the single school calendar year. In response, some administrators have tried to cancel all religious holidays, only to spark angry lawsuits and other angry backlash.

Question: Should public education become a secular domain, meaning the school calendar should be walled off from the religious calendar just as the church is walled off from the state? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the reason we have this is because we've got the complete Balkanization of America. With the Immigration Act of 1965, you've got countries, continents, cultures, religions represented that were never represented before. That's first.

Second, the melting pot is cracked and broken, and the elites think it ought to be smashed because they favor diversity. As a result, this is what you're getting everywhere -- the complete fragmentation of the culture.

But you can't do what you suggest they do, which is eliminate them all, first because of the courts and the First Amendment, but secondly because these things are decided not at the federal level but at the state and local level. And if the local community wants to recognize these holidays, there's not a thing you can do about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Public education is a secular function, Eleanor, not a religious function.

MS. CLIFT: Pat was really ready for this one, I could see. Look, the New Jersey school system is accommodating these various religious beliefs. It's not like hordes of children are taking off everyday. It's handfuls of children here and there. The Christian holidays and some of the Jewish holidays are now so ingrained in the calendar that they are widely excused.

Get used to it. This is America. This is a celebration of different cultures. And we should welcome and learn more about the various religions. They are not being disruptive in any means.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we have -- for those who want a religious holiday to be observed, why don't we have vouchers and permit them to go to religious schools?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm in favor of a voucher system for a lot of reasons. But going back to your central question, I think the Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, are part of our culture beyond even their theological significance and should continue to be honored. The Jewish high holidays certainly have become part of the exemption and they should be allowed to remove from them.

Other than that, while I agree with Pat that local school districts can do anything they want, but if you're asking my advice, I would say you should not honor any of the other holidays as far as an absence is concerned, precisely because we desperately need to bond as a culture. And these young kids don't need to be missing more school.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Norm Ornstein, you're a distinguished and learned author of a book called "The Broken Branch." What's the subtitle?

MR. ORNSTEIN: "How Congress Is Failing America And How To Get It Back On Track."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You co-authored that with Tom Mann.

MR. ORNSTEIN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How's the book doing?

MR. ORNSTEIN: The book is doing very well. Our target audience is the 78 percent of Americans who disapprove of Congress, and it can only go up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think our school system is broken, inasmuch as we're consuming so many attendance days by holidays or holy days?

MR. ORNSTEIN: You know, I remember when one of my kids had a third grade Christmas play, and a mother got up to videotape her daughter, one of the Magi walking in, and turned to everybody and said, "This will look great at her bat mitzvah." (Laughter.) And I thought that was just fine. I don't mind having some holidays. Seventy-six is pushing it. The First Amendment doesn't say there will be no religion in public life. It says that we won't promote a particular religion.

MR. BUCHANAN: But the problem is --

MR. ORNSTEIN: I don't have any problem with having a bunch of religions. It is up to the state and local governments. If the people of New Jersey are foolish enough to go for 76 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about a nature worshiper who wants to take off the vernal equinox? Are you going to let him do it too?

MR. ORNSTEIN: I actually think there ought to be a minimum number of days that people should be attending school in a given year. And if they don't attend the minimum number of days, then they take them up in the summertime or they get put back a grade. That's the way to handle this. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity -- is that the list? Is that what we're going to leave it to?

MR. BUCHANAN: But you mentioned one yourself, John. Earth Day is celebrated in the public schools right now. Christmas and Easter are now winter break and spring break. Where Tony -- you know, I tend to agree with Tony. But you can't say we're going to celebrate the Jewish high holidays and Ramadan, the end of Ramadan, which is celebrated at the White House by Bush, is not going to be celebrated. This is the problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it taking time away from other students, too? Because the teachers have to administer sometimes new exams to those students who've taken their religious day off, and that takes the teacher's time and that deprives the majority of the students the time that the teacher would otherwise give them.

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got good arguments, John. But when you say "we," that is your problem. "We" is the nation. The nation doesn't decide this. I mean, there's the Muslim school out in Silver Spring, and they have different traditions, different holidays and all the rest.

MS. CLIFT: The nation doesn't have to walk in lock step when it comes to observing festivals and religion. We can embrace all of these different beliefs.

And Earth Day --

MR. BUCHANAN: What about Wiccan?

MS. CLIFT: Earth Day is an educational experience. It's about the planet. That is something we can all agree on.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, not --

MR. BLANKLEY: It's a propaganda opportunity.

MS. CLIFT: I don't believe everybody is excused from school --

MR. BUCHANAN: We don't want to celebrate it, okay? We don't like it. We want to go to school that day.

MS. CLIFT: You don't like Earth Day?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, I would rather study that day, all right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the pantheists --

MS. CLIFT: They do study.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- should be able to take Earth Day as a holiday?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, the Wiccans, the witches -- why can't they have a day?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I've got a question for you, talking about the atomization of our civilization, our culture here in the United States.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's gone. And the culture dies --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What would you do about it? What would you do now about it if you were in a position of authority?

MR. BUCHANAN: When the culture dies, the country dies, John. There's not a thing we can do about it, because we've got wide open immigration. They're coming in from every country and culture. And many of them grow more and more militant. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: I love Pat, but this is why he was never elected president of the United States, because he is so outside of the way Americans think.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MR. BUCHANAN: A lot of people think like me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Should schools --

MS. CLIFT: Not enough.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Should schools be religious free zones, meaning totally secular, no absences tolerated for religious reasons and no proselytizing? Should they be that way, public schools?

MR. BUCHANAN: You can't do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should they be that way?

MR. BUCHANAN: You can't say -- if a kid is a religious --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not talking about de facto.

MR. BUCHANAN: If it's Yom Kippur and the kid's mother says, "This kid is staying home," he stays home and he shouldn't be punished.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You heard the proposition. Should they be that way? You're saying no, they should not be that way.

MR. BUCHANAN: They can't be that way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They cannot be that way. That doesn't quite address whether they should not --

MR. BUCHANAN: They should not be that way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They should not be that way because they cannot be that way?

MR. BUCHANAN: Both. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, many of these religious holidays have been secularized, if you will. And I think we're not going to change the school calendar. We might as well embrace all of the others -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, Yom Kippur?

MS. CLIFT: Fine. I don't have -- I'm with Norm. I don't have a problem with any of this; the more, the merrier. Let's learn from them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, more holidays, "religious," quote-unquote, holidays?

MS. CLIFT: You don't have lots of people taking off. You're making a problem where there is not one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But basic attendance is needed to teach in schools.

MR. BLANKLEY: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what we have to do more of, to educate our youth, do we not?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think -- well, yes, we should educate our youth. I'm trying to do that with my three kids. But, look, we should have a Judeo-Christian culture honored through Christmas, Easter, respect for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're slighting the Buddhists and you're slighting the Hindus.

MR. BLANKLEY: And others should be respected, and they can take a day off. But it shouldn't be part of the formal cultural traditions of the country.

MR. ORNSTEIN: It should not be made religion-free. But there's an easy way to handle this: Have these Judeo-Christian holidays that are holidays for all the schools, and then give every kid up to three days to take whatever religious holidays they want off --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three --

MR. ORNSTEIN: -- so you don't close the schools. Give them two, give them three; I don't care.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you count Christmas? Christmas is also Santa Claus -- Santa Claus.

MR. ORNSTEIN: I'm not -- first of all, they're not in school during Christmas anyhow.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's because of the holiday. (Laughs.)

MR. ORNSTEIN: Give them three, give them five; whatever you want to do. But you don't have -- MS. CLIFT: Personal days -- personal days.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On this matter of secularization, it should be left entirely to the local school board.

When we come back, are the Democrats as dim-witted as ever, and are the Republicans as sinister as ever?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: The Bare Minimum.

Five dollars and 15 cents per hour -- that's the minimum wage today. That $5.15 per hour has stayed the same for the last nine years. A person who works at the minimum wage for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns $10,700 a year; $10,700 for a family of three is more than $5,000 below the federal definition of poverty.

Over the same nine-year period, the minimum wage has stayed the same. Prices have not: Rents, up 34 percent; seeing a doctor, up 30 percent; the price of a gallon of milk, up 29 percent; and on and on.

The arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage by $2.10 over three years to a total of $7.25 per hour, as Congress has debated, those arguments are strong. But so are the counterarguments for keeping the minimum wage exactly where it is.

MAN: (From videotape.

) Maybe right now the grocery store in your hometown has a person out front helping you load the bags into your car, and maybe they decide that that's a service that they can't really afford to offer anymore if the minimum wage goes up another couple of dollars.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The public at large favors a minimum wage increase. Eighty-five percent overwhelmingly say yes. In theory, so do the Democrats. But this congressional session, the Democrats got themselves inexplicably entangled in a tricky trade-off involving the estate tax. That ploy entailed a sacrifice of the $2.10 minimum wage hike.

Question: Was it politically astute or politically inept for the Republicans to tie the estate tax to the minimum wage hike? I ask you, Norm Ornstein.

MR. ORNSTEIN: You know, it was smart in one sense. They had 50 Republicans in the House who asked their leadership to get a vote on the minimum wage. They were getting hammered by it, including people who were in tough districts. They got their vote. They could vote for it. And in the end they didn't have to end up with a minimum wage.

But I think for the Republicans, the failure to get this done is going to hurt, just because when you're the party in power and you've got all the reins of power and you can't get things done -- we saw what happened to the Democrats in 1994 -- the public does not react well.

The fact that there was no minimum wage and that this is a sign of ineptitude and gridlock is not going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could the Democrats have prevented this from becoming an issue, a bill?

MR. ORNSTEIN: No. The House is run by Republicans, and they can frame things however they like. They could have framed it in a different way. If they really wanted to make this happen, they actually could have worked out a meeting of the minds with some changes in the estate tax. But they didn't want to make it happen.

MR. BLANKLEY: John -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you do not fault the Democrats at all in this process.

MR. ORNSTEIN: The Democrats had no hand in deciding what kind of bill was going to be brought to the floor. The merger of the two was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They could not have evaded it.

MR. ORNSTEIN: No.

MR. BLANKLEY: But in the Senate, this is married to the death tax reduction, and they married the two. And the Democrats in the Senate blocked it on a cloture vote from getting to the floor for a final vote. I thought it was a smart move for the Republicans for the reasons that you stated, to give every Republican who wanted --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should the Democrats have blocked it?

MR. BLANKLEY: And I think probably it was a smart move politically for the Democrats because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you -- I cannot see that at all, because this is --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There hasn't been a raise in this --

MR. BLANKLEY: But the point is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for all of the reasons given there. This affects their constituency directly.

MR. BLANKLEY: Minimum --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now the Republicans can say, "The Democrats voted against the minimum wage, and we voted for it."

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, minimum wage is a largely symbolic issue which both sides overemphasize, and they use them for symbolic purposes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You tell -- that sounds like high principle. You tell that to the minimum wage worker.

MR. BLANKLEY: You're asking about the politics of it. The politics of it was the Democrats want to be able to say the Republican Congress failed to pass minimum wage.

MS. CLIFT: And the voters are not stupid. They see this -- their $2 increase in the minimum wage as being twinned with the elimination of the estate tax, giving a huge increase to billionaires, a very small percentage of the population, plus the fact the Democrats have on the ballot in several states, including Ohio, measures to raise the minimum wage.

And it's a way to activate the Democratic base, and so they're better off having that issue in place than to have voted for a very flawed bill, which would have cost the treasury a huge amount of money because of the estate tax.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me tell you why I think Tony is right. The Republicans were in a box. They came out; they were able to vote for a $2 increase in the minimum wage. They tie it to get rid of the death tax, which is very, very popular. And minimum wage folks don't care about that. And so Republicans can say, "Look, we voted for the minimum wage, to increase it two bucks, and we also voted to eliminate death taxes on middle-class folks, and the Democrats killed it."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's --

MR. BUCHANAN: It was a strong argument.

MS. CLIFT: And that estate tax would have cost $278 billion over 10 years for a small number of folks at the top.

MR. BUCHANAN: You think the guy working at McDonald's cares about that?

MS. CLIFT: It is irresponsible. The guy at McDonald's knows the Republicans do not have his best interest at heart.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me get in here. Should Frist, who is the leader of the Senate, bring to a vote a clean bill with an increase, the same increase for the minimum wage to the floor before the election, which means through this month and the first week of October?

MR. ORNSTEIN: I think, if Frist is smart, he's going to find several issues that he can get passed and enacted into law, because right now their record is dismal and grim. Doing that and maybe trying to find a different compromise on the estate tax wouldn't be a bad way to go.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it time for Frist to stop playing the populist card?

MR. ORNSTEIN: I think it's time for Frist to try and find some good cards to play. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Any cards.

MR. ORNSTEIN: He hasn't found any cards -- any card at all. This has been a joke, what's happened in the Senate. And frankly, the whole Congress is floundering here. They've got 14 days left when they come back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a sick joke?

MR. ORNSTEIN: It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it repugnant to the American people?

MR. ORNSTEIN: The American people are now more unhappy than they've been since 1994, with a government that hasn't focused on the things they care about, can't get it done, is consumed with gridlock and overwhelmed with rancor. That's not a good formula for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Name the biggest loser in the defeat of the minimum wage hike -- the biggest loser in the defeat of the minimum wage hike. Was it, A, minimum wage workers; B, the Democrats; C, the Republicans; or D, somebody else? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The Democrats and the minimum wage workers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Minimum wage workers, clearly, because they yet again have gotten screwed.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the winners are the minimum wage workers who have a job, because they weren't put out of a job by the artificial raising of their worth in the marketplace.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Norman.

MR. ORNSTEIN: But I think, at a political level, the Democrats got a slight advantage and the Republicans held their own, if you will.

MR. ORNSTEIN: I'm with Tony on this. It is going to be a problem for Republicans because they're not getting it done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's the government of Mexico -- (laughter) -- whose foreign currency earnings would have soared if there had been repatriation from those --

MR. BUCHANAN: Illegal aliens.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- illegal aliens in the United States.

Issue Three: Immigration Impasse.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I expect the United States Congress to do its duty and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, sir, Congress has not yet done its duty. Comprehensive immigration reform, as you have described it, has essentially two components: Strengthening the border and dealing with the 12 million illegal immigrants, called guest workers by you, already living in this country.

The president wants both components linked -- border enforcement and the legalization of resident aliens. Regarding the latter, Mr. Bush says illegal immigrants should be offered a, quote, "path to citizenship," unquote.

Earning citizenship on this path would involve many hurdles, including paying back taxes and learning English. But Republicans are more concerned with extending and intensifying security at the borders, not the, quote-unquote, "path to citizenship," which many members of his party see as tantamount to amnesty, which they don't like. Next Tuesday, Congress gets back. And comprehensive immigration reform remains unresolved.

Question: If the Republicans do nothing on immigration reform this month while they are in session, before the November election, are they throwing away irretrievably a political plus? I ask you, Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I don't know that there's any political plus for the Republicans to extract out of this issue at this point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want me to tell you?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, let me tell you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Assuming, as you should, that the Democrats are going to take over the House, do you think there's going to be anything like comprehensive immigration reform?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forget about it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me say, the Republicans cannot pass a border- only bill because it won't get through the Senate at the best of circumstances. There's a compromise bill that may try to pass. Either way, if they pass a bill that's comprehensive, as the president calls it, the Republican base will be outraged. If they don't pass anything, a lot of people will blame the Republicans for not taking care of the issue. It is a lose-lose for the Republicans.

MS. CLIFT: Well, in Washingtonspeak, there's a new bill out there, Hutchinson-Pence, which is basically border enforcement first and then maybe a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Separate bills? Separate bills?

MS. CLIFT: No, it's one bill. It would have border enforcement first --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, a trigger in it?

MS. CLIFT: -- and then it would have a trigger for guest workers. It has no path to citizenship. It's really a pretty reprehensible bill. But I think you have to weigh the costs between doing nothing and taking this first step. I think it's probably got 35 percent chance of passing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're expecting a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to control the House of Representatives, starting on November the 7th. Correct? MR. ORNSTEIN: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will they give Bush an immigration bill, the one he wants?

MR. ORNSTEIN: They won't give him an immigration bill until perhaps the lame duck session. But I don't think you've got a majority in this Congress for any kind of bill. They could build a fence, but if they use legal labor, it'll take 27 years anyhow. So I just don't -- I think there's not likely to be a bill.

I think Tony is right that it's a lose-lose for Republicans. If they do a bill, it's worse at this point, because they divide their coalition irreparably. It's an emotionally charged issue. But I don't think they've got the wherewithal to get it done, and it's just going to reinforce this notion of a do-nothing Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On the question of Republican incumbents who are seeking re-election, what's best for them? Is it better for them to have a border-only bill or a border-only with a trigger, let's say, that springs the quasi-amnesty into life later, or what? What, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: For the overall majority of Republicans in the House, the best position they can be in is border security, a fence on the border, sanctions on businesses that hire illegal aliens, no path to citizenship whatsoever, period -- no amnesty, no guest worker.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me qualify that, because --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's best for them.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me qualify that, because if the choice is between a comprehensive bill and no bill at all, which I think is what the choice is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, it's not necessarily.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- then there is a big debate going on amongst Republicans as to which is the least damaging position to take.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here is the other -- here is the choice that you say does not exist. You've got an enforcement-only bill without the other bill.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not going to pass the Senate. You cannot pass that. You've got to have something plus border patrol to have even a chance in the Pence compromise bill.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's assume that the Senate says, "We've got to get something."

MR. BLANKLEY: But they won't. They won't. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the president gets an enforcement-only bill, with nothing in there --

MR. BUCHANAN: If he got up and fought on enforcement only, told the Democrats, "Enforce this border," he would win.

MR. BLANKLEY: That would be a winner for the Democrats and he won't give it to them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I've got to get the question in front. If he gets for signature an enforcement-only bill from the United States Congress, will the president of the United States sign it?

MR. ORNSTEIN: He will sign it, and Democrats will dance in the streets because it'll give them the Hispanic votes for generations to come.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will the Democrats let him sign it and privately guarantee, assure the president, that he will get his path-to- citizenship component in after the election?

MR. ORNSTEIN: No, they can't give that assurance.

MR. BUCHANAN: They can't assure it.

MR. ORNSTEIN: If they have a majority, it'll be a very narrow majority.

But I frankly think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the president could not cut a deal with them.

MR. ORNSTEIN: The president can't cut a deal with them on probably anything. But the president can't cut a deal with his own Republicans on immigration, even for enforcement only.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Will there be an immigration reform bill before this election? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor's right. There may be a 35 percent shot at it.

MS. CLIFT: Right, which is -- so 35 percent yes and 65 percent no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying --

MS. CLIFT: I guess that's a no.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's about -- I think there's a chance; not a good chance, but a chance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that the American people are going to tell the politicians how repugnant it is on their time at home?

MR. BUCHANAN: The American people are to the right of me on this issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, my God. (Laughter.) What do you think? Will there be an immigration bill before the election -- before the election?

MR. ORNSTEIN: I'm off to Australia. (Laughs.) I think the odds are not 35 percent. They're more like 15 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifteen percent?

MR. ORNSTEIN: The answer is no that there will be a bill. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely, right on the nose. No wonder you write these sterling books.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat, very fast.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's about the immigration bill. Mike Pence was an up-and-coming leader in the conservative movement and cause and everything else. He's now signed on to this bill, which I think could cost him his future.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Northeastern Republicans will be wiped out in November.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: The Republican leadership in the House is going to make a last push to try to pass an immigration bill.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Norman.

MR. ORNSTEIN: Joe Lieberman will get elected to the Senate as an independent. He'll join Bernie Sanders of Vermont in a new fusion party called Kadima.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting. (Laughter.) Those Democrats who declare flat out in favor of a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq, starting no later than December, will win their races in the House of Representatives.

Pod alert: Go to McLaughlin.com and download the Group to your iPod or cell phone. Have yourself a thrill.

Happy Labor Day. Bye-bye.

(PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Food Follies.

MAN: (From videotape.) My pretty much favorite food is chicken fingers. I'm not really much in a health mode these days -- chicken fingers, fries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Americans are eating out and packing on fat. So says a new report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sixty- four percent -- two-thirds, practically -- of Americans are overweight or beyond -- obese. So the federal government urges restaurants to offer guests lower-calorie foods and reduced portions and menu calorie data.

Question: Is the restaurant industry going to pay attention to the FDA? And should it, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: I have to recuse myself on this issue. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to override that -- no waiver for you.

MR. BLANKLEY: No waiver? How about a wafer? (Laughter.) Look, I don't think the federal government should get in the business. I think anybody knows if you eat a big plate of pasta, that's more fattening than a little bit of salad. And each of us have to be responsible for the consequences of our decisions.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think -- no nannyism?

MR. ORNSTEIN: You know, the market's been dealing with this in some ways. Look at the menu at McDonald's now. But one thing is providing data, giving people a sense of what the calorie-fat content is and stuff. Ordering that I have no problem with at all.

END.