Vice President Dick Cheney sounded far more animated in an interview with CNBC today than he appeared at a Cabinet meeting this week, pictured here with President Bush and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/MCT
by Mark Silva
Vice President Dick Cheney, who once predicted the last recession, is refraining from any prediction on the next recession.
“I'm one for one,’’ Cheney said, “and I'll stay with a perfect record as long as I don't do it again.’’
And Cheney said the boss – President Bush – is “enjoying’’ launching his attacks at Congress. “He's doing it, and he's enjoying it,’ he said. Noting that the president already has vetoed one $35 billion children’s health insurance bill, the vice president said, “The House yesterday passed another one that is veto-bait as well.’’
As for “Cousin Barack,’’ as Cheney called Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois today, they haven’t had a chance to compare notes about their distant relationship. “We haven't had the opportunity to talk about it,’’ said Cheney, noting that “apparently we do have a common ancestor about eight or nine generations back.’’
Cheney hasn’t called the Democratic presidential hopeful to say, ‘well, heck, there’s a family tree?’’ CNBC’s Larry Kudlow asked Cheney.
“I didn't know whether that would help him or hurt him,’’ Cheney said. “So I thought I'd probably stay away from it.’’
All this came up in an interview for CNBC’s Kudlow and Company.
“You’ve got to go back 20 years to find a time when the Congress was as inefficient as it is today,’’ said Cheney, a former congressman. “They're not doing their business.''
In the interview, the host reminded the vice president: “Years ago, in late 2000, early 2001, when you were first elected, you said the U.S. economy was on the front end of a recession.
“I remember that,’’ Cheney said.
“I want to ask you,’’ asked Kudlow, citing the spiralling cost of a barrel of oil, “is there a sense in your mind or the president's mind, at what point the rise in oil price really pushes us over the edge into a recession?
“I couldn't forecast the break even point on that,’’ Cheney replied. "... But I think we're far short of the point where we've said that a recession is just around the corner.''
“I think our economy has been amazingly resilient to what's happened to oil prices over the last couple of years,'' Cheney said. "Certainly there's been a major increase in oil prices and the economy has adapted to it and adjusted very well.
"I think part of that is the fact that we're twice as efficient now as we were 10 or 12 years ago with respect to how we use energy,'' he said. "So it hasn't had the impact that it might have had, say 20 or 30 years ago, as it did back in the '70s, for example, when we all remember what happened at that time.
“I'm not here today to forecast that we're going to have an oil-driven recession,’’ Cheney said. “I wouldn't say that. I don't see that, but I'm not an economist.’’
Well then, what about the housing slump? A recessionary force?
“Well, we look at the same forecast everybody else does, basically. And I had lunch with (Treasury Secretary) Hank (Paulson) Wednesday of this week and we've got a group that meets every Wednesday inside the White House that focuses on the economy and economic policy.
“I think what we are seeing is a bit of a slowdown here, but the forecast I see for next year indicate continued growth,’’ he said. “And I think clearly there have been, you know, there has been a significant adjustment for us in terms of what's happened in the housing market.
"But I think we're far short of the point where we've said that a recession is just around the corner,'' he said I don't think it is, but again, I rely upon the professional advice that we get from our economists as well as what we see in the Blue Chip.
Well then, what about the dollar? Has it fallen too low?
“We do believe in a strong dollar, but we think that key is that it be allowed to adjust based on market forces out there,’’ Cheney said, “and that's exactly what's happening.
On that question of stalled legislation, Kudlow asked the vice president about Congress using war spending bills as leverage.
“Te reason for the supplemental is to pay what's necessary in order to be able to sustain the troops in the field, to be able to continue our operations on the global war on terror and in Afghanistan and Iraq and it's absolutely essential that it get passed,’’ Cheney said. “When Congress says, `Well, gee, we don't have time to deal with it now, we're going to lay it over and take it up next spring,' strikes me that's a classic example of them not stepping up and taking responsibility for a very important piece of business that they are responsible for. They've got to appropriate that money.
“I think it could partly be tied up with their attitude towards the war, but the fact of the matter is we are succeeding in Iraq,’’ he said. “We are making significant progress. We do need that money.’’
Is all of this budget-hawk talk, with a freewheeling veto pen in the hand of a president who has issued few really aimed at sharpening “the Republican message for 2008?’’ Kudlow asked – “trying to say, here's our contrast, veto excessive spending, keep tax rates low. Is this in large measure a political strategy?’’
“No… it is strategy driven my policy and our policy concerns,’’ Cheney said. “I think that's good politics. But I think if you look at it, in effect, what happened, of course, was for the first six years we were here, we had the Republican Congress. We negotiated on the top line on budgets every year. The Congress met our top lines, sometimes in the face of a veto threat, and so there was no opportunity or necessity to have vetoes as an important part of your strategy.’’
In retrospect – as retired Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has argued – was Bush’s reluctance with vetos a mistake?
“No,’’ Cheney said. “You had to negotiate with the Congress, Denny Hastert, who is not going to send us a bill the president would veto. So we sat down and we negotiate on the top line and they, in effect, came into agreement virtually in every case.
“Now we're in a situation where they're trying to pass a budget, for example, this year that's $22 billion over our top line. We've made it clear we will veto it,’’ he said. “They sent us the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) bill, we vetoed it. They send us another SCHIP bill, we'll veto it.
“It's not politics,’’ Cheney said. “We think it's good policy.’’
What about the “middle class anxiety’’ afoot in the nation, and might that be an issue in the upcoming presidential election?
“I think we need to do an aggressive job as a party, administration and our friends in Congress, at emphasizing what we have done, that has worked so well with respect to tax policy and economic growth and so forth and what will happen if the Democrats take over,’’ Cheney said. “It's not a mystery. You can look at what Senator Clinton believes in and how she voted. You can look at Charlie Rangel's proposals with respect to tax policy and the Democrats basically want to spend more money, they want to raise taxes.
“It's basically an anti-growth policy,’’ he said. “It's exactly the opposite of what the Republicans have been providing for the last several years. That's the fundamental difference.
"They're entitled to their beliefs,'' the vice president said. " What we have to do, as you say, I think we need to work very hard to make our case so that the American people understand both the benefits of what's occurred, what we've done out there as well as the problems and the price that we pay if the Democrats take over.’’