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November 9, 2000

Pitt experts consider tightest ever U.S. presidential election

The winner of the clos- est presidential elec- tion in U.S. history wasn't expected to be announced until the end of today (Nov. 9) at the earliest.

The recount of 6 million ballots in Florida was still going on as the University Times went to press last night. Thousands of absentee ballots will trickle in from overseas for at least another eight days.

"The closeness of this election is absolutely stunning, given the number of votes cast," said University Professor Bert A. Rockman, a veteran political observer.

While Vice President Al Gore led Gov. George W. Bush by 100,000 ballots in the popular vote last night, Bush's lead in Florida was 1,750. Whoever wins Florida will gain the state's 25 Electoral College votes — and the White House.

The Republican Party retained its slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But the Republicans' apparent, newly acquired one-seat majority in the Senate was in doubt last night, pending the outcome of Washington state's senatorial race.

Yesterday, University Times Assistant Editor Bruce Steele interviewed Pitt and UPMC personnel for their views on Tuesday's extraordinary election and how a Bush or Gore victory will affect the country.

Bert A. Rockman University Professor

of political science "Defenders of the Electoral College argue that one of the things it does is allow us to isolate any kind of recount to a state or two that's in contest, such as Florida. The argument against the Electoral College, of course, is that we can get an outcome that's different from the popular vote.

"When the Constitution was created, the Electoral College was meant to be a deliberative body; we actually weren't supposed to elect presidents directly. The fact that the popular vote is so divided this year, and that the election is hinging on one state, probably means that the Electoral College will not be an issue this year, as it would have been if the two candidates had tied in the Electoral College or if there had been a substantial gap between the popular vote and the Electoral College total.

"It looks as though the Republicans are going to hold on to the House by the skin of their teeth. What that means is that nobody has a mandate for anything. That would be easier for a Gore administration because all they would need to do is just what they've been doing. It might be more difficult for a Bush administration, if it's genuinely interested in a major tax cut or potentially divisive judicial appointments. Either a Bush or Gore administration would have to be exceedingly cautious, and I think that's what both of these candidates are.

"What we really had in this campaign was a re-playing of the debates of the 1930s and 1960s in different language: What was Social Security designed to be? What was Medicare designed to be? The parties have fundamentally different positions on these issues. It goes deeper than just playing for advantage among the electorate. I don't know that there's a lot of room for compromise between the Republicans' idea of government and the Democrats'. For example, adding prescription drug coverage through Medicare. Democrats want to make that a universal program, something that is a citizen entitlement and not a so-called earmarked welfare program. In other words, it would treat all citizens alike, which was the idea of Medicare to begin with. Republicans opposed Social Security and Medicare at their inceptions and basically now want to move to a partial privatization of Social Security, with the option of investing some of that money in the stock market. Their assumption seems to be that the stock market only goes up and not down."

Susan Hansen Professor of political science and former director of the Pitt Women's Studies Program "Somebody was asked on one of the TV networks Wednesday morning what was likely to happen with such a closely divided Congress. His answer was: Nothing. Which is about the size of it. Things are so close, it's going to be close to gridlock for at least the next two years. Particularly if Gore does win the popular vote but loses in the Electoral College, Democrats in Congress aren't going to give an inch. The 2002 campaign starts today.

"I think the gender gap was overrated in this election. The race gap is much bigger. The marriage gap is bigger. Married women were strongly for Bush, while single women, minority women and divorced women were more likely to support Gore.

"In terms of the abortion issue, it might indeed matter if Bush is elected. But as I've told my students, in order for Roe vs. Wade to be overturned three things need to happen. First, Bush has to win. Second, he has to appoint Supreme Court justices of the strict constructionist variety, which means he has to get them through a very closely divided Senate, and believe me, every justice he nominates will be grilled to within an inch of his or her life. Third, the justices will have to agree among themselves to overturn the 1995 Casey decision in Pennsylvania, which upheld restrictions on abortion but also said, in effect, 'We're not going to mess with Roe vs. Wade.' Seventy-five to 80 percent of the public supports abortion at least under some circumstances. So the Supreme Court would have to overturn precedent and go against a strong majority of public opinion to enact a highly controversial decision. I think the justices would think long and hard about doing that because the fallout could really jeopardize the standing of the court."

Jason Altmire Director of Federal Relations UPMC Health System "If Gov. Bush is elected, you'll have Republicans controlling the White House and the Congress for the first time in 50 years. You couldn't predict how they would act in that situation. But in 1994, when Republicans regained control of Congress for the first time in some years, they proposed $270 billion in Medicare cuts, which would have devastated the hospital industry. Luckily, President Clinton vetoed that legislation. Congress reworked it and we ended up with $130 billion in cuts, which were still pretty devastating. The losses [in Medicare reimbursements] that UPMC suffered as a result were in the tens of millions of dollars.

"Now that we have a budget surplus, the motivation to make big cuts wouldn't be as great as it was six years ago. Our fear is that you can't predict the future of the economy, and Congress or the White House might tinker with the Medicare system in the future.

"Gore, I think, would be a lot less likely to take that issue on. He would be more likely to increase Medicare coverage for things that are not currently covered — prescription drugs being the big one, but possibly other things like cancer screenings, too.

"But a prescription drug plan would be expensive. How would you pay for it? We wouldn't want to see it paid for by cutting hospitals' Medicare reimbursements.

"On the issue of graduate medical education, we've done pretty well with [Pennsylvania] Sen. Arlen Specter having increased funding for graduate medical education every year he's been chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that deals with health issues. He'll be chairman again next year, but it looks like the party split in the Senate will be pretty much 50-50, so we're hoping that support will continue."

David Dejong Associate professor of economics "From an economic standpoint, the biggest difference between the two candidates is how to deal with the current budget surplus. Bush wants a fairly sweeping tax cut. Gore is proposing more modest and more targeted tax cuts, and he'd like to pay down the national debt. What I find interesting is that, while they've been debating these ideas, the current legislative session has done everything it can to spend the surplus. They took a recess but they're planning to come back and hammer out the latest budget, which is going to significantly cut into the surplus. Regardless of who's elected, by the time they get into office I don't expect that they'll have much of a surplus to play with."

How much?

"I have no idea. That's partly because the current legislative session has not yet come up with a budget. Partly, too, it's because the Congressional Budget Office keeps changing what they think the surplus currently is. It's a very difficult number to come up with because it relies on a forecast of income and then a forecast of tax revenue. But I expect it to be significantly reduced.

"I think the closeness of this election — both of the voting in the presidential election and the closeness of the party split in the Senate and the House — indicates that there is no mandate for either presidential candidate. So, sweeping changes like Social Security reform are not likely to happen.

"We may see changes where there's more consensus. For example, both candidates have proposed changes in Medicare and there's broad, bipartisan support for enhancing Medicare coverage for prescription drugs.

"Some people have suggested that the economy didn't play much of a role in this election. But if the economy had been lousy, I think Gore would have been crushed. Given that it's a good economy, he wasn't crushed, so I think the economy made a big difference. The fact that it wasn't sufficient to give the incumbent an easy victory suggests that voters' concerns with the current administration were not trivial."

Lawrence Frolik Professor of law "If Bush is elected, a majority of nominees to the federal judiciary will be Republicans, just as a majority were Democrats under Clinton. We could expect those candidates to be more conservative than if Gore were president. It gets particularly critical in states like Pennsylvania, where you will have two Republican senators. It would be extremely difficult for Bush to pack the Supreme Court with conservatives, but two senators plus Bush can nominate a fairly conservative judiciary in a particular state; it's unlikely that the Senate would block apparently qualified candidates merely because they were conservatives.

"While Gore probably would follow Clinton's example in appointing a lot of women and minorities to the judiciary, Bush would be likely to appoint fewer, if only because there are fewer conservative women and minority judiciary candidates.

"With regard to Social Security, Bush and Gore have expressed dramatically different positions. But given the close split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House, I think we're not going to see any dramatic shifts in Social Security, regardless of who's president. In part, that's because both parties are going to be waiting until 2002. That is, both parties are going to hope that in the 2002 elections they will seize control of Congress sufficiently to enact their legislative portfolios. In the Senate, there will be more Republicans up for re-election in 2002 than Democrats, so there would be hope for the Democrats to retake the Senate.

"There's a good chance that with Bush as president we would have broad-based income tax reductions. There's a good chance that Republicans in the House and Senate could get some Democrats to join them in a broad-based tax cut, although perhaps not to the degree that Bush campaigned for. Whereas Gore probably would veto those kinds of tax cuts, as Clinton has. In the face of continued vetos, it's likely that Congress would craft more tailored tax cuts along the Gore lines.

"Under Bush, I think we would see differences in how the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency would operate. Bush has made no secret of his desire to have less regulatory interference with the market from the EPA. There's no reason to think that we would have as aggressive an EPA — or as intrusive an EPA, whichever way you see it — than we've had under the Democrats.

"One thing that people have overlooked is that Bush had $100 million more to spend than Gore, and even with that extra money he was forced to run a centrist campaign. Essentially, Bush ran away from the Republican Congress; he never stood on a stage with Trent Lott or any of these people. Gore, similarly, did not run a liberal campaign. He ran a status quo campaign based on modest government intervention. Gore wasn't able to run on the economy because no one would have believed that, as vice president, he'd had anything to do with it.

"When the economy is good, Republicans do well because a lot of Americans, when the economy's booming, credit it to their own efforts rather than the government's intervention. When the economy's perceived to be doing badly, as it was in 1992, voters tend to go Democratic because they expect the Democrats will do something about it.

Marick F. Masters Professor of business/public and international affairs "The conventional wisdom would have it that a Bush presidency would be a good deal for business. There are certain things that a president can do to reduce the cost of doing business, and Bush has promised to do these things.

"One is in the president's role of chief legislator, and that comes through the power of the bully pulpit and the veto pen. In that regard, you can see Bush pushing for tax relief for wealthier individuals as well as for small and large businesses, to encourage investment and to reduce the overall burden of taxation.

"The second thing you can see him do is to try and reduce the impact and cost of regulation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in the area of environmental protection, and in the regulatory environment concerning mergers, acquisitions and anti-trust. Bush is likely to be more flexible in allowing businesses to merge and acquire and he would look askance at efforts to impose anti-trust requirements.

"The third area where Bush would reduce the cost of doing business would come under the heading of judicial activism. I think Bush would be reluctant to use the Department of Justice to join lawsuits against tobacco companies and gun manufacturers, and you would also see a reluctance on his part to appoint activist judges. As he's said, he's interested in appointing people who strictly interpret the Constitution. I don't think he would favor potential judges who believe in a large, activist role for the government in economics and social affairs. Bush probably also would pursue tort reform and attorneys' fee relaxation for smaller businesses, to reduce the costs on them of complying with federal regulation.

"Business probably made a very rational decision in spending as much money as it did in this election. Reports indicate that business interests contributed well over $1 billion, mostly to Republicans. With Bush in the White House and Republicans more or less in control of Congress, business interests are in a better position.

"The conventional wisdom about a Gore presidency would be just the opposite, that Gore would raise the cost of doing business.

"Gore ran on a platform of continuing the prosperity. He has a very high investment in making sure that the economy does well, that we have continued economic growth and income growth as well, particularly income growth in a non-inflationary way that would catch up with the growth in employment.

"I think Gore would do several things that businesses might benefit from. One is, he's very likely to pursue continued balanced budgets and surpluses, and that should hold interest rates down. Secondly, he would invest in education and training; government would subsidize a large part of getting the workforce ready for this new technological information-intensive era. That would help companies to recruit qualified workers and make minimal investments in training them. Thirdly, Gore would perhaps be more effective than Bush in the continued promotion of free trade, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, where most of our trade activity takes place."

Donald Goldstein Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs "The international dimension was neglected in this election. Voters didn't understand, or care, what these two guys were talking about, particularly on defense policy. Both of them were right, in my opinion. Gore was saying, 'We have the finest military in the world.' And he was right. Bush asked, 'But can we hack it?' And the answer is: No. The way the current administration has been deploying the military, it will run out of gas.

"I predict that the great majority of absentee ballots coming from overseas military personnel will be for Bush. The military is tired of working 'up-tempo.' They're constantly being deployed, with the same missions they had during the Cold War: to be able to fight two simultaneous wars, which is nearly impossible. We still have an official commitment to NATO and an unofficial commitment to Taiwan, and now we're sending forces to keep the peace in places like Bosnia.

"You have military personnel deploying, say, to Saudi Arabia for six months, coming home for a little while, and then being sent somewhere else for another six months. In the older days, there were so many troops that you deployed for six months, then you stayed home for three years or you went to Germany and had fun. We're seeing a tremendous problem with mid-level, younger officers getting out of the military to work in private industry."

Joseph Adjaye Chairperson, Department of Africana Studies "In terms of how a Bush or Gore presidency will affect U.S. policy toward Africa, I really don't have an opinion to offer because, for both candidates, Africa was a non-issue in their campaigns. In the first debate, there was some discussion of Kosovo. In the second debate, there was a brief discussion of the Middle East. But overall, foreign policy did not receive adequate attention in this election and Africa was a non-issue."

Patricia Stranahan Professor of history and director of the Asian Studies Program "Regarding China, both Bush and Gore are pro-trade, which is very important to the Chinese. Both men have strongly criticized China's human rights record and its treatment of Taiwan and Tibet. The important issue on which they differ is missile defense. Gore says he does not favor a missile shield. China is extremely worried about Bush's enthusiasm for a missile shield. They would view a Bush victory as a setback for U.S.-China relations. They believe he would see China as an adversary.

"Hong Kong, I think, would definitely prefer Gore. Business people there are concerned about Bush's proposed tax cuts, which would probably boost U.S. imports from Taiwan and South Korea. That would be to Hong Kong's disadvantage.

"India-Pakistan is a whole other kettle of fish. Both countries would be very happy if Bush were elected because he has opposed a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and would not pressure them to sign one. Gore does support a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests, and that makes India nervous. Gore has said that one of his first acts as president would be to resubmit that treaty to the Senate for confirmation. If the United States were to sign it, India would be under a great deal of pressure to sign it, too.

"Currently, the United States does not have a coherent policy towards Japan. Even though Japan was hit very hard by the economic setbacks in Asia, it remains an enormous powerhouse. Either Bush or Gore would have to develop a coherent policy towards Japan as Japan gets back on its feet economically.

"North Korea? That's a wild card. Conditions there are so desperate there that any U.S. president is going to have to pay attention to North Korea, simply on a humanitarian level. Reunification of Korea, though, is a long-term proposition."

Jonathan Harris Associate professor of political science "If it's a Bush win, the missile defense shield becomes an absolutely important center of attention in our relations with Russia. His attitude seems to be to return to the Reagan dream of a missile defense system that will prevent any missile from approaching the United States. The Russian government has made it clear that it's very much opposed to that. I think there is a real danger of sparking a new arms race if the United States moves toward full deployment of a missile shield. Now, we don't know if Bush is going to follow through on deployment. It's just a position he took during the campaign.

"Gore has said he wants to retain the 1972 ban on the use of missile defense except in a very limited way. Given that position, he would be far better to negotiate with the Russians on this issue. Also, Gore has real experience in dealing with Russian officials at the highest level, and I think that makes a tremendous difference.  

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 6

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