The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Recession
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. The government announced today that there are now more Americans out of work than at any time since 1939 at the end of the Great Depression. The number is 8V2 million people. Since the U.S. workforce is much larger today than in 1939, the percentage unemployed is smaller than then, but it is rising -- 8% in October, up by half a percent from the September figures, because half a million additional Americans were added to the unemployed list. The major cause was layoffs in manufacturing as the recession deepened. Blue collar unemployment is now 11%, and unemployment among blacks is 16.7%. Other signs indicate that the figures may get worse. The auto industry today announced further production cuts. Polaroid said it was cutting back its workforce by 6% to reduce costs during the slump. The gloomy labor figures caught the Reagan administration in the midst of an intense internal debate about how to rescue their economic recovery plan. Tonight, how much worse will it get, and what will the administration do about it? Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, a lot of Washington-type words were spoken today about unemployment and recession. House Speaker Thomas O`Neill accused the administration of deliberately planning the recession, of having neither the intention nor the way to pull out of it. Senator Edward Kennedy said this.
Sen. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Mass.: We are witnessing the disintegration of the Reagan economic policy. Their plan just won`t work. It was flawed from the beginning. They promised to restore prosperity, but instead they have given us what is likely to be the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.
LEHRER: The official words from the White House came from Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes. "There will be no quick-fix measures to bring unemployment down. The administration will continue to rely on the economic recovery plan already in effect." But as he spoke, House and Senate Republican leaders were speaking separately and privately with Mr. Reagan, and then emerging with different messages. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker said Mr. Reagan would consider tax increases in 1983 and `84 to head off the prospect of a huge federal deficit. But the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Barber Conable, came away from a different and later meeting with the President saying the Reagan administration is going to continue to have a low-tax policy, not a high- tax policy. Treasury Secretary Donald Regan and Budget Director David Stockman have split along those lines: Stockman wants taxes increased to avoid the deficits; Regan says no, it would only make the recession worse. The word late this afternoon is that President Reagan will make his own public statement on the subject sometime next week. Meanwhile, the rest of Washington will continue to debate what should or should not be done, a taste of which we`re going to get in a moment from Republican Senator William Armstrong and Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel. Robin?
MacNEIL: Once again, to interpret the figures we have the assistance of David Jones. He is vice president and economist for the New York firm of Aubrey G. Lanston, and one of Wall Street`s more skeptical forecasters. Mr. Jones, the White House says the unemployment figures today show a short- term effect of the President`s economic plan. Do you believe it is a short- term effect?
DAVID JONES: It appears to be much longer-term than the administration expects. I feel that the recession is deepening and widening. It probably started in September; it may not end until May or June of next year. It`s going from housing and autos, which we`ve seen in a depressed state for some time, into other areas -- commercial construction, plants, business equipment. All of these areas, in terms of spending, are being pulled back. So the recession is becoming much more significant as an economic fact of life. It`s developing a momentum of its own, and it could carry us well into next year.
MacNEIL: There have been a lot of predictions that it could go well into the spring or early summer, but you don`t see any signs as a result of these figures today and other indicators that it could be worse than that, that it could go further than early summer?
Mr. JONES: The problem is we`re in uncharted territory here. In essence, the business sector is the area to watch because most businesses have relied excessively on short-term debt. They`re still being hit very hard by high rates, even though we`ve seen a bit of a dip so far in interest rates. And that sector is the one to watch. There could be widespread bank- ruptcies there, and if there are, then this recession could deepen and it could last longer even than the outside estimates.
MacNEIL: How much worse could unemployment get?
Mr. JONES: It looks as though unemployment, perhaps even by the spring of next year, could move up to a mere 9%, rivaling the level we saw back in 1974. So what we thought was going to be a mild correction -- a flat economy for a few months and then a take-off -- has turned into something much more painful.
MacNEIL: What does a 9% unemployment rate do to the President`s calculations on tax revenues and government expenditure?
Mr. JONES: It throws it completely out of line. The administration gave us, essentially, four objectives when these programs were put into place -- when the economic program came into effect. One was inflation was coming down. We`ve seen a bit of relief there. The second was that interest rates were coming down. They`ve come down, but the question is how far, and that is still an open issue. The third thing was that the budget was going to be balanced. It is not, and won`t be -- probably even in 1984. And the fourth thing is we were going to have a strong economy, a quick take-off and real growth. We have had from the administration essentially one out of four: some relief on inflation; die other measures are falling apart.
MacNEIL: Does the financial community expect President Reagan to change direction now, faced with the political and economic realities of these figures?
Mr. JONES: Yes. I would think so, and mainly in the budget area. My guess would be that we`ll see a major announcement of revenue-enhancing measures for fiscal 1983 and 1984. And those changes --
MacNEIL: That`s what most of us call tax increases.
Mr. JONES: That`s right, but that`s a fancy term that we`re getting from Washington, so I thought I would smooth it over a bit. In effect what they`re doing is going to be trying to raise taxes wherever they can without disturbing the fundamental tax-cut process -- fiscal `82, `83 and `84. An example might be -- a significant solution might be to slap $5-a- barrel tax on imported oil, which in effect might generate $10 billion in direct revenues, another $ 10 billion, maybe $20 billion in fiscal 1982. Or excise taxes might be another possibility.
MacNEIL: The President told reporters today that he was going to stick to his game plan. What, in your view, would be the consequences of doing that?
Mr. JONES: There`s a dangerous mix in policy, is what we`re saying here, in effect. Monetary policy, if we look at annual targets, even for next year, in very restricted --
MacNEIL: That`s the money supply.
Mr. JONES: Four percent money supply growth for next year. Much lower than ever before in an expansionary or recovery period. Budget policy is almost out of control in terms of estimates. We have from the OMB, in a release yesterday, the possibility that we could be breaking above $100 billion in terms of deficit next year. The clash between those two policies could lead to more trouble in the financial markets as we move into next year, and it could reinforce the recessionary prospects for the economy. So it is a policy that has to be readjusted in some way. My guess is it will be on the budget side.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Now to that congressional debate flavor I mentioned, and first, to a Republican Senator who stoutly supports the Reagan economic plan. He`s Senator William Armstrong of Colorado, a member of the Senate Finance and Budget committees. He`s with us tonight from the studios of public television`s Rocky Mountain Broadcast Center in Denver. Senator, Senator Kennedy said the Reagan plan is disintegrating. How would you describe what the Reagan plan is doing right now?
Sen. WILLIAM ARMSTRONG: Well, I think most fair-minded people will reject that kind of a partisan charge. Most people, I think, will recognize that the economic problems which our country faces -- and they`re serious, they`re regrettable, they represent a human tragedy -- well, I think most fair-minded people will realize that these have been many years building up, and will reject the notion that since the President hasn`t been able to solve those "problems in ten months in office after 25 years of Democratic control of both houses of the Congress -- I think they`ll be inclined to be a bit more patient with the President and with the new majority in the Senate than Senator Kennedy has indicated.
LEHRER: Do the unemployment figures of today give you any second thoughts at all on the Reagan economic way to go?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, they don`t persuade me that we`re making any fundamental mistakes, but I cannot emphasize too strongly that what these statistics portray is a human tragedy. These are not just blips on some economist`s chart, as some of my colleagues sometimes give the impression that they might be. I mean, we`re talking about people who are really hurting, and we need to deal with the problem in those terms. Now, it doesn`t take me by surprise that unemployment is rising. The economy is in terrible trouble, and it is trouble precisely caused by what Mr. Jones called a budget running out of control, by the unprecedented rate of interest that we`re paying in this country -- higher today even than in the Civil War, higher than the United Kingdom, higher than anything we`ve ever seen in this country -- and it`s putting home builders out of business; it`s putting car dealers out of business; it`s throwing millions of people out of work; the stock market is sagging; the bond market is crashing. So it says to me, not that the policy the President has advocated, which is a policy aimed directly at bringing interest rates down, but that indeed his policy is correct and needs to be pushed forward as quickly as we can. And basically that policy is to control federal spending and get the budget under control at the earliest possible date.
LEHRER: So that means you`re saying that, in terms of the split that apparently exists within the administration now, you`d be one who would support, "Cut the budget even more." Is that right?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: No question about it. In fact, that`s not a new idea or a change in direction for the President or for the Republicans in the Senate. That`s what we`ve been saying all along. The President, as early as March, announced that he would have an additional fall package of budget cuts. I am confident that next week he will announce an additional package, and that it`ll have virtually the unanimous support of my colleagues in the Senate. Now, the one thing that is different, I would point out, is that because of the deteriorating economic climate, that the cuts will have to be of somewhat greater magnitude than we originally thought. But I`ll just tell you this: if we permit a deficit of $260 to $300 billion to occur in the next three years in this country, we`re going through a ringer, And I don`t think the President will stand for that, and I`ll guarantee you that the Senate Republi-cans simply will not permit that to happen.
LEHRER: Are you one of those who would favor increasing taxes or "enhancing the revenue" -- in the new phraseology -- if that became necessary?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, Mr. Lehrer, I`d a lot rather enhance the revenues than raise taxes, if you don`t mind.
Sen. ARMSTRONG: But I think that needs to be viewed in this perspective. We have just put through the most massive tax cut in the history of this country -- marginal tax rate reductions for individuals and for business. At the time the President sent that to the Con-gress, he suggested in the same message that there would be need for some changes in other non-supply- side tax measures -- loophole closing, institutional reform -- and which will have the effect, also, of raising some revenue. So we`re talking about a very modest adjustment, at most -- a modest adjustment in a massive tax cut. And that does not seem unreasonable to me.
LEHRER: Finally, let me ask you this, Senator. You heard what Mr. Jones said. He projects that the recession is going to deepen; it`s going to widen. He thinks that unemployment could go to 9% by next spring or next summer. My question to you is this: how high would unemployment have to go before you would be ready to come in with a so-called "quick fix" -- to do something that speaks directly to the problem of unemployment?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, we already have in place the best possible program to deal with that, and as my colleague, Senator Baker, the majority leader, pointed out the other day, this is the first time in history that we`ve really had a tax cut that was well-timed, because this tax cut is coming on-stream just at the moment that the economy needs that kind of shot in the arm to produce new job opportunities. So I personally think we`ve got the right program in place. Now, when you talk about a quick fix, some people would tell you that means renewal of the CETA programs, or massive public works spending, and that has never worked. Every time we have done that the result has been that it has -- by the time you get it enacted and administered and the programs actually working, by that time the recession is over and it superheats the recovery cycle. So I think we`re on the right track. I don`t think we need a different program. We need to keep on a steady course, but we must have the budget restraint that will bring the interest rates down. If we don`t, we`re going to be in a horrible mess.
LEHRER: Thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: The new figures have already stirred up a quite different response among con-gressional Democrats. Charles Rangel, Democratic congressman from New York, is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the chairman of its Oversight Committee. Congressman, Senator Armstrong says the country already has in place the best program to deal with these rising unemployment figures.
Rep. CHARLES RANGEL: Well, they haven`t shared it with the Senate and certainly we have no idea what the President intends to do. One of the most frightening things is that it appears as though the President has no plan. There is such a cavalier attitude about the loss of jobs for 816 million people -- our young kids, our women looking for work -- and, as we see the deficit increasing, and the interest that we`re paying on it impacting on our domestic programs, it`s really tearing the seams apart of the institutions that Americans have depended on. And so for a President who clearly was elected as an alternative to President Carter, who promised to put the country back to work, that was going to really have an economy that would put money -- get people off of welfare and put them on the payrolls -- clearly, when the voices of these millions of people are heard, I`m confident that both the House and the Senate will respond, because we have been waiting for the President. A lot of people think it`s partisanship, but certainly nobody wins if the economies lose and the American people lose, and the President has to admit that his program -- his economy recovery program -- just isn`t working.
MacNEIL: Now, the Democrats have been either pretty quiet recently, or many of them have actually joined in helping to pass President Reagan`s plan during the summer. Do the Democrats now have any coherent alternative?
Rep. RANGEL: We did, but you can`t have an alternative until the President admits that what he has is not working. The President rejected all of our alternatives, and anybody will tell you that if you have an $800-billion tax cut, and a $f .5-trillion defense increase, that there`s no balance there. And so I`m certain that as Americans that the House and Senate would be willing to work together. We have talked in the Democratic Party about deferring some of the overwhelming tax decreases that were voted on -- the windfalls to the oil companies, to the wealthy. The relief to the corporate structure has been just extraordinary in terms of taxes.
MacNEIL: You don`t agree with the Senator that very modest adjustments would be sufficient?
Rep. RANGEL: You know, it`s impossible to understand how insensitive this administra-tion can be. Every time they`re talking about increasing revenues it`s in the excise tax area or increasing the taxes on alcohol and tobacco where, again, it`s the low-income consumer that`s going to pay that. Never do they talk about the 25% tax decrease and where that decrease comes. I would think that the Congress should have the courage to recognize that perhaps we all have made a mistake -- those that voted for the President`s package -- and to make those adjustments. And you can`t do it if you`re going to continue to spend at the same level we`re spending. The paranoia that we have about the Communists and building up our military certainly is not consistent with the subsidized wheat and butter that we`re sending them. I know that the American people would be prepared to take substantial cuts in the defense budget, to defer some of the tax cuts that were passed, and to try to cut the deficit and to cut back interest. It`s cutting all --
MacNEIL: What about cutting the deficit by cutting federal spending even further, as the Senator suggests is necessary?
Rep. RANGEL: I wonder whether, crippling the American people, really are you saving that much money? You know, our sick people just don`t disappear. Our unemployed some-how manage to either get on some type of program or get themselves involved in problems that really cost us in the long run. And it just seems to me that lack of investing into our people -- having them trained for jobs -- in the long run we pay more dearly for it. But politically that`s not going to happen, Robin. The House Republicans have walked the last mile for the President; there`s just no more fat left to cut. They`re feeling the impact in their districts, with hospitals closing, senior citizen centers closing, kids without work without job training, education -- everything has been hit. And so there is no question in my mind that it will be impossible for the President or the Senate to present any additional domestic cuts in their program. It has to come from the military budget.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Senator Armstrong, what about that?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, Mr. Lehrer, first of all, the notion that my colleague, Mr. Rangel, has suggested that the President`s program isn`t working is crazy! I mean, that`s preposterous! The first of the President`s program became law less than 30 days ago, and to suggest somehow that 30 days is a fair test -- I`m sure he really didn`t mean that.
LEHRER: Let`s ask him.
Sen. ARMSTRONG: The unemployment we`re seeing is the direct result of policies that were put into place by the past Congress and the past administration. And to say that the tax cut isn`t working or the budget restraint isn`t working -- that has hardly started as yet.
Rep. RANGEL: Well, I would just like to say that if the President intended to have a $ 100-billion deficit in 1984, then it`s working according to his timetable. Most of us were shocked -- including Stockman and Regan -- that this was the direction that we`re going. But perhaps we`re talking about two different countries.
LEHRER: Senator Armstrong, let me ask you the point that Congressman Rangel made just a moment ago -- that there is no more fat to cut out of domestic spending in the federal budget; if you`re going to cut any more, which you say you want to do, it`s going to have to come out of defense.
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, first I think that the President will agree reluctantly that some additional cuts must be made in the defense area, and I make that decision myself with very great reluctance, because we have underfunded defense. But I am convinced that the over-riding concern is to get that budget under control, and at the earliest possible date, and that says to me as a practical matter that we must take part of it out of the huge increase in the defense budget, both because we need to get some money from there, and also because we have to have some leverage to get additional cuts in other areas where there is, by the way, plenty of fat. So, yes, I think there`ll be some additional cuts in the defense area. And I believe, and I hope, that the President will take the lead in that area as well.
LEHRER: You`re talking about sizeable cuts, Senator, in the defense budget?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Yes, I think sizeable, although I would stress we`re talking about reducing the rate of projected increase. We`re not talking about absolute cuts in the defense area, nor, for the most part, in domestic programs. We talk about cuts and hacking and slashing and all of that; what we`re really talking about is reducing the rate of increase. With some exceptions, we`re mostly talking about programs that will still spend more each year than they`ve spent in the past. And that`s certainly the case in defense.
LEHRER: Congressman Rangel, will that be enough?
Rep. RANGEL: I don`t think so. Certainly, if you take a look at the projected budget deficits for `83, `84 and `85, clearly, whether you`re talking about the Congressional Budget Office, whether you`re talking about Secretary of Treasury Regan, whether you`re talking about Stockman, they believe that more substantial cuts in programs, as well as increases in taxes, will be necessary. But the truth of the matter is, no one is even feeding in the cost it`s going to take for the eight, nine, ten million people that are unemployed. This is going to an additional drain on our economy. And if productivity means anything in terms of how we compete in the world trade market, it just seems to me that without having job training, without being prepared to compete with the Japanese and Germans, that you just don`t cut back in programs and increase taxes and think that that`s going to provide an impact on our deficit.
LEHRER: But Senator Armstrong said earlier, Congressman Rangel, that those programs have proven not to work in the past, and that to go back to them now -- to the old way of solving the unemployment problem -- would be a mistake.
Rep. RANGEL: The Senator may be 100% correct that some of the programs didn`t work, but I can tell you this, that having house mortgages foreclosed, kids not being able to go to college -- people that worked 15, 20 years on their job that have family responsibilities and now they find that they`re not trained to do anything -- this doesn`t work either. And I`m saying that the administration has no program to deal with the so- called recession. It may be recession for some, but most of the people that I`ve talked with it`s been a depression. And we have to react to it, not just in talking about budget cuts, but in providing relief for these people. And again, I`m confident that the American people will respond, and so will the Congress.
Sen. ARMSTRONG: Well, I`m a little confused about what Mr. Rangel has in mind. A moment ago he was saying we have to cut the budget, and I think we can agree on that. Certainly I agree we`ve got to make some cuts in the defense budget. But we`ve got to make cuts elsewhere as well because if we don`t we`re going to have a budget deficit that won`t just be large, it`ll be stupendous. And that means, instead of interest rates going down, that they`ll have to go back up even beyond what they were before. So in the overall we`ve got to cut, in my view, at least $150 billion out of spending that will otherwise occur in the next three years. Now, if he`s suggesting we can cut $150 billion and also crank up some of the old-time public works, CETA-type program, I don`t see how that`s possible.
Rep. RANGEL: Well, I --
Sen. ARMSTRONG: I thought a moment ago we were reaching a point of agreement on where we needed to go.
Rep. RANGEL: Yeah. I thought we were talking about defense cuts, but I think it`s dumb to talk about a 12% cut across the board -- when you get the news that you`ve had increases in unemployment -- to believe that the Congress just willy-nilly is going to swallow another package presented by the President which will cut unemployment, which will cut food stamps -- would cut the very support that I think we would want to provide for those "Americans who are not working through no fault of their own. So we can`t talk about packages we haven`t received or tax cuts -- tax increases that have not been presented to us. So the administration knows about the unemployment, but certainly has not presented to the Congress any program to deal with it. We`re still waiting for full economic recovery.
LEHRER: Is there going to be -- there isn`t going to be anything more coming from the President, is there, Senator Armstrong? Are you expecting some new plan to come out?
Sen. ARMSTRONG: No, sir, I do not expect a new plan. I expect the President to stay right on course, but as a part of that, to submit his additional recommendation for further budget cuts and possibly for revenue enhancement. There`s a -- we shouldn`t lose this perspective and make it sound as if, in some way, he is zigzagging or changing his mind. He said at the very outset that he would have an additional package of budget cuts. He has repeated that pledge, and I`m confident he will. In fact, I expect that`s going to come quite soon.
Rep. RANGEL: It would just seem --
Sen. ARMSTRONG: He also asked for these so-called revenue enhancements -- or tax adjustments, tax increases, whatever you want to call them - as early as March. Now, the magnitude of those may change a little, but I expect he will follow up and present that, too. But that`s not a change in his program; it`s the implementation of his programs.
LEHRER: I see. Robin?
MacNEIL: Mr. Jones, it used to be respectable to have the prospect of deficits or high deficits during a recession because the government borrowing was presumably stimulating the country -- the economy -- out of the recession. What`s the thinking now about the deficits in a time of recession?
Mr. JONES: The new reality is that monetary policy is in a much tighter position in a recession than it ever has been before -- that monetary restraint is in place --
MacNEIL: The Federal Reserve Board is allowing the money supply to grow more slowly.
Mr. JONES: Or, to put it another way, it`s starving the economy for new money and credit: the mortgage area, many other consumer borrowing areas - - small businesses either can`t get the credit or they have to pay so much for the credit that they go broke trying to keep their head above water. So what`s happening here is that the focus of attention which used to be on combined policies of monetary ease -- pumping more credit into the system and budget stimulus -- used to give us a lot of expansionary potential at a period like this but it also gave us inflation four years from now. What we have now, according to our Federal Reserve officials, is they`re in place, they`re going to be restrictive, and they`re going to stay restrictive on the long haul, and what the focus keeps coming back to is the budget. And what I`m saying, in effect, is our policies at this moment are completely out of whack. We have to bring them back into synchronization or this economy is going nowhere, and interest rates will not fall significantly against the background of even a recession.
MacNEIL: Does the financial community, whose anxiety has been so much responsible in part for keeping interest rates high and keeping the stock market down, does it care which way that`s brought back into balance -- whether more taxes or further budget cuts?
Mr. JONES: Well, obviously -- probably the best measure would be the revenue-enhancing measures, such as a $5-a-barrel tax on oil. I`ll come back to that -- excise taxes are debatable for regressive effects on the poorer people. But there has to be some kind of means of raising revenue. If the administration does not want to change the tax-cut pattern it has to find new alternatives. That budget simply cannot be as far out of balance as some of the estimates suggest -- $150 billion by 1984 -- and still maintain any kind of semblance of order in these markets. And, you see, one of the things that`s so critical about this corporate market and the bond markets is that that`s the markets where companies are supposed to be able to borrow long-term money at a reasonable interest rate in order to spend on new plant and equipment that creates jobs. If we don`t have better control in our fiscal side and in that deficit, this economy is going to be on dead center at the bottom of the valley for a considerable period of time.
MacNEIL: We have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Senator Armstrong, joining us in Denver, Congressman Rangel in New York, and Mr. Jones in New York. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We will be back on Monday night. I`m Robert MacNeil-Good night.
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- The main topic of this episode is Recession. The guests are David Jones, Charles Rangel. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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