The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. MAC NEIL: Good evening. I'm Robert MacNeil in New York.
MR. LEHRER: And I'm Jim Lehrer in Washington. After our summary of the news this Tuesday, we have two reports and a Newsmaker interview about the continuing tragedy in Rwanda, excerpts from health care speeches by President Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Dole, an interview with the IRS Commissioner about misuse of tax returns, and a Paul Hoffman essay about the moon landing anniversary. NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MAC NEIL: President Clinton and Republican Senate Leader Bob Dole did some public negotiating on health care reform today, and the President appeared to narrow the gap between them on the issue of universal coverage. Sen. Dole has championed the idea of universal access to health care, rather than the President's concept of universal coverage. Today he asked this question during a speech to the nation's governors meeting in Boston.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Minority Leader: And if somebody wants to tell me what universality is, we'd be happy to listen. How do you get there, and how much does it cost? Is it 91 percent, 92 percent, 95 percent? Is it Ivory Soap? What is it?
MR. MAC NEIL: Later, reporters asked Mr. Clinton if his definition of universal coverage was still guaranteed coverage for all Americans.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: There's no way to get 100 percent. Social Security only has 98. They just moved to 97 a couple of years ago. But I think you have to have the universal coverage go because if you don't have, the idea of trying essentially to have functionally full coverage, whatever that is, it's a very high percentage. Then the rest of these reforms will not work.
MR. MAC NEIL: The President also said he'd consider an alternative to employer mandates and said he was willing to negotiate the percentage of workers' health coverage paid by their employers. We'll have extended excerpts from the President and Sen. Dole's speeches later in the program. Jim.
MR. LEHRER: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously today for Judge Stephen Breyer's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said he hoped the full Senate would vote on the nomination Friday or early next week. In economic news today, the Commerce Department reported the U.S. merchandise trade deficit grew in May to its highest level in more than six years. The $9.1 billion trade gap was 7.6 percent higher than April.
MR. MAC NEIL: The Tutsi rebels in Rwanda today installed their new government. One official appealed to millions of refugees to return home, but the mass exodus is continuing. An estimated 2 million people are attempting to reach already overcrowded refugee camps in neighboring Zaire. One U.N. worker described the exodus as reaching biblical proportions. More than a million people have already fled the country. A special U.S. envoy to Rwanda said today that troops massing in Zaire are planning to invade Rwanda. Brian Atwood said soldiers loyal to the former government have brought weapons into Zaire and might try to oust Rwanda's new government. We'll speak with Brian Atwood after this News Summary.
MR. LEHRER: Sec. of State Christopher continued his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East today. He met with Syria's president in Damascus and called the negotiations difficult. We have a report narrated by David Symonds of Worldwide Television News.
DAVID SYMONDS, WTN: The American secretary of state arrived in Syria from Israel knowing that the stalemate between the two countries is the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Israel and Syria have been officially at war ever since Israel captured the Golan Heights 27 years ago. But nowadays the move towards the Jewish state is changing, and the Syrian president, Hafez Assad, is under increasing pressure to keep up with the times. America's offering both Jordan and the Palestinians cash incentives to make peace with Israel. While Assad may welcome someone to step into the Soviet Union's former role as benefactor, the fate of the Golan's too important an issue to compromise. After his talks with the Syrian leader, Warren Christopher described the matter as still difficult to resolve but called their discussions useful. With Jordanian and Israeli negotiators holding the historic second day of face-to-face talks, Syria's increasingly isolated. These discussions will precede an even more historic summit that's due to take place next week in Washington between King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin.
MR. LEHRER: Sec. Christopher will meet with Jordan's King Hussein tomorrow in Oman. Bosnia's Serbian assembly voted today on the international peace plan for Bosnia but the result was not announced. It won't be until negotiators in Geneva are informed. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic indicated the plan was approved with conditions. Bosnia's Muslim parliament approved the plan yesterday. President Clinton's national security adviser, Tony Lake, today warned the Bosnian Serbs of consequences if they reject the plan.
MR. MAC NEIL: A two-day funeral for North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung began today. A crowd estimated at 2 million lined the streets of Pyongyang for the procession. No foreign officials attended the funeral of Kim who was the North's leader since the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945. Kim's apparent successor, 52 year old Kim Jong-Il, attended his father's funeral service.
MR. LEHRER: More fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter today. One of them, known as Fragment H, produced a fireball 50 times brighter than the planet, itself. Yesterday's black eye effect created by Fragment G was still visible today. Scientists said it is now the most prominent feature on the planet. And that's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to the Rwanda story, President Clinton and Sen. Dole on health care, the IRS commissioner, and the moon anniversary. FOCUS - THE TRAGEDY CONTINUES
MR. LEHRER: Rwanda is once again our lead story. The civil war that broke out in April is now officially over. The rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front, known as the RPF, has declared victory and a cease-fire, but Rwanda's refugee crisis did not end today. We will hear from the top U.S. aid official who just visited the refugee camps after two reports from the scene. The first is by Independent Television News Correspondent Robert Moore from the border town of Goma.
ROBERT MOORE, ITN: On the vast expanses inside Zaire, refugees from Rwanda are struggling to survive. There is quite a desperate need for water. But they're queuing for any assistance available, others forced to beat them back to try and impose order. What is now certain is that without an extraordinary relief effort, thousands here will die within days. They are already suffering from disease, from dehydration, from hunger, from sheer physical exhaustion. But their astonishing exodus continues, a march to death for many, for among them are the weakest, some carried in wheelbarrows, others sobbing as their ordeal becomes just too much to bear. We attempted to follow their path deeper into Zaire. But the road is so choked with the refugees, so hopelessly congested that no one can go faster than walking pace. The actual flow from Rwanda and Goma has been halted. But now the 1 million who did cross are caught in this logistical and humanitarian catastrophe. Amid such vast numbers, amid such distressing scenes, we did see acts of generosity, like this man sharing his bowl of soup with others. Ten, twenty, perhaps thirty miles or so down port, the Hutus struggling to find the vast refugee camps that lie ahead. On either side of the road, scenes of utter despair and misery. The first few cargo planes have arrived at this border town. The first British aid is now on the ground, tents and sheeting, but so little it will not even begin to address the scale of the disaster here.
MR. LEHRER: Our next report is from Robin Dunslow of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was filed yesterday from Zaire.
ROBIN DUNSLOW, BBC: The sheer scale of the exodus was extraordinary. The largest ever recorded concentration of refugees stream from Rwanda into Zaire, and fleeing with them, the defeated Rwandan government army, many bringing their weapons with them across to the lake side town of Goma. Some escaped by boat. The largely Hutu army and militias accused of atrocities against the Tutsi elite have been defeated by the Tutsi-led rebels. But last night, mortars exploded near Goma Airport. The fighting continued all over last night and spread right into Goma. There was so much shooting in town that we and other journalists were unable to reach the aid agency where we're supposed to be staying. And at only at dawn was it clear what had happened. The refugee exodus here was now almost over. The rebel RPF had taken Gisenyi. Angry, bemused government soldiers wandered around town. Their weapons, ammunition and live grenades, have been scattered in the streets. And down towards the border was the horrific aftermath of the night's pointing. Mortars have exploded inside Zaire, killing perhaps 40 civilian refugees, but some were still just alive. There was a hasty makeshift relief operation to carry them on bundles of rush matting to any transport that could be found. Zairian troops today went out of their way to disarm the last stragglers of the government army, but we saw large numbers of Rwandan troops moving into Zaire with their guns. And there's now the obvious possibility that the defeated army and militias will try to regroup and continue the civil war. Down by the border we found a prominent Hutu businessman inspecting the scene. He said there were plans for just that.
NAHIMANA EUGENE, Hutu Businessman: [speaking through interpreter] For now, we're content with humanitarian aid, but later we'll be organizing to go home. We're looking for a country to help us counterattack. We've kept our big guns but we do need munitions. But now that there is no population in Rwanda we'll be able to attack again in six months.
ROBIN DUNSLOW: And there was more talk of regrouping and revenge in the vast teeming makeshift camps outside Goma, where the refugees were moving today in their hundreds of thousands. In the gray mist caused in part by a volcano that's suddenly become active not far away, they're building temporary shelters from branches. Eventually many here Kabumba will be moved to more permanent camps to be set out further out. The refuges told us they didn't trust the new government in Rwanda, and they wanted elections now, not in five years' time. And, yes, they'd like the army to attack the victorious RPF.
INTERPRETER: They say they will stay outside as long as they could go back home by force if necessary.
ROBIN DUNSLOW: At the moment there is the new government of the RPF there. Do they trust that government when it says that Hutus can go home and they will be safe?
CROWD OF PEOPLE: No.
ROBIN DUNSLOW: At arrival to a more permanent camp across town on the edge of Lake Kevu there are another group of refugees who welcome the rebel victory, plan to go home when they can, and say they're terrified by the arrival in Zaire of the defeated government army and militias. This is Kituku, a camp for Tutsis who fled from the fighting back in May. Here the huts are covered by plastic sheeting and protected with barbed wire. When we arrived, the Tutsis were holding a security meeting. There are just 4,000 Tutsi refugees here now surrounded by a million Hutu, surely including large numbers actively involved in the massacres back in Rwanda in which maybe a million Tutsi died, so the camp security chief tells them to be vigilant and guard the gates. I toured the camp with its leader and a former factory manager, both of whom lost their entire families in the massacres in the last three months. Kabera Enok feels the Rwanda war could now spread across the border.
KABERA ENOK, Tutsi Refugee: We still are frightened because we are near the lake and we have many times seen that there are people from Rwanda coming by the lake near our camp.
ROBIN DUNSLOW: So you think they might attack you here?
KABERA ENOK: We think in the future we shall be attacked.
ROBIN DUNSLOW: There's now a real fear that the extraordinary scenes in Goma could just be the start of yet another phase in the war for Rwanda, and that could, in turn, lead to wider de- stabilization in the heart of Africa.
MR. LEHRER: Now to the top American official to visit the refugee camps. He'sBrian Atwood, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. I talked with him earlier today from Nairobi, Kenya, after he had completed his fact finding mission to the Rwanda-Zaire border and to Burundi.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Atwood, welcome.
BRIAN ATWOOD, Agency for International Development: [Nairobi, Kenya] Thank you.
MR. LEHRER: Sir, does the installation of the new government today in Rwanda change anything for the refugees?
MR. ATWOOD: I hope it will. I hope it'll give them some hope. A cease-fire is obviously what is required in these circumstances. They have named a new government that has two leaders that are Hutu leaders, and I think that's an encouraging sign. Obviously, we are hopeful that the refugees will see a situation inside the country that will encourage them to return to their homes. This isn't going to happen immediately, and in the next couple of weeks we're going to have to feed a lot of people. We're going to have to make sure that they have appropriate medicine. We are talking about 1.2 million people. It's very hard. It boggles the mind. We're talking about basically a city that's larger than Boston and Washington and Seattle and Denver. It's really quite something. And this has to be managed. It has to be organized. We have to find distribution systems to make sure they get their food and the like, and we've got a very serious security threat in the sense that the Rwandan army is there en masse. They haven't disbanded. They've left their guns at the border for the most part, but it's a threat, and we've got to help -- we've got to manage this if we can.
MR. LEHRER: The threat being that they will seek to go back across the border and reignite the civil war, is that it?
MR. ATWOOD: That's not an immediate concern, but it is a concern over time. They've been making public statements that are very unsettling. They're saying that if the RPF could come into our country with only 12,000 men, just think what we could do with 3 million people. They've been saying that they're going to try to purchase guns and ammunition in Zaire or elsewhere. We really haven't seen the end of this but we're going to have to deal with the humanitarian consequences. We're very worried about the possibility of another flow of refugees out of the Southwest quadrant, the so-called safe zone that the French are taking care of at this point. We're very worried about that. We've got a hundred thousand people in the city of Bukavu, south of Goma. There are people streaming out south of Bukavu, and that's very dangerous, because that's very close to the Burundi border. So we're going to try to get food into the country, into the safe zones so that people will stay home. But it's a very serious problem. It isn't over yet. It is very encouraging that through our diplomacy and a diplomacy of the United Nations that the RPF did agree to a cease-fire. We hope now that they will abide by the Arusha accords signed a year ago, and that they will, in fact, agree to a power sharing government. If they do that, we will then recognize them, and we'll be able to work with them hopefully to reconstruct their country.
MR. LEHRER: Now, many of the refugees, the Hutus, say they left the country and are afraid to return because they think the new government will take retribution against them. Are those legitimate fears on their part?
MR. ATWOOD: It's difficult to say they're not legitimate concerns. This is the RPF that's been on the offensive. They've been putting Hutus into camps inside the country. They've not been acting indiscriminately, and there's a great deal of home, and they have promised the United Nations that they will deal with their - - with these war criminals through a normal judicial process. On the other hand, we have got -- it seems to me -- to add the element of a peacekeeping force in Rwanda in order to get over the psychological barrier that some of these refugees have. If we get that put in place, then I think there is a possibility that many of them will return home.
MR. LEHRER: Is there any way to separate out those that are legitimate refugees fleeing for their lives and members of the army who are raring to go back in and start the war again?
MR. ATWOOD: One easy way to do it, obviously, is to look at those who are still wearing uniforms. They're not taking the uniforms off. They're staying with their units. There is another group. It's a youth group called the Interhemway, who I think are known by the community. It is obviously difficult for humanitarian aid workers to tell immediately but over time I think we'll be able to, to separate -- we've got to separate the military from the civilians and deal with the situation as we see it.
MR. LEHRER: But who is going to -- excuse me, go ahead.
MR. ATWOOD: Go ahead.
MR. LEHRER: I was just going to say: Who is going to do that? I mean, who's going to physically separate them out and to keep these soldiers from going back if they want to go back?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, this is why first we've got to set up a power sharing government. We've got to reach an agreement here on how to proceed. We have to reach an agreement that the soldiers will be de-mobilized. That is going to take time, and in the meantime, we're faced with a humanitarian crisis of major proportions. This is a real test for the international security, for the U.N. system, for our government. I think we're responding well at this point, but we've got a long way to go.
MR. LEHRER: Describe what you saw yesterday. You went to these major refugee areas. Just tell us what you saw.
MR. ATWOOD: Never quite seen anything like it. Perhaps the 1976 July 4th celebration -- I mean, it was not people who were celebrating but in terms of the masses of people that were assembled just shoulder-to-shoulder for as far as the eye could see. What I think is most important is that these people had lost hope. You looked into their eyes and you saw basically dead eyes. You saw people that have seen it all, who can't experience anything worse than what they've already experienced. I think what we have to do is to try to rekindle hope for this country. It's going to take a long time before that happens.
MR. LEHRER: How do these people sleep and eat and do their normal human things that must be done?
MR. ATWOOD: We're trying against a lot of odds, including the closing of the airport, to get a lot of supplies and tents and plastic matting. A lot of them have suitcases, depending upon what they had when they left and what they could carry. They've got this with them, but they're sleeping on the ground on blankets, on cloths. You can't believe how congested it is, and, of course, our worry is disease initially. We have to worry about starvation, but they came across the border, most of them, in fairly good shape with respect to food, so we've got a little time. Fortunately, we were able to put in position, because we did anticipate some refugee flow back in late June, we helped the Red Cross put in place $3 million worth of food, 1100 metric tons. So we were able to buy some time with that. But in a week or two, if we don't start opening up this airport and getting an airlift in and then eventually a truck route from Kimpala, we're going to really run into trouble. We'll have starvation, and we'll have real problems on our hands.
MR. LEHRER: Who is essentially running the refugee operation? Is it done by private forces, by governments, a combination? Who's in charge?
MR. ATWOOD: I'll tell you, it's something for the eye to behold, but it is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that takes over in these circumstances. They've put out a major appeal to all the donors. We're doing everything that we can to support them. But there are a large number of non-governmental organizations that come into play here, and people of goodwill, they have organized to try to handle these kinds of crises. We couldn't do it without them, but the question of organization is crucial. And in this particular case, we need a good organizer. I met today with the UNHCR representative, the high commissioner for refugees representative, and he's gone off to Goma. And we desperately need a general out there. I don't mean a military man, but a person who really knows how to handle these things, because once the food starts coming, you could have riots, you could have people stealing the food. You've got to organize normally using the communities of the country, itself. They've come across the border in communities. Towns have joined together. Families have joined together. You've got to take advantage of that and feed people in that way.
MR. LEHRER: You're going to report back to President Clinton I understand on Thursday, is that correct?
MR. ATWOOD: That's right.
MR. LEHRER: What are you going to tell him that the United States should do?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, we have already begun our response, but I think it's a complicated question. I'm going to tell him first and foremost we've got to move in and respond to the United Nations appeal to provide support for that airport. We've got to get planes into that place.
MR. LEHRER: You're talking about the airport at Goma.
MR. ATWOOD: Goma.
MR. LEHRER: Goma Airport, right.
MR. ATWOOD: This is the Goma Airport, that's right. Until we can get a truck route open, we're going to need to use that airport, therefore, it needs to be secured. Right now, you've got refugees running across the tarmac. You've got a situation where it cannot open 24 hours a day. You've got a very small apron area so that only -- it only accommodates about six planes. You've got to get those planes unloaded quickly and get them out of there and let new planes in. All of that needs to be done. It's an operation I think that will be similar to Sarajevo. I think our military can be a big help there.
MR. LEHRER: Could it be basically a U.S. operation if it had to be?
MR. ATWOOD: We don't want it to be. We want it to be under the umbrella of the UNHCR, and we want other military defense departments from around the world to be participating as well. The French are already there. They're a big help. And we want this obviously to be a joint effort.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Atwood, what's the worst case scenario here? What if the President asks you that? If this doesn't happen, that doesn't happen, what is the potential for tragedy in this situation?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, obviously, it's great. If I get too specific, then I'm creating a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy, which I wouldn't like to see. If we can respond to this properly and create the right conditions inside Rwanda, people will go home. If we don't, the worst case, I suppose, is that they will regroup, reorganize, and start the war all over again from outside the borders of Rwanda. Obviously, it's a very de-stabilizing situation for the country of Zaire, for example, for the bordering countries, Tanzania, in particular for Burundi, which has the same mix of Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. We're watching now and very closely. That's why I visited Bujimbora on behalf of the President and met with the president of that country, urged them to reconcile their political differences and to form a power sharing government. And I think that the one factor that's positive there is that they're obviously intimidated by what's happened in Rwanda. If that blows, then we have a major problem in Africa, and a lot of good progress in Africa will be set back.
MR. LEHRER: And the potential for loss of life is enormous, is it not, sir?
MR. ATWOOD: Exactly. I mean, we've already lost some estimate as many as 700,000 people in the war and in the massacres that accompanied it. We could be losing people to starvation and to illness, disease. We can do something about that. We couldn't do a lot about the massacres that were occurring inside the country, but we can do something about this. And that's why the President sent me out here. And that's the kind of recommendation I'll be giving him.
MR. LEHRER: All right. Mr. Atwood, thank you very much.
MR. ATWOOD: Thank you.
MR. MAC NEIL: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, Clinton and Dole on health care, the IRS commissioner on peeking at returns, and Paul Hoffman on landing on the moon. FOCUS - POINT/COUNTERPOINT
MR. MAC NEIL: Next tonight, the President and the Republican Majority [Minority] Leader spar over health reform. Today President Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole laid out their visions of health reform as Congress heads into the final phase of the health reform debate. Both men spoke to the country's governors who are meeting in Boston. Sen. Dole criticized the Democratic plan requiring employers to provide health insurance for their employees. He urged the governors to back a more modest approach that Senate Republicans are now pushing.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Minority Leader: Now, no doubt about it that we're in the final stages this year of the health care debate. It was a debate that began as a bipartisan matter in a bipartisan manner. And I think despite the ratcheting up of the rhetoric by the White House and the Democratic National Committee, and I might -- and I guess the Republican Committee had a little ad too -- we don't have the money, but we do the best we can -- but I think the seeds of a bipartisan plan still exist if the administration is willing to come our way. And I believe it's very important when I say come our way and I say the seeds of a bipartisan plan, where did I go to get those seeds? Well, I went to the call to action issued by he governors, Democrats and Republicans, last January. Much of what is contained in your proposal is in the proposal put forward by Sen. Packwood and myself. And we didn't put the proposal forward as a Republican plan or as an opposition plan to President Clinton. As you know, there are at least five, six, seven, eight plans in Congress, and probably more than that, but five or six have gotten out of committees. Ours hasn't gotten out of committee and will be offered probably as a substitute at the appropriate time. So I guess the question is: Where do we go from here? Well, I think the President will agree, I'm not certain what he's going to say, but I think we have to get back to the issues that matter the most. And not withstanding whatthe media may report or what's been happening on whatever, this issue is not about Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole and Republicans versus the Democrats, or Republican governors or Democratic governors versus some other group, or the poor versus the middle class. I think health care is too important to be turned into class warfare or as a political battle of personalities. So it just seems to me we need a reality check, we need a second opinion, and the health care system may not be perfect, but it is the best in the world, it does need repair, but I'm not certain it needs a complete and total overhaul, and certainly not a complete and total takeover by the federalent. And if somebody wants to tell me what universality is, we'd be happy to listen. How do you get there and how much does it cost? Is it 91 percent, 92 percent, 95 percent? Is it Ivory Soap? What is it? I think access, universal access. I have no quarrel with everybody being covered in America but we've got to figure out how we do it, how much does it cost, and I guess between getting it done right and getting it done fast, many of us would like to get it done right. So we shouldn't be setting artificial deadlines. We've been told that if we're good boys and girls in the Congress and eat our vegetables and pass health care, we get a recess. We could care less about the recess. This is a very important issue. If it takes all of August and all of September and all of October to debate this issue, we ought to have that debate. And I remind you that even in Social Security we don't have universality. We have about 95 percent. We didn't cover agricultural workers and a lot of other workers in the first phase of Social Security, so this idea out that everybody has to be covered immediately in my view is going to be a very tough sell. We can still get it done. And I hope that's the same message the President will deliver when he comes here sometime later this morning.
MR. MAC NEIL: The President then told the governors he has yet to discover a better way to get universal health care coverage than by requiring employers to provide it.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, of course, the most politically difficult and politically charged issue we're facing today is the issue of health care. It shouldn't be surprising for 60 years the American people have seen their leaders periodically try to provide coverage to all Americans and to reform the health care system only to fail. The most encouraging thing perhaps that has happened today so far is the comment that Sen. Dole made that now is the time to act and he is willing to work all through August and September and October to get something done. That is what we ought to do. We ought to do whatever it takes and work however long it takes on whatever days it takes to get something done. So the question is: What should we do? I recommend a system of private insurance participated in by everybody with a break for small business that gives them lower costs and allows them to buy insurance, small business and self- employed people and farmers in big groups the way governments and big employees do -- employers do, maintaining consumer choice but with cost constraints like managed care. Now, that's what we offered, and you can find that in some form or fashion in the bills which are working their way through the Congress. Now, what is the alternative? If you want to cover everybody or nearly everybody, near as I can tell, there are only three ways to do it: You can do it the way Canada does and the way we do for seniors through Medicare by having a tax that does it. That didn't seem to me to be feasible, abolishing all private health insurance and replacing it with a tax, although you could do it for even less money than we're spending today and cover everybody. You can do it the way Hawaii does and the way Germany does and the way most of us do it by just expanding the system we have now and asking employers to pay some portion of their employee health insurance asking employees to pick up the rest. You could ask the employees who don't have insurance to cover their own insurance and give them a break, if they're low income people, to do it. There may be some other way to do it, but I'm not sure what that would be. I heard again the litany of things that people have said, that we don't want a government takeover of one seventh of our economy. No, we don't. That's why I propose doing what Hawaii did. Hawaii's not in control of the health care system, are you, governor? Private insurance, not a government takeover. We don't want jobs loss. The Congressional Budget Office says there'll be job gain if you stop all this cost shifting over a ten year period. And Hawaii's experience indicates that there will be job gain. We do not want to bankrupt the states. And we don't want to bankrupt the federal government. All I have tried to do, folks, is to consult with everybody from Dr. Koop, who was President Reagan's surgeon general, to the heads of our biggest medical schools, to the heads of our biggest corporations who can't deal with their medical problems, to the small businesses that want to buy insurance and can't to come up with something that works. I have no pride of authorship and no pride of details. I just want to do what will work, and I think you do too. If we'll keep that attitude, we'll find a solution in the next three months to the problem of health care. Thank you and God bless you all.
MR. MAC NEIL: Congressional floor debate on health care has not yet been scheduled. Democratic leaders in both Houses were preparing final drafts of their legislative proposals. FOCUS - INTERNAL AUDIT
MR. MAC NEIL: Next tonight, some taxing problems. Yesterday it was reported that since 1989, more than 1300 employees of the Internal Revenue Service have been investigated or disciplined for snooping on taxpayer returns, including 500 cases just within the last 10 months. Today the head of the IRS, Margaret Milner Richardson, went before a Senate Committee to discuss what's being done about the problem and to raise another, the increase in fraudulent claims by taxpayers who file their returns electronically. Now Commissioner Richardson joins us for a newsmaker interview. Commissioner, thank you very much for being here.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Thank you, Robin. Nice to see you.
MR. MAC NEIL: First, let's talk about the fraud that comes with electronic filing. Now electronic filing means filing your return through a computer, directly to your computer, is that right?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: That's correct. The electronic filing process has several different ways of doing it but basically it allows you to use a computer to file your return.
MR. MAC NEIL: So nothing is on paper, in other words?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: That's correct.
MR. MAC NEIL: How many tax returns are filed that way now, and how fast is it increasing?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we've had a fairly significant increase the last couple of years, and I think we had almost 14 million, about 13 1/2 million returns were filed electronically during the 1994 filing season. It was about a 10 percent increase over the prior year.
MR. MAC NEIL: And how do you expect that to increase over the next few years?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we're hoping to increase so that by the end of this decade we would like to have anywhere from sixty to eighty million returns filed electronically. Right now, we handle over 2 billion pieces of paper every year, and most of that paper and most returns that are filed on paper, I should say, are actually -- the data from that are entered by a person who does keypunch operation.
MR. MAC NEIL: Somebody who's got to read a paper return.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: They have to read it.
MR. MAC NEIL: And then punch the facts into your computers, yeah.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: That's right. And so the system is fraught with errors. We have with our electronic filing program, we have less than a 1 percent error rate, in fact, less than .5 percent, whereas in the paper filing process we have anywhere from 15 to 18 percent error rate.
MR. MAC NEIL: So it's a great deal more efficient.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Very much more efficient.
MR. MAC NEIL: And cost efficient as well.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Cost efficient, cost effective. It reduces errors but -- and it allows you to process much more information much more readily.
MR. MAC NEIL: Okay. Now, the question of fraud. Sen. Glenn's office, the chairman of the committee you appeared before today, says fraud appears to be doubling every year with electronic filing. Is that so, in your view?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Robin, we don't think that the fraud is doubling. What we do think is that we're able to detect it much more effectively and efficiently. And one of the things that electronic filing has allowed us to do is really to discern patterns and capture data that we've never been able to do before, and so we have much more sophisticated fraud detection today than we did even five years ago.
MR. MAC NEIL: Describe the most common kind of fraud. Is that a totally fictitious return that is filed by somebody who is, who is out to rip off the system, not his own return that he's cheating on but a totally fictitious one?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we have many variations on the theme, but we have had several -- a number of situations in the last couple of years where unscrupulous preparers would go into areas of the city and work with some agricultural workers, get legitimate taxpayer identification numbers, file returns using those numbers so the numbers were actually legitimate, pay those people for the use of their returns, and claim a fraudulent refund. So the information on the return would be fraudulent, but they would be using real names, real addresses, and real taxpayer identification numbers.
MR. MAC NEIL: Now, how many have you caught? How many fraudulent returns have you caught this year?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we -- I think thus far we've detected about 46,000, and we haven't quite finished our filter process, but -- and we are -- we have increased the number of people who are focusing on refund fraud, so our detection efforts are far more sophisticated, as I said, and we've also devoted a lot more resources this year to both the electronic filing process as well as the paper process.
MR. MAC NEIL: And what happens to the ones you catch?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we -- in appropriate situations we recommend prosecutions, and we've been extremely success the last few years. I think we have a 98 percent conviction rate, and the average sentence people receive is over 17 months.
MR. MAC NEIL: You talkedtoday about programming your computers to detect entries predictive of fraud. What are they?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we have a number of things -- in fact, we're working with the Los Alamos National Laboratories, to help us detect patterns in fraud and anomalies that will help us much like the Star Wars technology, I guess, help us detect fraud, and what we want to do is be able to filter out erroneous claims or fraudulent claims. One of the things we'll be doing next year is being much more cautious about paying out refund claims to taxpayers who don't have the proper taxpayer identification number. We're going to hold up the refunds until we can verify taxpayer identification numbers. So one of the things you'll be hearing a lot about next filing season is our effort to really encourage people to use the right taxpayer identification number.
MR. MAC NEIL: That's usually their Social Security number, right?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: That's right. And -- but we've -- in the past -- not always checked. If you've had a spouse or children, we've not always verified the accuracy of all those. And we will be doing that next year.
MR. MAC NEIL: You discussed fingerprints as a possible fraud protection measure. How would that work?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we have what we call electronic return originators, and these are the people that today you have to go to actually file electronically. They transmit -- they actually do the transmitting of the returns to the Internal Revenue Service. New electronic return originators for next filing season will be fingerprinted. We'll be doing credit checks, and we'll be doing much more background suitability checks than we have in the past.
MR. MAC NEIL: You made the point today that to keep up with the clever scams you need more sophisticated computers, but your budget is being cut this year. Can you get the new sophisticated computers you need with the budget cuts?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Unfortunately, Robin, we can't, and if we are in a position where our needs for next year are not funded, we're really going to have to rethink our whole tax system's modernization program. It's a multiyear program. It's about an $8 billion overall program or investment, and we have been very well supported by members of Congress over the last several years. They're looking this year at the possibility of about a $500 million cut in large part because of other priorities, and we're working with Congress to try to find ways to restore that money, because we are basically working with 1960s computer systems, and they just aren't up to the job we need to do today.
MR. MAC NEIL: When Sen. Glenn suggests, as he did, possibly stopping electronic filing until you have a system in place to catch the scams, can you make a system and put such a system in place without the new computer system?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: We really can't, Robin, and I think therein lies the dilemma. Without electronic filing and electronic processing even of the paper returns, we really won't be able to detect the fraud and prevent it. Our goal is to prevent it. We'd like to make sure that -- it's very expensive and obviously very time consuming to try to prosecute people who perpetrate fraud, and what we'd like to do is be able to lock people out of the system and prevent fraud from occurring in the first place. And we can do that when we have more timely matching of information, of wage data, taxpayer identification numbers, as I said, and I think the real key to that is having our modern system and bringing it on line as we've been planning to do over the next several years.
MR. MAC NEIL: I gather from your testimony you also need this new computer system to ensure that IRS employees don't snoop or browse through, to use the terminology, our tax returns unnecessarily or inappropriately. How did it come to light that employees were doing that?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, several years ago, Robin, we -- our own internal auditors working under the chief inspectors aegis conducted some studies and actually discovered that we have had employees who although they were authorized to be in the computer database to work on a taxpayer account matter were sometimes looking at other taxpayers' accounts, or perhaps their own, frequently trying to help a friend or neighbor discover the status of his or her refund, but it was totally unauthorized. And that has come to be known as browsing. We discovered it in one region and reported on it about a year ago before Sen. Glenn's committee and continued the study in the other six regions. We have seven regions. And the increased numbers that were reported or that you referred to earlier were really the result of our complete study over the last several years.
MR. MAC NEIL: Have those employees, any of them, used this information illegally, to blackmail people or some other --
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: I'm not aware of any situations where blackmail was involved. There have been a few instances where employees have manipulated their own accounts or attempted to get fraudulent refunds, but by and large, the cases have involved situations where people were really seeking to help a neighbor or a friend find out the status of a refund. But I've said before and I'll say it again, we will not tolerate even one employee who violates a taxpayer's rights to privacy.
MR. MAC NEIL: Well, how will you -- more sophisticated computers ensure the privacy? You have thousands of employees, many of them with a right to be in those files for legitimate reasons, how do you -- how do you keep our stuff private?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, we have about 55,000 employees who are authorized to be in that system. And the way the system has been designed today it's very difficult to lock them out. In the new system, we would -- as we assign work, we would be able to assure that the taxpayer could only access the accounts of the taxpayers whose projects have been assigned to them. And that technology exists, so that's not something that would be difficult to accomplish if we had the modern computer systems.
MR. MAC NEIL: Would this also secure privacy from the FBI and other government agencies, this new system?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Well, right now, we have very strict disclosure rules, and we are only allowed to disclose tax return information to other government agencies for tax administration purposes or a law enforcement purpose, so we work very closely with the Justice Department. But we are under very strict disclosure rules not to reveal tax return information.
MR. MAC NEIL: The General Accounting Office says today that the new system you're talking about is at least six years away. Do you agree with that?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: No, I don't. We expect to complete, if we're fully funded and we're able to bring it in on time, we expect to be completed or have the system completed in six years. We're actually today recognizing many of the benefits of tax systems modernization and have already installed a number of the features. But when you have a system that services almost two hundred or two hundred and fifty million accounts, it takes a while to bring it on line. So it's a -- it's a process that has taken several years and will take several more, but we are not six years away from doing the kinds of things we need to do to prevent refund fraud as well as protect taxpayers' right to privacy.
MR. MAC NEIL: We talked today to one of your predecessors, Lawrence Gibbs, a former commissioner. He says you are only halfway through your study of this browsing problem, and the Senators are using your partial data to beat up on the tax service, and he says that's unfair. Do you agree with him?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: I always agree with Mr. Gibbs. I think that we do take it very seriously. We will constantly be monitoring that kind of activity. We do have audit trail information, although we can't lock people out in advance. We know every single access that's been made, and we plan to step up our --
MR. MAC NEIL: In other words, every time one of your employees goes into somebody's file, the computer records that and so you know that?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Absolutely. We have a record of every single entry into an account.
MR. MAC NEIL: Well, Former Commissioner Gibbs said this is a typical beltway rocket sent up during an election year. Is he right about that?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: I'd have to defer to Former Commissioner Gibbs on that.
MR. MAC NEIL: How much more would have to be spent and when would it have to be spent to give you the most up to date tools to deal with the problems we've been talking about?
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: The original administration request for our tax system's modernization budget for next year was around $936 million, and right now, it's subject to being cut by about $400 million. If that money were restored so that we could bring things on line in 1995 like we'd planned to, we would be on target to do what we need to do.
MR. MAC NEIL: Well, Commissioner Richardson, thank you for joining us.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDSON: Thank you very much. ESSAY - MOONSTRUCK
MR. LEHRER: Finally tonight, essayist Paul Hoffman, editor of "Discover Magazine," marks our lunar anniversary.
PAUL HOFFMAN, Discover Magazine: On July 20, 1969, 25 years ago, two astronauts touched down for the first time on a foreign orb. [ASTRONAUT SEGMENT]
PAUL HOFFMAN: As their spidery craft came to rest on the Sea of Tranquility, Neil Armstrong uttered those historic words.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: The eagle has landed.
PAUL HOFFMAN: From Houston came a reply that seemed to speak for the half a billion people around the world who were watching.
HOUSTON SPOKESMAN: Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.
OTHER HOUSTON SPOKESMAN: Okay, Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Six and a half hours later, Armstrong emerged from the eagle's hatch and descended a ten-foot ladder to the Moon.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Buzz Aldrin followed. For the next two hours, they haltingly explored an acre of lunar surface, plodding around in bulky suits in one-sixth Earth's gravity.
PRESIDENT NIXON: Hello, Neil and Buzz, I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Nothing much ever happens on the moon, so the slightest incidents are immortalized. Armstrong and Aldrin's footprints, with no atmosphere to erode them, will probably scar the lunar surface for at least 1/2 million years.
ASTRONAUT: Beautiful, just beautiful.
PAUL HOFFMAN: In fact, the Moon's entire history is inscribed in its surface. The craters that pock it are cosmic insults from a bygone era more than 3.5 billion years ago when the Moon was under constant bombardment. Just as the Rosetta stone contains secrets of ancient Egypt, Moon rocks contain secrets of the early solar system. That's why Armstrong and Aldrin and the 10 Apollo astronauts who followed in their footsteps hauled back 842 pounds of Moon rocks. But geopolitics, not geology, was the main thing on John F. Kennedy's mind in May 1961, when he set the goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy wanted to re- establish America's technological supremacy in the face of Communist successes of the month before. Castro had repelled the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, and the Soviets had succeeded in sending the first human being, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into space. It took $25 billion and the coordinated efforts of 400,000 workers to achieve Kennedy's dream of kicking up Moon dust. Kennedy, of course, did not live to see his dream fulfilled, but it was achieved 18 months ahead of schedule and rallied the whole country, if only briefly.
[PETER, PAUL AND MARY SINGING]
PAUL HOFFMAN: From the divisiveness of the Vietnam War, from the despair of the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, the Apollo missions taught scientists a lot about lunar history, but the 17 Apollo missions, although conceived in the Cold War, had an impact far behind superpower politics.
ASTRONAUT: You're looking pretty small down there now, Houston.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Seven months before the first lunar landing, three astronauts on Apollo 8 became the first human beings to break free of Earth's gravity. They aimed a TV camera back at Earth and for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1968, all of humanity saw its home from afar, a tiny, fragile-looking blue marble suspended in a black expanse.
ASTRONAUT: And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.
PAUL HOFFMAN: The Earth looked so small astronaut Buzz Aldrin said later he could blot it out of the universe simply by holding up his thumb. From the vantage point of space, it was clear that Earth's atmosphere was a thin shell, like the skin of an onion, and not a boundless layer that could suffer whatever abuse, whatever pollutants be foisted on it.
ASTRONAUT: I have a beautiful view of the S4B and the Earth here. I'll try to get a picture for you.
PAUL HOFFMAN: It wasn't that scientists had discovered something new, but for hundreds of millions of people all over the world, it was a startling new perspective on just how fragile and small their home was within the immensity of the university. By so profoundly changing our perception of our own planet, Apollo did something completely unexpected. It helped launch the modern environmental movement. In April, 1970, only nine months after the first lunar landing, environmental activists organized the first Earth Day, the largest multi-city demonstration in U.S. history. The poet Archibald MacLeish spoke for millions of people who saw Apollo's photographs when he wrote at the time: "To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who now know that they are trulybrothers." That is the true legacy of Apollo. I'm Paul Hoffman. RECAP
MR. MAC NEIL: Again, the major stories of this Tuesday, President Clinton told the nation's governors he might accept a health care plan that did not include employer paid coverage if alternative financing could be found. He also suggested he might agree to a plan that did not cover every American. And the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously recommended the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Stephen Breyer. Good night, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Good night, Robin. We'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you, and good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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- This episode's headline: The Tragedy Continues; Point/Counterpart; Internal Audit; Moonstruck. The guests include BRIAN ATWOOD, Agency for International Development; SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Minority Leader; PRESIDENT CLINTON; MARGARET MILNER RICHARDSON, IRS Commissioner; CORRESPONDENTS: ROBERT MOORE; ROBIN DUNSLOW; PAUL HOFFMAN. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MAC NEIL; In Washington: JAMES LEHRER
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Identifier: 4974 (Show Code)
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1994-07-19, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 16, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-d21rf5m585.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1994-07-19. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-d21rf5m585>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-d21rf5m585