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A Talk With Dan Quayle: `Washington Loves A Free Lunch'

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Despite a war victory that sent President Bush's approval rating rocketing skyward, Dan Quayle's ratings remain steadfastly earthbound. The Vice-President has been dutifully following the Bush script and immersing himself in task forces on government red tape and space exploration while keeping up a busy schedule of Democrat-bashing road trips. Despite it all, postwar polls show that Quayle hasn't convinced many Americans of his fitness to succeed Bush. In a recent interview in his White House office, Quayle met with Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak and White House Correspondent Douglas Harbrecht. The Vice-President talked up the work of his Competitiveness Council, stung the Democrats with an uppercut for questioning the war effort, and mulled the gulf war's implications for relations with Japan. He also brushed aside concerns expressed by the National Academy of Sciences about a new space station design he championed. And in a terse reply to his critics, Quayle dismissed speculation that his spot on the `92 GOP ticket might be in jeopardy.

Q As chairman of the White House Competitiveness Council, can you point to any specific things that your group has done to improve American competitiveness?

A We have sent a very good message. We are serious about trying to create a comfort zone of regulation in which business will prosper. We have looked at a number of regulations. We have been able to bring the Administration together on regulating biotechnology. We were directly involved in stopping a recycling regulation proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. We formulated product-liability legislation last year. . . . We're looking at litigation reform, at the telecommunications industry, at the cost of capital. So we will continue to be active.

Q Do you think it will be a problem for the U. S. if Japan gets more active buying into the biotech industry?

A The Japanese recognize the value of investment in the U. S., but because of economic limitations down the road, they are not going to be as active buying American industry as they have been in the past. Their interest rates are up. The yen's value is different. . . . There are no longer as many significant and lucrative targets for them to come in and buy.

Q You're a big booster of a manned space station. But a new National Academy of Sciences report concludes that the current design is deeply flawed. Are you reconsidering your commitment?

A We considered that report carefully, but it's myopic. The space-station redesign provides a worthwhile level of scientific research. But the station has other purposes: maintaining U. S. leadership and facilitating future manned space exploration. We're satisfied the new design meets all requirements for a balanced space program. We're sticking with the space station.

Q Can the gulf war success of the Patriot missile rekindle support for the Strategic Defense Initiative?

A Many on Capitol Hill were opposed to the Patriot initially. But the American people saw what the Patriot did and saw that ballistic missiles were knocked out of the air. It's going to take time to change Congress' attitude. But there is renewed interest in SDI.

Q Last year, the President agreed to a budget deal that will boost taxes by about $160 billion. Does Bush's about-face on taxes rob Republican candidates of their cherished antitax plank?

A The American people know who wants to raise taxes and who wants to keep taxes down. The Republican Party has always been the party advancing the idea that low taxes are the key to economic growth. . . . The Democrats are for higher taxes and bigger government.

Q Senator Robert Kasten R-Wis. has joined Senator Daniel Moynihan D-N. Y. on a proposal to slash Social Security payroll taxes. This idea doesn't fit the Democratic mold you just described. Why do you oppose it?

A When you start messing around with Social Security, you are playing with fire. The Social Security system is now off budget. People see the surpluses and feel there is a free lunch to be had. Washington loves a free lunch. Washington loves to do things that may be considered politically right but are economically wrong for the country. And if you are going to actually cut Social Security taxes, I want to know what benefits are going to be cut.

Q Is it fair to attack Democrats for their vote against the use of force in the Persian Gulf?

A You know what it's a question of? Judgment. The Democrat leadership made an erroneous judgment about a very important national security issue. Are they to be held accountable for their judgment? I would certainly hope so.

Q You counseled the President to walk away from the budget agreement last year rather than accept higher taxes. Given the fact that, even with the deal, we have a $300 billion deficit, can you still justify that position today?

A We will live by the budget agreement. The most important aspect of the agreement, I think, is the new spending caps. The agreement was in the long-term interests of the country.

Q In light of Tokyo's reluctance to join the allied war effort in the gulf, has the Administration been rethinking the U. S. relationship with Japan?

A The relationship is important. Do we think Japan should do more in the area of international responsibility? Certainly. There is a perception that because Japan did not send military forces, there was a lack of commitment to the coalition. I would point out that their $9 billion contribution was quite significant, and it didn't come without a political price in Japan. There are some more things that could be done. We would like stronger cooperation on foreign assistance. We would like them to open the door more on market access.

Q Polls suggest that you could be a significant liability to the GOP ticket. Have you ever thought of stepping down?

A I view that as a nonsensical and hypothetical situation. I try not to pay too much attention to nonsense.

Q Is that a no?

A You can interpret it any way you want. I don't know how much more direct I can be.

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