A Talk with Vice-President Dick Cheney

The Administration's energy plan is in trouble. The Senate has gone Democratic. And Bush's tough foreign-policy stance is drawing fire from U.S. allies. In a June 20 interview with Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak and White House Correspondent Richard S. Dunham, Vice-President Dick Cheney was stoic in the face of rising storms. What follows is a more complete version of edited excerpts from their conversation that appeared in the July 2 edition of BusinessWeek:

Q: You have more roles than almost any other Vice-President in memory. It seem almost like you're running a very complex corporate enterprise. What's your system?


I'm a little reluctant to use corporate analogies because it doesn't fit perfectly. The system is the President's. He's great at delegating, giving you an assignment, and then turning you loose on it and not trying to micromanage you or second-guess you. He expects you to deliver on time and on budget.

What I bring to the process is the perspective of having been here a number of times. This is my fifth tour in government, the fourth Administration that I've worked for. This is my third time in the White House. I first started here a little over 30 years ago when I was a youngster, now I'm the oldest guy in the West Wing.

I've got great staff. The President has put together a first-rate Cabinet and White House staff. I could not do what I do for the President if it hadn't been for those previous experiences or the relationships that developed over that period of time.

Q: Last year, you were among the first national politicians to talk about the economic slump. Would you care to predict that recovery is at hand?


My statements were accurate last November-December that the evidence [of a slump] was starting to accumulate. I think we've come very close to a recession -- I don't know what the second quarter is going to close out at. The tax cut that the President put through deserves the credit for either avoiding a recession this year or minimizing its impact.

Q: Democrats claim your new national energy plan shortchanges conservation.


The fact is, there are more recommendations in there dealing with conservation and renewables...than increased supply. Nearly all of the financial incentives focus on renewable sources of energy, as well as on conservation.

Q: You're considered Mr. Free Market when it comes to energy. So how do you explain the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's ruling to impose loose price controls on California?


FERC is an independent agency.... I suppose if there's a silver lining in this, it's that it forecloses the possibility of [more onerous] schemes.

Q: To your friends, you practice plain speaking, Truman-style: "California, you got into this mess, you get out." To your detractors, this is lapsing into the traditional Vice-Presidential role of the hatchet man. How do you see your role?


I don't see it in those terms. My job is to do what the President asked me to when I signed on, and that is to be a part of his team to help govern. And that has been the prime focus of my efforts.

I'm doing some political work. I campaigned for [Randy Forbes], who won a very important victory in Virginia this week. Monday night I was up in Michigan for Mike Rogers, a congressman from the 8th district, another very close, very competitive district. I've been to Florida to do a fund-raiser down there for the Florida Republican Party and Jeb Bush.

The pace will pick up as we get into next year, and that's part of my role, to be a spokesman for the Administration and to be out there helping our Republican candidates, and I'm happy to do that.

Q: Conservatives were distressed when President Bush said he looked into the soul of Russian President Putin and saw a kindred spirit.


I don't think that's exactly what he said. Somebody he could do business with, yes -- that's a fair and accurate statement.... It doesn't mean that you ignore the old Reagan axiom of "Trust, but verify."

Q: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is reviewing the Pentagon's budget and major weapons programs. Contractors keep asking if there will be any money left for defense spending. You want to have a high-tech military. Is the money is going to be there?


I think it will be. We have to make significant changes in our overall defense posture, and that's the process Don Rumsfeld [is heading] up right now.

There clearly is a need to modernize and update our military strategy, and the force structure that we need to carry it out. Looking forward, it's probably going to be significantly different than what we've inherited.... Defense will probably be the biggest increases of any item in the budget. But we've got to be frugal there, just as everyplace else. We also need to get some savings out of defense.

Q: Why did you meet with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at a time when a decision is near on that company's antitrust suit. Isn't this the sort of thing that got the Clintonites in trouble?


[On June 19] when Steve Ballmer came in, he had a range of issues that he wanted to talk about. I had a lawyer present. We made it clear in advance that we didn't want to talk about the antitrust case. I don't think that you can foreclose all relationships or communications between the government and corporations that have business before the government.

Q: Last week the European Union's antitrust commission recommended against the GE-Honeywell merger. Is the Administration contemplating any action that will allow U.S. products and firms to compete on a level playing field with Europe?


I have not discussed the GE-Honeywell merger with the President. [But] Europe is clearly a very important trading partner. We've got a lot of firms that do a lot of business in Europe, and you want the rules to be fair and equitable.... I think you've got to look at individual situations if you're going to comment on how a particular industry might or might not be affected.

Q: Does Democratic control of the Senate mean curtains for the President's agenda? Can you operate in this environment?


Oh, I think so.... But Democrats have a choice: They can either cooperate with a President, who has made it clear he is willing to work with them on the important issues of the day, as he has on education, or they can be obstructionists. In either case, the voters ultimately will decide in the next election, and if [Democrats] have been obstructionists, they'll pay a price.

Q: Are you spending less time on the Hill now that the Senate is no longer 50-50?


It's actually about the same. I try to go up every Tuesday. And the fact that there's been a change now in the control of the Senate hasn't changed that.

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.