SOPHOMORES ON THE BUDGET
JULY 30, 1997
After a background report by Margaret Warner, a regular NewsHour panel of five members of Congress, all elected during the Republican takeover in 1994, discusses the balanced budget deal.
MARGARET WARNER: For more on today's vote and the state of Congress in general, we turn to five House members, all elected in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. We've periodically turned to four members of that class for their insights, and they were with us again now. Republicans Zach Wamp of Tennessee and George Nethercutt of Washington State; Democrats Zoe Lofgren of California; and Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. Joining them tonight is Oklahoma Republican Steve Largent. So, Congressman Nethercutt, how do you feel about this budget deal?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R) Washington: I feel find about this budget deal, Margaret. I think it's not perfect, but it's a darned good start to get us to a balanced budget, to address the issue of entitlements and Medicare and Medicaid. There's some wonderful health care initiatives in this bill. There's an education component. There's a tax relief component that I think is terrific. It's part of why I ran for Congress. So, overall, I think it's a good plan, and I think the vote today was evidence that it has bipartisan support, and we're working together to help Americans.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Largent, now, you just voted against the spending side of this deal. Why?
REP. STEVE LARGENT, (R) Oklahoma: Well, I think you can look at the vote--eighty-five people voted against it--and basically divide that--about fifty Democrats, thirty Republicans--and say that, you know, here's your ideologues on both sides--the far left and the far right. And I think, you know, the list is a long one, why I don't support it. I think at the end of the day I hope we get to a balanced budget in 2002 with this deal, but the facts are that we've done nothing, especially not spend as much money--$70 billion more than we have this year--that's what we're going to do in the next five years--that we would have balanced the budget sooner.
We've created a new entitlement program, and we've said forever that the problem with the budget that we have today is that we've got too much entitlement growth. And here's an entitlement that grew 50 percent from $16 billion to $24 billion just in the last 36 hours and whose life expectancy went from five years to ten years in the last three hours.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying then that you think Republicans who voted for it, that somehow conservative principles have been abandoned?
REP. STEVE LARGENT: No, I don't think that all. I mean, look, I'm just hoping that the projections are accurate; that we do get to balance the budget by 2002. We're going to get an opportunity to vote tomorrow, and I will be a definite yes on the vote to offer tax relief for American families, and that's the positive aspect of this deal. The tough pill to swallow was the additional spending and the increased--the creation of new entitlements. And that's why I voted against this bill today.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Zach Wamp, you voted for it. Why?
REP. ZACH WAMP, (R) Tennessee: Well, I don't think the perfect necessarily has to be the enemy of the good. There's certainly--and Steve identified things that you wouldn't like about this bill, but we've got three and a half years in front of us of a divided government. And the American people sent President Clinton to the White House to serve for four years and sent the Republican Congress back.
If we're going to carry out the correction that I believe began 31 months ago, it's necessary for us to give. He has clearly come to the middle. I think it's up to us as a majority party, the governing party in the legislative branch of the federal government, to move as close to him as we can in order to move the process forward. Frankly, if our ideologues did win the day, I'm afraid not much would happen in the next three and a half years, and we'd all be sitting home, and we couldn't correct anything.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman Fattah, where does it--what does this deal look like from your side of the aisle?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D) Pennsylvania: Well, I think that, for instance, Steve mentioned the children's help initiative. The fact that we're going to spend some $24 billion to try to make sure that young children in this country do have an increased life expectancy, that we try to improve their lot in life, I think it's a wonderful step forward. The increase in educational expenditures, the largest in a very long time in our country, says that it's not really the economy.
It's the next generation that we need to focus on. I think it's--overall, it's a good deal. There are things in it that anyone could pick apart, but I do think that the increased efforts to respond to real serious problems in our country as represented on the spending side, it is a very good deal, and I want to congratulate those who were involved at the White House and in the congressional leadership for helping us arrive at this shared consensus.
MARGARET WARNER: Zoe Lofgren, how do you feel about having your president as your Democrat, fellow Democrat, Bill Clinton, as Zach Wamp put it, move to the middle? Do you think that's what's happened? And is that a good thing?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D) California: I don't know if he moved anywhere. I think he stayed pretty much where he's always been. And he's delivered on some of the things that he's been talking about for a long time, that a lot of us Democrats have been talking about, which is more money and more emphasis on education, and there is a lot that's very good in this package for education, for higher education.
The highest Pell Grant in the history of this country for disadvantaged students seeking a college education; increased tax benefits for middle income families trying to send their kids to college, it's very important, and I think it's about the future. It's the Democratic domestic agenda, which is in the large measure embodied in this bill.
MARGARET WARNER: Was it at all hard--staying with you for a minute--for Democrats like yourself to vote when your leader--House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is against it--as opposed to this basic plea, too much of a giveaway to the wealthy on the tax cut side?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, it's interesting because all of us here have our roles in the House and then our roles as representatives of the district. Mr. Gephardt didn't vote for it, although I will point out that every--Mr. Fazio, the chair of the Democratic Caucus did, as did Dave Bonior, the Democratic Whip.
I understand that for his own reasons--he'll have to speak for himself--Mr. Gephardt did not find it worthy of his vote, but he never urged the caucus to vote against it at all. It was a personal decision he made. And, as you know, the overwhelming majority of Democrats did vote for this package, not that we like every single thing in it, but, on balance, it really does express Democratic values, while balancing the budget.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Largent, you were among the group of dissident Republicans, who in the last couple of weeks have raised serious questions about the Speaker's, about Newt Gingrich's leadership. Does this budget deal restore confidence in his leadership? Where does it leave that issue?
REP. STEVE LARGENT: One of the members of our conference, I think, said appropriately that if you're a Republican and you believe in less government and more personal freedom and free enterprise, you're a dissident in Washington, D.C.. Any Republican is, and I think that that's true.
I don't think that this undermines the speaker. I think the vote today indicates that this was a bipartisan effort, and that, you know, as Zoe Lofgren said, that the congressional leadership, both Republican and Democrat, should be congratulated for bringing about a bipartisan agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: George Nethercutt, do you think this helped strengthen the speaker?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I think it does. I think we have to give credit where credit is due. And I think the speaker is due a great deal of credit not just for the last few weeks or months of really crafting the details of this package, but over the last two and a half years.
He's been tireless, along with John Kasich and Dick Armey, and the other members of the leadership who've really fought for--Bill Archer and others have fought very hard to get this tax package, to get a strong education component, to have a Medicare fix that we think makes sense. Again, it isn't perfect, but I think for now certainly Speaker Gingrich is strong, and I think people respect the fact that he's worked tirelessly to make this happen.
MARGARET WARNER: Zach Wamp, where do you come down on this question, and let me throw to you something Mark Shields said on the show Friday night--he said, you know, in the end it was the establishment Republicans who rescued Gingrich, rather than your class of much more--I don't want to characterize it--but ideological or driven conservatives. Do you feel that way? Do you feel that Gingrich is kind of moving away from the energy and perspective that you all brought?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, I think he's the Speaker of the House, and he's going to continue as the Speaker of the House, but I think what this whole exercise has clearly shown is that the character of the Republican conference is incredibly strong and the character has really risen up in the last two weeks to keep the team together. This has never been about one person or even a small group of people. It's been about a set of principles on which we agree.
And I can tell you this: Our conference is chock full of good, strong leaders. There are several on this show right here, in my opinion, that are capable of leading in the future. And I think the Speaker Gingrich thing will work itself out at a later time, and for the moment, we need to stay focused on bringing the people the promises and the change that we set about for the last 31 months. I think this is a continuation of the 104th Congress going in the right direction and bringing the President and the Democrats who want to come along with us.
MARGARET WARNER: Chaka Fattah, let me ask you about something related to all this, which is you're going to go home now to your districts. You're going to have tax cut and budget deal under your arm and yet a lot of polls show--and there have been a lot of op-eds and editorials written about this--that more and more Americans just feel Washington's irrelevant to their concerns. Do you find that?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, I think on some days Washington is irrelevant, but when you talk about the tens of thousands of uninsured children in Pennsylvania or Oklahoma, Washington is going to be very relevant in providing health insurance for those children because of this bill.
We talk about kids being able to go to college. These increased Pell grants are going to be very relevant. In terms of the Speaker's personal politics, I think that this can't strengthen him because this is not the issue that weakened them. And you have to look at the issues that weakened Gingrich and figure out how he's going to improve his foundation on that issue. But we're well beyond personality politics now. We're at the point where we have a budget agreement that outlines, I think, rightly so, Democratic initiatives that were won in terms of Clinton's election in the last election; also, fiscal responsibility; and for the Republicans a tax cut in terms of capital gains.
I mean, I think both parties can take--rightfully take credit for the child--$500 per child tax credit. And the Democrats especially are pleased that in there will benefit those on the lower echelon of the economic ladder.
MARGARET WARNER: So, George Nethercutt, do you agree from the Republican side of this that when you go home, that voters are going to feel some gratitude or give you all real credit for this accomplishment?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I think they will. I think there's a lot to explain and discuss and be proud of. And really, go back to the reason I even ran for Congress was to try to reduce the scope of the federal government and make it more efficient, reduce the tax burden on families, craft programs so that they're efficient, not just spending money, but craft them so that they will work.
And I think that's what we've done in this package. And I'm proud to go home and say this is what we've done; this is what you sent me here to do; and I've fulfilled my obligations. And there's more to do. I think that we have to keep in mind there's an enforcement mechanism here that must not be forgotten. I will take some credit that we Republicans have been in the majority and drove these issues, drove us to this point, without which driving I don't think it would have happened.
So I think we're going to have to go back and say look what we did, look what we want to do to make sure that nothing changes in the scheme of making these major changes in government.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you all very much.