BACK TO WORK
FEBRUARY 27, 1996
The House and Senate returned to Washington this week to begin the second session of the 104th of Congress. For the freshmen members, the break provided the first extended period back in their districts. Five of those freshmen talk with Jim Lehrer about how their first session played at home.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wamp is here, as are three other House freshmen who have joined us from time to time during this 104th Congress: Republican George Nethercutt of Washington State; Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California; and Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. They are joined tonight by Republican Andrea Seastrand of California. Congressman Fattah, in general terms, how does your going home experience compare with Zach Wamp's?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D) Pennsylvania: Well, I think that we all probably enjoy the opportunity to get back and see our constituents, and as Congressman Wamp did, there was an opportunity to interact with a wide range of constituents back in my district, both business leaders, civic leaders, everyday citizens, and to hear from them and to share with them what took place here over the first session of the 104th.
JIM LEHRER: And what did your folks tell you about the 104th Congress, the Contract with America, the Republican freshmen, et cetera?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, I think that people recognize, as they did in Tennessee, that there's been a lot of talk and very little action. And I do think that, as I've said every time I've been on this show, that the real question is compromise. It's: How do we find a way to move through to a shared consensus about which direction we want the country to go in? And so I'm happy in some senses that there is a recognition now, that we're going to have to work together if we want to accomplish anything, and to hear both the President say it and Zach Wamp say it tells me that there's some optimism out there in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Is George Nethercutt going to say that too? Is that what you heard in your district in the State of Washington?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R) Washington: Jim, I heard a lot of encouragement. People were saying to me, we know you're trying to do the right thing, we think you're on the right track, you have some stumbling blocks to overcome, but keep firm in your commitments and keep moving forward. We like what you've done so far, but you need to do more.
JIM LEHRER: They don't say--they say we're with you on Contract with America, they say don't make a deal with the President, or the Democrats, what do they say?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Some say, don't make a deal. Others are saying, you know, a deal is better than no deal, some deal is better than no deal, so I'm getting encouragement to say, keep your eye focused on welfare reform, Medicare preservation, and Medicaid reform, and balancing this federal budget. No. 1 is balancing the federal budget, and push the President to do that.
JIM LEHRER: What did you hear back in your district in California?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D) California: Well, I think for the most part, most the people who talk to me have very strong disagreements with what the 104th Congress has done. They're very unhappy with the tenor of the discussion, with people yelling at each other. They think that the--
JIM LEHRER: What about the shutdown of the government, did you hear about that?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: I heard from Republicans as well as Democrats they thought that was about the stupidest thing they ever heard of. They couldn't understand why that happened.
JIM LEHRER: Did they blame you for it?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: No, actually not. They have identified really that Newt Gingrich is speaker and that the Republicans are running the show in the Congress, and that it was a tactic that didn't emanate from me. The other thing I got was two things: feedback that when we can work together, we should, and I've tried to do that, but also to stand firm on the things I really believe in, and more than anything else, that all this discussion and shutting down the government and all the rhetoric they hear is so far afield from what people really are worried about, which is kids and education and focusing in on making a healthy economy and country.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you represent a different district in California. What did you hear?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND, (R) California: Well, I heard that people are telling me to stay the course. Some may disagree with me, but for those vast amount of constituents, they recognize that Andrea Seastrand is keeping her promise. They want to see that I fulfill those promises, and one thing that they told me is not to get discouraged by the attack ads and the things that are coming down around Andrea Seastrand. I'm one of those freshmen that is being attacked by the big lobbyists and the bureaucrats from Washington, D.C..
JIM LEHRER: What are you being accused of?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: Well, I'm being accused for voting for a bad budget, cutting Medicare drastically, devastating education, which isn't true, and so it seems like the folks back home 3,000 miles away seem to understand that there is an attack for somebody that's trying to do the right thing. And so they say stay the course, and it was interesting talking to about six people that wrote some letters to the editor, didn't know them, called them up, and thanked them for defending me, and they said, Andrea, we're seeing through the smoke and mirrors, the silent majority out here is, is thinking like I'm thinking, and please stay the course.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Congressman Wamp, what we've been hearing here in Washington while you all have been gone is that the Presidential politics on the Republican side has completely wiped out what we've just been talking about, the, the Contract with America, the Republican Revolution, it's a whole different ball game out there now because of that. Do you agree with that?
REP. ZACH WAMP, (R) Tennessee: Well, I think really our Presidential candidates might do well to talk about the things that we've been trying to do. I mean--
JIM LEHRER: Why are they not doing that?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, I don't know, and they're not doing too well right now. They might ought to talk about the things that American people want to hear about. I think it boils down to this, Jim. I think that in the last 14 months, the Republican Congress gets an "A" on policy and a "C-" on politics. The Democrats and President Clinton get an "A" on politics and an "F" on policy, and that's where American politics is today.
JIM LEHRER: But what about--does it annoy you, Congressman Nethercutt, that you've been here in Washington doing all this sort of stuff and no Presidential candidate from your own party seems to be saying, right on, freshmen, right on, Contract with America?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Well, to some extent it does, Jim. Presidential politics is like pregnancy. You know, we've got nine months to go until the election. We're feeling some morning sickness right now I think among the Presidential candidates. And I think that's normal in our party. We had it in '92; we have it in '96. I think that the, the negative advertising that's gone on by the Presidential candidates has been not to promote what they are in favor of but to knock the other but to knock the other runner down, and I think that's bad policy, and bad politics. I hope they get on track and say let's focus on signing some of those bills that go down to the White House, instead of having a President that vetoes them.
JIM LEHRER: What does it look to you from the Democratic side, as you watch the Republicans go about their thing on the Presidential trail right now?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, one of the things, I was in local government until last year, and in California, that's non-partisan, and I always had support from Republicans and Democrats. I have a lot of friends who are Republicans who have been supporters, and a number of them have told me that they can't believe that they're voting for Bill Clinton. They think that Buchanan is scary. They think the rest of them are midgets and it's made them look at Clinton, and they kind of like what they see.
JIM LEHRER: What about those who say that Buchanan is speaking a Democratic message, particularly on economics, more so than a Republican message, just the opposite of the ones that we've been hearing in Washington from Republicans these last several months?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, I--I've been a Democrat all my life, and I never said the sort of things that he's been saying, and that's what people are scared. He seems like such a, an extreme individual with ties to people who are really on the lunatic fringe of American politics. It's got people very alarmed, and it's sort of--I had a friend who sent me this note. She said, Honey, give me a hammer, there's a fly on your forehead approach to the world, and I think that is now causing the public to seriously look not only at Buchanan but at the whole Republican structure, because people have been busy doing other things, and they don't like what they see at home.
JIM LEHRER: When you hear Congresswoman Lofgren say that Pat Buchanan, one of your Presidential candidates, speaks for the lunatic fringe, what does that do to you, Congresswoman?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: Well, again, it's the continuation, in my estimation, of scare tactics from Democrats. I heard it the day I was sworn in, and up to this point in time. I disagree with that, and I'll stand proudly. I haven't endorsed any candidate in the Presidential--among the Presidential candidates, but I'm looking forward to enthusiastically endorse our nominee when that time comes. I think any candidate that we have that's out there now is going to do a wonderful job against President Clinton, and I think that we'll be able to point out all the areas that we disagree with the President.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Fattah, how do you feel about this, the issues that are made by a lot of pundits and, in fact, by a lot of Republicans, that Buchanan on his economic things is speaking more to a Democratic constituency than he is to the traditional Republican constituency? Is that true of your constituents?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Not at all. I think what you see is that the Contract with America doesn't sell well out in the country lane. And that's why Republican candidates aren't trying to sell it anymore. They have, you know, Phil Gramm was the poster child for the Contract on America. He didn't even make it to the first primary, and he's out of this after spending $20 million. Now, what we have is Buchanan, who has taken his message to Republican primary voters who are the most conservative members of the Republican Party. They are the ones voting for Buchanan. So no matter how much they may want to suggest that his message somehow is a Democratic liberal message, the people who are buying it are, in fact, the most conservative-minded Republicans in the country. He's doing very well, and I think the Republican Party has responded in a panic, but the reality is, is that they will have to live with whoever their nominee is, and we're going to be very proud to stand up with ours.
JIM LEHRER: What's your analysis, Congressman Nethercutt, of the Buchanan phenomenon, I guess, is what you would call it at this point?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Jim, I think Pat Buchanan speaks to a certain segment of society, and it's not unlike the Democrat message of scaring people. I think Pat does reach out and there is some fear in his message. He got about 27 percent in New Hampshire. He got 38 percent in New Hampshire four years ago, so I think he will appeal to a certain segment of the community of America and I don't think he'll last very long with his message. I think Bob Dole will be the nominee, and I think he'll be the stability--the stabilizing force in the Republican side and I think go on to victory in 1996.
JIM LEHRER: What about the point that Congressman Fattah just made, that the contract--the reason candidates aren't mentioning the Contract With America is it isn't going over very well out in the country, and so no Republican candidate is tying his fortunes to it?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: Well, I would just say that I wish they would come to California. I'm looking for the early primary. Maybe some of them will come and campaign in California. We really haven't seen any of the candidates there, because they'll talk to the folks about how balancing that budget is important. If there was one thing I heard, it's please give me regulatory relief and tax relief, and then immigration reform, the No. 1 issue in California and in the 22nd Congressional District. We're not going to balance that federal budget until our borders are under control, so I'm looking forward to a spirited debate in California, and I didn't think that California with the early primary would have any effect. I thought it was going to be sewed up by now, but it's interesting, and I think the folks back home on the 22nd will be interested to hear the different candidates come stomping through California.
JIM LEHRER: So you don't feel they're relevant?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: No.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel they're relevant to the Presidential primary?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Not at all. And I think, Jim, the voters very much agree with what we are trying to do here and actually embraced the Contract with America. I think the Presidential candidates didn't want to be confused with Speaker Gingrich, who happened to have his own approval ratings down here while the issues of the Republican agenda were still very high on the voters' list of priorities. So they didn't want to be compared to Newt Gingrich, so they didn't talk about what we're doing in the House. I think that's the truth. But I think what's--
JIM LEHRER: That's kind of a tough truth, isn't it?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, it might be, but I mean we're realistic and so is he. He's talked about being, you know, a teacher and a professor and maybe having to learn how to be a Speaker of the House and not the college professor, and I think he's recognized that himself. I think the Buchanan phenomena potentially is very good for our party, and I want to be an optimist about it. If our party is big enough for Dick Lugar and Pat Buchanan and everybody in-between and we can come back together at the end of the day, we're not the party of Wall Street or the party of the country club, we're the party of a middle America. And there's plenty of room in our party for everybody. That's a majority party, and a party that'll win in November.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that the party can get together after what it's going through now?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Hey, I remember in 1992 how bad it hurt to hear Pat Buchanan's radio commercials about President Bush. I was driving down the road, and I went, oh, that is bad, but they came back together at the end of the day.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I'm sorry, go ahead.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I just think that it's only part of the truth though, and the truth is even tougher than what Zach has said it is. The Republican leadership in the House is moving away from the Contract on America, and they've been retreating, trying to figure out where to go to next, and they plan to focus in on a whole 'nother set of issues because the contract is not sold, and the reality is, and you heard Zach say it in the opening piece, is that we got to move now from this confrontation to some kind of compromise on issues so that we can balance the budget, the President has laid out a series of cuts, Republicans have a series of cuts, they mutually agree on enough cuts to balance the federal budget now, and then we have to get to some of the issues that are really on the minds of the American voters. Those have to do with jobs and education.
JIM LEHRER: Let's talk about that now. What did you come back to do now, Congressman Nethercutt?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I came back to focus on several specific legislative items that I think our Republican Conference should undertake and promise to the people we will pass and, and then accomplish and put the, the questions of welfare reform and Medicare and Medicaid preservation on the President's desk and let him decide whether he's going to veto them or not like he has already. So I think we need to shorten our list of accomplishments. We had a lot--we got a lot done last year. I think we need to be proactive in getting our message out that welfare reform is something the country wants, Medicare preservation is something the country wants, immigration reform, if that's it, and Medicaid preservation. We need to focus on those things and take another shot at it. The President vetoed them so far.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: How we can--we got almost nothing done last year, and one of the things I did at one of the town hall meetings I had was to make a copy of all the bills that became law. There were 89 of them in the first session, and there was one whole page of renaming federal buildings, so we didn't accomplish much of anything. We haven't gotten the appropriations for fiscal year '96 done. That was due last October 1st, and now--
JIM LEHRER: That's part of the continuing resolutions.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: --we're starting on fiscal year '97. I mean, we have accomplished nothing but shutting down the government a couple of times, and arguing with each other. I think the country has an expectation, at least my constituents tell me, and I mean, I stood in front of supermarkets listening to people, they want us to focus--my constituents want me to focus in on kids, on education, on the future, on a long-term outlook for what's healthy for this country--and I hope to be able to do that, but if we just continue this kind of change that goes so far, then instead of solving the problem has to go one step too far so that we can't really agree, we're just going to end up at the end of this year with nothing accomplished, and I think that would be a shame for the country.
JIM LEHRER: What do you see when you look ahead? What do you want to do and what do you think is going to happen?
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: Well, I did, I kept my promises, passed legislation, and I think the important thing I'm going to be working on is to see that we have a new President come November, a President that will not automatically veto, talk the talk but not walk the walk, and so I'm going to, as George has stated, see that we get welfare reform, push another bill onto the President's desk, and see if he's going to veto it once again. I'm hoping not. So with that, and a strong supporter of immigration reform come March 18th, the next thing will be to see to it that we get a President that will not just, as I said, talk the talk.
JIM LEHRER: Should, should--Congressman Wamp, should we look forward to a--or expect a kind of a Contract with America II that will emerge from, from the Republican leadership and say, okay, here's what we're going to do this second--try in the second session to get through?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, on changing the institution of Congress, we passed the gift ban. It's in place, effective January 1. We passed lobby reform; the President signed it into law, major lobbying reform. Now, campaign finance reform is the last frontier of the 104th Congress, and I am going to push as hard as I can, and I think we should, to get a substantive vote out of the Congress, both bodies, to the President for his consideration on campaign finance reform. Welfare reform will really restore work and responsibility, and I hope we send him a clean welfare bill and a clean Medicaid bill to give him a new set of options. Do I reject what 45 out of 45 governors have agreed to, or do I sign it? And give him a new set of options. I think--I hope we send him at least one other budget and give him a whole 'nother set of options. I hope we can send him a budget that has 40 Democrats on it that's a compromise budget and give him a whole 'nother set of options, 'cause I believe the more options we give him, the more chances we give him to veto good alternatives, and effectively veto himself.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let me pick up on what you told Kwame on the tape piece, that you thought the politics that were practiced by the House Republicans may not have been so great, and that's why so much--so--more could have been done had you all played the politics a little bit better than the President did. Are you going to change the politics?
REP. ZACH WAMP: It's easy to sit on Monday morning and second guess what happened on Sunday afternoon, so let me say that first, but I do think the strategy of finesse instead of a strategy of force would actually say, okay, the governors have come together on welfare and Medicaid, let's send that to the President Clinton clean, a strategy on the debt ceiling, for instance, is not to load it down and give the President the opportunity to take the high road again. The President doesn't deserve the high road here. Let's not give him that.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read that?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: The point is, is that none of us, as far as I know, is running for President. We're not in a competition with President Clinton. Our job is as members of the United States Congress, is to figure out how we can best serve the welfare of our constituents. And this kind of gamesmanship, partisanship of the back and forth figuring out how to checkmate Bill Clinton, when in reality that's not what we're being paid to do, that's not what we've been elected to do, that's not the oath that we took in our office, and we have to rise above this, and we--and I know that we all have political pressures on us. We heard the Congresswoman from California talk about her political situation. The issue is not how many more elections we win or who gets elected President; it's what do we do to help people?
JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, this is a Presidential election year. We've got not only primaries now, pretty soon we're also going to have nominees. How in the world can you separate what you all are doing from that?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, you can separate it. You've got Buchanan and his pitchforks marking towards Washington, and you've got President Clinton and his record that he'll have to run on. The reality for me in my district is people want to know about their job security. They want to know about educational opportunity. They want to know what I'm doing in the Congress on those issues, and they are intelligent enough to decide who they want to vote for for President.
JIM LEHRER: Can you separate it from Presidential politics, what you're doing?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I don't think so. I think the success of the Republican Revolution in 1995 and '96 is directly dependent upon a President who will embrace it, sign the bills that we send down, approve the reform that the country wants, and so far he hasn't done it.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: But, George, you've got to admit that we had President Nixon, Ford, Bush, Reagan, we had a Democratic Congress, they worked together on a lot of important issues facing this country. Now, we should be able to do the same.
REP. ANDREA SEASTRAND: Maybe the President should look to that.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you all five very much.