SEPTEMBER 26, 1996
The members of the 104th Congress are packing up and heading home, many to jumpstart their re-election campaigns. But after a controversial, if not always productive, session, many find them in the position of defending their own records. Margaret Warner talks to four House freshmen.
MARGARET WARNER: The 104th Congress is wrapping up its legislative calendar, and for most members, the term can't end soon enough. Their reelection campaigns won't really kick into high gear until they get home. Less than six weeks from now, the voters will render judgment on them and on the first Republican-controlled Congress in 40 years.
We talk about this now with four freshmen members we've brought together periodically over these last two years: two Republicans, Zach Wamp from Tennessee, and George Nethercutt from Washington State, and two Democrats, Chaka Fattah from Pennsylvania, and Zoe Lofgren of California. We hope to be joined also by Republican freshman Andrea Seastrand from California. Welcome all of you. George Nethercutt, let's start with you and look at your campaign back home which you're about to go and really engage in again. What kind of shape are you in?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R) Washington: Well, I think I'm in pretty good shape. I mean, if I don't read the papers, I'm fine. You know, two years ago I got 30 percent of the vote, Mr. Foley got 35 percent. This year, I got 50 percent, a little over--
MARGARET WARNER: Now, explain--
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: --before the absentees, and my opponent got 25.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's explain that just for a minute. You just won an open primary last week. That's what you're talking about.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: That's exactly right.
MARGARET WARNER: So you won 50 and then the three other Democrats won 50.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: That's correct.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: My 50 came in, in light of being hammered by, you know, $300,000 worth of negative ads for the last two months. So I feel pretty good about withstanding the, you know, the head and chest blows that they've thrown at me. Now I'm anxious to get home and clear up the record and make sure that people know the truth. And I think we're anxious to get out and start campaigning.
MARGARET WARNER: And were they hammering you on the record of this Congress?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: They were hammering me not on the record of the Congress but they're hammering me on, on, you know, false claims about what this Congress has done.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: That's the deception that is facing all of us across the country, and that's the, the sad part of the political world this year.
MARGARET WARNER: Zach Wamp, what does your race look right now in Tennessee?
REP. ZACH WAMP, (R) Tennessee: Well, it looks great, Margaret. I've worked hard, and I think we've got an excellent record to run on, and I'm in the deep South, really the Southeastern United States is the most Republican area of the country in 1996, and our candidates are running way ahead in the state of Tennessee.
MARGARET WARNER: And Zoe Lofgren in California, how is your race going?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D) California: Well, it's--I think it's going well. The bay area, including Santa Clara County, is pretty democratic. And although my opponent and I haven't had a chance to have any debates or forums yet, I hope that we'll be able to do that. But the feedback I'm getting from my constituents is pretty positive. They appreciate that I stood up to fight the cuts in education, that I stood up for pro-choice, that I stood up to keep the Medicaid program from being repealed and also for science and technology, which is the base of our prosperity not only in California but our country. We have 3.7 percent unemployment in Santa Clara County, and it's really based on investments in education, and on science and technology research, the Department of Energy. So I expect to talk about the issues, and so far, I've been very well received.
MARGARET WARNER: Chaka Fattah, how about in your district in Pennsylvania, are you in pretty good shape?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D) Pennsylvania: Well, I'm hopeful, and I'm confident, and trusting a decision of the voters of my district, and I'm also hopeful and anticipate a tremendous victory for the Democratic Party come the first Tuesday in November.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's talk a little bit more about how the record or distortions of the record, as George Nethercutt put it, are being used in, in this race. Umm, Congressmen Nethercutt, let me come back to you. When you say distortions, what do you mean? What are the two or three points that your Democratic opponents collectively tried to use against you?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: My Democrat opponents haven't done anything at all to speak of. Who's done it is the AFL-CIO labor bosses here in Washington. They've said we're out to destroy Medicare, which is false, and we had two of those ad--two of the stations in my district pulled those ads. They're saying we're trying to cut education. We're not trying to cut education. We're trying to cut the education bureaucracy and get more education dollars to kids. So those are two examples of the falsehoods and deception that's going on.
It's a national campaign. It's being--you know, the labor unions, the big AFL-CIO bosses are the attack dogs for the candidates, and it's clearly coordinated, and it's--I think it's really deceptive and it's bad for the political season these days. It's confusing the public, and it's really doing a disservice to discussion of the issues that deserve some very serious attention.
MARGARET WARNER: Zoe Lofgren, as a Democrat, would you agree that those ads or that picture of the, of the congressional record of the Republicans is deceptive?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, no, I don't think it is. You know, the AFL-CIO is not running ads in my district but remember, it was just about a year ago that we were on the show, I think all five of us then, and I remember Zach, who've I grown to like and met really through this show, said something I'll never forget. The government was shut down, and he said, “This is when the fun begins.” That fight and that government shutdown was about the budget, and what was in that budget was $10.1 billion in cuts in student loans. Now, the budget that has come up this year in May is only $4.1 billion in student loans, but that's important.
And I realize, you know, that I'm not casting aspersions, there are very distinct choices to be made about the history of this Congress, and they are cuts in the student loan programs, zeroing out the direct student loan program. The choice issue is very important. I know Andrea isn't with us yet, and I recognize that she would like a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion in America. She's been very up front about that. I just don't agree with her. So it was those types of issues that shut the government down in a high stakes game, and I think that Republican members who acted the way they thought was right ought to just stand up to the bat about what they did because they believed it, and we ought to talk about the issues and let the American people make up their minds.
MARGARET WARNER: Zach Wamp, in political terms, have you had any reason to regret that statement?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, she didn't give the rest of the statement. I talked about this is where the pressure really came on the Republicans at that time because we were at a fundamental decision. We're trying to downsize the federal government and lead to a balanced budget, reduce spending for the first time in twenty-six years, and all those successes that we came here and stood in the gap for, President Clinton has now taken the credit for. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, he staked claim to 19 legislative successes. Five of those came in the first Congress, the 103rd Congress, the Democratic Congress.
Fourteen of those successes that he's taken credit for happened under this Congress--welfare reform, congressional reform, lobbying reform, health care reform, the lowest budget deficit in 15 years. That happened because we had the courage to stand in the gap to reduce spending. You can't have it both ways. We stood principled and he maneuvered us into blaming us on the government shutting down after telling us that he would agree to some reductions and not agreeing to the reductions. And listen, this Congress has caught its stride, and this year has proven that this is the most successful Congress in our generation.
MARGARET WARNER: Chaka Fattah, I assume it's not seen that way in your district. I mean, is, is the record of this Republican Congress as a Congress a big issue in your race, as opposed to you say personally and versus your opponent personally?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, look, I trust the American people. It was Sen. D'Amato from New York, who's a Republican, who said that the--what he called the anti-union southern leadership of the Congress--he was speaking of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey--mis-stood [withstood] the election results in ‘94, and they weren't calling--the public was not calling for cuts in education and these other programs. I remember Colin Powell saying that why was it that we were only cutting programs that helped poor people. So I think that even withinside the Republican Party, there's been a lot of disagreement about the various strategies. A lot of the blame is now being focused on Speaker Gingrich, but I think that the voters on the first two, they will make a decision we should all respect and respect their judgment on once that decision is made.
MARGARET WARNER: George Nethercutt, do you see--do you think there's a different mood among the voters today as compared to two years ago--for instance when you knocked off Democrat House Speaker Tom Foley--what do you see in your district in terms of what the voters want?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Well, I've been here trying to cast my votes--each vote individually in the best interest of my district, and I go home, and I keep hearing people saying, you know, keep going on your mission to make sure government is more efficient. We have waste in government galore; fix the Medicare system, stop it from going bankrupt. That's the tragedy of this debate is that we've lost about 22 million dollars a day in extra spending on Medicare that could have been preserved by the fact the Democrats have resisted any change in the system at all. They want it to go bankrupt, I'm afraid. So my--
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: The President offered a reasonable change in that program.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: My voters are saying to me keep going, we, we accept what you've done, we know it's a very difficult decision. I'm a dad. I got a mom on Medicare. I'm trying to make sure we have a good education system and a good Medicare system. And this, this rap on the Republicans that were somewhat trying to destroy these systems is just not going to wash, and people at home understand that. And I feel confident that we're going to come back in a stronger majority this time.
MARGARET WARNER: Then let me just make sure I understand this. If what you're saying is true, and the voters seem--feel the same way, why are you and other Republicans having a fight on your hands?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Simply because there's the labor unions, the AFL-CIO bosses here in Washington have engaged in this--about $850 million of spending across the country--to deceive the public and resist the will of the public. You know, “Readers' Digest” just in October had a very interesting article called “Big Labor, Big Bucks.” It talks about this method of the AFL-CIO to buy the Congress back and have everybody who's elected under that banner to be beholden to liberal spending and bigger government. That's the tragedy of the political season now is that the public is being terribly confused by what attack ads are trying to represent falsely against Republicans who are trying to do what's right for America.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: George, I guess you would admit though that labor unions are not the only ones investing in these campaigns. You have big business--
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I would not admit that.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Big business is spending a great deal of money, many times more than any of the labor unions, representing working people.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Finally the business community and the people of the middle class in this country are saying this is wrong, we have to correct the record, these are lies that are being perpetrated on the public. And that's what's happening.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: But, George--George, I mean, the Republicans voted, and I realize it was a principled disagreement--voted not to raise the minimum wage at least six separate times that I can remember. That is, you know, it's where you are. It's not a budget issue for the U.S. government.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I defend that vote, Zoe, but we--
MARGARET WARNER: Let her finish.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: You know, all I--
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: --it's going to cost 300,000 jobs.
MARGARET WARNER: Let Ms. Lofgren finish.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: All I'm saying is that there is a distinction between the minimum wage job the votes on choice, where we have the lowest deficit this year in many, many years, if it weren't for the debt that accumulated ‘80 to ‘92, we'd be running a surplus, so I'm not--none of us are saying we shouldn't balance the budget, but how you do it is very important. And you don't do it by, in my view, in cutting into investments in the future like education, like science budgets.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: We didn't do that, though.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get to Zach Wamp before we have to end. Zach Wamp, why don't you weigh in this question of the outside money that's in all these races and the impact it's having.
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, thankfully, it's not involved in my race, but it is all across the country, and there's no question about it. The Labor Unions see this as their last chance to win back the Congress, and they have mortgaged everything they have to win this election. That's why this is fundamentally the most important congressional elections of our lifetimes without a doubt. Are we going to move back towards responsible government, or are we going to let these special interest groups that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars take the Congress back over and take in their direction? This is the people versus the labor unions, and unfortunately, right now, the labor unions are spending--
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
REP. ZACH WAMP: --so much money the people can't catch up with it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. All of you, thank you very much. That'll have to be the last word, and I'm sorry to say Andrea Seastrand never was able to join us.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, thank you for having us on for this session.