TOPICS > Politics

Shutdown: A Leveraged Deal?

January 4, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: We’re joined now by five freshman members of Congress, four of whom have been with us periodically during this session. The fifth is newly-elected Congressman Tom Campbell of California. He joins fellow Republicans George Nethercutt of Washington State and Zach Wamp of Tennessee, plus two Democrats, Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and Zoe Lofgren of California. Welcome back all of you. Welcome, Congressman Campbell. Zach Wamp, let me start with you. Yesterday, the President came out of a cabinet meeting, and he quoted the Secretary of State as saying that the national security and international reputation of this country was being damaged, and he quoted the Secretary saying, this is no way for a great nation to behave. Does the Secretary have a point at all, as you see it?

REP. ZACH WAMP, (R) Tennessee: No way for a great nation to behave is to spend $5 trillion more than we had since 1969, continue at this pace recklessly, leaving our children with a collapsed economy, and a nation that doesn’t enjoy the freedoms–we will actually become the first generation in the history of this country to leave this place in worse shape than we found it. That is tragic. This debate is the most important debate in the last 60 years in this country, and it’s not over a few people. It’s over 260 million people and whether or not we’re going to have a future. So it’s very important. I hope there’s a way we can come together tonight or tomorrow and let these people go back to work without sacrificing the principles of a real balanced budget agreement.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Zoe Lofgren, that this is the most important debate of the last 60 years in Congress?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D) California: Well, I think shutting the government down has very little to do with the overall debate on a seven-year balanced budget plan. I agree that a plan to balance the budget over seven years, or if it were ten is what I’d advocate for, but we’ve agreed on seven as important. But the government closure, it’s a leverage deal, and Gingrich has mentioned that. They, they want to keep the government shut down and the country hostage to somehow leverage the President, or I don’t know who else. It’s unnecessary. I don’t believe it’s responsible. I think we should stop that right now just as Sen. Dole as suggested, and really, the only one who’s holding out, I think, is the Speaker. The President wants to put people back to work. The Senate Republicans, the Senate Democrats, the House Democrats, we should do that right away, and we do, yes, they need to work on a very complicated and very important multi-year budget plan, and I agree it’s important, but we shouldn’t be punishing innocent people needlessly while we do that important job.

MARGARET WARNER: What would the Republicans give up in these bigger budget negotiations if you did vote for a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government?

REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R) Washington: We’ve said repeatedly that if the President would put forward a balanced budget that he’d committed to on November 20th that is scored and certified by the Congressional Budget Office, we’ll talk about any kind of concessions that he would desire that we talk about. We’ve been unable to get him to do that, and I think we’re wanting the President to show some leadership to be true to his commitments like we have been as we talked about balancing this federal budget for the last ten or eleven months. We’re anxious for some response from the President that is responsible, and we haven’t gotten it. MARGARET WARNER: But what, going to Zoe Lofgren’s point about leverage, what do you fear you would give up if you went ahead and reopened, let the government reopen and then went into these more substantive talks, or continued these more substantive talks?

REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: We’ve been through that already. We did that on November 20th, and we said, let’s talk between November 20th and November [December] 15th, and we’ll give you, Mr. President, and everybody a clean continuing resolution. It’s been fruitless. Now, the President hasn’t engaged himself at all. And I think there’s a lack of trust on our side of the commitments, or lack of commitments, that the President’s willing or unwilling to give, as the case may be. You know, I’d like to see us think about and perhaps propose a continuing resolution that would become effective as of the date that the President fulfills his commitment to put a balanced budget, scored by CBO over seven years, on the table. He’s not willing to do that, and we can’t figure out why. He seems to want to continue to veto spending bills that would allow these federal workers to go back to work, and, you know, it’s a puzzle to us, it’s uncertain to us why he is denying his prior commitment and not doing what he said he would do. I think our main concern is that our conclusion that we can reach is he doesn’t want to balance the federal budget. He wants to spend us and continue to spend us into oblivion, and that’s wrong.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Chaka Fattah to respond on that point, because over and over again, this is what the Republican freshmen are saying, if only the President will put this seven year balanced budget on the table scored by CBO. Why won’t the President just get that out of the way, just do that?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D) Pennsylvania: Well, I think that–first of all, all of us are lucky to get 100,000 votes or so to get elected to Congress. The President got 45 million votes of Americans on a set of issues that he deeply believes in. He’s agreed that he will negotiate with the Congress around a budget, but the Congress has a constitutional responsibility to pass a budget. And if they can’t get the President’s signature, then you have the opportunity to override the President’s veto by 2/3 votes. Let’s look at the facts. Thirteen appropriation bills. The President has accepted seven of them. He’s vetoed three of them and three the Congress have not even been able to pass to send over to him. This is not a President unwilling to work with the Congress. What we have is even in the case of the three vetoes, the Congress, itself, the House has sustained the President’s veto on two of those occasions. So what we have is a House majority that can’t get its way, and it’s acting, I think, and I don’t mean this as derogatory to my friends here, but in an immature way, and as it relates to these federal employees and others who have been harmed in an immoral way.

MARGARET WARNER: So do you agree, Zoe Lofgren, do you support the President’s refusal thus far to put that kind of a balanced budget proposal on the table?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, I think he has been working pretty hard with the leaders, Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich, and I was lucky. I was surprised that I got invited in for a series of meetings two weeks ago, and these are complex issues, to say that, you know, we can just do it in an hour is not the case. There are very fundamental issues that need to be worked through. One that’s very important today and very important to the President from what he’s said is the individual guarantee on Medicaid that is the safety net for millions of Americans and primarily senior citizens in nursing homes that’s repealed.

MARGARET WARNER: I don’t mean to interrupt you, but we’re talking here about the shutdown and just what it would take to get over that hurdle, so all these big issues can be addressed. What these Republicans are saying is, just put something down on the table. Are you saying then the President would give up too much by doing that?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: You know, I don’t know what the President’s thinking is tonight, but as our colleague, Elizabeth Furse, pointed out in the floor this afternoon, there was a Democratic alternative to balance the budget using CBO numbers in seven years. I didn’t vote for it at the time, but there have been some refinements since that time. Some Democrats have asked that that be allowed to be brought to the floor, and the Speaker won’t let it happen. So I think, although I’m sure that my freshman colleagues here are sincere in what they’re saying, there’s a lot of political gamesmanship going on in the Speaker’s office from what I could tell.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Tom Campbell, you’re new to this, or you’ve returned all this. How does the Republican strategy here strike you? Do you think that the Republican leadership is handling this in the right way?

REP. TOM CAMPBELL, (R) California: Generally, yes. Let me say that’s for two reasons. First of all, in November, the President made a promise, and that was that he would participate in the budget negotiations by putting forward a proposal that would meet the criteria that we’ve all talked about tonight, and the Republican leadership has said where’s your offer, and it’s all very well to say that there are Democratic offers in the House and Senate, and indeed, I think they’re constructive, I really do, but they are not on the table because the President hasn’t met the obligation that he, himself, said he would as of last November. The second reason why I think the leadership is generally on the right path, and, again, this points at refinement, is the business-as-usual notion of a continuing resolution–and here, let me just emphasize that it wasn’t from my previous time in Congress but from the time I spent in the Reagan administration–I think it’s fair to be open to criticism of our own Presidents as well as of Democratic Presidents, and obviously the budget deficit grew in the Reagan years. One of the reasons is we had continuing resolutions. It is a way to postpone the difficult choice. And, as you might remember, in the Reagan years, there was an increase in defense spending and an increase in social spending. There wasn’t an increase in revenues, and the deficit grew. So on those two counts to ask the President to comply with what he said he would do as of November and to put an end to the continued business as usual, I think the leadership is on the right track.

MARGARET WARNER: Zack Wamp, let’s go to this question about whether there’s a moderate solution here, Zoe Lofgren just referred to, and Jim Lehrer spent a couple of interesting discussions in the last couple of weeks with moderates. It seems there’s real common ground here, but as, as your colleague here just pointed out, Speaker Gingrich will not let those sort of centrist proposals even come to the floor. Why not?

REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, I believe with all my heart that the President’s hovering around 50 percent in the polls and he’s trying to get reelected this fall, and so he is saying as soon as I declare that this is my number on Medicare and this is my number on welfare, and this is my number on Medicaid, that his polls are going to drop, because we actually had the courage to announce what the numbers were and pass the bills that would support the budget and actually the Speaker’s numbers dropped, and we’ve suffered a little bit politically by just going on out there and saying, this is what you have to do to balance the budget, country. The President won’t do that. If the President would declare his numbers, I would vote tomorrow for a continuing resolution. I think my colleagues would vote tomorrow, and then we could begin real serious discussions. He’s found it in his own political best interest not to declare how he would balance the budget, and that’s really at the heart of this problem, if he would just come to the table. Now, you might have a congressional-driven solution where a bunch of people come together and come up with some new numbers, but if it’s going to be vetoed by a President playing politics to get reelected next November, we’re going to be right back to the veto override problem.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, let me ask you all about something that George Nethercutt just raised. What if in the meeting tonight the discussion was whether to endorse something that would be a continuing resolution that would take effect when and if the President puts this proposal down, would you vote for that?

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: I think I would.

MARGARET WARNER: Tom Campbell, would you?

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: I’d look at the circumstances, but that would be the right direction.

REP. ZACH WAMP: If he gives us the numbers on the specific items of how he’d balance the budget–

MARGARET WARNER: But he’s saying in advance that you would pass something like this with a so-called trigger that would say it would become operative when and if the President did this.

REP. ZACH WAMP: I want to see the President’s numbers on how he would balance the budget before I’ll agree to a continuing resolution.

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I think the issue here that we have to examine is Bob Dole, who by every poll is the leading Republican voice in our country, and President Clinton, who obviously is the leading Democratic figure, they both agree that we should open the government up, that these separate discussions on the budget can continue. Everybody who’s participated in those discussions said they’ve been meaningful over the last couple of weeks, but that this issue of opening the government up, people being paid for not working or people being forced to work and not being paid is an issue that only the Gingrich House Republicans seem to think is a wise course of action for our country.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get them to respond to this. What about this split, George Nethercutt, between now Majority Leader Dole and Speaker Gingrich, how do you explain that, what’s going on?

REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I don’t think there’s really a split.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, there is a very different–difference in tactics on this issue, is there not?

REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I understand. I think Sen. Dole saw a stalemate existing and offered an alternative, and there’s nothing wrong with that. To the extent that the House doesn’t agree, that’s fine, I don’t agree either. I mean, I like to see us make sure that the President has some accountability in all of this, and so I think that’s why Sen. Dole’s proposal is wanting. But that isn’t to say that Sen. Dole doesn’t want a balanced budget or isn’t very committed to precisely the same objectives that we in the House are. But I’ve listened carefully to the discussion here and your questions to my Democrat friends; they didn’t answer the question. Why won’t the President put a balanced budget on the table? He has not ever in his presidential life put any balanced budget anywhere.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Maybe we can solve it right here on this show, because as you know, I’m a little bit under the weather here today, but as I was listening, you know, for too long, I’ve had the impression that the Republican House members have said, you know, it’s got to be to our budget or the government’s shut down forever, and we’ll default on the debt, or whatever. Now, what I’m hearing you say is that, and maybe you Zach, is if the President puts out a seven-year, CBO-scored balanced budget, that solves it. If you agree to vote for whatever he puts down, provided it’s CBO-balanced and in seven years, that’s basically what you’re asking him to do, I think that’s a deal and we have a close right now.

REP. ZACH WAMP: Let the folks go back to work while we’re negotiating the numbers.

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: You can’t vote–you can’t vote in general before you see the specifics, but what we can do–and this is in direct response to Zoe’s suggestion–take the Democratic proposal and if the President would make it his, then it’s on the discussion table, and then we’re not negotiating against a phantom. Presently, it’s negotiating against a phantom because we don’t know what the–

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: The problem is that you’re shutting down the government.

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: –President–

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: The problem here is that the Constitution–

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: Why won’t the President put your–

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: –the Constitution of the United States–

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: –Democratic budget on the table?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: –gives the responsibility for passing a budget to the Congress. Then you keep wanting to kick the football over to the White House. But it’s our burden–let me finish that–it’s our burden to pass a budget and to run the government, and what we’re doing now to hundreds of thousands of employees of the federal government who are not being paid, okay, for work that we’re requiring that they do, or conversely are being told that they can’t work and that they will eventually be paid doesn’t make any sense as part of this bigger issue. And it only makes sense to the House Republicans among everybody in the discussion which should require a look in the mirror and say, wait a minute, maybe I happen to be wrong just on this one point.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN: As you know, Tom, as a law professor that the remedy in the Constitution when there’s a veto is a veto override, not shutting the government down for a year.

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: Since my law professor credentials have been brought up, if the budget resolution is law, it is because the President has signed a bill by Congress. Both are responsible, so–

MARGARET WARNER: All right, ladies and gentlemen, let me ask one other subject. You all ended the first session of the 104th Congress yesterday and immediately began your second one. Zach Wamp, how do you feel about this first session? I’m sure that you’ve read the critiques that have said, you know, this may be a revolution but this Congress has passed fewer actual laws than any Congress since the end of World War II. Are you disappointed?

REP. ZACH WAMP: We shifted the center of gravity in American politics. We are beginning to turn this big ship of state slightly back in the right direction. The founding fathers want it to be extremely difficult to do that, but if you change it one degree, you alter the course of American history. That’s what we’ve begun to do in one year.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel the same way?

REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Certainly, and I think you have to look back at where we were two years ago in this country and debating the issues. We were not talking about reforming and preserving the Medicare system. We were not talking about balancing the budget. We were talking about reducing the deficit to something way above zero. We changed the focus, and I think, more importantly, the House of Representatives has been the leader and filled the vacuum of leadership that lacks, that is lacking in the White House, which is unusual in past history.

MARGARET WARNER: What about the two of you, Chaka Fattah, what’s it been like to be a freshman in the minority?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, first of all, I’ve been in the minority all of my life in this country, so I’m comfortable with that status, but I think that the Congress, you know, we have been very hard working, but we’ve not been very productive. And even on the issues that we’re focused on, I don’t they’re the central questions for our nation. In terms of the issues around raising the wages of working families in this country, not what we do about Medicare or Medicaid, but what do we do about the 40 million Americans who don’t have any health insurance in places like Tennessee and Washington State and in Pennsylvania, what are we going to do, and we haven’t even begun to deal with those issues about what we do about educational equality and opportunity, so I think that, I’ve said before that I hope we get past some of this partisan bickering and we get to some of the big issues that really will alter the course of American history.

MARGARET WARNER: How satisfying has it been for you?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: I remember, there’s a guy I went to college with who had a great phrase. He said, there’s been a lot more–when all is said and done, there’s been a lot more said than done. We only have passed 88 bills, and that includes such measures as the Romano-Mazoli federal building and the Ronald Reagan–I mean, there’s been very little actually made into law, and I, you know, I’ve done my best to provide a productive role. I think I’ve made a difference in the Internet access for schools, which is probably the one thing I can point to where I know I made a difference for kids that will help this country, but the frustration I have is I came here to change things, the way they were. I didn’t come here just to keep things the way they are. And instead of having an opportunity reform things and streamline things, I’ve faced kind of let’s abolish everything and which was, I don’t think it’s right for the country. What I want to do is talk about kids and families of this country, is why I ran here. What are we going to do to focus on our attention on the future, on education, on children, their well-being and what that’s going to mean for our country, and there’s been nothing of that, nothing.

MARGARET WARNER: Tom Campbell, as we see many Senators leaving in apparent frustration and you hear some of the frustrations at this table, you’re the newcomer, is it what you thought it might be like? Is it–

REP. TOM CAMPBELL: It’s different from what it was before, and to that degree, it’s a change. For most, the better, and here’s why I say that. If we didn’t focus on the debt that we pile up upon our children, we wouldn’t be fair to them, as much as if we didn’t focus on education that my friend and colleague, Zoe Lofgren, pointed out, and in my time in Congress before, ’88 to 92, the President of my party was in charge of the country, and we weren’t focusing upon reducing the deficit. The talk was about possibly reducing the rate of growth of the deficit. Well, for the first time, we’re now talking about our children and grandchildren not inheriting a burden of debt, and Medicare would be another example. We’re trying to put it in shape so that it will be there for the next generation. That is cataclysmically better than where we were when I served before.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you very much, all of you. And I’m sure we’ll see you back again.

REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Happy New Year!