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Speaker Newt Gingrich on a Possible Budget Deal

January 24, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, welcome.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: It’s good to be here.

JIM LEHRER: You talked to the President on the phone today. Did you come to any understandings about a possible deal, sir?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: No, not about a budget deal, but we came to a pretty good discussion–I don’t want to put words in his mouth–but a pretty good discussion about creating a down payment on getting towards a balanced budget, the first step, if you will, and doing it in such a way that by saving money and reducing spending and lowering the deficit, we could probably pass a debt limit bill to raise the debt ceiling here, and at the same time I think potentially put a first year of the child tax cut, a $500 per child tax cut that we believe in so passionately, so I thought it was a very positive discussion and offered hope for a bipartisan agreement that does raise the debt ceiling, get us a fairly substantial down payment on moving towards a balanced budget, and give working families with children some real tax relief this year.

JIM LEHRER: And the budget reductions would mean specific cuts that would be part of a resolution–

SPEAKER GINGRICH: I think it’s fair to say that while there were very large policy disagreements in the budget negotiations, that there were some areas where we found agreement, and if we could put those into it, they’d all be things the President has already agreed to, I think we can save billions, whether the numbers is $40 billion or $100 billion people are debating right now, but clearly we could save billions of dollars as a step towards a balanced budget or towards saving our children from higher taxes and higher deficits.

JIM LEHRER: So it would be the children’s tax credit. What about–I also read today that a cut, a capital gains cut could be in this deal as well?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think that’s a little more questionable. I would like to see a capital gains cut and some small business tax cuts just from the standpoint that I think the economy is weakening, and I think that it’s important that we avoid a recession, but I’m not sure the Clinton administration would agree to that. You know, the President was pretty strong about the economy last night, seemed pretty confident, so they might not have the same level of concern that we do about a recession, but I think a job creating anti-recession package of tax reductions would actually be helpful. Again, all those have to be paid for. We’re talking about paying for any tax cuts plus a down payment on the deficit simultaneously, so it’ll be a fairly based savings package with one or two pretty small tax incentives.

JIM LEHRER: And does this come directly out of what the President was saying last night in his State of the Union Address, let’s get on with the things we agree on, and put aside the things we disagree on for a later time, is that what this is all about, Mr. Speaker?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Yeah. I thought that he tried to strike a very positive tone in the State of the Union, and we had an obligation on the legislative branch side to reach out a hand to him. You know, make Pennsylvania Avenue a two-way street. If both sides try to work together, you can, I think, get a lot done. And so I wanted to with Sen. Dole’s approval and with Congressman Armey at my side, we had a press conference this morning and indicated a willingness to try to reach out. The President followed up about two hours later by calling me and saying that he had a very real interest in pursuing this, and I hope in the next few days that we’ll have further talks and at a staff level, as well as asking Chairmen Kasich and Archer on the House side and Chairmen Domenici and Roth on the Senate side to pursue drafting a bill that would be both a down payment on a balanced budget and a child tax credit for this year and also would give the debt ceiling, so we’d really be getting a lot done in one bill.

JIM LEHRER: And this would be as early as next week this thing could be passed?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I doubt if you could technically get all the details worked out that fast, but certainly if you could, we’d be willing to. My guess is it’s going to take two or three weeks to work out all the technical language and get all the various legislative writers to agree with each other.

JIM LEHRER: But this could be done in time to avoid–


JIM LEHRER: –the debt limit problem that Sec. Rubin and others warned about.

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Yeah. There is no question that we are committed to not having a default, and we’re committed to finding a way to get a bill. What we can’t do, and I don’t think any of our members have agreed to do, is to pass a blank check that just continues to raise the deficit for the future. We really are committed to balancing the budget and saving our children, our grandchildren from having to bear the burden of deficit spending. So I think there has to be at least a down payment on balancing the budget for us to be able to move a debt ceiling.

JIM LEHRER: There have been mumbles–I’m sure you’ve heard them too, Mr. Speaker–this afternoon that the deal that you’ve just outlined could have been had months ago and that that–first of all, do you agree with that?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I wish the President offered it. I think if the President had come up here in November, instead of all the games that Sec. Rubin has been playing, had the President sat down with us in November and said, look, I need, I’d rather get a clean, honest approach to this thing and not have all these legalistic games, let’s figure out how we pass the debt ceiling in a way we both are comfortable with, maybe we could have worked it out. What we got from Sec. Rubin was, we’re going to have a default, then he found a clever way to get around it, we’re going to have a default, he found a clever way to get around it. We never had the kind of honest discussions that would lead to a genuinely creative solution like this. And I think that’s unfortunate. We could have saved the country, and I think the federal employees, a great deal of pain if we’d been able to find a better way of working with each other.

JIM LEHRER: How would you suggest the spin masters do this? A deal is made. Is this something that the President wanted, or is this something you all want, or is it a tie? What is this?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: What if we–I know this doesn’t fit the age of television but it sort of fits your show–


SPEAKER GINGRICH: What if we just said that it’s good for America to begin to reduce the deficit and move to a balanced budget; it’s good for America to have tax credits for children so parents have the money who are working; and it’s good for America to make sure we honor our debt, and we don’t default, and that our credit remains good, and if President Clinton, a Democrat, and Sen. Dole and Congressman Gingrich, Republicans, can actually get in the same room and get it done and get it passed and it happens, that’s good for America, and then not worry too much about who gets the credit. Ronald Reagan used to have a sign that said, “It’s amazing what you can get done in this city if you don’t worry about who takes the credit.” And I think that’s a pretty good rule.

JIM LEHRER: If I’m reading you correctly, both your body language and your words, you think this can–can happen. This is a very upbeat approach you’re taking right now.

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think the key thing here is that we gave up on getting to the big deal. We gave up on the big budget, and now we’re looking for very practical building blocks, thumb and step, one at a time, you know, can we really a few get a few good things done, more than trying to get one giant thing done, and I think maybe this approach in the end is just more practical and will actually give us a pretty positive Spring and Summer. If we pass telecommunications, millions of jobs are involved. If we pass superfund reforms, we’re going to clean up those toxic waste dumps the President cited, most of which frankly would have been cleaned up if the original superfund were not so trial lawyer and bureaucracy-oriented, so there are good things we can do working together, but maybe there are smaller things, but there are still good things in lieu of getting the balanced budget we had hoped for.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s done? That’s over with, right?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: I think it is, unless the President has a change of heart and decides to put very major entitlement reforms on the table, I think we’re more honestly better off by just relaxing and accepting that they can’t reform entitlements; that’s not who they are; that’s not who their political base is, so rather than deadlock all Summer, let’s go ahead and focus on what we can do in a positive way together.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, on the continuing–a separate issue, the continuing resolution to keep the government operating, which the current one expires on Friday, that’s a separate deal. Is that going to be passed before Friday?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Absolutely. Chairman Livingston of the Appropriations Committee and Chairman Hatfield in the Senate are working right now. We’ve been working with Sen. Dole’s office today. Congressman Armey, who runs the floor, is on top of this. I expect them to report a bill out and to have a bill to the Senate sometime tomorrow, and I think it’ll pass the House by a good margin. Again, it’ll be a Balanced Budget Enforcement Act. It’ll kill twelve or fifteen small programs. It will shrink a few others. It’ll save some money, won’t be what we’d like, but it is a step towards saving our children’s future, and I think if you can’t get everything you want, then you ought to get as much as you can one day at a time and keep things going.

JIM LEHRER: Is it your understanding that the President will sign this bill?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: The last I heard is he almost certainly will sign it. I saw Leon Panetta this morning on one of the stations. I was doing an interview right after him and–

JIM LEHRER: Well, he’s coming out here in a minute.

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, you can ask him, but my impression this morning was that they are going to sign it, and my staff has been talking to the White House, Dan Meyer on my staff has been talking with the White House staff all day, and our impression is that we’re working towards a bill that he’ll sign.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, peace has broken out here. What’s going on? What’s happened?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: No, I don’t think peace has broken out. I think first of all we were never at war.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

SPEAKER GINGRICH: It’s okay for a society to have big arguments.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. You’re a long way from war.

SPEAKER GINGRICH: But we tried to do something that would have been heroic and everybody would have gotten credit had it worked. We tried to get to a seven-year balanced budget in one jump, in one bill, a trillion, two hundred billion dollars of savings. We couldn’t do it. The fact is in the end where we would go in reforming welfare was not where the President would go. Where we would go in saving Medicare was not where the President would go. Where we’d go in Medigrant, returning power to the states, was not where the President would go, and so we just couldn’t do it. While we were trying to get there, frankly, it was very difficult and there was a tremendous amount of intensity. But once you relax and accept that’s not going to happen, and you feel like life’s going to go on, the Constitution is going to exist, the President’s got the executive branch, we’ve got the legislative branch. As good Americans, how are we going to work together, and now you’re looking for the pieces you can build on. You’re not going to get as much done; you’re not going to save the next generation in one jump, but you can get a lot of little pieces done, each of which is pretty good. And I think, I hope we can get a good Endangered Species Act later on this Spring that will be good for private citizens and good for the endangered species. I hope, as I said, we can get superfund legislation to clean up toxic waste. I hope we can get an enforceable, effective death penalty to help us with violent crime and drug dealers. There are a number of steps we can take that I think are good, even though they’re not everything we’d like, and we focused on what we can do together. Then I think frankly we can have a pretty productive Spring.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any question finally, Mr. Speaker, that the majority, an overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House will support this new plan of yours, the down payment plan?

SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think if they think that’s a sincere, honest down payment and really moves this towards balancing the budget, we’d have overwhelming support. What they won’t tolerate, what the House Republicans, particularly the younger members, the freshmen, who are so sincerely dedicated to making sure that their children aren’t crushed by debt, they won’t tolerate a phony deal or a phony plan or anything like that, and frankly, they’re pretty tough. I mean, they really are smart. You know, they’re going to look at the details, and they’re going to make sure that it’s real reform with real savings, because they really believe their children’s lives are at stake.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.