Fresh Views on the Budget Stand-Off
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JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wamp, is this what you came to Washington to do?
REP. ZACH WAMP, (R) Tennessee: (Capitol Hill) Actually, this is where the rubber meets the road, Jim. This is exactly what we came to Washington to do, and that is to force the issue for the first time since 1969 and actually do what people that have run for Congress before said they would do, cut spending and balance the federal budget, never did do. We’re here to do it and seriously reduce spending, shrink government, put the country back on solid fiscal ground, and this is where the fun starts. This is not funny; it’s serious business. But it is so serious for our children that we’ve got to follow through on what we’ve started.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Nethercutt, do you agree with that, that it was–all those things are worth shutting the government down tonight?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R) Washington: (Capitol Hill) Sure, Jim, this is not fun. But, but it’s unfortunate. I didn’t come here to bicker. I came here to get some business done and really balance this federal budget. And I think that’s what’s at stake here. And this is a philosophical difference between the President’s plans and the Republican Congress and Senate’s plans, and really that’s what we’re talking about. Aside from all the posturing in politics and excuses, that’s really what we’re talking about is balancing the federal budget, and what direction do we go? Do we keep spending more, or do we get our finances in line?
JIM LEHRER: And you support the strategy of your leadership to do it this way?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Yes, sir. I think there’s no choice simply because we, we–with the first continuing resolution that we passed back at the end of September, we’ve had ample time now to work this out, and there seems to be no cooperation on the other side, and I’m not just going to point fingers down the street, but seriously, I think if people want to get this job done, they will, and we’ve tried. I feel confident that we’ve reached out well.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Lofgren, do you support the President’s position of vetoing these bills?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D) California: (Capitol Hill) Well, I think it’s worth pointing out that he doesn’t have a lot of choice, and the reason why we’re at the stand-off this evening is because the Congress hasn’t done its job. There are 13 appropriations bills that need to be passed. We’ve only passed three of them. So he hasn’t had the, the appropriations bills even sent to him. It’s really an argument between Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House, and now because they have been unable to get their job done, we’re threatening to close the government and I think even more appallingly default on our debt. I don’t think it’s a fun prospect to bounce the checks after you’ve gone out and spent the money. And that’s what we’re looking at. It’s–I think the President is doing what he needs to do, which is to play the role of checks and balances that our Constitution provides. We’ve got these extreme riders on these bills, and the President has a duty and responsibility to play that balance role that he’s doing right now, and I just hope that we can get serious about this and keep the country’s interests in our minds and hearts.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Fattah, how do you feel about what the President is doing?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D) Pennsylvania: (Capitol Hill) Well, I think that the American public really deserves better, and that the President, in dealing with the temporary stop gap continuing resolution and the debt limit increase had to veto those bills because they were added on to by the Republicans in the Congress serious substantive budget disagreements that really should be resolved, resolved in the budget deliberations and negotiations, not in these short-term bills. But I do think, and I would encourage the leadership here in the Congress to get serious about working this out. I heard Zach Wamp speak, and I understand his passion. But the point here is that the Congress does not alone make these determinations and the voters’ decision in ’94 should be respected in terms of electing Republicans to the Congress, but you can’t at the same time disrespect the decision that was made in ’92 to elect Bill Clinton. So both of them have different priorities and we have to get to the point where there’s some sincere negotiations taking place so that we can arrive at an accommodation.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wamp, what about that? Doesn’t the President have a right to–well, you heard what Congressman Fattah said–to be part of this and in terms of determining the overall budget priorities and not do it in a short-term continuing resolution, as you all have forced him to do?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, he was elected 36 months ago, and we were elected 12 months ago, and 12 months ago, the country spoke pretty clear that they wanted a smaller federal government, they wanted to rein in this out-of-control government. We are actually addicted in this country to big federal government, and what you’re hearing tonight is actually the pains that an alcoholic would have dropping the bottle and walking away from it. We’ve got so much more government than we ever should have, this is really a defining moment in our country. And that’s why everybody in the country needs to turn on their televisions, plug into the argument, and actually say, do we want to reduce spending and lead to a balanced budget? I don’t think the President–if he came down the street–if he would have come this weekend and said, okay, I will agree to a seven-year agreement to balance the federal budget, I am confident that Republican leadership would have said, okay, take everything else off the table, you can have everything else, if you will agree, sir. I mean, seriously, not just talking about it, don’t give a speech about it, do it. That’s what this is. This is real live legislation, not a speech, not the Democratic National Convention, not a campaign event. This is serious business. Are you going to do it or not? If you will, we’ll agree to take everything else off the table, if you’ll just agree, sir, to balance the budget.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Lofgren, why didn’t the President do that? Why didn’t he say, okay, I’ll take the seven years, and then we’ll worry about the details later? He just simply didn’t want to do it? And you think he was right to do that?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: I think he’s right to say let’s keep the budget process in the proper budget context. It’s Congress that hasn’t done its job. It’s Congress that has not sent him the bills that we were required to have sent him by October 1st. And, in fact, on Friday, the Senate hadn’t even finished their work. So let’s be serious. It’s the Congress that’s dropped the ball. Secondarily, I think that to say it’s going to be, you know, my way or the high way is not the way that our Constitution is set up. There is a process for the Congress to appropriate. There is a process provided for in the Constitution where the President can veto, and then there’s a process to come to grips with the difference. And to say that the President must come in and basically do what he’s told by Speaker Gingrich is just not the way our Constitution provides. In the plan that the Speaker wants the President to agree to there are large cuts in education, in science funding, in long-term health care for the elderly, in terms of the Medicaid cuts that the President has serious disagreements with. And I think it’s important for the President to stick by his principles. I think it’s important that we get through this veto round as quickly as possible and then get down to the business of passing a stop gap measure that would not even be necessary had the Congress done its job, and then get to the business of settling our differences and running the country in a responsible manner.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Nethercutt, what about that, that if you all had passed the proper bills, you would never have gotten into a stop gap situation and none of this would have happened, do you agree with Congresswoman Lofgren?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Well, I really don’t. I do to some extent, Jim, to be fair about it. But, in essence, I don’t, because I’m on the Appropriations Committee, and I’ve heard all the way through 1995, as we’ve discussed our budget goals and our budget targets, you know, the President say many times, people from his administration, oh, he won’t accept that, or he will accept this. So we felt that we couldn’t get any reliable information all this year from the administration. You know, you have to remember, the President sent a budget up earlier this year that was denied by the Senate ninety-nine to zero. It projected $200 billion deficits forever. Then he came back and he said, well, I would agree to a 10-year balanced budget arrangement. And then he backed off that, and then he said, well, maybe I’d go for a seven year balanced budget. Then he said well, I think I raised taxes too much in ’93, then today, I, I looked at the television and I understand that he says, well, we really don’t have a bad budget deficit condition based on our Gross National Product. And so I think–my point is this–I think there’s been an unreliable nature to the expressions by the President that he really is serious about cutting down spending and balancing this budget. So, therefore, that’s caused a reaction on our part to make sure that we push the full weight to make sure that the President is fully committed. And we haven’t seen that signal yet.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: I’ve got to say something.
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Yes.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Because we’re all freshmen, and we’re not necessarily running this show, but the debt ceiling measure, for example, had riders put onto it. I think it’s being used as really a political game. I mean, there was a regulatory reform measure that the House Republicans couldn’t get passed through the Republican Senate. So that was added onto this debt measure. I mean, it’s being used in a very political and very business-as-usual way with these extraneous riders. That’s not the way we should do business. It’s not why people sent us here to change things, and it’s not, it’s not something I’m very proud to see.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wamp, can you explain to your folks in Tennessee what’s going on up here today, and will they understand it?
REP. ZACH WAMP: Well, they do understand it. I had three town meetings in East Tennessee on Saturday, and what I heard overwhelmingly from people that I don’t know is stick to your guns, don’t back down, follow through on what we elected you to do, and that is shrink the government and cut spending. The only way to get across this bridge is to cut spending. The President seriously has the legislation on his desk to keep the government open tomorrow. So Ms. Lofgren is just simply not correct in her full assessment of where we are. Sure, the Congress has taken on a lot of extra legislation this year. We had the Contract With America. The reason the appropriations process took so long is because we have changed our priorities on how we should spend our money. We’ve actually cut spending in the Congress for the first time since 1969. It was a historic time for us to pass out all of these appropriations bills cutting spending.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Fattah, isn’t what’s going on here in Washington now exactly what the people said in ’94 and ’92 they didn’t want to happen anymore?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, I think that the public is probably quite disappointed about what’s taken place, and I think what’s important here is that to deal with what the facts are. The facts are of the three or four bills that we’ve sent over to the President he has signed a majority of those appropriation bills and only vetoed one. The second fact is that the Congress has not sent a budget bill to the President so that he can either sign it or veto it. And failing to do that, it is something irresponsible of members of Congress not to take personal responsibility for our job and to start blaming President Clinton for not agreeing with the budget priorities of the Congress. Congress needs to send a budget over there. Hopefully once it’s vetoed and negotiations can take place, we see the warring factions in Bosnia sitting down at the peace table, they’re trying to put their guns away, and I think that whether the President was elected 37 months ago is really not relevant because we have members of the Senate that were elected five years ago who are helping to make budget decisions. The point is that, is that each election has validity, and we need to work towards some accommodation.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Nethercutt, can you explain this to your folks in the state of Washington? Will they understand what’s happening here, do you think?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: Oh, I think so, Jim. I think–I heard from a lot of people today overwhelmingly say, keep going the direction you’re going and please, you know, fulfill your obligations that we sent you to Congress to fulfill, and that is balancing this federal budget. You know, it would take 2700 years of losing a million dollars a day for us to reach one trillion dollars in debt. And we’re about $5 trillion in debt. So it’s scary.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Jim.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it. Yes.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: This budget is going to spend $12 trillion over the next seven years. The question is not about the amount of spending. It’s what the priorities are going to be. They want to cut education. They want to cut summer jobs. They want to cut job training. And that’s what the President has a problem with.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all four very much.