Newsmaker: Newt Gingrich
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JIM LEHRER: House Speaker Newt Gingrich joins us now from Capitol Hill. Mr. Speaker, welcome.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: Jim, it’s good to be with you.
JIM LEHRER: Was any progress made today in resolving this thing?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: I don’t know. The first meeting I think that they had between Mr. Panetta and Chairman Kasich and Chairman Domenici didn’t seem to achieve much of anything, but whether or not the second meeting did I have not been briefed on yet, so I honestly don’t know.
JIM LEHRER: The President said today that you said in April this is exactly what you wanted, that you wanted to use the shutdown as a way to have your way with the budget. Is his reading of the history correct?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think he exaggerates. What I said, what I’ve said all along is that if we’re going to get to a balanced budget, eventually the legislature has to use the power of the purse in order to negotiate, which is absolutely the part of the tradition that goes back now for 780 years to the Magna Carta. And so I don’t think there’s anything new. This is as old as the American Constitution. It’s discussed in the Federalist Papers. The power of the Congress to pass spending bills, to raise taxes is its great strength in negotiating with the Executive Branch. And that goes to the core of the American system. It’s something which certainly Leon Panetta, when he was a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, routinely used. And the Democrats in the House when they negotiated with George Bush or with Ronald Reagan routinely used precisely the ability to use the power of the purse in order to negotiate with the President.
JIM LEHRER: Is this what you had in mind, what’s happening today?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think frankly we could have gotten a lot more done over the last two months if the President had been willing to be serious and to be engaged. But they wanted to play politics. They didn’t submit a serious budget. As you know, the Budget Office scored President Clinton’s proposal as a $200 billion a year deficit forever, adding literally trillions of dollars to the debt, never getting to balance according to the Budget Office’s analysis, so they were never seriously engaged until the last few days. We’re glad they’re beginning to be engaged. I thought, frankly, the President’s comments today were disappointing. They were very partisan, very mean-spirited, and very inaccurate. He talked about Medicare cuts. There are no Medicare cuts. We increased Medicare from $4,800 per senior citizen to $6,700 per senior citizen. That’s a $1,900 a year increase per person. That’s an increase. That’s not a cut, and there are places where what he said just plain wasn’t true, as Sen. Domenici commented when we did a press conference immediately afterwards.
JIM LEHRER: So you’re saying that you would agree with Sen. Domenici that the President is telling lies?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, I think it’s very clear the President did not tell the truth and that the President frankly knows better, that the President has consistently misled the American people about what we’re doing, and I think it’s very unfortunate. We reached out. Sen. Dole and I called him on Saturday. He hung up on us. We called him last night.
JIM LEHRER: You mean he literally hung up the phone on you?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: He literally said, “I’ve got to run now. I’ll call you back later,” and he hung up. We were sort of–we had gotten in about three sentences each in an eight-minute conversation. And we then got a call two minutes later that said that he wouldn’t be calling back, that we could deal with Leon Panetta. Then we decided again last night, just as an extra step, we called down there. We offered to go down. We went down at 10 o’clock last night. We went out of the White House and were positive and were immediately attacked by Congressman Gephardt and Sen. Daschle and then again this morning by administration spokesmen. Then we agreed to have a meeting. We had a meeting and then had the President go in and I thought make an extraordinarily inaccurate and misleading and frankly just plain false statement of deliberate partisanship in the middle of the day. Now, that’s the environment that we’re trying to negotiate, and I find it very difficult. We want to get to a balanced budget, very simple.
JIM LEHRER: And you’re perfectly comfortable with the position you have taken and your Republican colleagues have taken?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: We believe the American people insist on a down payment for a balanced budget. We think the American people are tired of being told they ought to just borrow more money. The continuing resolution we sent down to keep open the government saved $3 billion over the next 18 days. The President wants to spend a lot more than we want to spend, and he’s going to run a much bigger deficit to do it. We think that’s wrong, and we think the time has come to balance the budget. And we’re very comfortable insisting on a down payment to get to a balanced budget.
JIM LEHRER: Are you comfortable with the shutdown tonight?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: No. We’re not comfortable with the shutdown, which is why we sent out a bill to keep the government open. We’re now exploring some new approaches. We may in the next few days send down some very specifically targeted continuing resolutions to keep open the Social Security Administration, to keep open all the veterans’ offices, to go through step by step to reopen the national parks. We also sent down one appropriations bill which has been signed, which kept part of the government open. Tomorrow we’ll send down a transportation bill to be signed, and if he’ll sign it, that’ll keep–that’ll open another part of the government. We hope by the end of the week maybe to have the Interior bill go down, which would reopen all the national parks, among other things. So we’re going to continue to press to reopen the government, but we’re not going to give the President an open-ended credit card to charge more and more money to our children and grandchildren to make their lives loaded with debt and high interest rates and high taxes. We think that’s wrong and in peacetime, we think it’s immoral for government to spend our children’s money.
JIM LEHRER: So it sounds to me, Mr. Speaker, as if you don’t expect this thing to be resolved anytime soon.
SPEAKER GINGRICH: I do not. Given the gap between a group of liberal Democrats who really want to spend a lot of money on a much bigger government and people who believe they represent an American people committed to balancing the budget and reforming welfare, I think there is–frankly it’s going to take a fair amount of time to work this out.
JIM LEHRER: A fair amount of time. You mean a matter of weeks, months? I mean, could it go on like this?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Somewhere in that period.
JIM LEHRER: There is no, no stop–mandatory stop place where you all have to make a deal?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: I think what we should try to do is either find an agreement on principles and then pass a continuing resolution for the whole government, or find those parts of the government we agree on and systematically reopen them, but keep the parts we disagree closed. I don’t believe there are any circumstances where the members of the Congress who were elected in 1994 are going to feel comfortable giving this President a blank check to run up more debt and to charge our children more interest and higher taxes because this government refuses to set priorities and balance the budget. We’re committed to balancing the budget.
JIM LEHRER: But the President says the way you want to do it would be bad for America.
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, we have basic disagreements. I just wish he would tell the truth when he describes what we’re doing. We increase Medicare by 45 percent over the next seven years. That’s twice the inflation rate. He wants to increase it even more. We increase spending on Medicaid, but we return it back to the states, where it’s more efficient. He wants to keep it centralized in Washington. He wants to spend even more. I just think he should be honest and fair with the American people and tell them how much more he wants to spend, how much more he wants to borrow from their children, and how much higher taxes would be under his program.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, though, the polls show that he’s got the better of this in terms of the reaction among the American people that you all are getting the blame for this shutdown for this situation. How do you explain that?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, virtually all the Republican governors who’ve been through this told us, do what’s right, fight for a balanced budget, don’t worry about the polls. What matters in the end is if we deliver a balanced budget, if we reform welfare, if we save Medicare, if we produce a $500 tax credit for every child in America of a working family, and if we produce tax cuts to create jobs, then people frankly are going to say they did their job, they kept their word, and they’re different, because in our case it really is a case of promises made, promises kept, and that’s different than traditional politicians.
JIM LEHRER: So that’s–
SPEAKER GINGRICH: We’re in a rough period right now when, frankly, the news media coverage hasn’t been very accurate. The labor unions have spent about $20 million running ads that are just totally inaccurate, wildly wrong, and the President has been telling people things that are factually untrue. Now, given all that misinformation, I’m not surprised that people are confused, but I’m very comfortable that over time–my telephone calls today–I checked before coming on–my telephone calls in the Speaker’s Office were ten to one in favor of what we’re doing. In my Georgia office, they were five to one in favor of what we’re doing. People want us to balance the budget.
JIM LEHRER: And you’re not concerned then when somebody stands in front of a passport office and says, this is your fault, Newt Gingrich, this is your fault, Bob Dole?
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Well, frankly, we may reopen the passport offices in a narrowly-targeted continuing resolution that just takes care of passport offices. That’s the kind of thing I was talking about. We might piece by piece find the parts of the government that matter to the American people, reopen them, but keep the parts that matter to the politicians closed in order to negotiate with this administration to insist that it get to a balanced budget.
JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.
SPEAKER GINGRICH: Thank you.