Democrats Set Ambitious Fiscal Agenda for 110th Congress
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MARGARET WARNER: We’ll hear first from 19-term Democrat Charles Rangel of New York. He’s the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. I spoke with him a short time ago, from the Cannon House Office Building.
Congressman Rangel, welcome.
Nancy Pelosi said today she accepted the speaker’s gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship. Is that an opening day hope, or is there a real commitment on the part of Democrats?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), New York: You can’t have a commitment without hope. We think it’s important policy and important politics to work in a bipartisan way.
We cannot have a Democratic program for Social Security, taxes, health care; we’re going to have to work with the Republicans. And it’s in their best interests to work with us. There’s no presidential coattails.
And I heard them today — I heard Minority Leader Boehner. I’ve talked with Republicans on my committee. I really think that we believe that working together in a bipartisan way is good for our committees, it’s good for the Congress, and I know it’s good for the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you know, the Republicans are complaining that, despite this pledge on your part, that this first 100-hour agenda of yours, you’re going to push through these major pieces of legislation with no committee hearings and no opportunity for Republican amendments. Why are you doing it that way?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Well, I think they have a legitimate complaint. I’m working with the leadership to see that we don’t get caught doing the same thing that the Republicans did. All decisions have not been made, but I do believe that we should have an opportunity to have hearings on these issues within the 100 hours.
MARGARET WARNER: So you’re going to pressure on leadership to change that, then?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I’m not that certain that they’ve made this locked in concrete. I’m moving forward in my committee working with the Republicans believing that there’s no reasons why we shouldn’t have hearings.
Pushing through the 100-hour agenda
MARGARET WARNER: Now, as we're speaking right now, the House is just embarking on debate about a big rules package and ethics and lobbying reform. Along with the gift and travel ban, there is this transparency for earmarks, where members who put in special spending items have to be identified and say who benefits.
Now, Democrats have used those earmarks a lot, too. Do you have the full support of your membership to essentially put an end to those or expose those?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I don't know why any member that's asking the taxpayers to fund a project would not be proud to have their name on it. As far as I'm concerned -- and Democrats believe the same thing -- if it's something that has to be funded in the middle of the night, it's not worthy of being considered by the House of Representatives.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, yes, you've got the Democrats onboard?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Well, we haven't had a vote yet, but there's -- I can't see how anyone can vote for secret, silent endorsement of earmarking. It's wrong.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about -- a number of the 100-hour items are in your area of expertise, money matters, let's say, everything from a new pay-as-you-go rule, raising the minimum wage, college loans, ending oil and gas company subsidies, tax subsidies. How much of a fight or on which of those do you expect a fight from House Republicans, Senate Republicans, or the president?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: We don't know. I'm working very closely with the ranking member, Jim McCrery. We have not had a committee hearing. We just found out who was going to be on the committees. The members were just sworn in a few hours ago. So I'm a long way away from being in a position to answer your questions.
All I can tell you now is I'm working with the Democratic leadership, I'm working with the Republican leadership on the committee, and those questions demand answers. And I will be in a position to give them to you.
Rangel: no more troops to Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: Of course, the elephant in the room is the Iraq issue. The president is getting ready to make a proposal, as we know, for a, quote, "new way forward" in Iraq. Where are Democrats on this now? I mean, do you have a unified position? And is there much or any support for the idea of a troop surge?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: That elephant is in America's living room. And Americans are way ahead of the Congress in being able to demand that we have hearings, that we ask questions as to why we are asking 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 American men and women to get involved in Iraq in a surge.
We will have hearings for the first time. What is a surge? How many people will be in harm's way with a surge? What's the additional $100 billion for? What have we done with the last $400 billion? How many of our friends in the area, Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, are going to be involved in the so-called surge?
And if the military says we can't have a military victory, Mr. President, what are we doing there, and how long do we have to be there? Believe me: We don't have to talk about cutting the funds, impeaching the president. The American community is fed up, and we've got to get some answers.
Tension over Iraq issues
MARGARET WARNER: But the president is still the commander-in-chief.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, if Democrats have taken off the table the idea of holding up funds, what can Democrats really do if they don't like what the president proposes?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I've just given you a whole lot of questions that the president has to answer. And let me make it abundantly clear. No president can conduct any war without the support of the American people.
We merely in the House of Representatives reflect them, but the American people have spoken once at the election. And when they come back to the drawer and ask for more money, we're going to demand more answers.
It's really not even a partisan thing. I'm embarrassed for the president, my country, the commander-in-chief, the brave men and women that are over there, the people that are being asked to volunteer, not as a Democrat, but as an American. This is a terrible period in our history.
MARGARET WARNER: So, briefly, are you saying that you expect the president to be mindful if, in fact, a majority on the Hill disapprove of his idea?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Well, I'm telling you that they will disapprove of his idea, and we can't stop the chief executive, the commander-in-chief, from saying what he has to say. But he's going to pay a political toll.
And let me make it clear: There are many, many Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, who believe the Democratic victory was due to the president's lack of popularity and is responsible for a lot of Republican losses. Now they got just two years with this guy, and I don't think they're going to be walking in lock-step to anything that he says about staying the course.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Charles Rangel, new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, thank you.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Thank you. Happy New Year.
MARGARET WARNER: Happy New Year to you.