JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the first of several conversations with members of the new House Republican majority.
Last week, we talked with three Democrats defeated at the polls in November.
Tonight, we are joined by the new chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He’s Representative Dave Camp of Michigan.
Congratulations. And thank you for being with us.
REP. DAVE CAMP (R-Mich.): Well, thanks a lot, Judy. Good to be with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you feel you have already gotten your arms around this powerful committee?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, no. Day two, I’m still working on it. But we did organize, at least the Republican side. We hope to organize the Democrats and Republicans together next week. So, we’re beginning our work.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We just heard — and I want to ask you about spending first. We just heard in an interview Jim Lehrer did with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about cuts that the Pentagon wants to make over the next 10 years, $78 billion. Is that a number that satisfies you?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, we have got to begin a discussion between Republicans and Democrats about reducing spending.
And I think everything has got to be on the table. And I believe that we will have to look to the Pentagon as well. I’m not prepared to commit to any particular number tonight, but we do need to reduce spending significantly. And we have got to start. And, today, we made a start, as you suggested, by cutting our own budgets.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, in fact, the — speaking of cuts, the Republicans very publicly pledged that you are going to cut $100 billion from spending in this year.
But now that Congress convened chairman, Chairman Camp, we’re already seeing some numbers that are a lot smaller than that. So, is that turning out to be a pledge that can’t be met?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, if you look at what the president’s budget suggested and what we will end up by the end of this process, I think you will see we will have cut a $100 billion. And that’s the goal. And that’s what we’re going to try to do. And we are going to do it one step at a time. And, as I said, today, we begin. We started with ourselves first. And we’re going to continue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying that $100 billion is a number that Republicans can reach?
REP. DAVE CAMP: We will have $100 billion in cuts, when you compare the president’s budget with where we end up, absolutely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s talk about the federal debt limit.
The Obama administration formally notified the Congress today that it does — is going to be asking for an increase in the debt limit. You have said that you don’t want to see this happen unless there are serious cuts in spending first.
Would you be talking about different cuts or the same cuts you were just referring to a moment ago?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, I think, by the time we get to the debt limit, which I think, at its earlier, will be the end of March, we’re also going to need to have some progress made on a budget.
And I think this is going to be about a package of ideas, how we regain some fiscal sanity in this country, how we begin on a path and also make real cuts and reductions in the deficit, and that in connection with the debt limit.
But those need to come together. This is not something — the debt limit is not something that should be dealt with by itself or on its own. It needs to be part of a whole package of efforts that we will have to try to make.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do you have a — is there a number that you and your colleagues have in mind that you’re going to have to reach in order to let an increase in the debt limit go through?
REP. DAVE CAMP: We haven’t. We’re beginning those discussions. I think that will be a consensus, obviously, among a lot of different people in both our party, and we hope the Democrats will join with us in that, and, also, obviously, as we hear from the American people on that issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m asking you this because the president’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, said over the weekend that it would be catastrophic — his words — if the debt limit were not increased.
Are you and other members of your party, though, prepared to let that happen, if you can’t get the cuts that you have just described that you think are necessary first?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, I think it has to be a total package, a total agreement.
And I think that, obviously, the seriousness of the debt limit isn’t lost on anybody. That’s going to be a very important thing to make sure we address. But we want to make sure that it’s addressed it together. And we have got to commit to them, not just one or the other, but both of them together I think is the way to go forward on that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Repealing health care reform. Today, the — you and other Republicans, of course, have said that this is a top priority.
Today, as we just heard in that report, the Congressional Budget Office said, however, that, if it were repealed, it would cost the federal government $230 billion over 10 years. Your speaker, Mr. — our speaker of the House, John Boehner, dismissed that.
My question is, how can you and he and others be so sure that that — that the CBO is wrong about that?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, the CBO is basing their assumptions on all the gimmicks that were in the health care bill that we know of, the double counting, the — pushing the policy into late years to sort of game the cost of this bill.
But the bottom line is, we know this health care bill increases deficit and increases people’s health care costs. And so we — and it also makes it — is going to make it very difficult for employers to be able to hire people and create jobs.
So, we really do have to repeal the bill, start over. We had a bill, for example, the Republicans introduced in advance that would have actually reduced people’s premiums by about $3,500 for the average family.
This bill increases their premiums. What we need to do is make health care more affordable, not more costly. So, this is a key priority, and it really has to be looked at. This and deficit and tax reform, which I hope to work on, all of those have to be looked at through the prism of, how do we create jobs in this country, how do we get the economy moving again?
Unemployment is far too high. The economy is still anemic. And these are steps in trying to get a jobs agenda moving ahead.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quickly, still on health care reform, it’s unlikely you’re going to get that full repeal, because you’ve got a Democratic majority in the Senate. The president is — nobody believes the president would sign that if it — even if it were passed by the Congress.
So, there’s discussion among Republicans about defunding health care. How much, how far along the road are those talks?
REP. DAVE CAMP: I think those are — that’s obviously one path to take.
We need also to look at parts of the health care bill. The courts are also going to have their say on the health care bill. But we need to do everything we can to stop a bill that actually increases health care costs, costs us jobs, and increases the deficit. I think that’s the big problem.
And I think the American people spoke very loudly on that issue in the election, and that’s why we’re moving forward in the way that we are.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Mr. Chairman, tax reform. You worked very closely, actually, with the Obama administration during the lame-duck session to pull off a tax cut package.
Have you gotten signals from the Obama administration that they’re prepared to work with you and other Republicans on a serious tax reform this year?
REP. DAVE CAMP: Well, I thought it was absolutely critical to prevent those tax increases from going into effect at the beginning of the year. And they didn’t. And I think we made good progress there.
The president is saying very positive things about tax reform. Others are as well. The secretary of the treasury has. Senator Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, my counterpart in the Senate, is also saying he’d like to address tax reform.
We have had two presidential commissions report on tax reform as well. There seems to be a lot of movement on the issue. I very much want to work on it. I think that we need to change our tax code. We’re not competitive from a business perspective. We can’t create jobs in this country because of our tax system.
The taxpayer advocate issued a remitted, the national taxpayer advocate, that says it costs — it takes 6.1 billion hours for Americans to comply with our tax system. That would be one of the country’s largest industries if it were a private industry.
That’s absolutely inefficient, very difficult to comply with. And we need to reform this code. And I look forward to trying to work on that with the administration and with the Senate and with Republicans and Americans and small business owners and people across the country to get a better way of funding our government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know that’s a conversation we’d like to continue with you at some point.
For now, we will say thank you, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp. And we wish you the best.
REP. DAVE CAMP: Thanks a lot, Judy. Best to you as well.
JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow night, we will report on freshman Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio’s arrival in Washington.