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Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake on the tax deal compromise

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
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HH: Very pleased to welcome Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, one of the new members of the House Committee on Appropriations in the 112th Congress. Congressman Flake, welcome, great to have you here.

JF: Hey, thanks for having me on.

HH: Now congratulations on the seat on Appropriations. Let me ask you, do you think there are other like-minded new members joining you on Appropriations?

JF: Well, it looks like Tom Graves of Georgia, who is a, came in a special election but is essentially a freshman, he’s seeking a spot on the panel. The official decisions will be made tomorrow. And so I think he’ll come on, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado, so at least two other good, solid conservatives.

HH: Now do you believe you’ll be able to have an impact on spending immediately?

JF: Well, I sure hope so. We were tasked with cutting at least $100 billion dollars from the discretionary budget this coming year. So we’d better have an impact and fast, or we’re going to be turned out of office pretty quickly.

HH: Now Congressman Flake, if the deal that has been agreed to with the President by the Republican leadership comes to the floor in substantially the same fashion as it’s been described in the press, will you be voting for it?

JF: No, I won’t.

HH: Why not?

JF: Well, if we’re serious about this deficit, this makes it just a deeper hole to dig out of. I think that we can get a better deal if we simply wait until January, because this is too much spending, in my view.

HH: Are there other members of the House GOP Caucus who will agree with you on this?

JF: Yes, I think John Campbell has already indicated he’s a hard no, and a few others, Scott Garrett have already indicted. On the Senate side, I believe Jim DeMint has, and I think that number will be growing.

HH: Had you previously announced that you were a hard no?

JF: No.

HH: Congressman Flake, the Republicans during the campaign issued a Pledge To America, and I want to read to you five specifics from that pledge. From Page 16, permanently stop all job-killing tax hikes, Page 21, act immediately to reduce spending, Page 21, cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, Page 33, read the bill, Page 33, advance legislative issues one at a time. Does the deal that we’re talking about comport with those five guarantees?

JF: I think that it would be argued that we’re not in charge yet, that we’re negotiating from a position of being in the minority, and that this was to take place if we were given the majority. So I don’t know, but I can tell you that this makes it even more imperative that we cut discretionary spending by more than $100 billion next year, because we’ve dug the hole a little deeper there.

HH: Well, I understand the technical issue there, Congressman Flake, but how in the world will the Tea Party Patriots and the public believe any pledge that the Republicans ever make in the future if the first deal they do is put aside on the basis that it’s technically not applicable yet?

JF: Well, I think they would probably argue that in order to make good on the first pledge, to block all tax increases, that we had to compromise on this one. I believe that that’s what the argument would be, and there may be something to be said for that. I just don’t think the deal is sufficiently good.

HH: Has it been printed yet? Has anyone seen the deal?

JF: I have not, and I’m told that there’s some effort in the Senate to include some more goodies, continue the ethanol subsidies, for example. And so no, I don’t think it has, because I think there are still efforts to change it. And that’s the problem, typically, of these things. The longer they hang out, the more of a Christmas tree they become.

HH: I got an email from a very smart listener, very successful businessman, earlier in the hour. He said any Congressman or Senator that doesn’t have the ability to cut ethanol subsidies will never substantially cut any spending that has an active political constituency.

JF: You know, that’s…I think that’s a very astute statement. If we can’t do this, then we’re in trouble.

HH: Do you agree that it is the stupidest subsidy in America as my listener…

JF: You know, that one’s got to be there. I mean, when you have environmentalists even now coming out and saying we were wrong, Al Gore even abandoning this one, but still, this includes both a subsidy and a tariff. And so it’s doubly bad.

HH: Now Congressman Flake, a lot of people were disappointed by the committee chairmanship votes of the Steering Committee yesterday, except for yours. But the…I’m sure they’re friends of yours, Hal Rogers and Fred Upton and Spencer Bachus, these were three in which people were looking for reform. Was it close? Did anyone even get close to upsetting this?

JF: Well, we don’t know. Those votes in the Steering Committee were not made public, so we don’t know how close it was. On Appropriations, I can speak to that. I, by the way, have not been made officially a member of the committee. I believe that’s going to come tomorrow, and it doesn’t look like I face opposition. But that’s not official yet, so I should note that. But as far as the chairman, I think whoever would have been chairman on the committee, you would have, you know, a problem in terms of hey, they’ve all supported pork barrel spending, they’ve all been earmarkers, every last one of them that’s one the committee. So to find somebody to be chairman who has a better record on spending would have been difficult. So I think whoever it was, we would have had a tough road a hoe going ahead.

HH: Now I want to go back to the Pledge To America, Congressman. Was that a serious document? Did that really intend to convey what the Republicans were going to live by?

JF: I think it was intended to. Certainly when you roll it out in the fashion that we did, I think people were supposed to hold us to it.

HH: And so I have to go back to this and push you a little bit on this, because the idea that it doesn’t yet bind when they say they’re going to act immediately to cut spending, and they have the opportunity to stand there with the President and say we’re not going to do anything that increases the deficit, wasn’t that what we just voted for?

JF: Well, I can just tell you, I’m voting no on it. And I just think that this will make our problems worse, not better.

HH: How much additional spending is in the deal, do you think?

JF: It’s tough to say. The unemployment extension is over $50 billion on its own. And then you have the payroll tax reduction, and some may not count that, that’s just one year. A lot of us think that should have been done as the stimulus last year, and not add it now. But that’s an item that’s $30-40 billion dollars as well. And as I mentioned, there’s still items that may be added in the next couple of days. So we won’t have the figure.

HH: Let’s take the number, then, of $75 billion, minimum. If that’s the case, as you just said, you’re tasked with cutting $100 billion.

JF: Right.

HH: Does that number move up to $175 billion?

JF: I hope so. I would like it to. I think $100 billion was too small. But that, I can tell you, with having been here ten years, that’s a tall order with the powers that be here. So I think it’s going to be very difficult to go higher. I think we should, but I doubt I’ll have much support there.

HH: Last hour, Senator Coburn said, and it’s been echoed by a number of colleagues of yours, that we could face an attack by the bond vultures, the bond vampires, the bond attackers.

JF: Right.

HH: Do you believe that is a threat?

JF: I do. I know the thing that worries me, you know, when we get right to the edge of this fiscal cliff, then Congress sometimes will summon the courage we need. The problem is we’re stumbling around in the dark. We don’t know where that cliff is. And it could be, you know, the next Treasury bill auction, when we have no takers. We just don’t know. And so the longer we wait, and the more we vote to increase the debt and deficit, the faster that will come.

HH: Congressman Flake, are you hearing from the public about this deal?

JF: Not so much yet. I think people are still waiting to see what’s in it, as we in the House are still. I mean, there’s still the potential for change. But I can tell you my constituents, what I heard during the election is, you know, don’t make this worse. Stop spending. And so I think that’s what we need to do.

HH: Last question, and in any appropriations bill that comes out, do you believe it will have any money for the Corporation For Public Broadcasting on the House side at least?

JF: Well, that should be an easy one to cut, I would think. But we’ve…before I came to this body, they tried a few times, and it was difficult to do. So I hope we have an easier time now. We’re certainly in dire straits, so that ought to be an easy one.

HH: Congressman Jeff Flake, I look forward to talking to you early and often when the 112th Congress meets, and I hope you go back and pass out copies of the Pledge to all your colleagues, because some of us took it seriously. Who knew? Thank you, Congressman.

End of interview.

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