Congressman Tom Price On The Military COLA Cuts And Strong Talk That There Will Be No Immigration Legislation This Year In The House
HH: One of our favorite members of Congress is here, Congressman Tom Price. Dr. Price has been a member of the House for ten years. He’s vice chairman of the Budget Committee, widely expected to chair the Budget Committee if he is in fact not the Speaker or the majority leader of the House in two years. Congressman Price suffers from only two disabilities. He grew up in Michigan, and he attended the University of Michigan not merely undergraduate, but medical school as well. Indeed, we were on the campus at the same time. I was laboring at the law school while he was at the medical school. Sadly, he roots for the Wolverines. Dr. Price, welcome back, good to talk to you.
TP: Hugh, thanks so much. Great to be with you again.
HH: Now you will be there tonight in the audience, and you know what the President’s going to say. He’s going to raise the minimum wage for federal contracts in the far off to $10.10, and a bunch of other small ball. But he’s a lame duck, isn’t he?
TP: Well, absolutely. And you described it best. Your second hour’s going to be wonderful, because this is going to be all fiction tonight. It’s going to be fiction by the President about the state of our country, where we are in terms of competitiveness, where we are in terms of individual opportunity, and it’s all going to be more, I sense, more deceitful notions from the President about how his plan, his projects are working, his proposals are working, and why we ought to get on board and what we’re going to do to double down.
HH: This is a routine.
HH: It’s sort of something we have to go through. And I know you go to them. Are you taking a guest tonight?
TP: My wife is coming, actually. She’s never been to one, and so she decided that she ought to see one before he leaves office, and so she’s going to join me.
HH: I say the only good thing about tonight is that five down, three to go. Now you’re going off tomorrow, though, to the House Republican…
TP: Actually, six and two.
HH: Six and two? Well, he always says a farewell, though. Don’t they do a farewell?
TP: Well, the farewell is the wave after the election, I trust, and congratulating the new Republican president.
HH: I hope you’re right about that. But now are you headed off to the Republican retreat the following day?
TP: We will. Yes, we’ve got three days on the eastern shore of Maryland where we’re going to hopefully get the Republican conference on track and united with positive solutions and proposals that we’ll be able to put before the American people so that folks know that there’s a better alternative, there’s a better way to do things, and we can get America back on track.
HH: Now I like to tell people when I need to talk about Obamacare, I talk to Dr. Price, because you know that stuff better than anyone, and I’ll come back to that. But first, let me give you my two concerns. Concern number one, I think it was a horrible thing that we cut the military career COLA. I think it was terrible. And I know there’s a division within the party, but are you committed to restoring that?
TP: What we restored, and what I was committed to restoring is that for individuals who have a medical disability, and we did that. Now listen what the, I mean, you’ve had this explained, I’m sure. But the reduction in COLA, which was never promised, by the way, what was promised was a pension, and this is for individuals who have served twenty years and retire before the age of 62. If you retire after the age of 62, then you get all of the COLA that built up before then. And it affects 17% of those individuals, the vast majority of those folks have another occupation. And it’s $6 billion dollars. And we’re $17 trillion dollars in debt. If we can’t find $6 billion dollars in all sorts of places around this country, then we’ll never balance the budget.
HH: Now Congressman Price, I’ve talked about this a lot with your colleague, Paul Ryan, your colleague, John Campbell, who defended it, but with your colleagues Mike Pompeo, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton and Ron DeSantis, who have blasted it. Ted Cruz blasted it, former Secretary of Defense Gates blasted it on this show on Thursday, Charles Krauthammer blasted it. Most people think that if the only $6 billion you won’t borrow was the $6 billion for the career military, we’ve lost our way. How do you respond to them?
TP: Here’s what our proposal was. It was to get $12 billion dollars from federal employees. The Democrats said no, if you’re going to do federal employees, we need to make certain that, they said, we need to make certain that we get military as well. And so that was the agreement that came out it, six and six. Our proposal initially was to get $12 billion dollars from federal employees contributing more to their pension more like the private sector. That’s how all of that happened. But you know, at the end of the day, look, we’re going to have to do many, many things that none of us will want to do in terms of the sacrifice that’s going to have to be, have to occur for every single American if we’re going to get back on track from an economic standpoint. We cannot balance the budget without every single American saying this is my part, and this is what I’ve got to do. Now I understand that people say if the military folks are willing to do that if everybody else does it. And sadly, and I agree, sadly, this was the first step that was taken. But I assure you that everybody else is going to have to have some sacrifice in all of this if we’re going to get our country back on track.
HH: Now Tom Price, you and I have known each other a long time.
HH: So I can be very blunt with you. On Saturday, I met a major, in fact, we invited him over for Super Bowl Sunday, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt and I. He’s 12 years a reservist, he’s a federal prosecutor. He’s just been called up. He’s going to Afghanistan. He’s leaving his three children for eight months minimum. It’s his second deployment. He’s a reservist. He’s been to Iraq in the war zone before. This is not like a cop. It’s not like a federal employee. This is not like any other job. And I have heard from many, many military spouses that it isn’t that you asked them to sacrifice, it’s that you asked them to go first and alone, that no one else took a hit. And I think that’s true. And I think you ought to put this back until you can get everybody at the table at the same time and…
TP: Yeah, but that’s not accurate, Hugh. That’s not accurate. The fact of the matter is that there were equal savings, equal contribution from federal employees, $6 billion dollars in savings to the American taxpayers, from federal employees contributing more to their pension plans. Now that was the right thing to do. It should have been more, but that was the right thing to do. And look, I, should this has been one of the first things out of the chute in terms of deficit reduction? No. But when you go into a negotiation with the other side who refuses, refuses to have federal workers put up the amount of money that we thought that was necessary in order to move this piece of legislation forward, and they demand that it come out of the military, and this was something that the military had requested, it had been in multiple budgets that had been previously passed, including the Republican budget before that virtually every single Republican voted for, this was a reasonable step, minimal step in the right direction.
HH: Secretary Gates rejects the idea that the military asked for that. He said it has always been the assumption that any cut in COLA and retirement system would be for those who were joining prospective, not retroactive, so that it hits a 19 or a 17 or a 22 year E-7, who’s going to lose between $80-100,000 grand as a result of this over the life of those 20 years. So I reject that. But I come back to this issue. Okay, you ran into a logjam. Why not borrow these $6 billion? You know, why start not borrowing for the men and women who have fought the war for 13 years, and a more important point at least symbolically, I do not believe that your conference has invited a military spouse to address you at this convention/retreat, and I’m told by some of your colleagues we haven’t heard anything from anyone. But if they go to the hashtag #keepyourpromise, they’ll see one of our core constituencies in the Republican Party are enraged with Republicans, Tom Price.
TP: And I hear that. But Hugh, we are $17 trillion dollars in debt.
HH: Yes, and you can’t solve that with $6 billion, and so to make a symbolic sacrifice of the men and women who fought the war for thirteen years strikes me as both not consequential in terms of solving the debt problem, and very detrimental to a crucial, crucial part of the country.
TP: And I hear you. I hear you loud and clear. And all I would say is that that was the negotiation that came out. Again, this was not our proposal, but the negotiation that came forward. And are we able to mitigate it and change it back? Possibly. And if we’re able to do that from a conference standpoint, and that’s where our conference is, and that’s where we can get the other side to go, then look, I’d be supportive of that.
HH: I’d strongly urge…
TP: But I would disagree with Secretary Gates. This has been a request of the Department of Defense for years.
HH: And I go back, his transcript is posted at www.hughhewitt.com, but I would strongly urge on the debt limit that you guys repeal this, and then decide only to do this in the context of hitting wealthy people with their Medicare, and wealthy people with their Social Security COLAs, and not the only COLA not be the military. Let me move to the second…
TP: That’s wise. I take that. That’s wise.
HH: And I think the debt limit’s where you could do it. Now my second one, I’m concerned about immigration.
TP: Yeah, me, too.
HH: I’m concerned, Bill Kristol wrote a piece saying don’t do this, guys. Don’t bring this out now, no matter…because I am a big reformer, regularization, all I want is a fence. But there’s no reason in the world to act right now, is there, Congressman?
TP: None whatsoever, and I’ll tell you the reason why, and it’s not because we don’t have a broken system, because we do. But we do not have a president that we trust or that the American people trust to enforce the law. And until we have a president that the American people trust and we trust will enforce the law, then I don’t believe there is any reason to do anything at all.
HH: Well, this is, that makes a lot of sense to me, but of course, the New York Times for three days in a row has put, has leaked stories that the House principles are going to be trotted out, and we’re going to get a jam down from the House conference coming out of this retreat. 30 seconds to the break, and we can talk about it afterwards.
TP: The principles are different than legislation, and if we’re going to put our principles on the table, and defend those for the American people, say we do have positive solutions, and one of those principles is that the President can’t be trusted to enforce the law, then I think that’s some place where we can start.
HH: Oh, that is great, great news. I’ll be right back with Congressman Tom Price. A lot of you now might be hearing why a lot of us hope he runs for Speaker or majority leader when Speaker Boehner, as expected, retires after this Congress.
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HH: The Hill newspaper reported earlier this week that Paul Ryan would not seek the speakership, but “other Republicans who have been mentioned as a potential John Boehner successor include Representatives Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price and Tom Cole.” So Congressman Price, are you thinking about it?
TP: At this point, I’m thinking about the wonderful opportunity I’d have as potentially the chair of the Budget Committee. And all of the other things are way too premature. Look, we’ve got a lot of work to do. What we need to be doing is putting forward a positive contrast for the American people to show folks that there are wonderful ways to solve all of the challenges that we face without putting Washington in charge. And that’s the challenge that we have to unite around that positive message.
HH: Well, I get that, but a lot of Republicans, and they call the show every day, are upset with the immigration waffling.
HH: They’re upset with the stab in the back of the veterans. They’re upset with the shutdown/non-shutdown. And they think the leadership doesn’t really get it. And are you getting requests from some of your colleagues to step up, because you’re a conservative’s conservative.
TP: There’s great frustration within the nation and within the conference about the kinds of things that we should be doing. And that’s hopefully what we’ll be talking about at the retreat is how to turn things around again so we provide that positive contrast and give people hope, give them hope that there are folks here fighting as hard as we can to preserve the American dream for all Americans, not just a few.
HH: Now Cathy McMorris Rodgers is giving the response tonight, and she’s pretty articulate. But two often, the House Republicans seem to be invisible. And I don’t know who’s addressing you at the Republican retreat this week, but too often, it’s pollsters and it’s consultants, and it’s not real people. Do you sometimes think that these retreats are part of the problem, that the Beltway bubble gets thicker and thicker as opposed to more and more connected with the grassroots?
TP: Oh, I think possibly some, but remember the retreat, primarily, the purpose of this is to get all of us united around a common theme, common purpose, common mission, common goal and agenda. I go home, as you know, John Campbell does, virtually every weekend or somewhere else across this country. We, the folks who attend to their jobs appropriately are hearing from real Americans who are hurting because of this administration and this government right now every time when we’re home. So it’s not that we don’t hear from folks individually. Hearing from them corporately is a wise thing to do, and we use our hearings for many of that, many of those things. But the purpose of this retreat is to get us all on the same page and with a positive agenda that we can put forward before the American people. That’s vital if we’re going to not just prevail in the fall, but to demonstrate again for the American people that there is hope. There are people here working as hard as can to get things back on track, in spite of this President and his lawless administration.
HH: Two last questions, Congressman, I know you’ve got to run over to the House. Have you heard from career military that they are outraged about these cuts?
TP: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I heard from, we have a veterans council and a military council in my district, and talked with them. And they understand the need. They expressed the same concerns that you did, and that is that look, we’re willing to take our cuts if need be, but it needs to be when everybody else does as well.
HH: And reverse it now. And then the second one, and this is probably the most paid attention. Are you saying there will not be immigration legislation from the House in 2014?
TP: I’m saying that that’s going to be a huge bone of contention at our retreat, and if I’m able to prevail in the thinking that we’ve got, that I don’t believe that until we have a president that we can trust and the American people can trust who will follow the law and enforce the law, that we ought to move forward with any immigration legislation.
HH: Amen to you, Speaker, uh, Tom Price. Great to have you on, and I appreciate. Come back again.
TP: Thanks, Hugh, take care. God bless.
HH: And you, too.
End of interview.