Congressmen Chaffetz and Lamborn –both staunch conservatives– will be my guests today as I continue to search for GOP House members who will put their arms around the Pledge to America and recognize that “the deal” as currently negotiated and written breaches the Pledge in significant ways. The transcripts are posted below.
Many of the people I admire most when it comes to analysis and commentary, like John Hinderaker and Jim Geraghty are supporting the deal. My question to them: How can the deal be squared with the terms of the Pledge to America? Are all GOP pledges contingent on “We did the best we thought we could do?” And if so, shouldn’t the Pledge have said that?
And what of the Tea party activists who are livid that all the GOP promises on reform of the process seem to have expired before 40 days had run on the calendar?
HH: Joined now by Utah Congressman [Jason] Chaffetz. Congressman, welcome, Merry Christmas to you.
JC: Hey, Merry Christmas.
HH: I think I said Josh. I meant Jason. Congressman, I saw you on Neil Cavuto less than an hour ago. Not long after you left his studio, Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots.org appeared to warn the GOP against this secret deal that is taking shape in Washington, D.C, Meckler very, very angry. How are you going to vote on this deal?
JC: Boy, I don’t know. You know, I haven’t seen this piece of legislation yet. We’ve seen a press release. We’ve seen a press conference. And I thought we were going to be committed to reading bills. But you know, I was inclined to do what the President was suggesting. I think he was reaching out with a hand in a way of saying hey, let’s make a compromise. There were things that I’m terribly frustrated with, you know, I was thinking I don’t also want to see the single largest tax increase in the history of the United States take place. But now, there’s real questions about what this thing’s going to be larded up with.
HH: Congressman, did you agree with the Pledge To America?
JC: Yeah, sure.
HH: Well, the Pledge says, I’m going to give you five things that the Pledge says. It says permanently stop all job-killing tax hikes, act immediately to reduce spending, cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, read the bill like you just said, and advance legislative issues one at a time. That seems to me like this deal has got five strikes against it already.
JC: Well, it does, but my concern is let’s pretend we vote against it. Then you have an even bigger tax hike. In fact, the biggest tax hike in the history of the United States. I mean, they’re both unpalatable. They’re both ugly. One’s less ugly than the other one. So regardless, I think after the first of the year, the Republicans need to come back and pass some bills and try to clean it up. That may be where we’re headed, in fact, if the Democrats don’t seem to be coming on board. But if you vote no against what was proposed, and it doesn’t pass, then you get an even bigger tax hike.
HH: But if you vote no, you will at least have kept faith with the Pledge. And if you vote no, you can come back in January with a House majority, and send the Senate the permanent tax cuts, the cuts in spending, you could have read the bill, you could have advanced them one at a time.
HH: Doesn’t that make a lot more sense from the perspective of a party that just campaigned on those things?
JC: Yeah, I mean, that makes immense sense. But at the same time, even if you voted for it, you could also do that, too. So you know, we’re talking about something that is so volatile at the moment, and changing every moment, and the more they lard it up and the more they change it, the less apt I am to actually open to vote for it. So I’m still reserving my right to actually read it and see it, which we haven’t done yet.
HH: What is the minimum amount of time, in your opinion, Congressman Chaffetz, that it has to be available for the public to read in order for it to be legitimate to vote on it?
JC: Well, you know, what we committed to is three days. People ought to be able to see it for three days.
HH: Because here’s what Nancy Pelosi said during Obamacare.
NP: But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.
HH: Doesn’t it feel like that to you right now?
JC: It certainly does. I mean, it’s unbelievable, and this sausage making process, no offense to sausage makers, but you know, it’s what’s so wrong. If you get the process wrong, you get the process screwed up, you’re going to get a bad product. And we’re screaming down that path right now. Going into next week, that’s my deepest concern. We’re going to vote on something that has a trillion here, hundreds of billions there, with no real analysis.
HH: the other point that Meckler made, after again, you had left the studio when he did this, so I doubt you had a chance to hear this, is that the Tea Party expected reform in the Congressional committee assignments. And I don’t know Congressman Rogers from Adam. Maybe he’s a good guy. But he certainly isn’t an appropriator, and in the past, an addict to earmarks. And then you got over at Banking, you’ve got Bacchus, and over at Energy you’ve got Fred Upton, good guy, like Fred Upton, but they’re saying nothing changed. Everything stayed the same. Is that a fair assessment?
JC: No, because the biggest fundamental change, and I know this sounds like insider baseball, but the biggest fundamental change is John Boehner’s commitment to an open rule on the floor of the House. What that means is that appropriations bills come to the floor, no matter what’s in them, you can go line by line and offer amendments to strike out spending. That never happened. Like I’ve been in Congress for 23 months, okay? I’m still a freshman here. That never happened under Nancy Pelosi, ever. And so for him to commit to an open rule where any member of Congress can come down the floor and try to strike a provision, hey, that’s a huge, monumental change. But you’re right. You look at Appropriations, every one of those guys was a pro-earmark guy, and none of them were conservative enough for me. But Hal Roger is, you’re right, he’s a nice guy. But you know, simply changing a chairmanship here and there, you’re right, isn’t enough. It’s how the process is going to work.
HH: Congressman, you just said Speaker-designate Boehner committed to an open rule process.
HH: But he and every other Republican committed to the Pledge To America, and you guys are tearing up the Pledge To America as we speak.
JC: No. Where have we torn that up?
HH: All right, permanent…
JC: We don’t have the gavel yet. We’re not in control of what bills come and don’t come to the floor.
HH: Yeah, but you guys committed to this during this Congress, according to the Tea Party Patriots. And you haven’t got the bill, it’s a jumbo bill, it’s not one at a time, it’s not a permanent tax cut, it’s not reducing spending. In fact, it’s exploding spending. And yeah, you don’t have the gavel, but can’t you vote against the bill and honor the Pledge’s commitments?
JC: No, not necessarily. Either way, you’re in a very bad position. You don’t vote for this bill, you have an even higher tax increase. Nobody’s talking about a tax decrease, or a tax cut. They’re talking about maintaining the same, or how high do you want to raise it. So if I asked just a straight up question, do you want to have, for instance, should the death tax be 55% or 35%, what’s the answer to that?
HH: Well, the answer would be you should have said…
JC: Well no, is it 55 or 35? Which is the best answer?
HH: The answer should be you should have put that in the Pledge To America, because the Pledge To America was unqualified.
JC: No, no, no. That’s not the choice before us. That’s not the choice before us. The choice potentially before us is do you want the tax rate to be 55% or 35%, and raise the threshold to $5 million dollars? Which one is more palatable.
HH: Congressman, with all due respect, that’s a false choice. We don’t know what would happen. But what is not…
JC: Exactly, that’s my point. That’s my point. It is a false choice.
HH: Well, the one you just put. What’s not a false choice, though, is saying we’ll commit to do these things in the Pledge, and when you first, first struggle, first confrontation, you fold up.
JC: No, we didn’t. No, we didn’t. First of all, we haven’t voted yet, and this is part of the dialogue that is healthy. But if, and again, we’re talking about a hypothetical, if what was proposed by the President moves forward, the choice that we have is to vote yes, no, or hey, we’re just here. We’re present. And if you vote no, you’re voting for a 55% estate tax. If you vote yes, you’re voting for a 35% estate tax. I hate either one of them.
HH: Congressman, that’s not true. If you vote no, you can come back, you can demand better negotiations.
JC: If you vote yes, you can come back.
HH: No, you can’t.
JC: You can do…you can vote yes and come back, and vote no and come back.
HH: You’ll lose your leverage. The moment you vote yes, you’ve lost your leverage. You can’t get it through the Senate again. It’s a done deal for two years. Isn’t that true?
JC: I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I really don’t. I really don’t.
HH: Well, last question. We’ve got thirty seconds. Have you urged Speaker Boehner to consult the Pledge To America and abide by it?
JC: Oh, absolutely. I’m totally committed to it. I know he’s committed to it. And if we don’t abide by it, and if the analysis is oh, you guys just abandoned us, then yeah, they ought to fire everybody over it.
HH: All right, I appreciate it, Congressman. I’ll talk to you again, hopefully soon as we continue this conversation about the Pledge, the deal, and what happens in the new and ending Congress.
End of interview.
HH: Joined now by Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado. Congressman, welcome, great to have you on the program.
DL: Hugh, it’s always good to talk to you and your great listeners.
HH: Now is it correct that you are going to go on the Appropriations Committee?
DL: I’m giving it my best shot. We need some deficit and budget hawks on that committee.
HH: Well, congratulations. I talked to Jeff Flake yesterday, and he told me that the 5th district was going to be well represented on that committee. Before we go to what you’re going to do with Flake on the Appropriations Committee, let’s talk about this deal that is pending. Jeff Flake is a hard no against it. What’s Doug Lamborn think about the deal negotiated between the President and the GOP?
DL: Well, I don’t know all the details yet, Hugh. To me, it’s a 70/30 split, 70% good, 30% bad. And is that worth accepting when we could shoot for 100% in January? But of course, we’ll have a Senate still led by Harry Reid, and we have a White House still led by Barack Obama that might dig their heels in. So that’s the dilemma that we’re in right now. I’m evaluating it. I’m happy to talk about the details. The House liberals are just, they’re fit to be tied, Hugh. They’re balking right now, digging in their heels, and we may not even have any deal at all, because the liberals are so mad at the President.
HH: Now Congressman Lamborn, I spoke this morning, I know you had great support from the Tea Parties in Colorado. And I spoke this morning with two of the senior Tea Party Patriot leaders, who are apoplectic. They are beside themselves that the Congress negotiated this in secret, it’s still not posted, it feels like Obamacare. They think it breaks the deal in the Pledge To America on any number of fronts. Are you hearing from the Tea Party people about this deal?
DL: I am not, Hugh, and I’m happy to hear from everybody. We’ve received about twelve calls in my office so far today, and that’s about it so far.
HH: Pro or con?
DL: 75% con, 25% pro.
HH: Yeah, what they told me this morning in this conference call is that they’re just getting on track, that it takes them a while to figure out how to do this, because they are so grass roots. But I think if you watch those incoming…in terms of the estate tax, that’s one of the things on the substantive side. On the procedural side, they just hate the fact that it’s still not posted. Does that bother you, Congressman?
DL: Oh, for sure. We need to move toward transparency and accountability, absolutely.
HH: Okay, and so how long do you think it ought to be up for the American people to judge it once it’s actually agreed to, if the House Democrats agree to anything. You’re right. They may walk away from the whole deal.
DL: Well yeah, then we’re back to square one. I’d like three days, 72 hours for anything of consequence.
HH: Okay, well I think that would be a good step towards restoring their faith in it. Now let’s talk about the estate tax. Right now, it’s at zero. Should people kill themselves in the next two weeks to avoid 35% above $5 million, Doug Lamborn?
DL: Well, and you know, it goes up to a million dollar at a 55% rate on January 1st if nothing is done. And so I guess to me, I’m still trying to decide. Is the cup half empty, or is the cup half full?
HH: Where are you leaning?
DL: Well, what I mean by that is it goes up to 55% on January 1st for anything over a million. This deal that Mitch McConnell negotiated with Barack Obama says $5 million, and then you start at 35% after that. So that’s much better than today, but it’s not as good as zero. I would want zero. And if we have everything fall apart, obviously we’re going to shoot for elimination of the death tax once and for all. Now whether we can get that through the Senate is anyone’s guess. But that would be my ideal tax rate.
HH: Yeah, I think what you meant to say it’s much better than what will be the law on January 1st unless it changes. Right now, it’s zero, right? The estate tax is at zero.
DL: Yeah, and it is slated, because it was just a one year window, it is slated to go back up to its initial high rate that it used to be several years ago on January 1st.
HH: See, and that’s why I think we have such leverage. And I don’t know who did the negotiating for the House, or if you guys just turned it all over to Mitch McConnell, but I certainly hope you get in there and push hard for starting over, because it seems to me that it’s a disaster for our party.
DL: Well Hugh, the House wasn’t even involved in that, and that is part of our problem. We’re kind of spectators at this point. I mean, the Democrats are real spectators, but we’re spectators, too.
HH: Now I quoted from the Pledge To America over at Hughhewitt.com, that the Congress pledged permanently to stop all job-killing tax hikes, to act immediately to reduce spending, to cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, to read the bill, and to advance legislative issues one at a time. It seems to me like the deal, as it’s been outlined, violates all five of those pledges.
DL: Well, there are real problems there. You pointed them out. It’s interesting, Club For Growth, I highly respect, they’re against it. Americans For Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, they’re for it.
HH: And but again, the Pledge is the Pledge. That’s what worries me, is that our Tea Party friends are going to conclude they can’t trust the Republicans, Doug Lamborn, as a result of this. That’s what worries me the most.
DL: Well that is a valuable thing to preserve. I would not want to see that happen. I want to hear from Tea Party folks, to make sure that if that’s people’s conviction, that’s going to weigh heavily with me.
HH: Now let’s turn to the Appropriations Committee. You’ve taken, you’ve gotten out of the frying pan, you’re in the fire now. Which subcommittees are you going to be on yet? Has that been decided?
DL: No. Like I say, today we’ll know for sure the population of the committees. That hasn’t even been decided, or the number on the committees. They may change a little bit. That’s another issue. But I want to be, like I really want to be involved in energy and the environment. I want to take an axe to the EPA. They are doing things like calling carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant, they’re rewriting all the air pollution laws. Just when industry makes huge investments and meets their current standards, they move the goal posts again to technology that doesn’t even exist. So the EPA is out of control, and that’s a huge job killer in our country.
HH: That would be a great bit of news for the rational people if Doug Lamborn was on the Energy And Environment Subcommittee. Would that also give you control of the purses for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
DL: Yeah, they’re involved in that, too. The Department of Interior/EPA.
HH: And I think, at least it used to be in the old days, they also had the NEH and the NEA, didn’t they?
DL: I don’t know, Hugh, to be honest.
HH: Yeah, I think in the old days, they did. Well, that would be great if you had oversight on Fish & Wildlife Service, and the NEA and the NEH. What’s your position on funding for NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Doug Lamborn?
DL: Well Hugh, a couple of days ago, I sent a letter to GAO. I know Barton and Burgess have done the same thing themselves, asking them to do an audit, a thorough audit of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR, saying how do they get their money, and where does it flow. They have no transparency. You can look at their books, and on the one hand, Hugh, they’ll say oh, we only get two percent of our budget, so we’re not a big user of federal money. But then they turn around and say well, if you cut our budget, we’re going to collapse. They want to have it both ways, and you look at their books, you can’t tell how much money they get from the federal government. It’s very obscure.
HH: Good luck in taking the axe to that. Doug Lamborn from the 5th district in Colorado. Congratulations, good service on Appropriations.
End of interview.