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Congressmen Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy and Jeb Henserling on The Pledge and the Budget

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Congressmen Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and Jeb Henserling –chair of the House Budget Committee, GOP House Whip and GOP House Conference Chair respectively, all appeared on Monday’s show and defended the GOP’s position on the CR as “Pledge-compliant.” I am not persuaded, but the transcripts will be posted below:

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Paul Ryan:

HH: I’m pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee. Congratulations on the Green Bay Packers win, Congressman.

PR: Oh, hey, I’ve got a Packers helmet sitting right next me signed by Mike McCarthy, who should be coach of the year, by the way. We’re real excited about it, thanks.

HH: A very…a very great day. Now Congressman, I want to start by asking you, does the Pledge To America matter?

PR: Yes. Why would you ask such a question?

HH: Because I think you guys are about to break it.

PR: Why do you say that?

HH: Well, it says on Page 6 and 21, with common sense exceptions for seniors, veterans and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone. That means 2008 spending in 2011. And I keep hearing people talking about the President’s FY’11, which has nothing to do with the Pledge To America.

PR: Right. Well, right, so the score at that time, off of the only baseline that existed, and I know this takes me a second to explain it, was the President’s budget, because the Democrats didn’t do a budget. And then, it did save $100 billion dollars, going to those…you see, the problem is there’s two conflicting points in there. ’08 levels, $100 billion. ’08 levels, if they were enacted at the beginning of the year, off of the Obama budget, would have saved $100 billion dollars. ’08 levels now don’t save that much money for two reasons. We’re halfway through the fiscal year, and our Senate colleagues, Mitch McConnell and others, did a good job in the lame duck by defeating the Obama omnibus appropriations bill at his levels, knocked us down to a flat funding C.R., and that already started saving us some money. So we went in a lame duck down to 2010 levels from 2011, saving right there, and then the Democrats blew spending out for the next five months, ending in March, costing a lot. So we went down to those levels, doesn’t clearly save as much, and now we’re going to go even deeper than we would have done. We actually annualize, and we will save $170 billion dollars with what we’re doing this week, because we’re going back and getting the spending, the money that was already spent over the first five months of the year. So if you want to take this out for what we would have saved, annualize it over the whole year, $170 billion dollars.

HH: Now Congressman, I’m just a simple lawyer, and I just simply read this that okay, you cannot spend more in ’11 than you spent in ’08 on non-security spending. And if that doesn’t get us to $100 billion, you’ve got to cut more. You’ve got to do two. They’re not in conflict. They’re cumulative.

PR: Right, so the number is one trillion, twenty eight billion dollars, would be the 2008 level of the non-security spending. What number are we bringing spending down to this week? One trillion, twenty eight billion dollars.

HH: Now the numbers I saw out of the caucus say that non-security spending in 2008 was $387 billion. Is that correct?

PR: No. So if you look at, I don’t have the spreadsheet in front of me, if you look at total discretionary spending, it’s $1,028 [billion]. And if you take a look at what we said in the Pledge, it was $1,028. We’re bringing spending down to $1,028.

HH: Now your colleague, and my friend John Campbell…

PR: Right.

HH: …is offering an amendment this week, I call it the Pledgekeeper, that will drive spending down to $387 billion on the non-security items. Will you be supporting that?

PR: I’m supporting all these spending cuts coming to the floor. I’m supporting all…look, when I put the number out there, I put out the Pledge number, which was to bring it down to those levels, $1,028 [billion]. We said back in October, back in December, back in January, $1,028 [billion] was the Pledge number, the levels. So I put the Pledge level out there. But do you think I want to stop there? I mean, what’s funny about all of this, Hugh, is we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars here. I want to get to the budget where we’re talking about trillions of dollars of savings.

HH: I agree, but Congressman, the credibility matters so much, and I think you must know…

PR: We’re exceeding, we are exceeding, this week, we are exceeding the level we said we would bring spending down to. John Campbell’s goes even farther than that. Here’s the problem, Hugh, is that the savings estimate keeps changing of these levels. We’re bringing spending to the level we said we would bring it at. The problem is because of the continuing resolution, because we’re halfway through the fiscal year, the savings estimates on a weekly basis keeps changing. That’s the problem we have.

HH: But Congressman, every time someone from the majority walks out and cites the President FY’11 budget, that’s not a benchmark anywhere in the Pledge. That was never mentioned.

PR: It’s the only benchmark that was there when the Pledge was written. Therefore, that’s where that savings estimate came from.

HH: But that’s incorporating by reference. What you’ve got, and what you actually say in the Pledge is that…

PR: I understand your point.

HH: And so that point is not my point. That point is the point of people listening to the radio show and blogging and talking about this. They want you guys to go much, much, much deeper this year. The question is will you?

PR: So we…wait until you see our budget. Look, this is just the first bite at the apple. This is just one week. Wait until you see what we do in our budget, which we’re going to be talking about trillions of dollars in savings, not just tens of billions of dollars in savings.

HH: But you’ve got leverage right now. You’ve got the continuing resolution that must be passed…

PR: And we have a debt ceiling which we want to leverage more from.

HH: And so why not now? If not now, when, because that budget that came in today is a joke. It’s terrible.

PR: That’s what I thought you wanted to talk about.

HH: I do. I do want to get to that.

PR: So if you take a look at where we’re headed, look, what matters to me, Hugh, is obviously doing what we said we would do. And I would strenuously say we are doing what we said we would do. I always said I was bringing spending down to this $1,028 [billion] level. And we were going to do it annualized. Now, we’re doing it for the full year. But more importantly, what choice will the country be given at the end of all of this, at the end of this term in Congress? Do they want what the President showed us he wants today, more borrowing, more spending, more taxing, a cradle to grave welfare state, and an acceleration toward a debt crisis? He’s given us a $1.6 trillion dollar tax increase today, $8.7 trillion in new spending, $13 trillion dollars thrown on top of the national debt, and zero spending discipline. We owe the country a choice of a different future. And so to me, what matters more is not the week to week, but at the end of the day, have we given our constituents, the country, a choice of a limited government, economic freedom, future of where we reclaim the American idea, or the Obama path, which he has very well articulated today, is a Europeanization of our economy, is stagnation, is borrowing, spending and taxing?

HH: Now Congressman, I agree with that. But what I’m afraid maybe the majority doesn’t realize is that the confidence and support you need to get that done depends a great deal on the fortitude shown this week going deeper, so that there’s no debate about the Pledge, so that it’s, you know, like Jim Jordan had $250 billion in cuts. Rand Paul said $500 billion in cuts. Why not now?

PR: Great. How cool is this, Hugh? What are we debating right now? How much more spending we want to cut. Where was Congress six months ago? How much more spending to increase. So you’re splitting hairs over a cultural change that is a sea change in Washington. We are having an awesome debate – how much more spending do we want to cut. And you know what we’re doing? Instead of Nancy Pelosi having a dictatorial regime, telling us what we have to vote on, we’re going to let anybody bring any amendment to the floor, so long as it cuts spending. So Jim Jordan, John Campbell, whoever wants to bring an amendment to the floor, they can bring to the floor and put it up for a vote. And you get to watch how your member of Congress votes on that amendment. That is a culture change. That is a step in the right direction. And then when we put our budget out in the spring, we’re going to be talking about trillions of dollars in savings, not just tens of billions.

HH: Well, God speed on that, but I hope, I hope this week you use the leverage you’ve got to go much, much deeper than appropriators said last week. Paul Ryan, always a pleasure, Congressman from Wisconsin, chairman of the Budget Committee.

End of interview.

Kevin McCarthy

HH: I’m joined now by Kevin McCarthy, congressman from California’s 22nd district, the Whip, the House Republican Whip. Congressman McCarthy, always a pleasure, welcome back, good to talk to you.

KM: Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

HH: Now I gave your colleague, Paul Ryan, a hard time last hour, Kevin McCarthy, because I believe you guys are on the brink of breaching the Pledge to cut back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout spending.

KM: I know that, because I wrote the Pledge. And in the Pledge, we said for exemptions, for common sense exemptions for seniors, veterans and troops, we’ll roll back to pre-stimulus and pre-bailout, saving $100 [b]illion in the first year.

HH: At least. You left out at least $100 billion.

KM: Yeah, at least, well, I’m going off the top of my head.

HH: All right, that’s not bad, though. I’m impressed.

KM: (laughing)

HH: Now…

KM: I know what this thing says.

HH: So in terms of that, you need to get to $387 billion in non-security spending, and you’re not there yet.

KM: $378 [billion] is the ’08, non-security. $378 billion.

HH: Okay, so you’re not there yet, are you?

KM: But remember what the Pledge said. The Pledge said we’d do something totally different, that we’d have an open floor. So something that’s never even heard about, every member, when it comes to spending, gets to offer an amendment, whatever they want. Okay, for the last two years, what they call here an open rule, there hasn’t even been one open rule under the Democrats’ rule. So you’ve got the first basis. Now when we wrote the Pledge, the Democrat, the President had his budget out. Because they did not enact their budget, that’s what you saw something based on at the very beginning. So you could make your argument saying that we’re not all the way there. Someone can make the argument, you’re proposing a hundred to start out with. The bill is not passed yet. People are able to offer amendments. It’s a whole new day. It’s kind of like the way I first learned politics back in Saturday morning, Schoolhouse Rock, I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill? Well, it’s a new day, because that’s actually how this process is going to go. Every member gets elected individually, so every member, it’s not leadership that determines it. You’re going to be on the floor to be able to have the idea win at the end of the day.

HH: Now does that equal, Congressman McCarthy, your guarantee that when this C.R. is done, you will have cut at least $100 billion, and will be back to 2008, that you guys will not accept anything other than that?

KM: Based upon where we are for that Thursday, in the Pledge, it says in the first year. We’ve already cut more than $100 billion. But if you want to talk real money, we’re going to cut trillions in the budget. We’ve already come out saying we’re going to tackle entitlements where the President does not.

HH: Congressman, I’ve had Dave Dreier on, I had Paul Ryan on, I monitor the Twitter feed, as you do. People are really ticked off with that. They want to hear you guys say yes, we will keep the Pledge, we will absolutely…

KM: Well, I will say yes, but we’ll cut more. You want to hold me to the Pledge? You want to hold to the Pledge within the first year? There will be trillions.

HH: No, no, that’s the budget. That’s the FY’12. We’re talking about expenditures in ’11.

KM: Hey, you want to get to real money? You’ve got to go beyond discretionary.

HH: No, I just want to get to credibility so we get support for you guys in 2012 when the entitlements get on the floor.

KM: All right, well let’s walk back the credibility and support what we said we would do in the Pledge. First of all, we said we’d cut our own budgets. We’ve done that. Second off, we said we’d open up the floor. We have, and this is a spending bill. We’ve opened up the floor. Third thing that we said we would do, because they went into a C.R., which means a continuing resolution, where you’ve already taken five months away, only seven months, if you wanted to be technical about it and say $58 billion would equal the $100 billion, we said no to that. And we even went further. So you will find on the floor that we will even go further. We already voted off the floor repealing Obamacare. In the first four weeks in the 111th Congress, when the Democrats controlled Congress, they increased spending by $686 billion. In the first four weeks that Republicans have controlled Congress in the 112th, we have cut $650 billion before this week has even started.

HH: Kevin McCarthy, though, that is great. Wonderful. That’s not what people want to hear. They want to hear that you guys will go to the wall on the continuing resolution, shut the government down if necessary, to make sure that we’re back to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels, which means 2008 real dollars. Will you guys do that?

KM: You will find we will be back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout, and we will go further. We will put this country on the right path that we can pay down this debt. Look, what the President proposed today, you’d be better off doing nothing.

HH: Agreed.

KM: It’s going to increase taxes, one, the top rate, also capital gains rate up to 44%, because you’ve got the health care tax in there as well. He proposes that in there, and says he’s only cutting so much. He wants to freeze discretionary spending. It is a new day in Washington when we’re having a debate on how far we can cut.

HH: Well, I’ve heard that…

KM: That is healthy, and that is good.

HH: And if necessary, in 30 seconds, you’ll shut the government down if necessary to get there, Kevin McCarthy?

KM: Look, I think the best thing to do is not to shut the government down, but actually create jobs. And you do that by cutting spending and growing this economy.

HH: We’ll talk again soon, I hope, Kevin McCarthy, the Whip of the Republicans. Not sure if people are going to buy it, but thanks for coming on.

End of interview.

Jeb Hensarling:

HH: This hour, I start with Jeb Hensarling from the great state of Texas. Congressman Hensarling, of course, is the chair of the Republican Conference. Chairman Hensarling, welcome back, good to have you.

JH: Hey, Hugh, great to be back. You’ve had a lot of great guests tonight.

HH: Yeah, but they’re making us all crazy, because I, and most of my listeners believe that you guys are on the brink of violating the Pledge To America, which said roll back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout spending levels. It’s got nothing to do with the fiscal year ’11 budget, Chairman Hensarling. What’s going on?

JH: Well, for me, and for most Republicans, you can’t cut big enough, soon enough, but we didn’t get in this pickle overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight. I would say that number one, you’ve got…we’ve already voted to repeal Obamacare. We voted to save $2.6 trillion dollars. The Pledge talks about $100 billion. So number one, we’ve already exceeded that. But it’s not enough. I mean, on the one hand, we are turning a corner here, and actually debating how much should we cut, how quick enough, and that’s great. Relative to the size of the problem, though, it’s very little, and we’ve got a long way to go. But as far as keeping good to the word of the Pledge, I think we’ve already done it. And if we haven’t done it, judge us on two year’s performance, not five weeks.

HH: Well now, the Pledge says, Congressman, with common sense exceptions for senior, veterans and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone. To me, that just means 2008 fiscal year spending, that you can’t give Interior more than Interior had then, you can’t give EPA more than EPA had then, you can’t give Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, any of the discretionary agencies any more than they had in 2008. It seems to me pretty simple. And, it says, you’ve got to get at least $100 billion backwards from 2010, nothing to do with 2011. Am I reading it the right way?

JH: I think you’re reading it the right way, but it also didn’t say it was going to get done in one vote on one day. And again, we’ve already voted to repeal Obamacare. We’re about to have a budget that’s going to come out that I think will have the only entitlement reform spending that anybody has put on the table, saving trillions of dollars. So listen, the first thing you’ve got to do is keep your word. I believe we’ve already kept our word, and if we haven’t, we are far going to exceed that over the course of the next two years. $100 billion isn’t even a rounding error, Hugh, as you well know, on where we have to go to save this country from bankruptcy. We’ve got an honest to God debt crisis that is keeping job creators and entrepreneurs from expanding their businesses or creating jobs, who are threatening the next generation with the loss of the American dream. And so I expect over the course of two years to be voting on countless measures to save trillions of dollars. And I believe that’s what the Republican conference is going to be about.

HH: Well, that’s exactly right. $100 billion is a rounding error, the 2008 level, but it’s about credibility. And against the backdrop of last week, and I guess I’ve got to ask you this as bluntly as I can, does the leadership realize the enormous damage that was done to the leadership’s credibility by the Hal Rogers budget last week? Do they realize that nobody trusts you now?

JH: Well again, all I can say is judge us on two years of performance. And when you talk about credibility, when people, if you look at the Pledge, which was a governing document dating back to September of last year, what people talked about, what I recall, and I don’t have…it was non-defense discretionary spending. But again, Hugh, I would ask the American people to judge us on two years of performance, and not five weeks. And again, when you read the Pledge, I don’t see where it said you’ve got to get it done by Valentine’s Day.

HH: It said this year.

JH: So all I would say, again, is either A) we got it done, or B) if we haven’t got it done, judge us at the end of two years, and you can let us know whether we got it done then.

HH: But what I think the people who listen to this show, and the people who are probably contacting a lot of the members say, is you’ve got leverage right now. You have the continuing resolution. You must agree to it. You’ve got the debt ceiling coming up. You’ve got leverage there. If not now, when? And why is it so difficult to get, you know, Jim Jordan said here’s $250 billion, Rand Paul said $500 billion. Why not get to it? And why does it seem like everyone’s afraid of saying, you know, I’d rather shut the government down than have another fiscal crisis like 2008? In other words, where’s the fight?

JH: Well, Hugh, I think if you looked at my record, I’m probably among the top three or four most fiscally conservative members of the House by any ranking whatsoever. You can’t cut big enough, large enough, soon enough for me. But again, this nation has been getting into, digging a deep hole for years. I mean, to some extent, out of fairness to the President, he didn’t put us on the road to national bankruptcy. He’s just pressing on the accelerator and showing no signs of turning back.

HH: Agreed.

JH: So you know, it’s going to take a little longer in turning, I’m mixing metaphors here, in turning the battleship around. But Republicans, number one, have voted to repeal Obamacare. Number two, for the first time I believe in the history, at least since I’ve been in the House, we’re not having weekly votes to terminate programs instead of create new programs. And although relative to the problem, the savings of roughly $150 billion over the next 12 months, relative to the President’s last submission, it may be small relative to the problem. But I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think since World War II have you actually seen a C.R. cut spending. So what I’m saying here is have we gone to where we need to go? No. But have we turned a corner? Absolutely, yes, and I think we have it pointed in the right direction. I wish it could all get done in five weeks. It’s not going to get done in five weeks. And frankly, until we have a change in the occupant of the White House, and until Harry Reid is retired as Senate majority leader, it’s not going to get done in two years, either. We need more help.

HH: But another thing I hear a lot, and which I believe has a great deal of legitimacy, Jeb Hensarling, is this is going to go over to the Senate. If you guys open with a mere $100 billion in cuts off of FY’11, which isn’t 2008 levels, but if you just open there, they’ll cut it back. Why not open big? Why not say, like the President basically sent over a fake budget today, because he knows you guys are going to open, and he’s going to try and hammer you on being the bad budget cutters. But the country’s media savvy. We get all this. Why not open big?

JH: Well again, you can’t cut big enough, large enough for me, but I’m one vote out of many. We’re talking about a C.R. that deals with essentially discretionary spending for the remaining months of the fiscal year. And that’s where we are. I mean, you’re going to see more work particularly on our budget that will be negotiated with the Senate, with our program terminations. So all I can say is we’re just getting started.

HH: Okay, let me ask you about some specifics. Again, I’ve heard the same thing. I don’t think it works, but you know, it’s up to the people to decide, not me. Is NPR going to be zeroed out in the C.R. that comes out of the House?

JH: Oh, Hugh, I don’t have that in front of me. I think so. There’s 150 program terminations. I don’t have them all in front of me as we speak, but I think NPR is there. And there is no reason whatsoever that any taxpayer should be funding NPR, not at a time when we’re borrowing forty cents on the dollar, a lot of it from the Chinese, and sending the bill to our children and grandchildren.

HH: What about the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities? Under the same logic, if we are really in a fiscal crisis, wouldn’t we be shuttering all of these programs immediately?

JH: I believe so, but unfortunately, Hugh, I should have done this, but I don’t have the list of 150 program terminations in front of me. I can get them to you, not in time for us to finish this interview, but I’ll get them for you, so you can see the 150 program terminations.

HH: All right, let’s go back to the big issue. And I’ve heard everyone say we’re not interested in shutting the government down. And I don’t think anyone is. But if it comes to that, are you guys prepared to take the media heat that comes with standing on the necessity of turning the ship around, and not caving when it comes to the short strokes in the next two weeks?

JH: Oh, all I can say is there’ll be a High Noon moment, and I believe we’re going to end up being the Gary Cooper and not the other guys. You’re right. Nobody wants to shut down the government, but we know that the classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. And as we’ve said before, you know, if the President wants any help in paying his bills, he’s going to have to start cutting up the credit cards. And there’s going to have to be an agreement between the Senate, between the White House, and between the House in putting our fiscal house in order, and seeing major spending reductions and major spending reforms, particularly putting caps on these expenditures. I mean, this is a legitimate crisis.

HH: Congressman Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Republican Conference, thank you, we look forward to having you back a lot. I appreciate you taking the hard questions today.

JH: Hugh, always happy to do it. You take care.

HH: Will do.

End of interview.

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