Congressman Diane Black, Chair of the House Budget Committee (and candidate for governor of Tennessee) joined me this morning:
HH: I’m joined now by Congressman Diane Black, chair of the House Budget Committee. She is also going to be the next governor of Tennessee if I have my prognosticator hat on, and she is going to be the Republican nominee, though it’s a crowded field. She’s going to win in that red state, and she’s going to be a great governor. Congressman Black, welcome, good to talk to you.
DB: Well, good morning, Hugh, it’s great to be with you this morning.
HH: It was good to see you in the basement of the House a few weeks back. You had not yet declared. You are now officially a candidate for governor, correct?
DB: I am, thank you.
HH: And what is the key part of what will be your platform about a year from now when the primary is held, and then of course in November of ’18 when the general election is held?
DB: Well, jobs and the economy are always very important, although we are doing very well in the middle part of the state in Nashville. We have a lot of areas, especially in our rural areas, and so I want to be sure that everyone has an equal opportunity. And looking for those opportunities in those rural areas is looking outside the box, which I like to do. And then also, our education system is good, again, pockets of excellence. And we want to be sure everybody gets that same equal opportunity. Always health care, you know, my background is nursing. I’m an emergency room nurse, and we can do better here in our state, especially with dealing with the opioid issue that’s become an epidemic. And the President has acknowledged that as well. Our state is no different than other states that are dealing with this, and we’ve got to think outside the box on that one. But you know what more than anything that I think will differentiate me from many of my opponents is that I love the state of Tennessee for its values. And we are one of those places people come because they say wow, this is like it was in my state ten years ago or twenty years ago. And so I want to keep Tennessee values. That’s going to be important as we do have more people move into the state. It’s fine to come to our state and adopt our values and our principles that we love here, where we know right is right and wrong is wrong. God is God and life is life. So we want to keep that here, and we’re not going to allow others from the outside to change that. Welcome to our state, but honor and respect what we’re about.
HH: Now last night at the University of Texas, Congressman Black, the president ordered taking down the confederate statues, and I’m glad he did, because frankly, I view this as being a sideshow in the middle of crises which are sweeping the country, and we can’t allow the anti-Semitic racist fringe to turn every confederate statue into a riot. What’s your position on these statues? I assume there are dozens of them across Tennessee.
DB: Well, it makes me sad when we use history, we forget about looking at what history really was. And we’ve got to acknowledge that there some times in our country that maybe we didn’t do the best that we could do for everyone. But I don’t think we need to erase history. We need to learn from history. And that’s my concern. So what’s next? Do we say that we can’t have the battlefield in Gettysburg and learn about when our country was so divided and learn from that? And that’s my fear, is that as we do these kneejerk, and we bring things into a realm where you can’t even have a discussion about it without there being this just kneejerk of take everything down, erase our history. That is my greatest concern. Obviously, there were times in our history where we mistreated people. And we want to acknowledge that. But listen, not everybody that was a confederate soldier had a slave, nor they were fighting for what they didn’t want taken away in their realm.
HH: Are there any statues in particular that are flashpoints in Tennessee? I’m not familiar with any particular ones there, but for example, on the University of Tennessee campus, I don’t know. Where are the controversies in the Volunteer State?
DB: Yeah, Nathan Bedford Forrest is probably the greatest one, and we have had various times where that was, people wanted to take those statues down. And so that would probably be the greatest one.
HH: I personally would support that, because I think he was a war criminal. But what does Tennessee, that’s a Tennessee decision, what does Tennessee think about that?
DB: Well, there is still discussion, and there’s discussion going on about that throughout the state. And I think that good people will come to good decisions on that.
HH: And are you part of a process in that? Is Governor Haslam consulting with you? Or is that all run out of the capitol?
DB: It is run out of the capitol and working with the legislature there, which I believe is the right way to do it. States’ rights are big to me. I’m a 10th Amendment person, and I think that the legislature and the current governor of the state of Tennessee should decide what’s best for the state listening to the people
HH: Well, I hope they get rid of him. He’s a war criminal. But let me go to the tax question. He did, I was a Union family. Let me ask you about the budget, Congressman. The opportunity to do tax reform or a tax cut is a very narrow window. Has the Budget Committee done everything it has to do to make that possible?
DB: Well, we have, this is a complicated budget. It’s more complicated than most budgets, because first of all, we’re using reconciliation. But there are very, there are several moving pieces in this, and one of it is tax reform. And obviously, we want to do tax reform this year. This is our vehicle. It is one of the pieces that we continue to say to our members let’s get this done. But we have other things in there, you know, increasing the Defense spending, which is very important to get our country back in a place where we can defend our country from our enemies, and then also our out of control spending. You know, we cut $203 billion dollars in mandatory spending, the first time since 1997 those kinds of cuts were made. It’s not the end all. We still have to continue to do this, and we want a culture to be cultivated by what we’re doing right now so that every year Congress is looking at how you can cut that mandatory spending, because it’s the greatest driver of our debt. So there are a number of pieces in here in addition to that getting a ten year path to balance, is very important, because we don’t want to continue down the road we’re down. So tax reform obviously is at the very top, but there are other pieces here that are important, and I’m hoping that when we get back, that we’ll be able to complete this measure. We got it out of our committee unanimously, and now we need to just get it off the floor and get it done.
HH: But in that measure, does it provide for a cut in the corporate tax rate?
DB: Well, it does not. What it does is it sets up the opportunity for us to be able to add whatever the tax plan is that we come up with through our body, obviously. And we’ve been working on this, and the Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member, and absolutely, cutting the corporate tax rate is a big part of that. But it’s not just the corporate for businesses. It’s also on the individual side, which addresses small businesses and individual people.
HH: Now I’m strongly of the opinion we have to get some points on the board after the health care fiasco. And am I correct that if this budget which you just passed is acted on as a vehicle for tax reform, that the reconciliation opportunity from the previous budget is eclipsed? Am I correct about that?
DB: Once we take a measure on both the House and the Senate side, then it is no longer valid. And so we must do what the House has already done, and that is to reform Obamacare – repeal it and reform it. People are suffering. In our state of Tennessee every day, we get a call in our office about how someone is unable to afford their deductibles, even though the premiums may be subsidized. You can’t afford a deductible of $5,000 dollars when you’re making $40,000 dollars a year. So the people are suffering, and we want the Senate to take control of this and get a measure out of there and listen, get it back to us. Let’s go to conference committee. But at least take action. And so we’re doing that in the House. We’ve done our piece on Obamacare. We want to do our piece on the budget, which will then put the tax reform in place.
HH: But if that doesn’t happen, if the Senate doesn’t adopt, for example, Graham-Cassidy, and it does move forward on tax, that closes it off. I just want to technically, my audience to understand, the opportunity to do health care reform through reconciliation ends the moment that a tax reform bill comes through, correct?
DB: Well, that’s right.
HH: All right.
DB: And when we take a measure, work on a measure for the tax reform, it will cost us not to have that opportunity that we had on the budget with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
HH: And have you yet set up a calendar, because it seems to me part of the problem is that close observers of politics are continually being surprised by the iterations, the Freedom Caucus derailing health care reform originally and then putting it back on, the Senate drama that ended up in the fiasco with Senator McCain voting no and it not going to a conference committee. Everything is a surprise. Do we actually have a schedule that people could point out and say this is when we’re going to take up tax reform, this is when we’re going to decide? I personally don’t think, for example, that the state and local income tax deduction should be erased. But that debate should be held in rather regular order and a vote taken, and decided. Why can’t anything run the way that, you know, like my radio show runs? I’ve got to be here Monday through Friday three hours a day, and if I’m not, I get fired.
DB: Well, probably because with 435 people in the House and another 100 over in the Senate, that we have a hard time getting everybody to come together. But look, I’m with you. We’re, the people have given us an opportunity. We cannot waste this opportunity. And that’s why I’m so proud in our Budget Committee that we were able to get folks all the way from the moderates in New York to the conservative Freedom Caucus together and unanimously came out of our committee, because our committee said this is our job, this is our role, we must do it, the American people put us there to do it. And all of this distraction that we have every day in other areas, we have got to do what the people have charged us to do, and that’s why getting the budget out of the full house and getting it to the Senate is so important so the American people see we’re actually doing regular and working. A budget is regular order.
HH: Let me conclude, Chairman Black, by talking about the Budget Control Act. The McCain has been the latest of the terrible incidents, and it all goes to readiness. It’s indicative of a broader issue dealing with training and readiness. I had a professional tell me this, this morning. We have been focused so long on doing so much with so little money. We have to repeal the BCA. Is that part of our budget? Can we repeal the BCA as a result of the reconciliation process?
DB: It is not a part of my budget process, but it will need to be done, because we are breaking the cap, and so we are going to be having to take that measure to say, once you break the cap, which we do when we increase the deficit, or excuse me, the Defense spending by $70 billion dollars, then we will have to take a measure and a vote on the BCA.
HH: Now do you expect that Democrats will join you? I mean, this is basically a deterioration of ship handling skills that has become manifest in the loss of life in the Navy. I can’t imagine Democrats not joining you in doing this, and doing it rapidly. I mean, if I were the Speaker, I’d bring the repeal of the BCA, tell me if legislatively this is impossible, why not just put that out there for a vote today, or when you come back, I mean, first day?
DB: Well, the budget does have the authority to set the numbers, but then as you say, we will have to take a vote on this measure. And I can’t speak for the leaders or the, either McCarthy or Paul Ryan on this, but it is a measure that we’re going to have to do, and I’d like to see it be done as soon as possible.
HH: Okay, last question. On the gubernatorial campaign, how much money do you have to raise and spend in Tennessee as opposed to, say, California, to be elected governor there?
DB: Yeah, it’s a little hard to say, because we haven’t had a race, a real race, in about eight years. And so the numbers have changed. But I would say about $5 million would be the minimum.
HH: Well, good luck in raising that, Congressman. Come back early and often throughout this, and I appreciate your candor. Good luck in getting some of this stuff done early in September.
DB: Thank you, Hugh. I appreciate being with you.
End of interview.