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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan On Cuts and the Pledge To America

Monday, February 14, 2011
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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.

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