HH: We begin this hour, though, with the third-ranking Republican in the United States House of Representatives, Mike Pence of Indiana is chair of the House Republican Conference. Congressman Pence, welcome to the program, always a pleasure to talk to you, sir.
MP: Hi, Hugh, great to be back on the program, you know I’m a big fan.
HH: So what do you expect tonight? What do you expect, are we going to get more President Eeyore, more doom and gloom?
MP: No, I think you’re going to hear the President strike a very positive tone. We’ve caught a few glimpses of some of his remarks. I think he’s going to express a very admirable sentiment that we will work through these times, and that’ll be welcome from the, as you said, the doom and gloom of the past several weeks. But I think at its very core, what you’re going to see here is more of the same. I think the President’s going to call for more spending, more borrowing, more bailouts, and ultimately we’re anticipating the President’s going to call for a tax increase that would raise taxes ultimately on small business owners and family famers, and Republicans are going to be prepared to take our case to the American people that we never like tax increases, but doggone it, the last time you ever want to raise taxes is during a recession.
HH: Do you expect that he’s going to actually call for a tax hike before the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2011, Mike Pence?
MP: I think it’s possible. It’s more likely that he will simply use the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, allowing the marginal rate to pop up from 35-59 in the top rate, and other…and capital gains will pop up at a certain level all at the end of the next two years. But you know, there is a strong desire among Democrats in Congress to raise taxes before then. But as you know, Hugh, better than most, the truth is that as soon as you signal to small business owners in this economy that taxes are going to go up, it’s going to have the negative effect that it would have almost as if you did it tomorrow. So we just don’t think that’s the right message to send to the economy. We don’t think it’s the right policy. We think we ought to be practicing fiscal discipline. We shouldn’t be passing, I called it today to some bloggers, I called it the Son of Stimulus, it’s coming to the floor tomorrow, $400 billion dollars, 9,000 earmarks. We ought to be getting rid of that bill, scrap it, freeze federal spending at current levels, and then let’s give the American people some tax relief, some real fast-acting tax relief. You do those two things, this economy will come roaring back by the end of this year.
HH: Now Mike Pence, we know you haven’t got the votes, but it’s important to get the rhetoric, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, win the debate, then you win the election.
HH: The question is, are we well-positioned, are Republicans using the platforms they have to get their message out there?
MP: You know, I think we are. The part of the role of the House Republican Conference, as you know, is to help our members find their voice and to do a more effective job in objective ways. Over the first six weeks of this year, Republicans were outpacing Democrats in the national debate, in the print media, on of course our cherished talk radio, as well as on cable television. We were in the fight, taking the case to the American people. And I think, you know, we lost the vote as you said on the stimulus, but I think we won the argument, and I don’t care what these polls say. I’ve got to tell you, back home in Indiana last week, I had record turnout at town hall meetings. I’ve talked to members of Congress from all over the country including some Democrats I’ve heard from that really heard from the American people that they know we cannot borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing economy, and Republicans made that case.
HH: Now Mike Pence, I am one of those who say go carefully into opposition on the mortgage bill and on the banking bill, because unlike the Porkulus, the Porkapalooza, I think there’s a segment of the American population that says do whatever has to be done to keep people in their homes. What’s your thinking?
MP: I think there’s…number one, I think the American people are profoundly compassionate people, but I will say that’s, at least in my neck of the woods, Hugh, that’s up to a point. I think there’s no American that would begrudge providing institutions on individuals who were caught up in these times through no fault of their own, some help to stay in their homes. But when you start looking at the breadth of the President’s proposal, where people that were engaged in land speculation and real estate speculation are not even in foreclosure yet in their homes but may be able to get at the public Treasury to bail out their bad decisions, I think a whole lot of people in Indiana and around the country are not interested in doing a whole lot of that. You know, help people that were preyed upon, help people who didn’t know what they were getting into, but the vast majority of people we’re being asked to help are people that had their eyes wide open. And more than 90% of Americans who always pay their mortgages on time, I think are going to chaff at the idea of paying higher taxes to bail out people that made irresponsible decisions.
HH: Agreed on that. It’s just…it’s going to be a delicate balancer. Now tell me about the Stimulus II, I mean, TARP II. Obviously, I just don’t know that they know what they’re doing. It’s a competence issue for me. Do you think they have a plan that makes sense?
MP: Yeah, are you talking about Son of Stimulus tomorrow?
HH: No, I’m talking about TARP II, not the appropriations, but the second…
MP: Oh, TARP II?
MP: Yeah, oh gosh, of course I was opposed, as you know, Hugh, to the first bank bailout, the first traunch of this thing. And I thought the idea of nationalizing every bad mortgage in America was a profoundly bad idea, and took them about a week after they passed the bill to abandon that idea and start nationalizing a portion of banks. It just does seem to many of us, I think Republicans overwhelmingly oppose TARP II, that this administration seems to be kind of making this up as they go. And I was encouraged today that Ben Bernanke said no to nationalization, that that wasn’t the right way to go, and seems to be having its good effect on Wall Street. But look, at the end of the day, the freedom to succeed includes the freedom to fail. And we’ve got to get to a place as a country on where we allow some of these lending institutions to bear the full brunt of their bad decisions, and let them go through bankruptcy and be gobbled up by solvent banks. But we would ask where is all of this going to end? Just more handouts, more bailouts, and certainly, as has been implied by our new Treasury secretary, the original $700-800 billion dollars of the TARP is just going to be a down payment if we intend to bailout every failing bank in the country.
HH: Now some specific issues, Congressman Pence. The House of Representatives is probably going to get sent a bill from the Senate that will unconstitutionally expand your membership by giving the District of Columbia a congressman. Does the Conference have lined up a Republican governor to bring a lawsuit immediately to challenge this in the United States courts?
MP: Well, I don’t think there’s any question that bill is going to…I think that bill’s going to pass in the House and the Senate. And I think there will be an immediate court review of that legislation. My estimate, and it’ll come as a surprise to you, Hugh, but you know, occasionally you and I disagree, I agree with Ken Starr, I agree with the scholar Viet Dinh that we’ve actually found a Constitutional remedy to a historic wrong. I was one of the few Republicans to support that measure in the past, and I believe when it goes to the Supreme Court, my bet is that even Justice Scalia will conclude that as the Congress had the power with regard to the Commerce Clause about fifty years ago when the Congress actually passed legislation to treat citizens of the District of Columbia as citizens of a state for the purpose of that Constitutional right, that this legislation would likely also pass muster, even with Justice Scalia.
HH: I yield to no man in my esteem for Judge Starr. Back when I was a young court clerk, he had the chambers next door to mine, and he’s obviously brilliant, but he’s wrong on this one, and so are you, Mike, and so I hope we’ll talk you out of it. Then I guess I’ll find another Republican to oppose on that. But let me ask you about another thing. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act – I got a tutorial from one of the country’s leading experts on this, Gary Wolensky of Snell & Wilmer over the weekend, did a show on it yesterday. It’s devastating people. It’s crushing businesses. Are the people in the Congress aware of what they did last year?
MP: Not to the extent that you are, not to the extent that people that are living under it are. And this is all…this is all part of the natural consequences. You’ve got kind of the triple threat here coming with the most liberal one-party government in American history. We’re going to have a rash of that type of new regulation in the marketplace. We’re going to have higher taxes. We’re going to have higher debt and deficits with runaway federal spending and all the bailouts.
HH: Are your Democratic colleagues open to being persuaded by evidence, Mike Pence? Because if they are, the CPSIA and others will get reformed.
MP: Are Democratic colleagues open to being persuaded?
MP: Well, I’ll tell you what, I went before the Rules Committee tonight, and made a very modest request that we would continue our moratorium on the Fairness Doctrine, a moratorium that was endorsed two years ago by 309 members, including 100 Democrats. And Hugh, I just found out 15 minutes ago that that amendment was rejected. And on March 6th, the moratorium on the Fairness Doctrine that I fought to put into the federal budget a few years ago goes away. And so even though over a 100 Democrats say they’re opposed to the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC will have every right and the resources to bring it back if they so desire after March 6th.
HH: Mike Pence, always bracing. Thank you, Congressman.
End of interview.