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Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole On Whether Progress Is Being Made On Spending Cuts

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

HH: Right now, I’m pleased to welcome a member of the Appropriations Committee, a member of the House Budget Committee, Tom Cole of Oklahoma’s 4th district. Congressman, a pleasure, thanks for joining me.

TC: Hey, great to be with you.

HH: I spent the last hour asking people what they wanted me to ask you. So I’m going to run down questions that they came up with, Congressman, and see what your answers are. That way, it just saves time.

TC: Sure.

HH: Number one, what dire things will happen if we don’t raise the debt limit?

TC: Well, if anybody’s got money in a money market, it’ll be worth less. You won’t get back a dollar. When you talk about defaulting on debt, and most pension funds hold a considerable portion of their reserves in U.S. Treasuries, so if you’ve got a pension, it’ll take a hit. The biggest holder of U.S. debt is actually the Social Security system, so you weaken that as well. So there’s, you know, there are real financial consequences to not meeting obligations. That’s why the founding fathers laid it out. This is a policy that’s been with us since Alexander Hamilton. The United States pays its debts.

HH: Second question, will the Republicans be creative in negotiating, for example, asking in exchange for a debt ceiling rise for Anwar drilling, or for water for California’s central valley?

TC: You know, I think those are pretty good questions. They’re not directly related budget issues, but certainly in the case of Anwar, you’re talking about something that actually generates revenue to the federal government, substantial revenue in the form of leases. So that makes a lot of sense to me, and so does water to the central valley, which restores land to productive use, and actually puts people back together again. Now I’m not part of the negotiations. That’s kind of above my pay grade. But I think those are two excellent ideas.

HH: Okay, Congressman, how long do you think you and other Republicans who voted for the budget deal have before you draw a primary challenge?

TC: You know, look, it’s a free country. Anybody’s allowed to run. I’ve won general elections, won primaries before, so I don’t worry too much about that. I just simply try and do what I think the right thing is and let the chips fall where they may. So far, I’ve been reasonably successful in my district, but you know, yeah, this is America. Everybody’s allowed to run for office.

HH: Can we get a vote defunding the Libyan bombing?

TC: I certainly hope so. I think what was done was unconstitutional. I actually have two bills that are privileged resolutions that I dropped a couple of weeks ago, so they will eventually have to be acted on or go directly to the floor. They call upon both the State Department and the Pentagon to release all information where they discussed getting Congressional authorization. The way I read the Constitution, and frankly, the way I read the War Power Act, although I think that’s of questionable Constitutionality, it’s still the law of the land until it’s overturned. The President was required to come to Congress for a vote to use military force. He didn’t. The administration has a position that they didn’t have to. I think that this is really a fight worth fighting, and one that we ought to take up. I think Congress loses its war making authority, and we’ve slid down that path further than I think we should have in the last several decades, then you’re going to simply have presidents that can involve us willy-nilly in armed conflict without the consent of the American people. That is a very, very dangerous and terrible proposition. So you know, again, this is a fight worth fighting, and we ought to be fighting it.

HH: Next question from the audience again, the President took less than a week to receive the budget and announce he would not implement the restrictions on czars. How will Congress respond?

TC: Well, again, we still have the budget item, and I think we ought to use it. Now again, how we respond, I’m not one to telegraph punches. And I think that’s a leadership level decision. But look, the budget deal was a budget deal they agreed to. Remember, this was a mutually agreed upon document. So for them to break their word within a week afterwards, I think would raise question about any other deal that you manage to arrive at with them. So this is one where I think we’ve got to be really prepared to take really strong action.

HH: Congressman, this is my question now, not the audience, so I want to make sure that’s clear. Did you guys get punked? I mean, he just doesn’t respect you at all when he does these signing statements.

TC: Look, we are spending this year about $80 billion dollars less than the President originally requested for the 2011 budget. So no, I don’t think we did. Now you’ve got to remember, the Democrats have the presidency, and obviously have the Senate as well. For us to have gotten almost 80% of what we originally set out in the Pledge to America spending reductions, is a good start. And in addition to that, the appropriations for next year are underway. I sit on the Appropriations Committee. The budget we laid out will dictate what we pass in the House, and put us in a tremendous position to continue to force down spending. I think the Ryan budget has put the pressure on the President to finally get serious about deficit reduction. That pressure was ratcheted up with the Standard & Poor action warning us that we’re about to lose triple A credit rating at some point. So I actually think we’re pushing pretty hard and making substantial progress. Would I like it to be more? Sure. But I think the best way to get more progress would be to have a Republican Senate and a Republican president in the next 18 months.

HH: Do you understand, Congressman, that the conservative base doesn’t agree with your assessment that in fact they…

TC: Well, I’m part of the conservative base, so some do, some don’t. And I think I’ve got a long record. I’ve got a 100% NRA record, 100% pro-life, I’m 95 or 96% ACU rating. So I’ll match my conservative credentials with anybody. And again, I think politics is partly an art of the possible. And we are at least moving in the right direction now, and I think moving at an accelerating pace in this Congress.

HH: But where I was going with that was not that you’re not a conservative on social issues, and not that you’re not a gun rights conservative, but that people who are concerned about spending, in particular the Tea Party, came away from the budget deal believing that the House GOP had an epic fail on their hands. I’m not saying you have to agree with that. Obviously, you won’t. But have you heard that? Do you understand that people believe that?

TC: Oh, look, I certainly have heard that. Some people have that opinion. And look, I’m happy to have people in the fight. I don’t quibble a lot about that, although when you’re in a fight, I think it’s usually better to fire your guns at the enemy. I don’t think that Republicans have pushed through the Ryan budget that have cut spending by $80 billion dollars, that are going to probably continue to do that on the appropriations bill this year, are the enemy. I really don’t. So again, I wish you could get everything you wanted in any political encounter, but that’s just not the case. I think we’re moving in the right direction. And yeah, I respect people that have a different opinion. That’s fine. That’s what makes American politics great. And I recognize, by the way, that those who do have a different opinion from me on this issue are on my side, and about 80 or 90% of the fight’s in front of us. So it’s not…if you voted against the budget deal, you ought to stop and think you voted…two out of every three people that did were liberal Democrats, not conservative Republicans, and that included Nancy Pelosi. And if I’m looking at the board, and two out of the three people I’m voting with are big spending liberal Democrats, and I’m voting with former Speaker Pelosi, then frankly, I’m going to raise some questions of whether or not that’s the best vote.

HH: And have you held town halls since you’ve come back?

TC: Sure have. I had two yesterday, I’ve got one in my hometown tomorrow.

HH: All right. Last question, I want to make sure I get to it, why would the Congressional Republicans support Paul Ryan versus Rand Paul’s approach? Paul Ryan takes 25 years to balance the budget, Rand Paul five.

TC: Well, you know, frankly, I don’t know Rand Paul. I do know Paul Ryan. And I think Paul Ryan’s demonstrated, frankly, over an extended period, that he really knows what he’s talking about. He’s a superb economist as well as an excellent political leader. He managed to actually get his budget through his own budget committee. So you know, if Rand Paul’s budget starts moving, that’s great. And by the way, I voted for the Republican Study Committee budget, which is more conservative even than the Paul Ryan budget.

HH: Tom Cole, great conversation. I appreciate your coming on and answering these questions. I’m sure the audience does as well. Hope to have you back soon.

End of interview.

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