Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz on the tax deal compromise
HH: Joined now by Utah Congressman [Jason] Chaffetz. Congressman, welcome, Merry Christmas to you.
JC: Hey, Merry Christmas.
HH: I think I said Josh. I meant Jason. Congressman, I saw you on Neil Cavuto less than an hour ago. Not long after you left his studio, Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots.org appeared to warn the GOP against this secret deal that is taking shape in Washington, D.C, Meckler very, very angry. How are you going to vote on this deal?
JC: Boy, I don’t know. You know, I haven’t seen this piece of legislation yet. We’ve seen a press release. We’ve seen a press conference. And I thought we were going to be committed to reading bills. But you know, I was inclined to do what the President was suggesting. I think he was reaching out with a hand in a way of saying hey, let’s make a compromise. There were things that I’m terribly frustrated with, you know, I was thinking I don’t also want to see the single largest tax increase in the history of the United States take place. But now, there’s real questions about what this thing’s going to be larded up with.
HH: Congressman, did you agree with the Pledge To America?
JC: Yeah, sure.
HH: Well, the Pledge says, I’m going to give you five things that the Pledge says. It says permanently stop all job-killing tax hikes, act immediately to reduce spending, cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, read the bill like you just said, and advance legislative issues one at a time. That seems to me like this deal has got five strikes against it already.
JC: Well, it does, but my concern is let’s pretend we vote against it. Then you have an even bigger tax hike. In fact, the biggest tax hike in the history of the United States. I mean, they’re both unpalatable. They’re both ugly. One’s less ugly than the other one. So regardless, I think after the first of the year, the Republicans need to come back and pass some bills and try to clean it up. That may be where we’re headed, in fact, if the Democrats don’t seem to be coming on board. But if you vote no against what was proposed, and it doesn’t pass, then you get an even bigger tax hike.
HH: But if you vote no, you will at least have kept faith with the Pledge. And if you vote no, you can come back in January with a House majority, and send the Senate the permanent tax cuts, the cuts in spending, you could have read the bill, you could have advanced them one at a time.
HH: Doesn’t that make a lot more sense from the perspective of a party that just campaigned on those things?
JC: Yeah, I mean, that makes immense sense. But at the same time, even if you voted for it, you could also do that, too. So you know, we’re talking about something that is so volatile at the moment, and changing every moment, and the more they lard it up and the more they change it, the less apt I am to actually open to vote for it. So I’m still reserving my right to actually read it and see it, which we haven’t done yet.
HH: What is the minimum amount of time, in your opinion, Congressman Chaffetz, that it has to be available for the public to read in order for it to be legitimate to vote on it?
JC: Well, you know, what we committed to is three days. People ought to be able to see it for three days.
HH: Because here’s what Nancy Pelosi said during Obamacare.
NP: But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.
HH: Doesn’t it feel like that to you right now?
JC: It certainly does. I mean, it’s unbelievable, and this sausage making process, no offense to sausage makers, but you know, it’s what’s so wrong. If you get the process wrong, you get the process screwed up, you’re going to get a bad product. And we’re screaming down that path right now. Going into next week, that’s my deepest concern. We’re going to vote on something that has a trillion here, hundreds of billions there, with no real analysis.
HH: the other point that Meckler made, after again, you had left the studio when he did this, so I doubt you had a chance to hear this, is that the Tea Party expected reform in the Congressional committee assignments. And I don’t know Congressman Rogers from Adam. Maybe he’s a good guy. But he certainly isn’t an appropriator, and in the past, an addict to earmarks. And then you got over at Banking, you’ve got Bacchus, and over at Energy you’ve got Fred Upton, good guy, like Fred Upton, but they’re saying nothing changed. Everything stayed the same. Is that a fair assessment?
JC: No, because the biggest fundamental change, and I know this sounds like insider baseball, but the biggest fundamental change is John Boehner’s commitment to an open rule on the floor of the House. What that means is that appropriations bills come to the floor, no matter what’s in them, you can go line by line and offer amendments to strike out spending. That never happened. Like I’ve been in Congress for 23 months, okay? I’m still a freshman here. That never happened under Nancy Pelosi, ever. And so for him to commit to an open rule where any member of Congress can come down the floor and try to strike a provision, hey, that’s a huge, monumental change. But you’re right. You look at Appropriations, every one of those guys was a pro-earmark guy, and none of them were conservative enough for me. But Hal Roger is, you’re right, he’s a nice guy. But you know, simply changing a chairmanship here and there, you’re right, isn’t enough. It’s how the process is going to work.
HH: Congressman, you just said Speaker-designate Boehner committed to an open rule process.
HH: But he and every other Republican committed to the Pledge To America, and you guys are tearing up the Pledge To America as we speak.
JC: No. Where have we torn that up?
HH: All right, permanent…
JC: We don’t have the gavel yet. We’re not in control of what bills come and don’t come to the floor.
HH: Yeah, but you guys committed to this during this Congress, according to the Tea Party Patriots. And you haven’t got the bill, it’s a jumbo bill, it’s not one at a time, it’s not a permanent tax cut, it’s not reducing spending. In fact, it’s exploding spending. And yeah, you don’t have the gavel, but can’t you vote against the bill and honor the Pledge’s commitments?
JC: No, not necessarily. Either way, you’re in a very bad position. You don’t vote for this bill, you have an even higher tax increase. Nobody’s talking about a tax decrease, or a tax cut. They’re talking about maintaining the same, or how high do you want to raise it. So if I asked just a straight up question, do you want to have, for instance, should the death tax be 55% or 35%, what’s the answer to that?
HH: Well, the answer would be you should have said…
JC: Well no, is it 55 or 35? Which is the best answer?
HH: The answer should be you should have put that in the Pledge To America, because the Pledge To America was unqualified.
JC: No, no, no. That’s not the choice before us. That’s not the choice before us. The choice potentially before us is do you want the tax rate to be 55% or 35%, and raise the threshold to $5 million dollars? Which one is more palatable.
HH: Congressman, with all due respect, that’s a false choice. We don’t know what would happen. But what is not…
JC: Exactly, that’s my point. That’s my point. It is a false choice.
HH: Well, the one you just put. What’s not a false choice, though, is saying we’ll commit to do these things in the Pledge, and when you first, first struggle, first confrontation, you fold up.
JC: No, we didn’t. No, we didn’t. First of all, we haven’t voted yet, and this is part of the dialogue that is healthy. But if, and again, we’re talking about a hypothetical, if what was proposed by the President moves forward, the choice that we have is to vote yes, no, or hey, we’re just here. We’re present. And if you vote no, you’re voting for a 55% estate tax. If you vote yes, you’re voting for a 35% estate tax. I hate either one of them.
HH: Congressman, that’s not true. If you vote no, you can come back, you can demand better negotiations.
JC: If you vote yes, you can come back.
HH: No, you can’t.
JC: You can do…you can vote yes and come back, and vote no and come back.
HH: You’ll lose your leverage. The moment you vote yes, you’ve lost your leverage. You can’t get it through the Senate again. It’s a done deal for two years. Isn’t that true?
JC: I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I really don’t. I really don’t.
HH: Well, last question. We’ve got thirty seconds. Have you urged Speaker Boehner to consult the Pledge To America and abide by it?
JC: Oh, absolutely. I’m totally committed to it. I know he’s committed to it. And if we don’t abide by it, and if the analysis is oh, you guys just abandoned us, then yeah, they ought to fire everybody over it.
HH: All right, I appreciate it, Congressman. I’ll talk to you again, hopefully soon as we continue this conversation about the Pledge, the deal, and what happens in the new and ending Congress.
End of interview.