Interview with Rep. Peter Roskam

Interview with Rep. Peter Roskam

By The Situation Room - January 5, 2011

BLITZER: Now let's get back to our top story right now, the power shift here in Washington. The 112th Congress has sworn in, putting Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives.

Taking the gavel from the Democrats' Nancy Pelosi, the veteran congressman John Boehner of Ohio, he is now speaker of the House, and he's promising hard work and tough decisions ahead. Between the lines showdowns are likely with President Obama and the Democrats.

Let's discuss what's going on with the GOP's new chief deputy whip of the House, one of the Republican so-called enforcers, Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: But you've got a lot of -- congratulations, first of all, not only on getting yourself re-elected, but other Republicans becoming the majority. But there's some confusion. You promised that in this current fiscal year, you would cut $100 billion in spending, but now it's gone back to, what, $50 billion? What's going on? Why have you decided to cut that in half?

ROSKAM: Well, here's what's going on. It's not being cut in half. At the time that commitment was made, it was the roll out of the Pledge to America, which was a result of the Americans speaking out after the House Republicans launch. That was basically an invitation to Speaker Pelosi to bring these things up, at the end of September.

So since the end of September and today, there's been a great deal of spending going on. So if you move what we have proposed and do it today, then you'll save less money, because it's happening today instead of September.

BLITZER: So how much do you hope to save?

ROSKAM: Well, I think between $50 and $60 billion.


ROSKAM: Well, I mean, it's completely across the board.

BLITZER: Education?

ROSKAM: It's going to be -- there's going to be a lot of things.

BLITZER: Pell grants, scholarships for students?

ROSKAM: Look, I think if you rewind the tape and look at the nature of the spending that has gone on in the past two years, it's gotten to the point where a House majority was completely squandered (ph).

BLITZER: The Education -- the Department of Education budget is going to be slashed?

ROSKAM: Well, I think there's going to be thoughtful cuts all the way across the board.

BLITZER: If you get your way, it's got to obviously go through the Senate, as well, although you have the votes in the House right now. The president has to sign all of this.

ROSKAM: That's right.

BLITZER: What about the Department of Transportation, infrastructure, highways? Is that going to be slashed, as well?

ROSKAM: Well, I think that there's, again, going to be thoughtful types of cuts that are going to be well reasoned. And there's nobody that's going to go in with a meat ax on these things, but if you take a -- take a step back and look at the number of new federal employees that have grown under this administration. There's 158,000 new net federal employees, not including Department of Defense or Homeland Security.

BLITZER: Why not include the Department of Defense? Because there are projects, as you well know, huge billion-dollar projects that even the Defense Department says they don't need?

ROSKAM: Wolf, I think the Department of Defense is going to be visited, and part of this whole...

BLITZER: So the Defense Department will be cut?

ROSKAM: Look, I think when it all comes down to it, what you're going to be looking at is a House Republican majority, and I think Democrats that are going to be joining on, saying we cannot afford what we've been currently operating under. It is simply unsustainable.

BLITZER: Can the U.S. afford $5 billion a month spent in Afghanistan?

ROSKAM: Well, I think you've got to ask President Obama that question.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ROSKAM: I think the president made a good decision when he ordered the surge.

BLITZER: Sixty billion dollars a year that could be spent on education?

ROSKAM: Wolf, what's the alternative? We lose Afghanistan and it becomes a staging ground, then, for terror? We -- we know what that's like.

BLITZER: So you think the money spent in Afghanistan is money well spent? And you wouldn't cut any (ph)?

ROSKAM: No, I'm not necessarily saying that. What I'm saying is that you've got to be thoughtful in how you approach this. The Department of Defense is going to be an area that people are going to look at for savings all across the board. So I think, on balance, there's going to be a thoughtful group that's trying to say, "Let's prioritize." And my hunch is, when push comes to shove, there's going to be plenty of Democrats that will join on.

BLITZER: Do you know this freshman congressman, Joe Walsh from Illinois?

ROSKAM: I know Joe Walsh from Illinois.

BLITZER: He's -- he's announced something very dramatic. He said, even though his wife has pre-existing conditions, he will not accept the federal government's health-care insurance plan, because he thinks that would be hypocritical for him to accept it. He's going to try to find other ways.

Yesterday, I asked Representative Steven King of Iowa, who strongly opposes the Democrats' health-care law, the president's health-care law, whether he's going to accept the federal government's health insurance program. He said he would, and he's being criticized now as being hypocritical. The question to you, do you accept the federal government's health-insurance program?

ROSKAM: Yes, I mean, it's a Blue Cross/Blue Shield program, and it's an employer based system. And what a lot of us are arguing for is the continuation of that employer-based system.

BLITZER: But even though it's a government-run health insurance program, as some people would call it, the public option?

ROSKAM: It's not a public option. And that's a mischaracterization of it by those people...

BLITZER: It's run by the federal government.

ROSKAM: No, it's actually run by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

BLITZER: But the government oversees all of that.


BLITZER: There are other insurance companies that can be used, as well?

ROSKAM: It's a mischaracterization. The federal government is an employer who is employing and giving that as a benefit to an employee.

BLITZER: So -- so is Joe Walsh, your freshman from Illinois, is he wrong not to accept that federal program?

ROSKAM: No, he's got -- he's got a decision to make for him and his family, the nature of this campaign. BLITZER: And you've accepted that. And you don't think it's hypocritical to go against the federal government's getting involved in health insurance for employees? Because a lot of people think it is.

ROSKAM: That's a mischaracterization. It is not -- the great debate, as it relates to the whole health-care drama that we've had is the nature of federal involvement, and what we've seen is an over promise, and under delivering on a health-care law that is killing jobs in this country.

So the question that I think that has to be asked and answered is how do you actually go in and create a system where costs come down and pre-existing conditions are dealt with in a thoughtful way? And the Obama health-care law just simply didn't do it.

BLITZER: One final question: Darrell Issa, the congressman from California, he says the Obama administration is corrupt. Do you agree?

ROSKAM: I think he said that some of the nature of the subsequent actions have been corrupt. I think he walked back from that statement. I think ultimately what we've got to do is pursue and evaluate where different funds are going. There's going to be an appropriate oversight role of Congress, and I think that that's the role of the oversight...


BLITZER: You don't think it's corrupt?

ROSKAM: No, I mean, I don't think it's any more corrupt than other -- other administrations.

BLITZER: Than the Bush administration?

ROSKAM: Listen, everybody over there is not pure as the wind-driven snow, as we all know, but by the same token, I think what most Americans say is this Congress and this administration have to be about the job of creating jobs, creating economic prosperity, and we can do it.

BLITZER: And your job as the new deputy whip is to count those votes.

ROSKAM: We'll be part of the solution.

BLITZER: You've got a big majority, so it should be a little bit easier.

ROSKAM: We'll see.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

ROSKAM: Thank you.


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