Representatives West and Bass on the Budget Fight

Representatives West and Bass on the Budget Fight

By John King, USA - April 8, 2011

KING: Federal government shuts down -- you see it right there -- about four and a half hours unless a budget deal is reached tonight. Negotiations under that Capitol Dome you just saw. Let's bring in two members of the House and talk to them about this stalemate. Congresswoman Karen Bass, a Democrat from California and a member of the House Budget Committee. Congressman Allen West is a Republican from Florida who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Tea Party caucus.

Both are freshmen members of Congress, so this is, for better or worse, Congressman, Congresswoman, your first go round and how sometimes Washington doesn't seem to quite work well. Congressman West, I want to come to you first because you've heard the narrative from the Democrats in recent days that this deal would be done already except the new Tea Party guys, conservatives like you, who said you were going to come to Washington and dramatically cut spending have a straitjacket on your speaker. Is that right?

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: Well, I don't think we have a straitjacket on our speaker, and I think that when you look at the epic proportions of the problems we have here in Washington D.C., the past three years we've had deficit spending of 1.42 trillion, 1.29 trillion and now it looks like 1.65 trillion. In the month of February we had $223 billion deficit spending, the shortest month of the year. And we're spending about $4 billion a day --


WEST: -- so the $61 billion number, you know, it really is a raindrop in the ocean when you look at the grand scheme of things.

KING: And if the final number, Congressman, is 38, 39 billion -- stick with Congressman West for a minute -- if it's 39 billion, would you support it and then carry over your other arguments to the real fight, which is the big budget fight that comes next, or would you say, no, not enough?

WEST: Well this is what I'm going to tell you, John. My 22 years in the military, one of my commanding officers taught me a very important lesson. If you can't do some of the small things very well, it's going to be hard to do the bigger things, and if we continue to set the bar low, we're going to continue to jump low, and I think that the American people are expecting a few greater exertions from us up here in Washington D.C. to protect the future of our fiscal ship.

KING: Congresswoman Bass, as a new Democrat and a new member of the Budget Committee I want to start here. Are you embarrassed a little bit that your party didn't do its job last year? Your party controlled the House and the Senate and had a Democratic president. The reason we're having this conversation tonight -- and I know the Democrats are mad at the Republicans and the Republicans are mad at the Democrats, but we would not be having this conversation, we would be debating much bigger issues, much bigger spending issues, if the Democrats had simply done what the Constitution asked them to do and a pass a budget.

REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well let me just tell you, I'm certainly not embarrassed by what was accomplished in the 111th Congress. I think many historic things were. And my understanding, although you know neither Mr. West nor myself were here was that budgets were passed out of the House, but they got stuck in the Senate. But I just have to tell you, though, I might be a new member of Congress, but this feels like Groundhog Day to me because in California every year, we have budget impasses like this because, unfortunately, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, in addition to arguing over the dollar amount that we should cut, add in policy riders, like whether or not we should pass the federal budget, whether we should hold it up based on providing health care to women.

And so, I think it's really shocking. I'm hoping that that's off the table. And I'm hoping in the next few minutes, we will hear that a deal is reached.

KING: But let me -- let's stay with Congresswoman Bass for a second.

BASS: Yes.

KING: We are four and a half hours away. On a scale of one to 10 -- 10 being a shutdown -- how likely do you think it is that the government will shut down tonight?

BASS: Well, I just have to go in the middle. I do think that four hours is enough time to come to a deal. What I understand is, is that the dollar figure has been agreed to.

But you know one thing that I would ask my Republican colleagues. Why don't you empower your speaker? Why don't you let your speaker go to the White House, make a deal, and understand that whatever deal he comes to, it should be OK? That's what we did in California when I served in that position, and it seems as though he's not being given the authority from his caucus, because every time we hear that a number has been agreed to and then he comes back and it falls apart.

KING: Well, let --

BASS: So, I think they need to empower him.

KING: Let's explore that with Congressman West.

Congressman, you have been somebody -- I'm not going to say you mistrust the leadership, but you have promised to hold their feet to the fire, if you will, on spending issue. Has the speaker come back from a White House meeting or meeting with Leader Reid, and come in and said, "I think I got a pretty good deal here," and then left that room saying, "I guess not, it's not good enough"?

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think what the speaker has come back to say to our house coffers is that he is shooting for the best possible cuts is that he can have as we go into trying to complete the --

KING: Has he tried to sell you anything in the last 48 hours? Has he tried to say I think this is a good deal, we should take it, and found out in the room in private that he can't sell it?

WEST: No, he has not come in and given us any dollar amount or any number figure, and he said that everything pretty much so has been agreed upon with the policy riders. It is now about the spending number.

And I have to go back to, I guess, what Karen just said. You know, we are trying to empower our speaker. And the most important thing is we're trying to empower him to understand. When we talk about the future for our children and grandchildren, if we don't do anything about this fiscal situation in America, even the CBO this last week said we could be heading to fiscal Armageddon.

KING: It's not the only issue, but this abortion rider, denying money to Planned Parenthood through Title 10 has become one of the hiccups, one of the hiccups. There are some indications tonight they might be close to a resolution on that.

But, Congressman West, to you first. There are two ways to look at this. Number one, again, the Democrats could have passed a budget. We wouldn't be having this conversation. You would be maybe adding that to next year's budget.

But could you look at it this way -- you're coming into a mass at a temporary spending measure. Let's leave the ideological stuff out. Find a spending cut number and move forward. Or -- and do it in a big budget -- or you can say, hey, we just won an election, we ran as conservatives. What do you expect us to do? Every time we get an opportunity, we're going to advocate our positions.

In terms of the prospect of a government shutdown, in less than four and a half hours, what choice would you make when the American people are watching and trying to figure out if their government is going to shut down tonight? Keep the social stuff in or save it for a longer, bigger fight?

WEST: Well, John, the thing is it's not a social stuff for me. It is, once again, about reducing the size and scope of the federal government. Planned Parenthood is $1 billion, supposedly, not for profit organization. The federal government provides about $363.2 million to it. But yet, they continue to report excess profits -- recently in 2008, $110 million.

So, this is about -- let's talk about being good stewards of the American taxpayer dollar. That's what I am focusing on, just the same with NPR. So, I am not looking to take away any women's health services. I really feel that offensive because I've been married for 21 years and I have two teenage daughters.

KING: And, Congresswoman Bass, I want to turn the tables a little bit. I completely respect everybody's right in the system to argue their position, to push their position and sometimes on both sides I would say it's almost equal playing, at least by my count this week. But hyperbole some times goes a bit beyond.

Let me flip the table. Imagine that you were coming in -- the Democrats had just won the majority, and a Republican Congress had defunded Planned Parenthood last time. And you had an opportunity right now as a supporter of that funding to put it back in. Wouldn't you be arguing to put it back in just like the Republicans are arguing to take it out?

BASS: Absolutely I would be arguing to put it back in but --

KING: So, you have no problem. So, philosophically, have you no problem with what they're doing? BASS: Wait a second. I absolutely do, because I don't believe that that's the issue.

What Mr. West just said is about the $387 million that the U.S. pays towards Planned Parenthood. If it's about $387 million, we can find $387 million in a lot of different locations. And it's not about an abortion rider. It's about a rider for women's health. You're talking about mammograms, cervical screening, hypertension, et cetera. That's what happens at Planned Parenthood.

KING: Well, let me come -- that's an excellent point you make. It's $300 million with an "M," somewhere in the ballpark in the $300 million, somewhere in there. So, if that's the point to both of you, and ladies first here as we close the conversation, why can't -- let's take that.

So, it's $38 billion. We -- first you negotiate a number. Then really comes the hard part. What? Because a number means a program. It means somebody's Pell grant. It means maybe a clinic in somebody's neighborhood on the Planned Parenthood issue.

Is there enough or is this the problem -- trust in the system for these people to go off in a room, make the decisions, and then come forward and sell a plan to the American people in a bipartisan way at least for now, and then move on it the big fight?

BASS: Well, I think that that's exactly what we should do. I think when it comes to the bigger issues, whether we are talking about Planned Parenthood, NPR, or whatever, we should deal with those issues in the larger budget. You know, all we're trying to do is solve a six-month problem.

We are in -- I'm in the budget committee -- so, you know we're looking at 2011 and 2012. That's where those bigger issues need to come up. The main issue that we need to be concerned about right now is getting Americans back to work. That should be our main issue.

KING: Congressman, you get the last word.

WEST: Well, I would tell you that this past week, I found a wasteful defense program, and we cut the printing and production by 10 percent.

BASS: That's right. Congratulations on that.

WEST: Absolutely. And it passed unanimously in the House, 393 to zero.

So, if you have 434 or however many additional members from some of the territories that were going into this federal government budget and finding those wasteful programs, think about how much we could save, because over the course of five years, the cut that I found, saves the American taxpayer $180 million.

So, this is my focus. This is what I seek to do up here. And the best way that we're going to be able to set the conditions for long-term sustainable economic growth and job growth is to reduce the size and the impact of this federal government.

KING: Well, I hope there's more civil conversation and more trust in your mutual exchange of ideas as we move on to the big fight as we've had right here.

Congresswoman Bass, Congressman West, keep in touch in the hours ahead as we see what happens.

WEST: Thanks. Absolutely.


John King, USA

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