THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Transcript of an interview between editors and reporters from The Washington Times and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, yesterday at his Capitol office:
National Editor Ken Hanner: Ten years ago, Republicans won control of the House by running on the Contract with America, which was a blueprint for limited government. Recently, Republicans have championed expansion of federal role in education, huge new entitlement programs, including prescription drugs, and overall increases of federal spending. When did the Republicans become the party of big government?
Mr. DeLay: Well, I hope we can shed anybody’s notion that that’s where we are headed. First, in full disclosure, I voted against No Child Left Behind. But, that’s the president’s agenda. And he worked very hard to accomplish that agenda. We will revisit No Child Left Behind, look at its effectiveness and those kinds of issues. I know the president wants to extend it. But I think we have to see if No Child Left Behind is actually working before we talk about extending it.
I’m not using it as an excuse, because I came here to limit government and reduce the size of government. And as important as those two are, what I find the most important is to redesign the government, now that we have the opportunity to do that. And I’m not trying to point the finger at anybody, but I’m very proud of the fact that the House has taken the lead on many of these issues. If you look at the House bills, you couldn’t make that statement.
If the House bills had become law, whether it be tax relief or spending or budgets or any of those kinds of things, the House has taken the lead in holding the line. With the small margins in the Senate, starting back when Clinton was president, we had to buy him out of town. It was obvious the Senate wouldn’t go along with our aggressive tactics right at the beginning. So that cost us spending under Clinton.
When Bush came here, the Senate was still the lowest common denominator. And we had to deal with them. Now that sounds like an excuse, and I guess it is. But if you look at the real record, sans the effort to fight a war - and we’ll spend whatever it takes to win the war on terror - but if you look at the other spending, it’s actually been going down.
The rate of growth has gone from - I’ll get you the numbers, but as I can recall - after the first year, in the second year - that’s when Bush really had control and provided discipline - the rate of growth was about 5 percent. The next year, it was 4 percent. The next year, it was 3 percent. Last year, on discretionary spending, we increased spending ever so slightly, but you can say we froze discretionary spending.
The biggest spending in this government is mandatory. This House leadership has started out this new Congress, with this president and knowing that we have a better Senate, forcing the issue on looking at all mandatory spending. We started out last November working on this issue when the leadership got together … with the White House. The White House was reluctant because it didn’t think we could actually succeed. We had quite contentious discussions in that leadership meeting. The White House agreed, the Senate agreed, we were sort of moving forward on the budget that could address mandatory spending.
Our budget that we just passed just a few weeks ago is the toughest budget that we’ve had since 1997. And it includes a very healthy look at all mandatory spending in reconciliation. So we’re headed in that direction. We know that we have to show fiscal responsibility. And we’re trying to do that.
On the redesigning government part, it’s been my own personal project to redesign government. We have a whole effort that started two years ago called the 21st Century Careers Initiative, which is an effort to use regulatory reform as redesigning government, and we will even get more aggressive in this part of our agenda this year and next.
Secondly, you can’t redesign government till you redesign this place. I started an effort to redesign the Appropriations Committee to make it harder to spend - to make it easier to spend on our priorities and harder to spend on the Democrats’ priorities. We accomplished that, and the Senate followed. We are taking an aggressive approach on the budget process. And we’re going to have a budget process bill. And I’ve got all my chairmen who are interested in this working on that bill, along with other members. [Rep.] David Dreier [California Republican] has been charged with looking at the entire jurisdictions and committees of the House.
Remember, when we came in, we cut 30 percent of the committees budgets, we changed some jurisdiction - not a whole lot, but it was that kind of effort. And we’re continuing in that effort.
Reporter Charles Hurt: A lot of smart people say that no matter how you limit the growth of spending, it’s not going to have a dramatic impact on shrinking government. What three big-ticket items would you personally like to see the government get out of the business of doing?
Mr. DeLay: Well, I’m not sure I want to go there. Let me put it a different way. What people don’t notice is this House has led the way and has had tax relief - sometimes more than once in a year - every year since we’ve been in the majority. That’s really important. Some of it actually has become law. More important than that is that it’s been over 10 years since we voted to raise any federal taxes. How did we do that? We grew the economy. Through our policies, we helped the economy grow.