The GOP Congressional Agenda
The $792 billion GOP tax plan will dominate the congressional agenda and relations between Congress and the White House throughout the fall. Both sides are heading toward the negotiating table with the details of their plans in place and the supporting evidence for their positions in hand, looking toward finding a compromise and avoiding stalemate.
Three-term Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, is a key player on the congressional side of the tax debate, coordinating GOP strategy and message. He answered questions about the tax plan and the GOP congressional agenda on Wednesday, Sept. 1. The transcript follows:
washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon, Rep. Watts, and welcome. Can you start off by telling us a bit about the tax negotiations with the White House that will begin when Congress returns from recess?
Rep. J.C. Watts: The president started out saying that he would support no tax relief, then he went to $250 billion in tax relief, and now he's somewhere around $300 billion. We think the president's coming in the right direction. If the president allows the polls to drive his decision in many respects, once the american people know what's in this tax relief package, they support it overwhelmingly. So hopefully the president will look to the polls and will allow the American people to have some of their money back. Over the next 10 years, it's estimated that we will pay into the government $27 trillion in taxes. And so, if we're paying $27 trillion in taxes, and we're saying over the next 10 years we want to give the American people $792 billion back, that means the government will have $26,208,000,000,000 to do its business.
Social Security is protected, Medicare is protected, the economy will remain strong after we have given the money back. None of these things will be affected because of this tax relief package.
Richmond, Va.: Recently, one of your colleagues was asked if it bothered him that something like 50 percent of the proposed Republican tax break was going to the richest 2 percent of Americans? Yes or no, does this bother you?
Rep. J.C. Watts: That's not a yes or no question, because 50 percent of the tax relief package doesn't go to wealthy people. Secondly, it is an amazing thing that we expect people to pay into the system, we expect people to pay taxes, we put people in jail for not paying taxes, but yet when it's time to allow those who pay into the system to get something back, we say, "We're not going to give you any of the benefits when we've got a surplus to give back." I believe all people pay too much in taxes. There's a place for taxes, but I believe that all Americans are overtaxed.
I think it's important to note that Bob Kerrey, who is held in high esteem in the Senate, said it is crazy to say that we're going to have an over $3 trillion surplus over the next 10 years and we can't give 25 percent of it back to those who paid it in.
Azle, Tex.: Some of my first experiences as a new "Texan" was the ATF raid in Waco. Will you now support getting all of the facts about this tragedy? Many innocent people were burned to death by our government. I hope you will help find out why.
Rep. J.C. Watts: Yes. There are many who have been asking for the facts to this point. There are many who don't feel like they've gotten the facts to this point and who are asking for the truth about Waco. This highlights the fact that those asking the questions are not all out in left field somewhere. I think we have a right to know what the facts are, and Dan Burton, the chairman of the government oversight committee, has said he will conduct hearings to try and get to the bottom of it.
Washington, D.C.: Do you feel that the Republican Party is so overly obsessed with the presidency that there is a large risk of losing control of not only the House but also the Senate?
Rep. J.C. Watts: No, I'm not. I think we believe that we can sustain control of the House and the Senate and win the presidency.
Half Moon Bay, Calif.: Why do the Republicans seem bent on a showdown with the president over tax cuts? In our divided government where compromise is crucial, isn't "half of something better than all of nothing?"
Rep. J.C. Watts: Politics is about moving legislation, is about moving the football down the field during a contest. You take what you can get when you can get it. We're not bent on a showdown with the president. We just believe that the government has overcharged the American people, and we think we can protect Social Security, pay down the public debt, strengthen Medicare, take care of our education needs, take care of our agriculture needs and give the American people tax relief. We are overburdened in our tax system, and we have an unfair tax system. This tax relief package gives the American people tax relief and brings about tax fairness as well.
The president said a couple of months ago, "Do you think we should give the American people their money back and trust them to do the right thing with it?" I trust that my constituents can do the right thing with their money, and if they want to buy their kids school clothes, if they want to buy a much-needed household appliance, new tires for the car, whatever allow them the opportunity to spend their money the way they need to spend it and not the way that Washington, D.C. would like to spend it.
Lincoln, Neb.: As a former college football player would you change the proportionality prong of Title IX that has caused over 350 men's sports programs to be dropped nationwide? Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer have both called this an unfair and discriminatory quota.
Rep. J.C. Watts: Title IX I think we need to be as concerned about women's athletics as we are about men's athletics. If a program wants to have a swimming team or a tennis team, I don't think you should jeopardize any particular program for the sake of another program. I think there's room for them to coexist. We don't always use the correct formulas, but I don't believe a university should ever have to pick between male and female athletics.
Alexandria, Va.: Representative Watts,
Here is a quote from Strom Thurmond in 1948 : "There's not enough troops in the Army," he told a cheering Alabama crowd, "to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." My question is, does it not bother you to work towards the political strengthening of a party which entrusts a high position of leadership to a man like Sen. Thurmond, who has never apologized for his segregationist past?
Rep. J.C. Watts: I can't defend something that strom thurmond said back in 1948, and it would be easy for me to point to what Strom Thurmond said back in 1948 and say, "Well, I shouldn't be a Republican." But Sen. Byrd from West Virginia used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, so should I say I'm not going to be a Democrat?
Should we not be Republicans because of something Strom Thurmond said, or not be Democrats because of Robert Byrd being a member of the Ku Klux Klan?
Lest we forget that it was a Democrat who stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama and said that as long as I'm governor, no Negro will walk through these doors? If that's the standard that we use, I'm sure there are plenty of things that we can point to in the Republican and the Democratic parties.
Manassas, Va.: Would you consider becoming George W. Bush's running mate in 2000? You are from a neighboring state, but so was Al Gore to Bill Clinton.
Rep. J.C. Watts: When I got into politics in 1990, I was elected to a six-year term in statewide office. Three years into that term, I would have told you that I was going to finish those six years and then go on to something else. What I do is public service to me. I never got into politics to make it a career, and I think you have to be very careful that you don't get on the political treadmill and not be able to get off. The vice presidency people will have fun speculating over the next eight or nine months over who it will be. My only interest in George W. is to do all I can to help him become the next president. I am not looking for the number two slot. I'm not looking for a Cabinet position;. I'm not looking for anything out of my efforts on his behalf other than good government. If he would ask me to be his running mate, it would be a great honor. But at this point in my life and based on other things that I want to do and I can do outside of politics, I can't tell you right now whether I would take it.
Colmar Manor, Md.: Sir,
Rep. J.C. Watts: I don't think Congress is trying to say to anybody that you should be a certain denomination, you should be a certain faith. I just believe that if you say there has to be a standard that will challenge us to be our best, not our worst; a stand that challenges to give our most, not our our least. I think there should be accountability and responsibility in our legislation. But legislation doesn't have to be attached to some church or some religious organization. I don't see how you can separate your values or morality from who we are as a nation.
Secondly, I know a lot of people whose faith is different than mine, but they believe in what I do because they are good people, not because they belong to some church or some religious organization. I don't go to the speaker of the House on a spiritual matter; I go to my pastor. If we use man as our standard, we will continue to be disappointed. Bill Clinton does things that will disappoint us. Dennis Hastert does things that will disappoint us. J.C. Watts does things that will disappoint us. If we're making man our standard we're going to be disappointed. Man has flaws and shortcomings, but that still doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a standard that says we should do our best, not our worst, give our most, not our least. If J.C. Watts doesn't meet that standard, what we often do is to lower the standard rather than helping and encouraging J.C. Watts to do his best, not his worst, and give his most, not his least.
washingtonpost.com: That was our last question for Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.). Thanks to Rep. Watts and to everyone who participated. Join us tomorrow at noon EDT for a continued discussion on the GOP tax plan with Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.).
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