The GOP Congressional Agenda
The $792 billion GOP tax plan will once again be a top priority when Congress returns from recess, as Republicans and the White House head for negotiations to broker a deal and avoid a shutdown-inducing impasse.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.), a three-term congressman, represents Maryland's 2nd District. But he is also considered a possible contender for Maryland governor in 2002. Ehrlich joined us Thursday, Sept. 2 to discuss tax relief, the Republican agenda in Congress and his own future plans for office. The transcript follows:
washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon, Rep. Ehrlich, and welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about what your constituents have been telling you about the tax cut plan during the recess?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me today.
I have received positive responses from many constituents about the need to reduce their tax burden. Small business people, farmers, students, and others are happy to have a little of their hard earned money back. They also are concerned about debt and are happy to find out about Social Security lock box and the $.73 on the dollar in debt reduction contained in the bill.
Bowie, Md.: If the president does not sign the tax cut bill now pending, should Republicans in Congress work out a compromise bill that provides less in tax cuts, or should they reject a compromise that goes much lower?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: I believe that any reduction in our tax burden is welcome. Accordingly, I would take a lesser tax cut now and wait until the Bush administration takes office to enact further tax relief for families and small businesses.
Alexandria, Va.: My family is more concerned with interest rates than tax cuts. How would the proposed tax cuts keep interest rates low? The pittance that a tax cut would bring to a family is nothing compared to the long-term savings that a home owner (or borrower) would get with lower interest rates. Pay off the $5 trillion debt first and reduce interest rates below 6 percent, and do without inflation causing tax cuts. Thank you.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: I agree. We pay off debt in two ways. First, the Social Security lock box guarantees that we will pay off public debt in the short term this year to the tune of $102 billion. Secondly, $0.73 of every dollar in our tax bill goes to debt reduction, Social Security, and Medicare.
Washington, D.C.: Going into the 1998 elections, Maryland Republicans had high hopes of a Sauerbrey governorship. With the poor showing, what is the state of the Republican Party in Maryland? And your name has continued to arise as a potential candidate for the Senate...is this mere rumor?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: First of all, are you a reporter?
Seriously, the Sauerbrey loss was a major disappointment for many of us. It will take some time to make up for the loss of part of our "farm team" at the local and state level.
No, this is a fact. The Senate race is one option of several. I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic reception I receive around the state.
Easton, Md.: In light of what happened to Ellen Sauerbrey and your unwillingness to challenge Sen. Paul Sarbanes next year, what gives you reason to believe that you can win a statewide race against either Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy or Rep. Ben Cardin in 2002?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: The Senate option remains viable. I try to be a realist however, so the ability to win a statewide race so close to the disappointment of 1998 must be factored into our analysis.
Secondly, to be blunt, a Republican statewide candidate most likely has a better chance to capture an open seat as opposed to defeating an incumbent Democrat. At this time, it appears that the Lt. Governor has an advantage over several other potential Democrat candidates. But, Congressman Cardin, County Executive Ruppersberger, County Executive Duncan, and County Executive Curry are strong, competitive alternatives.
I should also point out that every election cycle has its own rhythm and individual candidates have particular strengths and weaknesses. I firmly believe that my platform, record, and political philosophy are compatible with the majority of Marylanders.
Mount Airy, Md.: Please respond to the FBI Waco cover-up and what do you think should be done about the FBI's eroding credibility?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: This issue is subject to pending Congressional hearings. Many of my constituents are concerned about recent revelations with respect to the truthfulness of testimony presented to the Government Reform and Oversight Committee in 1995. Lying to Congress is a felony. Accordingly, I intend to take a hard look at whatever new evidence is presented.
Bladensburg, Md.: Why do you think it's a good idea to spend money that we have only in prospect? The surplus the Republicans are banking on is a guess at best, and tied to some dubious assumptions, like the economy remaining hot and the Congress maintaining the budget caps (whoops, already busted them with 'emergencies'). I notice that the tax breaks for the upper 5 percent occur right away, and the across-the-board breaks take place much later if the money is there. This is just a notably bad idea.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: First, this is a reconciliation bill, which means that we project revenues into the future in this case, ten years. Secondly, CBO (Congressional Budget Office) used a conservative 2.4 percent annual growth rate in projecting the numbers used in the tax bill. As such, this bill is not premised on the idea that the economy will stay hot or lukewarm.
Your point about emergency spending is well taken. I believe, that future budgeteers need to create permanent emergency funds for unanticipated catastrophic events as opposed to "annual" emergencies.
Lastly, the bill is targeted to middle class taxpayers. The numbers speak for themselves. I am always interested to read of critics who fail to understand that most of the poor and working poor already do not pay federal income taxes. Accordingly, any income tax reduction will necessarily be targeted to folks who actually pay income tax.
Columbia, Md.: First as a middle-class taxpayer, thank you for balancing the budget and giving some back to working families. My question is how much truth is there to the President's claims that the GOP tax relief package will threaten women, children, education, the elderly, and now the high tech sector of our economy?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: First, thank you. Secondly, most of us by now understand that the truth seems to be a foreign concept to the President. This is unfortunate.
Finally, the class warfare strategy eluded to in your question has been used most effectively by the president and Governor Glendening. It is my job to set out the facts, because facts are very dangerous to practitioners of this art.
washingtonpost.com: That was the last question for Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.) for today. Thanks to Rep. Ehrlich, and thanks to everyone who joined us.
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