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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Rep. Tom DeLay Discusses Tax Cuts and Campaign 2000

Aired July 22, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS. Now, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Mark Shields and I will question one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: He is House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.


(voice-over): Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, responsible for checking out prospective running mates for Texas Governor George W. Bush, has emerged as the leading prospect himself for the Republican party's vice presidential nomination.

Cheney flew Friday from his home in Dallas to Jackson, Wyoming, to change his party registration from Texas to Wyoming. That would remove constitutional difficulties which could confront the Republican party in trying to elect both a president and a vice president from the same state, Texas.

Energy company executive Cheney emerged as front-runner amid speculation that Senator John McCain was back in the picture for the vice presidency himself.

Meanwhile, in his weekly radio address, President Clinton announced that he will veto the Republican-sponsored tax cut for married couples just passed by Congress.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cannot sign one expensive tax break after another without any coherent strategy for safeguarding our financial future.

SHIELDS: Tom DeLay, a 16-year House veteran, from Sugar Land, Texas, is the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House. Known as "The Hammer" for his combative tactics, he has pressed hard for a conservative agenda, urging lower spending and bigger tax cuts.


SHIELDS: Congressman Tom DeLay, welcome. We're delighted to be with you. Question, and that is: Does it look like your predecessor as House Republican Whip and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney is going to be George W. Bush's choice for a running mate?

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MINORITY WHIP: Well, Mark, I'm not sure. I don't think anybody is sure about what George W. Bush is going to decide over this weekend. I think Dick Cheney would be an excellent choice. You know, the Republicans have many choices.

We have choices like Colin Powell, Elizabeth Dole, people that have national prominence. The Democrats don't seem to have even a farm team, much less anybody to pick, so who knows what it's going to be? But I think that Dick Cheney has proven worthy of being vice president, and some day president of the United States.

SHIELDS: Tom DeLay, tell us, though, wouldn't a Cheney-Bush ticket be an all-oil, all-Texas ticket and vulnerable to political criticism on that basis?

DELAY: No, I don't think so...

SHIELDS: Halliburton Company, excuse me, I should say that, yes.

DELAY: I think those days of looking at regions are pretty much over because we are a smaller world, we're a smaller country because of communications, the Internet and all kinds of thoughts. So I don't think so.

Dick Cheney's from Wyoming. He happens to live in Texas because that's where the headquarters of Halliburton is. He's done a great job for Halliburton, he's done a great job as secretary of defense. Everybody knows him. They have the utmost faith in him and confidence in him. I think he's an excellent choice, if that is the choice. I wouldn't put money on it, though.

SHIELDS: You had said earlier, I think, that John McCain of Arizona, the runner-up in the Republican nomination, and your nemesis on campaign financing reform, would be a strong candidate with great appeal to independents and undecided voters.

Does Dick Cheney begin to approach John McCain in this category?

DELAY: Well, I think Dick Cheney brings something different than John McCain. It depends on what George W. Bush wants or needs to go into the November elections. If he thinks he needs independent voters, then John McCain would be a good choice, but if he wants stature, stature in the world, experience, a person that is of the utmost integrity, Dick Cheney is a great choice.

NOVAK: Mr. DeLay, some 60 of your House Republican colleagues, about one-fourth of all of the members of the House of Representatives on the Republican side, wrote a letter saying they wanted Senator McCain for vice president because they want him to -- help him on the ticket.

Do you think Dick Cheney, who has never run for office in any area larger than the state of Wyoming, would help them at all in the -- their race to continue winning their seats in Congress.

DELAY: Well, Dick Cheney has done that for many years, Bob. Dick Cheney has travelled all over this country, campaigning for members of the House and members of the Senate. He -- even before he left the House, he was sought after to campaign for people running for president of the United States. This is a man of great stature that everybody would love to have standing beside them at a rally or any fund-raiser.

NOVAK: You might say, however, sir, that if George W. Bush picks his father's former secretary of defense as his vice president, and his father's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Powell, as his secretary of state, as has been reported, that this might just look like a little bit of a reconstruction of, at least, the most favorable elements of the first Bush administration.

Do you think he's open to that criticism?

DELAY: I think his enemies will use that against him. I don't think it will carry much weight with the American people. You're talking about people that have proven themselves. Why diminish the people of the United States' ability to have the best people serving in these positions? I'm sure that Al Gore and his people would use it against him, but I don't think it'd stick.

SHIELDS: Congressman DeLay, this week, you folks on Capitol Hill were able to pass the Republican-sponsored marriage penalty tax cut. And the president announced this weekend that he was going to veto it. You don't have the votes to override that veto.

Are you just talking about this being a campaign issue?

DELAY: No, we're going to try to override him. I hope we'll bring it back to force members of the House and members of the Senate to show the American people who is for tax reform and tax fairness and who's not. I tell you, Mark, this is really baffling to me. We have a $270 billion deficit. When we took over the House -- the Congress in 1995, we had deficits as far as the eye could see.

SHIELDS: You mean, a surplus, don't you, Mr. DeLay?

DELAY: I'm sorry -- a $270 billion surplus, thank you, Mark. But -- and are we -- and we're going to spend 84 percent of that to pay down the debt. We've locked up Social Security -- the surplus, we've locked up Medicare surplus, and we passed this last week a $25 billion pay-down on the debt bill.

And all that we're going to use of the surplus is 8 percent for many of these tax measures, to bring tax fairness to the American family. I just -- I can't understand what the president is doing, unless he's just playing politics.

SHIELDS: One thing the president's doing is he's offered the olive branch to you folks about, given that surplus, let's at the same time -- we're going to have a marriage penalty tax cut -- let's offer to seniors, who face some steep costs from prescription drugs, coverage under Medicare for those prescription drugs.

That -- doesn't that seem like a reasonable trade-off to you?

DELAY: Well, Mark, that's nothing but a political ploy. Everybody knows that the House of Representatives has already passed a prescription drug bill. It would -- we have asked the president to work with us on a bill that he would sign.

But he wants universal coverage and government-run Medicare, and we want seniors to have choice in the kind of health care they think is important for them. We're a long ways apart, and he knows very well that it would take a lot of time for us to come back together, to put together a prescription drug package. He's looking for excuses to veto tax fairness and tax cuts because he wants to use that money for more government spending.

NOVAK: Congressman DeLay, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee this week, Alan Greenspan, said that he would much prefer a drawing-down, a reduction, of the national debt, to either tax cuts or additional spending.

Is Chairman Greenspan wrong?

DELAY: No, he's not wrong. I mean, we're going to spend 84 percent of the surplus on paying down the debt, and we want to take 8 percent of the surplus to bring a little tax fairness to married couples. Right now, married couples are paying at least $1,400 more than if they were single.

We think that's unfair. We think the death tax is very unfair. We think the Spanish-War tax is unfair. We think the Gore tax that raised taxes on the Social Security recipients, that was passed in 1993, is unfair. All of that added up is only 8 percent of the total surplus. I -- we think we can do all of this and still maintain a robust economy.

NOVAK: Congressman, last week on this program, the chairman of the platform committee of the Republican party, Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin said that the party no longer wants to eliminate the department of education and all these agencies as it did four years ago and six years ago. And also the Cato Institute put out a report saying that your Republican Congress is outdoing the Jimmy Carter-Tip O'Neill Congress in spending.

Is the Republican revolution over if you're not going to eliminate departments and you're going to use the surplus for additional spending?

DELAY: Well, first of all, Bob, you've got -- everyone understands that we have a president in the White House that is a liberal, that wants to spend and expand -- spend more money and expand government and make Washington bigger. He does have to sign the bill, and we have to deal with it.

But if you look at what we've done in balancing the budget, welfare reform, paying down the debt, bringing tax cuts and tax fairness, I don't see that the revolution is over. In fact, we've accomplished all of these things in the face of a president that has opposed us every step of the way, while he's taking credit for everything that we've done.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask Tom DeLay about Al Gore going to the Alamo -- invading the Lone Star State.


SHIELDS: Congressman DeLay, in 1992, the Bush Senior campaign for re-election ran against Bill Clinton as the failed governor of a failed third-world state. This week, Vice President Gore went to Texas, there to criticize Governor Bush's record in a state where -- that has the greatest -- your hometown, a big city of Houston -- had the greatest medical center probably in the country, and at the same time has 1.4 million children without health insurance.

That's a legitimate issue, isn't it?

DELAY: Well, Mark, it didn't work in 1992, and it probably is not going to work this year either. No, I think Texas is an exemplary state, and we've -- have a great economy. We reach out -- we do have pressure from Mexico of people coming into Mex -- into Texas creating problems, but we also problems of growth.

A lot of people are moving to Texas because of the quality of life here in Texas. I think, once again, Gore has missed the point. He came in here talking about how George W. didn't know how to run this state, and the worst thing you can do in Texas is to come in and start bad-mouthing Texans, and it's just not going to work. It didn't work.

It's rather sad that they're -- that they don't have a good enough campaign to be out there talking about vision, and where he wants to take the country, and all he can talk about is demonizing George W. and how bad Texas is.

SHIELDS: Well, one of the places where Texas has been criticized is in the Houston air, that has supplanted Los Angeles' as the dirtiest air in the country, now, according to federal standards. And where, in fact, the stars at night are unseeable in the Texas sky, unless you go out to west Texas. But -- I mean, tell us this: You have advocated the repeal of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

Is that still viable, given the problems that Houston does have?

DELAY: Well, my problem with the Clean Air Act is exactly the problem that we're experiencing here in Houston. You can use the Clean Air Act for your political gain. It's very interesting that they came in not too long ago, and put up new monitors, and additional monitors, more monitors than are normally put up in major cities like Houston, Texas, and all of a sudden, because you had more monitors, you had more data that showed that Houston's air had a problem.

It makes you suspect, in an election year, all of a sudden, Houston is being denigrated for having low-quality air. We do have an air problem in Houston. We have most of the refineries in the entire United States in this region, so we do have a problem, but we don't have anywhere near the bad air that they're making it out to be. NOVAK: Congressman DeLay, this past week, you gave an address to the Cato Institute in Washington on campaign finance reform in which you were highly critical of the McCain-Feingold bill, and you said there should be higher limits on campaign contributions, instead of the present $1,000 a person limit. I had thought that you were against any limits. But what -- just what limits should there be instead of $1,000?

Should there be some limit on a Donald Trump -- how much he gives to a candidate?

DELAY: Now, Bob, I hope that you'll get that speech and read it, because I did say we ought to take the limits off, or at least raise them from the 1974 amendment that...


NOVAK: What would you raise them to?

DELAY: I'd like them off, if -- but I don't know what's a reasonable limit. I don't think any limit's very important. What I said in the speech -- my speech was about the First and Second Amendments, and freedom of speech. You know, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms are the freedoms that have been given to us by our founding fathers that guarantee all other freedoms.

And yet the liberals and others want to come in and regulate our ability to participate freely in campaigns, to freely associate and freely petition our government. I'm against regulation. I'm against government involvement in our campaigns. I have a bill which is for instant disclosure and lifts all the limits and -- let the American people be empowered to make the decision whether their elected officials are corrupt or not.

SHIELDS: Congressman DeLay, this week, the Republican House, in collusion with the Democratic minority, voted to pass, for the third time in fourth -- four years, an increase in the take-home of members of Congress, all the way up to $145,100. And leadership in both parties voted for it, so it appears that the deal was made -- the gentleman's agreement there will not be a campaign issue that one party will use against the next.

Isn't this collusion?

DELAY: No, it's not collusion. It's legislating. And you misrepresented it. In statute, there's an automatic cost of living adjustment. The House has to vote to stop that COLA, that cost of living adjustment. The vote was not to stop the cost of living adjustment.

I think members are doing a great job. I think it is time that they get a cost of living adjustment, along with most people around the United States. It's 2.7 percent increase, and I think they deserve it, and I voted for it.

NOVAK: Sir, I want to get a quick question in before we take a break. For four years, Newt Gingrich was demonized by the Democrats and their fund-raising.

Have you replaced Newt Gingrich as the Democrats' pin-up boy for fund -- poster boy for fund-raising?

DELAY: Well, it's real interesting, Bob, and I'm glad you brought that up -- the issue. Yes, they're trying to demonize me on fund-raising. But I haven't raised anywhere near the money the Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt, has raised, yet nobody in the media's looking at his fund-raising technique.

And not only that, but he's out raising money and missing votes, so yes, the Democrats -- some in the media are trying to demonize me, but that's not going to intimidate me. I'm going to be out there raising the kind of resources that we need to increase our majority in the House.

NOVAK: We're going to take another break. And when we come back, we'll have the big question for Tom DeLay of Texas.


NOVAK: The big question for Congressman Tom DeLay: Sir, you are finishing six years of continuous Republican control of Congress.

What's your biggest disappointment in that period of time?

DELAY: Well, I think my biggest disappointment is we haven't been able to stop the growth of spending, because this president has a penchant for spending, and we have to deal with him. I would like to continue paying down the debt like we have.

You know, we have paid down, if we get our way this year, over $500 billion on the public debt in the last three years. We have had some tax cuts, some tax fairness. We've reformed welfare.

But I would like to slow down spending, and I'd like to see a more in-depth look at those agencies and programs that don't work, and eliminate them and reform others, so I can't wait for a Republican president so we can do that.

SHIELDS: Congressman DeLay, an American working at the minimum wage 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week, earns what a member of Congress earns in about 20 days, every three weeks, per year.

Can you and Dick Armey and others who voted for that pay raise or cost of living increase defend voting against an increase in the minimum wage, in this election year? Do Republicans want to run on, We're for a bigger raise for Congress, but a smaller raise for working Americans?

DELAY: Well, Mark, we don't work for minimum wage. Members of Congress represent 250 million people, or customers as you -- if you like. They serve on a board of directors that oversees almost a $2 trillion budget every year.

They are very good people that are working hard to do the best they can for their country, and I'd just as soon not see nobody but rich people serving in Congress. I think we ought to pay them a wage that is commensurate to their level of responsibility in the private sector.

SHIELDS: Congressman Tom DeLay, thank you for being with us.

My partner Robert Novak and I will be back in a minute with a thought.


SHIELDS: Bob, this weekend, in Washington and in much of the political nation -- is abuzz with talk of former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney being George Bush's running mate. Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney's former colleague in the House, was quite restrained, appropriate but restrained, in his enthusiasm about Dick Cheney for second spot.

NOVAK: Yes, he was, obviously. House Republican leadership had been predicting that President Clinton would sign the marriage tax bill. Now that he says he's going to veto it -- Tom DeLay says, Big mistake.

I really think the Republicans think they have the president on the run for the first time on these multiple tax bills, which was a very brilliant strategy by Speaker Hastert.

SHIELDS: Well, I have to say this, Tom DeLay, a revolutionary, 1994, one of the architects of the Republican takeover, spent a good amount of time today defending the Republicans' and Democrats' backing of a cost of living salary increase for members of Congress. He did a great defense of members of Congress and how hard they worked and what admirable folks they are.

NOVAK: But did you notice, Mark, that when I asked him whether he was the scapegoat, the target, of the Democrats, he attacked Dick Gephardt? That's what I like about Tom DeLay. In this age of namby- pamby, nicer-than-nice politics, he's a guy who hits back.

SHIELDS: No one's ever accused you of being namby-pamby, Bob.

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields. Coming up next on "RELIABLE SOURCES": the media's coverage of anti-Semitic slurs allegedly made 26 years ago by New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton.

And at 7:00 pm Eastern, on "CAPITAL GANG," the Republican vice presidential selection and Al Gore campaigns on Governor Bush's home turf. We'll be joined then by Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.

NOVAK: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.



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