Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), a young conservative on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS last week that Republicans need to win three or four more Senate seats in November to secure the votes to reverse automatic tax increases that will kick in next year. Unless the Senate joins with the House in voting to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, those tax cuts will begin to expire. In this Congress, four Republican senators, Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), and John McCain (Ariz.) have worked along with Senate Democrats to thwart the effort to retain the cuts. Ryan has also worked to restrain spending in the Republican-controlled House, where he joined Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R.-Iowa) and Rep. Chris Chocola (R.-Ind.) to propose a sweeping budget reform bill, the Spending Control Act of 2004 (HR 4663), which unfortunately was defeated just after midnight on June 25 by a vote of 146 to 268. Had the bill passed it would have put a hard cap on overall federal spending in future years, and required Congress to pass budgets for two years at a time rather than just one. Every Democrat voted against the bill. Tellingly, they were joined by 32 of the 36 Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee–whom Ryan called a powerful “third party” in the House that is opposed to spending restraints. On June 30, HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terence Jeffrey and Assistant Editor David Freddoso interviewed Ryan over the phone about his efforts to control federal taxing and spending. What follows are edited excerpts of the conversation.
If the Senate fails to pass a budget resolution this year, then won’t the Bush tax cuts begin to phase out next year–returning things like the marriage penalty, the estate tax and even some of the higher tax rates? REP. PAUL RYAN (R.-WIS.): Right. My bill with Rep. Kenny Hulshof [R.-Mo.] was to make all that permanent. They’ll all start going away over the next few years. You’ve got the kid credit, the marriage penalty, the 10% bracket that will go away next year, and capital gains and dividends cuts that go away in 2008. Then the estate tax cut will go away in 2010. The House voted to make each one of those cuts permanent, but they cannot get through the Senate because they’re blocked by a filibuster, correct? RYAN: That’s right. They’re all subject to a filibuster right now. So as of right now Americans face a tax increase unless something changes in the U.S. Senate. All they need to raise taxes (by blocking the effort to make the Bush cuts permanent) is 41 Democrats. And we have four Republican senators who have aligned themselves with the Democrats on this issue. How do we get around that, Congressman? RYAN: We need four or five better senators. You need only about three or four more Republicans, and what will happen is the moderate Democrats start voting with us en bloc. Right now, when you have a 51-49 Senate, they stick with Daschle. We just need about three or four, and I think we break all these logjams on tort reform and all these other issues, too. So to avert tax increases next year by default because the tax cuts start phasing out, voters need to get out to the polls in November and make sure they elect three or four or five more Republican senators? RYAN: That’s right, because Snowe, Collins, Chafee, and McCain are the bad ones, and McCain was sort of the leader on this little thing… The other half of this is run-amok spending. We’re going to have a federal budget deficit approaching $500 billion. How is the Republican Congress going to thwart that spending? RYAN: Well, the bill we brought to the floor on Thursday (HR 4663) had maybe 15 votes that members took to rein in spending, so that we can pass budgets and stick to them and as a tool to limit government and control spending. On every one of these votes–every one–the appropriators voted them down and convinced other members of their caucus to vote “no” so that none could pass. We know Democrats are bad on spending. But not all Republicans are for controlling spending. The problem is we are not as good as we say we are. The reason I wanted to bring this bill–even though I knew we would lose–was I wanted to smoke people out on their positions and make people accountable to their constituents on these votes. The main force in opposition to you was Chairman Bill Young (R.-Fla.) of the Appropriations Committee. RYAN: Yeah. How do we fix this problem of Republican appropriators opposing fiscal restraint in the House? RYAN: When I figure it out, I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But what I wanted to do was get this thing to the floor and make people take these votes, and make them take a lot of votes, so that the taxpayer groups can rate these votes and show our base who’s for what. I think we all say we’re fiscal conservatives. We talk the talk. But I wanted to show people that here’s your chance to walk the walk. When you’re fighting for the soul of your party, sometimes you have to embarrass people back into the fold… I would urge your readers to look at how their congressman voted on these votes on controlling spending. You basically have three parties: you have Republicans, Democrats, and appropriators. A lot of folks don’t want to cross appropriators because they want to get money in their districts. What we’re simply trying to do is appeal to people on a higher principle… I’ll give you a funny story. I was in the gym the next morning, and a conservative Republican came up to me and said, “I voted with you in all these votes, and I was voting next to a Republican Southerner who was a conservative who was voting no on each of these votes. I asked him why he’s voting no, and he said he was embarrassed, he didn’t want to tell me. I said, ‘No, go ahead; tell me.’ He said, ‘Well, I had some appropriation requests in and the relevant [chairman] of the [sub]-committee where I had my requests came up to me and said, “If you want any help getting this money in your district, you’ve got to vote against every one of these amendments.” So, I’ve got to vote against it.’ Then as the guy put his card in the machine to vote no the next time, he said, and I quote, ‘You know, I’m really for reforming the budget process. I just don’t understand why we can’t get it done.” On this issue the House Republican leadership was with you? RYAN: Yeah, [Majority Leader Tom] DeLay [R.-Tex.] was great. We spent two days negotiating this because the negotiators were trying to get us off the floor basically. DeLay and [Majority Whip Roy] Blunt [R.-Mo.] gave us their word and they kept their word and they stuck with us.
FOR THE BILL: 3 Virgil Goode (VA) Mark Steven Kirk (IL) David Vitter (LA) AGAINST THE BILL: 32 Ralph Regula (OH) Jerry Lewis (CA) Harold Rogers (KY) Frank Wolf (VA) Jim Kolbe (AZ) James Walsh (NY) Charles Taylor (NC) David Hobson (OH) Ernest Istook (OK) Henry Bonilla (TX) Joe Knollenberg (MI) Jack Kingston (GA) Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ) Roger Wicker (MS) George Nethercutt (WA) Randy Cunningham (CA) Todd Tiahrt (KS) Zach Wamp (TN) Tom Latham (IA) Anne Northup (KY) Robert Aderholt (AL) Jo Ann Emerson (MO) John E. Peterson (PA) John Doolittle (CA) Ray LaHood (IL) John Sweeney (NY) Don Sherwood (PA) Dave Weldon (FL) Michael Simpson (ID) John Culberson (TX) Ander Crenshaw (FL) NOT VOTING: 1 Kay Granger (TX)