Opposing The Tax Deal Is Oregon Rep's Bottom Line

Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio led the revolt against the tax deal agreed by President Obama and Senate Republicans. Host Scott Simon talks with DeFazio, who co-authored the resolution that effectively stopped the plan from going forward in the House.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio lead the revolt against the tax deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans. He, along with Texas Congressman Doggett, offered the resolution that effectively stopped the plan from going forward in the House in its current form.

Congressman DeFazio joins us on the line from Portland. Thanks very much for being with us.

Representative PETER DEFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): Thanks, Scott, appreciate the opportunity.

SIMON: You presented this resolution on Thursday in a closed meeting of the Democratic caucus. What was the atmosphere in that room like?

Rep. DEFAZIO: Well, the press, which was down the hall, behind - and we were behind closed doors, could hear the chants of just say no which broke out spontaneously just before I offered my resolution. We had be wrangling for a while, and when I finally stood up to offer it, there was a tremendous amount of, I would say, enthusiasm.

SIMON: Enthusiasm or anger?

Rep. DEFAZIO: Well, enthusiastic anger.

SIMON: We want to present a clip. President Obama spoke to NPR not long after that meeting, and let's listen to a short clip of the President from that interview.

President BARACK OBAMA: The bottom line is for everybody to act responsibly and to think not in terms of abstract political fights here on Washing here on Capitol Hill, but to think about those families that in the middle of the holiday season are trying to figure out are they still going to have unemployment benefits at the end of this month.

SIMON: So that was President Obama speaking with NPR on Thursday, and we're speaking with Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

So Congressman, let me put it to you directly. Are you and other Democrats acting responsibly?

Rep. DEFAZIO: Absolutely. We're trying to save tens to hundreds of billions of dollars for the American people for measures that will not put a single American back to work and are not targeted toward families in need, those who have been most hurt.

I believe the Republicans are bluffing on unemployment benefits. Are they really, really prepared to go home as the Grinch, the people who took away unemployment benefits from people who want to work, who are struggling to make ends meet, keep food on the table for their kids just before Christmas, because they're holding out for millionaires and billionaires?

I don't think so. I really think the president and his people got taken to the cleaners on this.

SIMON: Well, Congressman, I'll bet you've called Republicans a lot of things worse than Grinch. And now you're suggesting that they have such holiday goodness in their hearts, they wouldn't call your bluff.

Rep. DEFAZIO: Well, you know, when have we buckled down to this kind of fight? We haven't. I mean, the president negotiated these things away without any fight at all. I mean, where did thing of, you know, huge new breaks for estates over $10 million come from? How many people will that put to work?

And then this new thing which replaces the president's making work pay initiative, which is the reduction in the Social Security tax - incredibly, incredibly expensive, and it goes to every American who earns money next year. Meaning if you earn a billion dollars on Wall Street, you're going to get a 2,000-plus tax break.

I mean, this is extraordinary, and these are very expensive measures, and it threatens the future of Social Security, in my opinion, and I don't believe these are the most targeted and effective ways to put people back to work.

SIMON: This doesn't sound like a small disagreement you have with the president, Congressman.

Rep. DEFAZIO: Absolutely not. I mean, when he says all these people who supported the public option, they're just purists. And these people who are opposed to these tax breaks for the wealthiest among us on borrowed money, money borrowed probably from China, you know, are sanctimonious - wow, I got to say that raised the temperature of a lot of Democrats and that's what led in part to a nearly unanimous and, in my memory, an absolutely historic of the Democratic caucus to oppose a major initiative of a Democratic president and say it's not coming forward in this form.

SIMON: Well, let me pick on something the president suggested. With respect, the Democrats lost a total of 63 House seats in the mid-term elections. Is it a little nervy for Democrats to hold up this agreement?

Rep. DEFAZIO: I think we lost because of these sorts of economic policies, starting with he and his advisers caving on the stimulus bill, where they larded it up with $300 billion of tax cuts, which as Larry Summers said, people won't even know they're getting them. He's right. And I stood up on that caucus and I said bad economics and really bad politics, miniscule tax breaks that nobody knows they're getting. How many people will that put back to work? And by the way, you know, how does that help people who are already unemployed?

SIMON: Congressman, what do you see as coming next on the floor of the House, but also in your relationship with President Obama?

Rep. DEFAZIO: Well, what I tried to do by offering this resolution was give our leadership room to get back to the table. You know, they actually even werent at the table. We had a negotiator at the White House. He was in a room and he thought he was in very high level negotiations. Meanwhile, the entire negotiation was between Mitch O'Connell - well, it wasn't even a negotiation. The agreement was dictated by the minority leader, Republican minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to Vice President Joe Biden, who delivered it to President Obama. We don't think that's a negotiation. We think it's a bad deal for the American people - way too expensive, particularly giving benefits to people who don't in any imaginable way need them, and we're borrowing the money to do that.

SIMON: Congressman Peter DeFazio, Democrat from Oregon, thanks so much for being with us.

Rep. DEFAZIO: Thank you, Scott.

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