GOP Rep. Cole: Obama Laid Out Ideological Debates
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama's inaugural address signaled that while the election is over, the argument is not.
GREENE: The president continued defending the role of government. He promoted programs for the poor and elderly and turned a popular conservative catchphrase against those who use it.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our nation. They strengthen us.
OBAMA: They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.
GREENE: Later the president pushed Americans not to try to settle debates over government for all time but to act in our time.
INSKEEP: Let's get a Republican perspective on all this. Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole is on the line with us now. Congressman, welcome back to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: Steve, thanks very much.
INSKEEP: Let's start with that notion that the president laid out there, his notion of setting aside the big ideological debates and agreeing on what we can now. Are House Republicans in a similar mood?
COLE: Well, actually, I think the president did anything but set aside the big ideological debates yesterday. I think he engaged in them. He laid them out very aggressively. Frankly, I think the big disappointment for me in the speech was that he really didn't talk to Americans who hadn't voted for him, and that's 48 percent of the public.
And he really didn't talk about what I think are the two big challenges we have, and that's an underperforming economy and a looming debt crisis that's linked very closely to the very programs that he and I both want to preserve. But they're not going to be able to be preserved without some serious changes.
INSKEEP: There was only a brief mention of reducing the deficit. I want to ask about that, though, because that's at the heart of the fiscal debates that are coming up in the coming weeks and months. The president does talk about deficit reduction that would include spending cuts.
Your side talks about spending cuts. Is there enough common ground to reach a deal?
COLE: Well, I hope so. I mean, the president - we worked with the president on the fiscal cliff issue, where he got a lot of revenue. Not just through income tax increases, which were already set to happen in law, and we compromised on which ones, but also through the payroll tax. So he's just gotten a big chunk of new revenue.
Now it's time - and there were no spending cuts, by the way, tied to any of that - now it's time, I think, during the debate over the across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, during the debates over the continuing resolution - that's government spending authority that runs out the end of March - and ultimately the debt ceiling itself - to address the other side of the equation. And that is spending restraint and long-term entitlement reform.
INSKEEP: Help us understand how you intend to get through all these deadlines that are coming up. We do know that House Republicans have signaled that they want to extend this debt ceiling to give the government authority to borrow money for a few more months - into May, perhaps - in order to allow time for a broader budget framework to be negotiated. Why take that approach?
COLE: Well, first of all, I think it does buy time. And I think we need a little bit. We have other crises to deal with and that's, again, the sequester and the CR, so to speak. And in addition to that, you know, we'd like the Democrats in the Senate to get serious. You know, the condition - the only condition we really attached to extending the debt limit is, hey(ph), Senate for the first time in four years has to actually write a budget, which it's statutorily required to do.
It's hard to have a debate when the other side won't lay out a position or even do what is mandated to do by law. So if we see the Democrats seriously write a budget, then we're going to have some common ground to start from and identify where our disagreements are. And hopefully, you know, find some compromise solutions.
INSKEEP: And we should remind people, I suppose, the budget is normally a 10 year projection. So it's a blueprint for spending. Could be a blueprint for deficit reduction.
COLE: It certainly could be. And I would actually hope that both sides acknowledge that has to occur. I mean, look, we can't continue to run trillion dollar deficits indefinitely. There's not an economist on the planet that thinks that's a fiscally sustainable course. So - again, these are things that have to get done. The president didn't deal with them in the first term.
There's an argument to be made he plenty else on his plate with a recovering economy, but we didn't deal with that. Now it's time to move on. And that could be an area of either cooperation or conflict. Probably will end up being both.
INSKEEP: Congressman, you mention that the president did push his positions pretty hard in the inaugural address. One of them is on climate change. He said, and this is a quote: "We will respond to the threat of climate change." This is an area of big partisan disagreement. Do significant numbers of your caucus, House Republicans, still deny that climate change is a problem?
COLE: Oh, there's a variety of opinions, but I think the real question is what are the solutions? And, look, I'm a kind of an all-of-the-above energy guy, but one of the places where I think the president missed the boat - one of the areas that is both good for the economy, leads to American energy independence and deals, at least partially, with climate change is natural gas.
The natural gas revolution is underway that been largely driven by private companies, but has made us increasingly energy secure. That's something we ought to be doing. It emits less than half the green gases of coal or oils So, you know, why shouldn't we celebrate a private-sector solution that actually produces jobs, wealth and tax revenue, as opposed to only government-oriented solutions?
INSKEEP: In a couple of seconds, can you support renewable energy in spite of skepticism and scandals?
COLE: Sure, I've supported wind power in the past and will continue to do so - I think there's a number of areas. But I'm skeptical, you know, too much government subsidy and not enough in the way of private activity and individual initiative.
INSKEEP: OK. Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, it's always a pleasure. Thanks very much.
COLE: Thank you, Steve.