GOP Rep. Won't Prejudge Obama's Stimulus Plan

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As Barack Obama is sworn in Tuesday, he'll be flanked by the nation's leaders. And some of them are likely to clash with Obama in the future. Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana opposed the Wall Street bailout. He tells Steve Inskeep he won't prejudge Obama's economic stimulus package.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

When Barack Obama takes the oath, the crowd of people behind him on the stage will include most members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans both. The one we're about to meet next is newly elevated to a spot in the Republican leadership. Congressman Mike Pence represents a chunk of Indiana that relies on farms and the auto industry.

Representative MICHAEL PENCE (Republican, Indiana): I love to say in Indiana we do two things well. We grow things and we build things. So this great difficulty in the domestic automotive industry has been a time of great anxiety for many families across eastern Indiana.

INSKEEP: The challenge for Pence is that he's more conservative than the president about to take office. So while he favors action on the economy and welcomes the new president, he has some questions about what Mr. Obama may do.

Representative PENCE: I think most Hoosiers understand that we can't borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing economy. A week ago, I was at a town hall meeting in Muncie, Indiana, and a woman stood up, told me with some tears in her eyes that she'd lost her job. But then she said, Congressman, I want you to explain to me how the Wall Street bailout is helping me.

So I think there's a real resilience among people in the heartland and districts like mine. I think they know government should be taking action, but I think they also know we need to do the right thing, and not simply add to deficits by what may be ineffective and massive government spending.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that when you're called upon to vote on this economic stimulus package, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts as well as in spending, that you'll be voting no?

Representative PENCE: You know, I don't want to pre-judge it. We've seen a draft last week from House Democrats, we've heard the incoming administration make some statements. The president-elect and his people have been very solicitous in inviting Republicans to bring forward our ideas. We've been diligently preparing those, and frankly hope, even later this week, to have a chance to sit down with our new president, present those Republican ideas for permanent, across-the-board tax relief for working families, small businesses and family farms.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. When you say, permanent, across-the-board tax relief, are you saying that one Republican idea is to go to the president and say, don't do these targeted tax cuts, just cut everybody's taxes the way that President Bush did?

Representative PENCE: Well, not necessarily. I don't want to preempt what the Republican stimulus working group is going to unveil later this week. But our judgment is, you know, the way you create jobs is by creating certainty in the economy. And that means permanent tax relief, rather than the kind of short-term stimulative rebate checks.

You know, economists left, right and center all agree that last year's rebate checks and so-called tax relief had very, very little impact on the economy.

INSKEEP: You know, the former Republican leader Newt Gingrich, remembering 1993, when there was a new Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and a Democratic Congress as well, Newt Gingrich was the leader of the Republican minority in the House. And President Clinton came up with a budget bill that included tax increases. And he vowed that there would not be a single Republican vote for this tax increase, and that turned out to be very beneficial to them. They point directly from that to the Republican victory in Congress just a couple of years later. Can you imagine a showdown like that involving the Republican minority now?

Representative PENCE: Well, I hope not. I mean, I think that during these very difficult economic times, the American people would like to see us come together. But when principle demands that we contest, then we want to - as we intend to do on the stimulus bill - to offer substantive, principled alternatives to the challenges facing the American people.

INSKEEP: We should remind people that senators in the minority have power. They can filibuster in many cases, not all. You don't have that power. In fact, the minority in the House can be completely powerless. What's a circumstance in the next couple of years where you could stand in the way of something you don't like, or force something to change in a way that you do like?

Representative PENCE: One of the things that we learned last year when House Republicans held the House floor through the month of August to demand an up-or-down vote on lifting the historic moratorium on off-shore drilling, is that a minority in Congress plus the American people equals a majority. We'll have a voice, we'll have an impact and we'll be able to make a difference for the values that Republicans are elected to advance.

INSKEEP: Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. Thanks very much.

Representative PENCE: Thank you, Steve.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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