GUY RAZ, host:
One of the members of the president's deficit commission is Democratic Congressman John Spratt of South Carolina. He voted in favor of the commission's proposal. In last month's election, John Spratt was among those Democrats swept out in the Republican tide. He was defeated by Mick Mulvaney, a first-term state senator.
And so, after 28 years in Congress, John Spratt, who is also the outgoing chairman of the House Budget Committee, is heading back to York, South Carolina.
Congressman, welcome to the program.
Representative JOHN SPRATT (Democrat, South Carolina): My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
RAZ: First, I want to ask you about the commission's plan. As we heard, it did not receive enough support to actually go to a vote before Congress. You supported it. Is it now doomed?
Rep. SPRATT: I don't think so. It got 11 votes, that's a majority under most counts. Everyone there felt, and I think rightly, that it is in earnest and it does help fuel a debate about something we cannot and should not ignore, and that is our fiscal course. It's simply something that's unsustainable.
RAZ: So now what for the commission going forward? Is that it? Is it dissolved?
Rep. SPRATT: Well, it leaves a 65-page summary of the problem and the solutions to deal with the problem. It sets the bar at a fairly high level for the administration and others who claim that they're into the business of deficit reduction.
RAZ: What was it about this plan? Because you - when you voted for it, you said: Thank God, I'm not running for re-election. So I suspect that you kind of held your nose when you voted to back it. What about it made you uncomfortable?
Rep. SPRATT: Well, a number of policy proposals. For example, there's a reference here to the territoriality of taxes, which has to do with the liability of firms that outsource and move overseas for profits, when they repatriate those profits. I don't think that should've been in there. There are other provisions like that that I kind of gulped when I saw it and said it shouldn't be there.
But look, these things are illustrative only. They're not binding. They're not decided by any means. And I think there'll be a great deal of debate about all of these things, not the least of which is the tax expenditure.
RAZ: John Spratt, let's turn now to your career. You served 28 years in the House.
Rep. SPRATT: That's right.
RAZ: And let me first ask about the atmosphere in the House over that time. How has it changed?
Rep. SPRATT: Well, it's become more personal. No question about it. But just as the Republicans have demonized Nancy Pelosi, when I first came here they were demonizing Tip O'Neill. So in that sense, it hasn't changed greatly. It's gotten a little more - more intense, and the lack of comity is a real problem in the House for sure.
RAZ: Did you, in the past, develop personal relationships with folks on the other side of the aisle - go out to dinner with them, go have a drink with them, have them over to your house?
Rep. SPRATT: The main connection we have with members on the other side is when we travel. Secondly, you tend to get to know the Republicans who are on the same committee as you. You work together there. You push together there. And therefore, you form these friendships.
RAZ: Who are you closest to? What member of Congress were you personally closest to?
Rep. SPRATT: Well, for example, I had a good working relationship with John Kasich. Kasich and I in 1997 were part of the four budget principals who got together and negotiated over a period of six months the balanced budget agreement of 1997. We put the budget in surplus for the first time in 30 years.
RAZ: You've called that the proudest moment of your career.
Rep. SPRATT: Yeah. And John Kasich and I worked hand in glove to get that accomplished and had a great personal relationship as a result of that.
RAZ: John Spratt, I know that you were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and considered not running for re-election. First of all, how are you doing right now?
Rep. SPRATT: Well, certainly before I ran, my wife and I went to see the physician at Duke who is my basic physician and who diagnosed me. And having looked at me, he turned and said to my wife: If you don't want him to run again, you need another reason because this isn't it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rep. SPRATT: Basically, he told me my symptoms were mild and the progression was slow. There was no reason I shouldn't keep participating in public life at the same scope and level.
RAZ: And what's the prognosis? What are doctors telling you now?
Rep. SPRATT: I haven't seen my doctor. I'll go back and tell him, okay, you told me to run again...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rep. SPRATT: ...look what happened. But it's about the same as it was a year ago.
RAZ: What will you miss most about working here in Washington, about being a member of Congress?
Rep. SPRATT: Camaraderie and the opportunity to deal with public policy affecting what I think is still the greatest country on the face of the Earth. That's been a great opportunity.
RAZ: That's South Carolina congressman John Spratt. He's a Democrat. He was first elected to Congress in 1982 but lost his seat last month.
John Spratt, good luck to you.
Rep. SPRATT: Thank you very much, Guy.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
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