Top Line: Jeff Flake Says Earmarkers are ‘Nuts’

By Eliza

Jan 26, 2011 2:25pm

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports:

On Top Line, the State of the Union hangover edition, we talked to Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, a fiscal hawk and cost-cutter who finds himself on the Appropriations Committee. He weighed in on the President’s pledge to veto bills with earmarks, the debt, the deficit, cost cutting and entitlement reform.

Flake said Americans will know soon if Republicans are serious or all talk about cutting costs – there will be budgets proposed by Republicans for the 2011 fiscal year that is currently underway, the 2012 fiscal year, and then a tough fight on how to go about raising the debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion.

“We'll know pretty fast if we're serious or not,” Flake said.

Flake said he’ll hold President Obama to his promise to veto any spending bill that includes earmarks. But he’s not holding his breath.

“I've said all along, any promise any president made, and that includes Barack Obama in the past, it includes President Bush when they said they'll cut earmarks down, they'll halve the cost or whatever else. Those were meaningless statements. The only meaningful statement is when a president says I'll veto bills that have earmarks in them. So he said the right thing, whether or not he follows through, we'll have to see,” Flake said.

While the House has banned earmarks, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he has no intention of giving up the practice of ‘Congressionally directed spending.”

Flake said earmarks are a small portion of the nation’s budget woes and have become a political distraction that should just be cast aside.

“Anybody thinking of sticking earmarks in bills now, that's just nuts,” he said.

The meat of the problem is the budget deficit, he said, which according to CBO, will reach $1.5 trillion this year. Republicans will have to decide among themselves how steep of cuts to push. Flake is  on board with real austerity and will try to change bills put up by the Republican leadership.

There are a number of us Republicans who will offer greater cuts than those being offered. We want the hundred billions, the real hundred billions. And so those amendments will be offered, either in the appropriations committee or on the floor, or maybe both. And we'll see how the leadership reacts. So uh anyway, we'll test our result pretty fast. But you're right, precious few items have really been outlined that really save significant money,” he said.

And his position on the Appropriations Committee will help him be able to cut costs, Flake said.

“I've felt for a long time that the Appropriations committee, they ought to have room for at least one person who wants to cut spending rather than spend more money. So, gratefully this time there's myself and a few other freshmen who are uh willing to cut as well,” he said of the Committee normally  associated with government largesse

Flake cosponsored a bill with Sen. John McCain recently that would enable taxpayers to put ten percent of their tax payments toward deficit reduction and force Congress to make commensurate cuts in the Budget. The proposal has little chance of passing, but Flake said it is an important symbolic recognition.

“It's a recognition that we don't have the guts here in Congress to do what we have to do to trim the deficit,” he said.

Flake also endorsed the controversial financial ‘Roadmap for America’s Future’ authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the Chair of the House Budget Committee in the House,  who delivered the GOP’s response to the State of the Union Tuesday night.

While the ‘Roadmap’ would put the country on a more sound financial footing over time, it would also drastically overhaul the social safety nets currently run by the government to benefit seniors – Social Security and Medicare. Future generations would have the option of personal Social Security accounts  and Medicare would be turned into a voucher system where the in 20 years the government would gives newly aging seniors an $11,000 credit to buy health insurance instead of itself providing coverage.

“I like the roadmap. I'm unapologetic there,” Flake said.

Watch the “Top Line” segment with Rep. Flake HERE

We also talked to Major Garrett of National Journal, who argued that President Obama’s olive branches to Republicans last night on issues like the corporate tax rate, simplifying the tax code, a budget freeze and an earmark ban were all about setting up the  2012 re-election campaign. “A counterpunching speech by the President,” according to Garrett.

“He’s trying to create a barrier around what he’s accomplished,” Garrett said. “A barrier Republicans want to get over or in.”

Health reform, which Republicans have tried to repeal, leaps first to mind.

Garrett did not paint a rosy picture for the new Washington bipartisanship leading to much new legislation. He said  that raising the debt ceiling will be a must-compromise moment for Republicans and Democrats, but that could be the beginning and end of working together.

On Republican divides displayed last night when Rep. Paul Ryan’s official GOP State of the Union response was followed by a Tea Party State of the Union response delivered by Republican Michelle Bachmann of  Minnesota, Garrett said there is a false sense of division in the media.

“Its false to say they are divided on the question of spending cuts. They’re united. Its just a matter of magnitude,” Garrett said.

Watch the “Top Line” segment with Major Garrett HERE.

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