Republican Rep. John Kline criticized President Obama's budget proposal today, saying he's "disappointed in the approach" taken by the Democratic president.
President Obama's plan would cut $4 trillion from the federal budget over 12 years.
Kline, who represents Minnesota's 2nd District, discussed the president's proposal and the budget debate with All Things Considered's Tom Crann on Wednesday afternoon. An edited transcript of that interview is below.
Tom Crann: Give us your reaction to the president's plan to cut $4 trillion from the federal budget in 12 years.
Rep. John Kline: Well, I was very pleased to hear him say that, quote, doing nothing on the deficit is not an option, closed quote. I'm very glad to have him now in the discussion about what we're going to do about the long-term fiscal future of the nation. I was disappointed, as I'm sure you and your listeners would know, that when he presented his budget a couple of months ago, he didn't really address this issue at all. And so he has now come to the table since Paul Ryan, our budget chairman, brought forward a budget this week.
It was interesting to hear his suggestions. I'm disappointed in the approach that he's taken. I'm not surprised that he wanted to cut even more from defense. I'm not surprised that he wants to raise taxes by over a trillion dollars. I was pleased to see that he recognizes that we have to do something about domestic spending. I'm not sure that it's enough because he wasn't real specific on the number.
And then, on health care, I was very disappointed because it was a very vague approach. He was still claiming a trillion dollars in saving from his health care law, from the so-called ObamaCare. And almost any analysis now shows that that's just not the case. There's a lot of double-counting there. It's not working out as advertised. And then he's going to form some sort of independent commission or something to study it. I think we have to be much clearer than that and step up with real suggestions, real ideas, a real budget on how we're going to stop the runaway spending and the ever-growing deficit and debt, which is what his earlier budget did.
Crann: Let me just break out a part of that that you mention, and that is defense. Is it possible here to tackle the deficit without touching the defense budget? Are there parts of it that can be cut or is it all essential to national security in your view?
Kline: Well, there are parts that are cut even in the budget committee, in Paul Ryan's budget, and I think there's a recognition, there's nobody I think in America that doesn't recognize that there isn't wasted money in the Department of Defense. One of the problems, of course, and I think the president actually kind of alluded to this, is that there's not a line item for waste, fraud or abuse in the budget, so you can't just go cut that. If you could, this would be really, really easy. But I think Secretary Gates has been pushing the department to find places where they can save money. And so the president has recognized that, and the Republicans, Paul Ryan, have recognized that. It looked to me though, again I don't think the president was clear about this, that he wanted to double again the savings in defense. And I think that'll be very, very hard to do, even with pulling troops out of Iraq and reducing presence in Afghanistan, because there's just not enough money in that.
Crann: The president has said that Representative Ryan's Republican budget plan relies too heavily on cuts to the middle classes, lower classes, and not enough when it comes to people who can afford to help. But you say you're dismayed by some of the tax increases. So, what's your response to that?
Kline: Well, I think the president's tax increases will be very, very harmful to the economy and job recovery because he will be taxing, in his approach, small businesses, and I think that would get in the way of what we're trying to do, and that's get the private sector to grow and create jobs.
Now in Paul Ryan's approach, when you look at Medicare for example, trying to make sure, make certain, that anybody who's on Medicare isn't touched at all, and that younger Americans, those in this budget below 55 would get a program very much like, almost exactly like the program that members of Congress are on now, the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program with a premium support plan. And to get to the point of wealthy Americans, in the Ryan budget, it would call for greater sacrifice on the part of wealthier Americans and provide greater benefits to those who need them the most, so you would get some means testing in those programs.
Crann: Let's go to last week's budget compromise deal. As chair of the House Education and Labor committee, what programs do you think will be most impacted by the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being cut from education and job programs as part of that compromise?
Kline: Well, there are some cuts in a number of programs ... When you look at the continuing resolution, which is funding for the government for the rest of this fiscal year, to September 30, there were a number of programs which were in some cases eliminated where they had been shown to be completely ineffective or perhaps hadn't been used for some time.
There were efforts to control Pell Grant funding, for example, and so there'll be an impact there, but when you talk about Pell Grants, what we'd like to see is make sure that it is fiscally responsible and sustainable for the long term. It got pretty seriously overpromised in the last couple of years and was on a path to being completed unsustainable. So we want to make sure that it is there not just for the students this year, but for next year and next year and next year and next year going forward and that it's put on a sustainable path.
Crann: Reports today that Speaker Boehner is having a hard time rounding up enough Republican votes for the budget compromise. Are you going to vote to approve it?
Kline: I am.
Crann: And now that the debate has shifted as to whether Congress should raise the nation's debt ceiling, what is your position on that?
Kline: Well, I think that what's really, really important is that we get some controls in place so that Washington doesn't keep running up the debt. That's the fear that many of us have is if you just raise the debt ceiling, then you put yourself on a path to year after year continuing to raise the debt ceiling without putting some pieces in place that will prevent Congress and the White House, prevent Washington from continuing to increase the debt.
That's a discussion that's ongoing. I came from a meeting earlier today a couple of hours ago where we were talking about various ideas that could be brought forward along with that vote to make sure that we are not just continuing to spiral out of control in spending, and I believe that's what will happen when we get on down the road here, that if we don't have something big, as Speaker Boehner has said, to prevent Washington from continuing to spend irresponsibly, then the debt ceiling won't be lifted.
Crann: And then you would vote against it if there weren't those controls.
Kline: If you don't put something big in there to put some controls in there, then I would vote no. And I think that the vast majority of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would vote no if you don't have something like that in there.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)