Recap of Saturday, November 15

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, November 15, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Our guest tonight, and our last in the series, the rising congressional stars, is first-term congressman, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen. He's a member of the government reform and education committees.

Thanks for joining us this evening, congressman.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-Md.: Thanks for having me.

KONDRACKE: Now, during your campaign, you were against the Iraq war, and you voted against the $87 billion aid package. But back in your past, in 1988, you actually got to know a lot of the Kurds who were being victimized by Saddam Hussein. Don't you think that the Kurds that you know are delighted that Saddam Hussein is gone?

VAN HOLLEN: I think there are many that are very happy that he's gone, and I think a lot of us are very happy that Saddam Hussein is gone as well. The question for the United States was, what's in the best interests of the United States?

And my view was, having gone to the U.N., which was the right call back in November, and got a unanimous agreement from the U.N. Security Council that we would allow the inspectors to reenter Iraq, we should have allowed them to finish their business. They said they needed additional time to determine whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The administration said, We know better, we know they're there, we're going in.

It looks like we were wrong on that call.

The question in Iraq has been one that has troubled American foreign policy for a long time. Back in 1988, at the time that Saddam Hussein was actually using chemical weapons against the Kurds, I was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We urged the Congress to take action, we urged them to impose immediate economic sanctions against Iraq.

The Reagan administration at the time, including a lot of people in this administration, didn't seem to care about it then.

KONDRACKE: Well, OK, that's interesting history. But now the, -- your friends the Kurds are now liberated, and the president asked for $20 billion to help rebuild their shattered country, and you voted against it.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, well...

KONDRACKE: How do you explain that?

VAN HOLLEN: ... well, the reason I voted against, as I made clear in my statement on the floor, had nothing to do with the fact that I don't think the United States has an obligation to continue to help in Iraq. We have an obligation to help rebuild that country, both because it's the right thing to do for the Iraqis, and because it's the right thing to do for the security of the American people.

It would be a terrible result if the -- if in the end we were to pull out in, in fast order, leave a vacuum behind, and have a regime that was hostile to the interests of the United States.

I said very clearly that the president has asked our men and women in Iraq to sacrifice, and we should ask the American people, especially those who got the lion's share of the tax cut, to sacrifice as well.

Every penny of that $87 billion goes on our national credit card. It's going to be paid by our troops in the field in Iraq, and by their children. I think that if this is such a national -- issue of national importance, which it is, we should be at least asking those people who got huge tax cuts, people at the wealthiest end of our -- the income spectrum, to pay their fair share.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Congressman, why did you run for Congress? What did -- what do you want to achieve as a member of the House of Representatives?

VAN HOLLEN: I ran for Congress because I think there are many priorities in our nation that have not -- are not being met. I worked very hard in the state legislature on education policy. Here at the national level, we made a promise just a year and a half ago to America's children and schools that we were going to leave no child behind.

And yet the ink is barely dry on that piece of legislation before the president submitted a budget that was $9 billion short.

BARNES: Yes, but congressman, federal spending on education is at a record high.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's not -- on a -- what we did, though, and what the, what the Congress did before I got here was a good thing. It asked the states and the, and the local school systems to take on new obligations. And they're moving. In my own districts of Montgomery and Prince George's County, the schools are moving. They're taking on a lot of additional burdens and a lot of additional costs to meet the No Child Left Behind (search) mandate.

The least the federal government can do is to meet that -- the -- meet the promises that were made. This...

BARNES: Congressman, let me ask you about your, your life in the House of Representatives. The New Republic had a story the other day about the miserable life of Democratic House members, because they're in the minority. I think you were mentioned in that story.

VAN HOLLEN: That's right.

BARNES: How miserable is your life as a, as a minority member of Congress?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, I'm, I'm very happy to be in the United States Congress, and I want to thank the people ... congressional district for giving me that privilege.

It's, of course, tough going in the minority party in the House of Representatives. Much of, much of the action is governed by the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee is essentially controlled by the Speaker of the House, and they determine who gets to offer amendments and what amendments are offered.

There are many instances where there have been important amendments that I think should be debated before the House -- whole House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, where people should be required to go on the record and make a vote. Rules Committee has made out of order some of those amendments, essentially shielding Republican members from making hard choices, like full funding of No Child Left Behind, like full funding for special education.

KONDRACKE: ... congressman, you did succeed, however, in blocking a provision that would have privatized jobs in the Defense Department. I, I just wonder, and you were also fighting the Rumsfeld proposal to, to loosen up the civil service laws so that he could hire and fire and move people around in the Pentagon.

How did you succeed with that?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right, we were able to put together a bipartisan group, got 220 votes in the House. What happened was, just a few months ago, the administration sort of changed the rules for contracting out, that I think changed the -- took the playing field in favor of the contractors contracting out to the disadvantage of federal employees.

We were able to bring it together, clearly a majority of members who felt the administration had gone too far. They tied the hands of federal employees when it came to these competitions. I'm glad that we did the right thing, and I'm very pleased that the conference committee has come out with a compromise that is very much in the direction that we wanted to go.

BARNES: Thanks very much, congressman.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks for having me.

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