Whose Budget Is It Anyway?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Jan. 30, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Hi, everybody. A red menace looming over Washington, an ocean of red ink. The Bush administration gets ready to release its new budget as fiscal conservatives warn of government spending that could leave next year's deficit at more than half a trillion dollars...

So, whose budget is it anyway? The White House blames Congress for busting the budget, conservatives fear the administration has gone on a spending bender.

Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake (search) calling for strict spending reforms. Today's the big question, Congressman, is the GOP for small government or big spending?

REP. JEFF. FLAKE (R) ARIZONA: Unfortunately, you have to wonder right now. It really is pathetic what's gone on in the past couple years. And I don't blame the president so much as I blame Congress. We simply can't say no to any spending increase.

GIBSON: Why can't you blame the president? It's his departments that — I mean, I was astounded. Did I see correctly the Labor Department has some huge increase in its budget, upwards towards 50 percent? What's going on?

FLAKE: In education, we've spent — since Republicans took control of Congress, I think we've increased spending for the Department of Education by about 150 percent. The president cannot sign into law anything we don't send to him, so the first blame lies with Congress. Certainly, the president could help more by vetoing a piece of legislation now and then, and I would certainly encourage him to do so if the Energy Bill (search) comes back.

GIBSON: Why hasn't he vetoed anything?

FLAKE: I believe the White House thinks if you give it to me, you're a Republican Congress and I'm telling Republicans that they're spending too much. That's a difficult thing to do but he surely needs to do it. And he will have plenty of opportunities coming up, such as the Energy Bill.

GIBSON: Why is it you were unable to convince your Republican colleagues that they're being too free and easy with the money?

FLAKE: I don't know. It's not for lack of trying, many of us tried very hard, particularly on the prescription drug benefit, to say that if you look at Medicare as a whole, it's 10 times more expensive as we said back in the 1960's. We knew full well there would come projections far worse than the $400 billion. We should have known that. I think every member of Congress should have known that. So, this comes as no surprise, this news today that it's $534 billion.

GIBSON: right. But I think the argument the administration would make or Republicans would make is the Democrats wanted an $800-billion program. And so, you know, you saved a lot of money.

FLAKE: That's very — a very good point. If the voters want bigger government, I argue that sooner or later they all go back to the genuine article, and that's the Democrats. Try as we might, and we've tried awful hard lately, we can't spend more than the Democrats want to spend. So we ought to quit trying, we ought to simply offer a choice, and as Barry Goldwater said, not an echo.

GIBSON: Are you really in the mood as an elected official to say to the voters who want things like a prescription drug benefit, no?

FLAKE: Yes. Yes. Many of us, 25 Republicans voted against that bill. There are many of us who voted against another bill. The omnibus appropriation bill that passed in December, many conservatives voted against that as well. And that's another one that the president surely should have vetoed. It was loaded with more than 8,000 earmarks or pork-barrel projects. That's what's driving a lot of the spending, I can tell you, the number of earmarks and what we need to have is a moratorium. And simply every member of Congress needs to say I'm not going to take any bonus (ph) this year.

GIBSON: I don't understand how this can happen. I understand how it could happen when Ronald Reagan was spending bit money to put the Soviet Union out of goodness and the Democratic Congress wanted its goodies attached to every budget, but this is a Republican Congress.

FLAKE: Well, that's where presidential leadership comes in. He can simply say I'm going to earmark any budget - or I'm sorry - any bill that comes back — I'm sorry — I'm going to veto any budget or bill that comes back with earmarks in it. If the president were to do that, then we'd surely strip them out.

GIBSON: How much of this budget overrun is from these earmarks and how much of it is because, let's face it, we're in a war and wars are expensive?

FLAKE: Wars are expensive, and all of us conservatives are ready to spend whatever it takes for the war. That is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is a non-defense discretionary spending. The president has said that we should have no more than a 1 percent increase. Conservatives are asking why should we have an increase at all? And then to announce we're going to increase spending for the NEA by $18 million, whether or not you agree that that is the proper role and function of government to fund the arts, you've got to recognize that now is not the time to do that.

So, non-defense discretionary spending, we ought to have a freeze at minimum. Frankly, we ought to cut. If you look back at World War II and the Korean War, the Congress cut deeply into domestic spending. We actually postponed increases in entitlement spending. We cut deeply and we should do some of the same now. But we needn't cut deeply to actually get a handle on this deficit. We simply need to control the growth, and we're not doing that.

GIBSON: Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake trying to stop the spending binge. Congressman, thanks very much, appreciate it.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.