Transcript: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on 'FNS'

Published January 07, 2007

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The following is a partial transcript from the Jan. 7, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: With us now to talk about the Democrats' agenda in Congress is the new House majority leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Welcome to "FOX News Sunday."

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER STENY HOYER: Good morning, Brit. Glad to be with you.

HUME: Congratulations on your elevation to leader.

HOYER: Thank you very much.

HUME: Let's talk for a moment here about what we now think the president is going to propose or announce this week, something on the order of 20,000 more troops, as you heard me mention to Senator McConnell; the possibility now, we're hearing, of a billion-dollar package to try to enhance the job situation in Iraq.

What is likely to be the reaction among House Democrats, many of whom were elected to oppose this war, to that, those two ideas?

HOYER: I think that two things: First of all, we see this simply as an escalation and not a change. Essentially, we've gone up and down on troop levels before. We did so just recently. And when we sent troops into Baghdad, we sort of had community-by-community success but a general escalation, both in violence, sectarian confrontation, and loss of life.

So we don't see this as a new policy, and I think it's going to be greeted with great skepticism. We've also done the economic investment before — unfortunately, with not very good positive results. So I think great skepticism, as Senator Levin said in the Senate and Senator Warner said. They want to look at this proposal.

We have General Abizaid, as you know, interviewed a lot of people on the ground, including General Casey, who's now going to be chief of staff of the Army, and said that they don't think an escalation in the troop levels will work or will be helpful.

HUME: Can you foresee this — I assume it's unlikely you'll try to stop it.

HOYER: Well...

HUME: Or am I wrong about that?

HOYER: You're probably right, but I think it's too early to say that. After all, there are going to be many, many hearings, 10, 15, a series of hearings by various different committees over the next three weeks, four weeks, on this proposal.

This is a serious issue confronting this country. Iraq has probably been our biggest immediate challenge, how we move forward.

All of us would like to have success. All of us would like to bring stability and security. We haven't done that in four years, notwithstanding the president's claim that it was just around the corner.

HUME: What would you say, then, the prospects are for something on the order of a billion dollars in new money for the Iraqi economy?

HOYER: I think that the Congress has a responsibility, which we haven't done over the course of this war, of serious oversight to see how the money is going to be spent and whether it's going to be effectively spent, because it hasn't happened in the past.

HUME: You're not saying, though, that it can't pass, are you?

HOYER: I'm not saying that. I'm saying that it's going to get careful scrutiny and oversight to see whether or not we believe that is a good expenditure of the taxpayer's dollar.

HUME: Whatever has been tried so far, there's been a tendency, we've just kind of rocked along...

HOYER: Yes, sir.

HUME: ... and things have gotten worse, by many measurements.

If that continues, regardless of what the president is trying, do you think there will come a day in the not-too-distant future when there will be an effort coming from the House to cut off the funds for this war?

HOYER: I don't want to anticipate that, Brit.

Clearly, first of all, let me reiterate, the Democrats and Republicans are going to support the troops. We're not going to put the troops in any greater risk than they currently are. We're going to make sure they're supplied. We're going to make sure that they have the resources they need.

Having said that, there seems to be broad agreement, except in the White House, from the military, from the Hamilton-Baker commission, from the American public, that what we're doing is not working. And, frankly, I don't see this as a change in...

HUME: You don't see it as a change, but, on the other hand, adding troops, changing — the command is changing. Abizaid has moved out. Casey has moved out. General Petraeus, generally pretty highly regarded, will be the main man there. Vice Admiral Fallon will be the new CENTCOM commander. And yet you say no change here?

HOYER: Let me except (ph) the fact that these are all good people, but the fact that we have a new secretary of defense or the fact that we have a new CENTCOM commander or Petraeus on the ground in Iraq, if the administration's policy remains the same, then we're going to have the same-old-same-old.

We have urged in, as you know, three letters that the Democratic leadership sent — Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter talking about redeployment.

HUME: Redeployment means leaving, though, doesn't it?

HOYER: No, not necessarily. Redeployment means perhaps, kind of, stepping back and making sure, as General Casey indicated and General Abizaid made clear, that you need to give to the Iraqis a very clear signal, "This is your responsibility to bring security and stability to your country, not U.S. troops. We can help. We can help on logistics. We can help on training. But this is your fight. And if your country is going to be stable, it is because you show a willingness to make it so."

HUME: Let me move to this week, this remarkable week, when you had the historic moment of Speaker Pelosi emerging, the first woman ever to hold that. You got a 100-hour strategy and a number of measures, some of which I mentioned with Senator McConnell, to address a number of points.

You're going to push this through in the way that a majority can in the House. The Republicans are not going to really have much of a say in this. That certainly won't be the first time the minority has been in that position; let's stipulate that right away.

(LAUGHTER)

But in retrospect, when planning this, do you think it was possibly a mistake to do it that way? I mean, even if the Republicans were given a shot at this, you can hold your majority together, particularly this first week, you could have stopped whatever they wanted to do.

Was it not a mistake to make it look like you're going to step on their necks in the first week?

HOYER: Brit, I think not. And if you look at what we've done so far, essentially adopting four different things — on rules, on ethics, on how we're going to move forward, on PAYGO, fiscal responsibility — overwhelming support, as you have seen. I mean, we had one vote that was unanimous; one vote that only Dan Burton voted against; another vote on fiscal responsibility, 280 people in the House — we only have 233 — voted for that. So we've moved forward.

Now, as you point out, Speaker Pelosi indicated that there were six items that we were going to move on in the first 100 hours. And they were debated fully over the last six months of the campaign. And the American public said, "We want a change. We want a new direction. And we're giving Democrats the responsibility to do that." So we are indicating to the public that we are moving ahead.

9/11 Commission recommendations? Going to be adopted. Clearly, they have been debated for well over a year. We've done some, but the commission gave us D's, E's and F's and incompletes on others.

E's, that's an old-school term.

(LAUGHTER)

HUME: I got a few of those myself.

HOYER: Yes, right, I got you.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not going to admit to that, but, in any event, that's where that comes from.

We're going to make sure the 9/11 Commission — interoperability, reduction of nuclear items around the world, Nunn-Lugar is strengthened — we're going to move ahead on those. Then we're going to move on college costs...

HUME: Right. Got you.

HOYER: ... minimum wage — you know, the litany.

HUME: Right. Let's talk about...

HOYER: Prescription drugs.

HUME: ... the pay-as-you-go system. You've also promised to do something about the alternative minimum tax.

HOYER: Yes.

HUME: The problem of that alternative minimum tax, of course, is it raises a lot of money. And if you were to try to adjust that, undo it, fix it, you'd need to find some more money somewhere to obey your pay-as-you-go policy.

How can you do that without a tax increase in other parts of the...

HOYER: Brit, first of all, let me say something — maybe not. That is to say, maybe the AMT can be fixed in a zero-sum game. That is to say, you can adjust the AMT without, in effect, either raising more money or reducing revenues.

HUME: Do you think that's possible?

HOYER: It's possible. We're looking at that.

And, obviously, the AMT was designed in the '80s to get those corporations or individuals who were making vast sums of money but who were not paying taxes because they were relying on preferences.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: ... fixing it is very popular.

HOYER: So doing away with it is not what we ought to do. But adjusting it so that people, for instance, making up to $250,000, $300,000 not have a tax increase imposed upon them, not because necessarily their tax bracket should have changed, but by inflation and by the operation of the AMT, they are paying additional taxes. We don't want to see that happen.

HUME: You heard Senator McConnell say that he thinks an immigration bill can be done. Do you now think so, as well?

HOYER: I think so.

As a matter of fact, Brit, it was interesting, when Nancy Pelosi and I met with the president — as you recall, we had a lunch shortly after the election. The president was very gracious.

And one of the things that we brought up — we didn't discuss substance — was the immigration bill. And he smiled and he said, "You know, I think I'm going to have a lot easier time dealing with you on immigration than I had dealing with the House Republican leadership on immigration." I think that's the case.

HUME: You also heard Senator McConnell speaking optimistically about this situation: Divided government being the only one in which a Social Security fix is possible. Do you agree with him on that?

HOYER: I don't know that it's the only one, but it certainly is, from past history, a way in which it can be done. Past history being, you will recall Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill came together. Social Security was in crisis in the early '80s, 1981, '82. They came together; there was a commission. But it was really Reagan and O'Neill's willingness to sit down together, if not physically at least through their staff, and come up with a solution which stabilized Social Security for the next 60 years, '83 to 2043.

I think that model can be used again. I think we need to do it.

And, by the way, Social Security is much easier, in my opinion, to address than Medicare and Medicaid, which are going to hit us sooner and harder.

HUME: And you don't think there's much chance you're going to...

HOYER: Well, I think, you know, we could have — and I've discussed this with the president — we could have an extraordinary opportunity here. We have a president who has two years left to go in his term.

HUME: Right.

HOYER: He wants to make a record.

I talked to Secretary Paulson in my office just a few days ago and indicated to him that Speaker Pelosi and myself, I was sure Harry Reid and Dick Durbin and the Democrats are prepared to sit down, as Mitch McConnell indicated, with no preconditions, as we felt the president put forward on his private accounts in the previous discussion which the American public rejected.

HUME: Can you override a veto, a presidential veto, on federal funding for stem-cell research? I know that's one of your priority items. It's going to pass here in the House.

HOYER: It is going to pass. And hopefully it's going to — we believe it will pass the Senate.

Can we override a veto? Doubtful. Depends upon what the Republicans do, both in the Senate and in the House.

But let me say something, Brit. The six for '06 that we are putting forward — those six agenda items on 9/11, minimum wage, college costs coming down, energy, taxes being diverted, revenues being diverted to alternative, and stem cell — the fact of the matter is, over 70 percent of the American public, in polling, supports all of those proposals.

So I am hopeful, A, the president will reconsider. He's reconsidered on minimum wage. He's already indicated he's going to sign the minimum-wage bill.

HUME: If he gets the safeguards he wants, though. Are you prepared to give him those?

HOYER: We'll see. We're going to pass the minimum wage through the House...

HUME: Clean?

HOYER: Clean. We believe it ought to be passed clean. It is, I think, a national...

HUME: He won't accept it that way, though.

HOYER: Well, we'll see. We believe it's a national scandal that the lowest rung of workers in America have not gotten a raise in 10 years. It's the longest time in the history of minimum wage that we haven't raised it.

HUME: Congressman Hoyer, we've about exhausted our time. Thank you for coming. It's good to see you, sir.

HOYER: Brit, I enjoyed being with you. Thank you very much.

HUME: You bet.

HOYER: We look forward to a new direction for our country.

HUME: All right, sir. Thank you.

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