OTR Interviews

Reps. Ryan and Van Hollen Make Bipartisan Attempt to Turn Congress Into 'Do-Somethings' on Wasteful Government Spending

House Budget Committee leaders Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen team up to turn Congress from 'do-nothings' to 'do somethings' on unnecessary government spending


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 30, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The deficit battle, the Super Committee disaster -- what in the world is going on here in Washington? Lately, all Americans see is fighting and nothing getting done. But tonight there may be a glimmer of hope. The top Republican and Democrat on the House Budget Committee are teaming up to tackle the deficit. Congressman Paul Ryan and Congressman Chris Van Hollen have just introduced a bill to help cut wasteful spending. Now, we spoke to the congressmen earlier today.


VAN SUSTEREN: Congressmen, nice to see both of you.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see a Democrat and a Republican sitting down together. I know it happens lots of times and we don't see it often on TV. Let me talk about the bill that you introduced today. Let me start with you first, Congressman Van Hollen. The line-item veto -- explain what that is, and then -- well, after you explain the bill.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, this is an important measure to try and increase accountability for Congress when it comes to spending. So the way it works is this. If Congress passes a big appropriations bill that has lots of stuff stuffed in it, the president can say, I don't really think we need to spend money on this item and this item and this item. And this will require Congress then to act on the recommendations of the presidents for cut -- that he wants to cut.

So right now, a lot of people try and stuff, you know, special, you know, provisions into these spending bills. And this will provide greater accountability, oversight and scrutiny.

VAN SUSTEREN: As it stands now without the line-item veto, if the president gets this big bill from Congress, which -- let's say it has a whole bunch of fat in it, sort of -- even some silly projects, he either has to accept it or reject it, right?

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS.: The whole thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: He can't just say...

RYAN: The whole thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... I'm not paying for that, we shouldn't do that...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... so that this brings it back.

RYAN: Take it or leave it. You know...

VAN SUSTEREN: Take it...


RYAN: Take it or leave it, the entire bill. And what happens is at the 11th hour -- and both parties have done this -- they stuff these provisions in at the 11th hour. The rain forest museum -- remember that one? That came in at the 11th hour, and he has to take that along with all the rest of the things that are necessary and proper.

This tool lets the president pull that piece of pork out, send it back to Congress, and then we have to vote up and down on it on its merits. We can't duck the vote. We can't amend it. And so what this will do will help embarrass pork out of these bills. It will help make members think twice about tucking these things in these spending bills at the last minute.

So we think it's sort of a tool of embarrassment. And this isn't going to solve all our fiscal problems, but it's going to help us attack the culture of wasteful Washington spending that has seeped into the process by both political parties. We banned earmarks here in Congress this year, but we think this takes it a step further of going after just a lot of the waste that gets tucked into these bills at the last minute.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, this is -- many people remember, Congressman Van Hollen, that there was a line-item veto case, that we had a statute before that was passed, and it went to the Supreme Court and it was struck down as unconstitutional. How is this bill different from that earlier run where it was declared unconstitutional, that method?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's different for this reason. And Paul and I both agree that the earlier Supreme Court decision was correct because what happened there was Congress would send the president a spending bill, and the Congress has the power of the purse. Under the old line-item veto provisions, the president can say, OK, I don't want to spend money on this item and I don't want to spend money on that item without further action by Congress.

What this does is the president has to pull out the items that he or she doesn't want to spend money on, but then Congress has to act.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it goes back to Congress? That's the big difference?

VAN HOLLEN: (INAUDIBLE) what's called expedited procedure, meaning it has to come up for a vote. As Paul said, it's an up-or-down vote on this item of spending that the executive has now said we don't need, the federal government should not be spending money on this thing. So it's going to mean a lot of members are going to think twice up front before they ask for a spending item that they don't think they can defend under the full light of day.

VAN SUSTEREN: This is a really good idea, so let me go to you since your House runs the House of Representatives right now. This parallels a bill in the Senate that was passed last January, right?

RYAN: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what took you so long? I mean, because you know the American people, they are in an awful hurry to get things on and this seems like a wise way to look at spending. Why does it take a year to catch up?

RYAN: I pass this had in 2005, the last time we were in majority, and then it died in the Senate. We are seeking to pass it this session but we have partners in the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, who are in favor of it, and the White House does support it. So we think the planets have aligned so we can get it done, because this time we think we've got it lined up.

VAN SUSTEREN: But why did it take since January?

RYAN: Because people like the idea, some members of Congress, of being able to tuck narrow spending provisions in these bills without having to justify them on their own merits, and that system, which is part of the corrosive culture of spending up here, propagated by both parties, is one we just can't afford anymore. So we believe we've got the momentum on our side. We've been fighting for this kind of accountability for a long time, and we think the time has come for it and that's why we are pushing it now.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is going on up here? Why does it seem like the American people think things just aren't getting done. They see all the fighting and on the one hand it's nice to see democracy and people argue their positions. But it's gotten to the point the nation is in an economic crisis. We've gone from Simpson-Bowles. We've gone from the deficit vote in August and then the super committee. Why can't things get done?

VAN HOLLEN: Greta, obviously this is as a result of deep disagreements on policy issues. But I would hope if we are able to come together and compromise on some issues. While this measure won't solve the deficit problem, it is an important step. Again, I hope that we are able to work out some of the other pressing issues right now. I think we should extend the payroll tax holiday given the fragile economy. I think we should extend unemployment compensation, and we will have those debates and maybe we will find agreement on some of those issues. But for today we are pleased to come together on this measure.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I do see that. And even off-camera, it seems leak you guys like each other. No, I think the American people need to see that. It's very frustrating for the things that are so important that you can't breakthrough whatever that barrier is to get things done, even though people have the sort of strong ideology is that the American people are thinking we are desperate, do something.

RYAN: The other reason Chris and I are doing it, he and I are the top Republican and Democrat on the budget committee. We agree on this. So we wanted to show we aren't always at each other's throats all the time. There are things we can work together and agree on and get things done. That's the other reason we are doing this now of all times where it would be nice to see that every now and again, and that's why we are doing this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Will you get some resistance here?

VAN HOLLEN: We will probably get resistance on both sides of the isle.

RYAN: Both sides of the aisle, people who like to write spending bills are typically people who resist these kinds of reforms.

VAN SUSTEREN: But is it only people who have pet projects that will object or is there some overriding ideology? Is there some reason beyond I want my thing in the bill? Is there any other objection to it?

RYAN: The typical objection is the people who write these bills, the discretionary appropriations bills, like to have the ultimate amount of discretion with how they write those bills. And we want to limit that discretion to having more sunshine, more accountability, and this kind of a tool which can embarrass the wasteful spending that gets put into these bills. And the folks that don't like it are typically those want all total discretion, and we think that's been abused too much.

VAN HOLLEN: Right. The old objection, of course, to the original line item veto is you are giving the executive branch, the president too much authority because the president gets to decide of all the items that Congress said it wanted and has to spend money on, which ones he or she would not.

Why this is different is it comes back to Congress. But Congress can no longer duck this issue now. Congress has to vote on whether or not to keep these proposed spending items as part of the bill. Again, there will be resistance, but I think in the end of the day it will get done.

RYAN: Keep the power of Congress and keep the power of the purse in the legislative branch like the constitution says.

VAN SUSTEREN: When will the vote be?

RYAN: We will probably mark it up this year and have the vote next year.

VAN SUSTEREN: That seems so long in times of desperation.

RYAN: Probably January or February.

VAN SUSTEREN: We will come back and get a list of those who don't like it.


VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you both.