TEXT OF INTERVIEW
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: As this year ends we say goodbye to a GOP-dominated Congress. The New Year will bring a return to Democratic control of both houses. But the new Congress will find itself facing a lot of challenges, in part because of work its colleagues didn’t complete before leaving. John Dimsdale is our Washington Bureau Chief. Welcome John.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Good morning, Mark.
THOMAS: A lot of work on the federal budget still remains doesn’t it?
DIMSDALE: Yeah the old Congress failed to pass nine of the 11 spending bills that run the government and the stop-gap measure expires in the middle of February so there’s a gap between then and the beginning of the next fiscal year, October. The incoming budget appropriations chairmen for Democrats, David Obey of Wisconsin in the House and West Virginia’s Robert Byrd in the Senate, say that they’re not even going to try to pass individual budget bills for the rest of the fiscal year. They’re just going to extend the stop-gap measure. Now the bad news there is that thousands of government programs, worthy line items, health, education, environment, are going to fall short of inflation from last year, or population increases that would normally increase their budgets. The good news is the government spends less and, you know, there’s no vehicle for these earmarks.
THOMAS: Speaking of earmarks, what can we look forward to from the Democrats in that way?
DIMSDALE: They want to limit those earmarks. For example, Congress might put $1 million for the National Institutes of Health and they would say, well you know we’/re going to give you a million, but $200,000 has to be spent at this university and another $100,000 at that hospital. So that way the member of Congress gets to go back to the district and say ‘look what I brought back to you.’ It’s going to be tough to reform that. The Democrats also want to restore the old pay-as-you-go rules from the 1990s. It means before you can approve new spending or new tax cuts you have to identify how the government’s going to pay for it. It might just stick because many conservatives, fiscal conservatives, like it as well as the Democrats.
THOMAS: Lobbyists had the key to the front door with GOP lawmakers thanks to the K Street project. Are they already lining up to be the best friend of Democrats?
DIMSDALE: You know these lobbyists know how Washington works and they know how to adapt. If anything the Democrats’ takeover is good for them because they can tell their clients ‘you know it’s a whole new ballgame here, you’ve gotta play to win, you’ve got to pony up some fees and we’ll represent you with the new people.’ They also know the newcomers are ready to stay in power for the next election. So the same old channels of campaign contributions are still going to be flowing with money.
THOMAS: Having new party control means new chairmen for important committees. Who are some of the ones we need to pay close attention to?
DIMSDALE: Well there’s the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee. It’s gonna transfer from a conservative Californian Bill Thomas to a New Yorker Charles Rangel. The House Banking Committee, more accurately the Financial Services Committee in the House. Barney Frank is a veteran Massachusetts liberal House member. He takes over from Michael Oxley of Sarbanes-Oxley fame. And Frank’s gonna get a lot of support over on the Senate side from his colleague from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, who takes control of the important Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee from a conservative Wyoming Republican Michael Enzi.
THOMAS: Thanks John.
DIMSDALE: You’re welcome.
THOMAS: John Dimsdale is the Marketplace Washington Bureau Chief. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.
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