National Public Radio "All Things Considered" - Transcript
MS. BLOCK: The 110th Congress is in its final days. Over the last two years we've talked from time to time with two freshman members of that class: Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona; and Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois.
They both won reelection last month and we thought we'd check in one last time, before they lose their freshman status and move up a bit in the hierarchy.
Congresswoman Giffords joins us from Tucson. Welcome back to the program.
REP. GIFFORDS: Thanks for having me.
MS. BLOCK: And Congressman Roskam is with us from Chicago and welcome back to you.
REP. ROSKAM: Thank you!
MS. BLOCK: And I want to ask you first about the issue of the week -- probably the month, really -- before Congress and that's the proposed bailout of the auto industry.
Let me start with you, Congresswoman Giffords. You consider yourself a fiscal conservative, a Blue Dog Democrat. Should the big three get a bailout?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, I'm not convinced that a $34 billion federal assistance program is either responsible or appropriate right now for the auto companies. I'm really concerned about the transparency, the accountability and the conditionality of what's being talked about today, tomorrow on Capitol Hill.
There is a lot that has to change. And fundamentally, when I think about the problems I have running my family's tire and automotive company, times change, economics change. And I want to make sure that these companies are really serious about making the necessary changes, transitions and planning that is going to be imperative to make sure that we have a vital industry.
So there was a lot of disappointment when the CEOs came to Capitol Hill several weeks ago. If any additional money is planned, I don't see why it can't be carved out of the $700 billion program that Congress passed a couple of months ago.
MS. BLOCK: The money already appropriated, you're saying?
REP. GIFFORDS: Correct.
MS. BLOCK: Congressman Roskam, what about you? What's your position on the bailout?
REP. ROSKAM: I was pretty underwhelmed by the presentation of the CEOs -- not just the style of the presentation, but obviously the substance of it. And it essentially seemed like they were coming to Congress saying, please give us $25 billion to help us with a cash flow problem, but without a real full disclosure about what their intentions are in terms of using it.
I asked the three CEOS that animated the hope in them that $25 billion was going to be enough. And they said, well, we believe that we're at the bottom of the trough in terms of the auto market right now and that next quarter is going to be better. And I don't think they've met that burden.
And ironically, there's a subtlety to it in that 25 billion (dollars) sort of quickly merged into 34 billion (dollars) without really much conversation.
MS. BLOCK: Over the past two years we've talked to you about some of the key issues -- the really tough issues that have divided Congress: immigration, the troop surge to Iraq, the bailout of the financial industry just in October. What would you say was the toughest vote that you had to cast in your first term?
REP. ROSKAM: Well, I voted against the $700 billion bailout for the financial markets. And I would categorize that as the most difficult vote, because there was a real urgency and a sense of near unanimity that the credit markets were in fact seizing up. But I voted against the package, because I didn't think it was going to lead to the result that we were being told was going to un-seize the markets.
Those votes create some churn inside and you do need the wisdom of Solomon at times on them.
MS. BLOCK: And Congresswoman Giffords, you voted against the bailout and voted for the bailout. What would you say your toughest vote was this last term?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, that was a very hard vote. I mean, the first time the vote came around, my constituents -- thousands were calling. And I laugh -- I joke that it was split 50/50: 50 percent "no", 50 percent "Hell no! Do not vote for this bailout!"
But then on Monday, after the vote took place, $1.2-$1.3 trillion was lost in the stock market and a lot of my retirees were calling me and saying, look, I just lost 20 percent of my retirement. People were calling me that lost 50 percent of their portfolios and people really understood that inaction simply wasn't an option for us.
So when the vote came later, the bill got better. It included, I think, better accountability measures. It included a Senate package with very important programs that were tax credits that my constituents all depended on and were important to them. It was a very, very tough vote.
MS. BLOCK: When we first talked to you both -- it was the first week you came to Washington in January of 2007 -- and I'm going to quote you to yourselves here: Congresswoman Giffords, you said you were "very excited and optimistic about taking the country in a new direction." Congressman Roskam, you said you were "looking forward to reaching across the aisle for areas of common ground."
As you finish your first term, do you think you've got a more realistic -- maybe more jaundiced view of how Congress works? Maybe the glasses aren't quite so rosy.
REP. ROSKAM: Well, we were able to reach across the aisle. In my home state of Illinois we had a situation where there was a large oil company that wanted to enhance its pollution capabilities in Lake Michigan, which is the source of drinking water in the overwhelming majority of my district. We were able to put together a bipartisan coalition of not just Chicago-area members of Congress, but Great Lakes-area members of Congress, to stop that and to stand up for our clean water.
You know, in fact, the more your -- more time you spend in Congress, the more relationships you develop on the other side of the aisle and I'm actually very hopeful about the possibilities for continuing those types of relationships.
MS. BLOCK: And Congresswoman Giffords?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, I'm still excited, which is great, because it's not easy getting to Washington, D.C. from Tucson Arizona! So being able to get on that airplane every week and wanting to go do the best job you can for your people that you represent is critical.
But I look back at the last couple of years of being able to raise the minimum wage the first time in 10 years. We cut in half the interest rates for student loans. We implemented the bipartisan recommendations of the 9/11 commission.
We realize in the Congress that the American people want us to work together. They want us to put the partisanship and the divisiveness aside.
MS. BLOCK: Okay, you guys are both preaching happy talk here. But there have to have been moments -- I have to believe there were moments when you came home and were just gnashing your teeth about what went on in Congress that day, no? Be honest with me.
REP. ROSKAM: (Laughs.)
MS. BLOCK: No one wants to speak first.
REP. ROSKAM: Well, look, I mean, it's obviously not all roses and sunshine every day. There's a lot of hard work that goes into legislating. I don't think either one of us are here pumping sunshine and saying it's all great all the time.
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, there was a huge disappointment that I had, that unfortunately probably came down to partisanship and politics, and that was passing comprehensive immigration reform.
MS. BLOCK: And this was a big issue for you -- you've told us over the years.
REP. GIFFORDS: Huge! I mean, you know, we have the most porous part of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Tucson sector. This is something the president really wanted, but ultimately, the bill failed in the Senate and it was very nasty.
So the problem hasn't gone away, but it's still greatly important to the American people -- particularly the people in Arizona. And that's an area where the Congress truly did fail and we're going to have to go after it again in the start of January.
MS. BLOCK: Well, Congressman Roskam and Congresswoman Giffords, it's been good talking with you over the last couple of years in your first term. Thanks very much.
REP. ROSKAM: Thank you.
REP. GIFFORDS: Thanks for having us.
MS. BLOCK: That's Republican Pete Roskam of Illinois and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. They'll both be sworn into their second term in Congress on January 6th.