Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Congress is likely to approve only a months-long extension of an expiring payroll-tax cut.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican House Campaign Committee.
Thank you for joining us in the studio. Mr. Chairman, let’s start with the payroll tax. It looks like Congress is going to get through an omnibus spending bill before you go home for Christmas, but the payroll tax is still hanging out there with a lot of things on it. Will you get a payroll tax extension? Or will it be a short, two-month extension or nothing?
REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: I think what it’s going to have to be is a realistic approach for us to understand that we need to do something for the American people. Their take-home pay is very important. The economics of employment are not working by the president. And House Republicans want to make sure -
HUNT: So what’s going to happen?
SESSIONS: We’re going to have to find a way to cut a deal, as you know, because the Republican ideas and the president’s ideas.
HUNT: So you think there will be a compromise? Will it be long-term or short-term?
SESSIONS: I think it will be short-term.
HUNT: Short-term. Let me ask you this, though. You just - back in September, you called the payroll tax a “horrible idea” and said your candidates would have no difficulty explaining why they want the tax to expire, the tax holiday. Why - why the change of mind?
SESSIONS: Well, I didn’t change my mind. It is a bad idea. But when you combine that with something else - for instance, when we voted the extension of the tax cuts - when you mirror that with something that’s a job stimulus, an economic growth package, then it’s a good deal.
SESSIONS: Now is the wrong time - now is the wrong time to have the American worker take home less pay.
HUNT: So what has to go in it as part of a deal for the Republicans?
SESSIONS: Well, I think -
HUNT: I mean, what’s the bottom line? Not what you - you know, you desire, but what’s the bottom line?
SESSIONS: Job growth. How about Keystone pipeline?
HUNT: So you won’t support anything that doesn’t have Keystone pipeline in it?
SESSIONS: I won’t support something that does not show job growth and the development -
HUNT: Could you support something that doesn’t have Keystone pipeline in it?
SESSIONS: I’ll support something that’s about job growth. That’s what we need. We need jobs in this country.
HUNT: So Keystone pipeline is not the all-litmus test?
SESSIONS: It may not be, but we are paying more in unemployment compensation than we’re receiving revenue from employers, and that is a bad sign for America.
HUNT: Let’s put on your campaign hat for a minute. The Democrats, through October, are out - House Democrats are out raising the Republicans - not by much, $3.4 million or something. The party that doesn’t control the House almost never out raises the incumbent party. Why are they doing so much better?
SESSIONS: Let’s give credit to Nancy Pelosi. She is out all over this country talking to the left wing of this country. They love her. She used to be the - before she was a member of Congress, the national finance chairman for the Democrat campaign committee. She knows where -
HUNT: So why isn’t John Boehner or Kevin McCarthy talking to the right wing of the Republican Party?
SESSIONS: Well, why is John Boehner out talking every weekend and raising money? John is doing that.
HUNT: But he’s not doing as well as - he’s not doing as well as Nancy Pelosi.
SESSIONS: It’s hard to do it full time. That’s what Nancy’s doing.
SESSIONS: We’re trying to, with John Boehner and Eric Cantor, we’re trying to run the House of Representatives from a perspective of trying to make sure we’re about regular order, getting good legislation, talking to people, and making sure that we’re working with this White House on things that are good.
HUNT: But I checked. There are challengers - Democratic challengers, Arizona, New York, New Hampshire, they’re out raising Republican incumbents. That’s pretty unusual, isn’t it?
SESSIONS: It is not unusual, because we’ve spent a lot of time in Washington focusing on trying to grow the economy. We’ll be just fine. We’re a couple million behind. You watch us.
HUNT: OK. Your finance chairman, Vern Buchanan of Florida, is under federal investigation for alleged campaign violations, nothing proved and nothing charged, even. The House Ethics Committee is looking at him, too. Should he step aside until this is resolved?
SESSIONS: Vern Buchanan has been forthright and brought the information to the committee and to the Department of Justice himself. He gave the information to them. I have looked at this in detail. Who knows what will eventually turn up?
HUNT: But it’s -
SESSIONS: I have confidence in Vern Buchanan. He is not the issue. The issue is the ability to resolve quickly what he brought to the committee and to the Department of Justice. He’s the one that provided the information, by the way, publicly about this.
SESSIONS: He’s being forthright, and I’m very proud of Vern.
HUNT: Let me ask you about the Republican brand name. It was pretty darn good in October and November of 2010. It has really dropped in every single poll, NBC, Pew, CBS. I mean, I’ve looked at all of them, and the Republican brand name has dropped considerably. It’s in worse shape than the Democratic brand name. Why? And does it matter?
SESSIONS: The brand name of Republican is drawing a lot of attention and focus because of our presidential candidates who are talking. Many times they’re talking about big, new, great ideas. Many times they’re attacking each other. I think the American people -
HUNT: And that’s why the brand name has gone down?
SESSIONS: I think - I think across the country, you know, this opportunity to support our ideas is really helping, but the opportunity to attack each other - we’ve had a candidate up for two or three weeks and then a candidate down for two or three weeks. We’ll get our footing real quickly.
HUNT: When you look at your House candidates - I know you’re neutral in the presidential race - does it matter who the nominee is? Does one candidate conceivably help down-ticket more than the other or hurt down-ticket more?
SESSIONS: I think what matters is that we get a candidate that is for growing our economy, making sure that we tame this Washington spending, and perhaps, most of all, listening to the American people on goals for our generation that we can achieve. And I think the president is in trouble when we get a good Republican who can tout -
HUNT: And you don’t see -
SESSIONS: - how we will move our economy.
HUNT: And you don’t see any difference, really, as far as being able to do that among the major candidates?
SESSIONS: I think our major contenders right now - Newt Gingrich understands exactly how to get this done, and so does Mitt Romney. They’ve both proven it, and Mitt Romney grew a lot of jobs.
HUNT: Let me ask you this. The frontrunner in polls is Newt Gingrich. The Republicans also say that they are the party of family values. Indeed, you’re a member of the Values Action Team in the House. Newt Gingrich’s personal past, two divorces, acknowledged adultery, not paying child support. Does that make it hard to have a standard-bearer of a party claiming to be the party of family values?
SESSIONS: If you look at Newt and his service to this great nation and his responsibilities that he has had over the period of time, I think Newt - if you look at him in aggregate or in the substance behind him, he deeply believes in the value of the American people, our family values system, which is directly related to growing jobs and having families be responsible for their own problems.
HUNT: Do you think that Newt Gingrich personifies family values?
SESSIONS: You know, what - what I would say is that Newt Gingrich is going to go sell himself across the country. And if he effectively does that, he can become our nominee.
HUNT: And the past doesn’t matter?
SESSIONS: I think all pasts matter. But what I do think, it’s where we’re going to head and where we’re going to grow. And whether it’s Jack Kennedy or Bill Clinton or others, the personal lives do come into play, and people do judge you for that. Our country needs someone who can lead and lead effectively to the betterment of the American dream. And Newt Gingrich is pretty good at that.
HUNT: Steve Israel, your counterpart, was on this show last week, and he said the Democrats will pick up at least 20 House seats and it’ll be nip and tuck as to whether it’s 25.
SESSIONS: The day before last year’s election, the Democrats were touting they were going to keep the majority. I look at the polling. I see it just as much as Steve does. They’re in trouble. Republicans will hold the House, zero chance we’re going to lose it.
HUNT: OK, he gave me his prediction. Will you pick? Will you actually gain seats? Or will you lose just a few?
SESSIONS: I’ve been saying for quite some time, publicly, plus 16. We’re going to pick up seats across this country. You know, if you look at where we are in Illinois, if you look at where we are in North Carolina, if you look at where we are in Arkansas, and Oklahoma, we’re picking up those incumbent seats. And watch us in Utah.
HUNT: All right, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much.
SESSIONS: You bet.
HUNT: And when we come back, the Iraq war officially ends and the Republican race gets heated, as the Iowa caucuses near. Bloomberg reporters are next.
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