Online Extra: Q&A with Tom DeLay

We believe in what we're doing, and money has no influence on it whatsoever

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is one of the most influential lawmakers in Washington. Even in a closely divided chamber, he has managed to pass a staunchly conservative agenda. And although he has worked closely with the Bush White House, the GOP leadership and the President occasionally part ways, most recently on how to extend the child tax credit to poor families who were left out of the 2003 tax-cut bill. A former exterminator who ran his own company before being elected to the House, DeLay is known as a champion of small business.

After nearly 20 years in Congress, DeLay has begun expanding his reach beyond domestic issues. He and other Christian Conservatives have teamed up with leaders of Jewish organizations to support Israel's government. And the Texan has criticized China, Cuba, and Myanmar (formerly Burma) for human-rights violations.

The most prolific fund-raiser in the house, the Majority Leader has faced questions in recent days about his relationship with the energy company Westar (WR ). Critics allege that DeLay and other GOP leaders inserted a provision in the 2002 energy bill that would've exempted the company from a securities regulation. Another area of controversy: his attempt to redraw the Texas congressional map, which resulted in the Texas legislature's Democrats fleeing the state to deprive Texas Republicans of a quorum.

DeLay touched on these subjects and his agenda for the House in a June 17 press conference and subsequent interview with BusinessWeek Capitol Hill Correspondent Alexandra Starr. Edited excerpts from both the press conference and interview follow:

On Israel and the characterization of conflict in the Mideast as a "cycle of violence":

One side acts out of evil. The other side acts out of self-defense. Israel's response to terrorism is self-defense. Comparing the two is partly like suggesting crime is the police's fault. There is no moral equivalence between terrorists on the one hand and the government of their victims. The sooner the world speaks with one clear voice on this issue, the sooner peace will be a genuine possibility.

On accusations that DeLay, Representative Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Representative W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) accepted contributions from Westar, a Kansas-based energy company and in turn inserted a provision in the 2002 energy bill that would exempt it from a federal securities regulation:

It never ceases to amaze me that in this town people are so cynical that they want to attach money to issues, money to a bill, money to amendments. They hardly ever write that money is given to support people who think the same way. Westar supported people who were doing the things they believed in and wanted to see done.

Sure, there may have been elected officials who tie money to their actions. [But] most members are here to do the things that people sent us here to do. We believe in what we're doing, and money has no influence on it whatsoever.

On the child tax credit:

This was an issue generated by the Democrats after they voted against the tax bill. And at the beginning, they misrepresented what was actually happening. They were making the case that we were giving all these child tax credits to the rich and that working families don't get any. That's totally untrue. It was in our 2001 bill that working families would get the refund. The fight was over accelerating the credit.

We took a poorly written bill by the Senate and made it better. We gave poor working families acceleration and extended the life of that acceleration along with everyone else's to 2010. We've done that many times with the Senate, as recently as the 2003 tax bill. What they passed was unacceptable to the President and to us. The final package that got to the President was pretty much written by us and reflected the House Republicans' point of view.

On the "rift" between House and White House:

I don't see it as a rift at all. They came from outside of Washington, and over those first two years they realized that to get their agenda done, it's going to be the House to do it. Since 1995, the House has taken the lead on getting anything done.

You've got to know where the votes are and know what is and isn't possible when you write legislation. I take a long-term, strategic view of the entire agenda. I've been working on the agenda for next year, two years from now, because a lot of stuff has to be done on the front end.

The substance of the agenda:

Major tax reform, simplifying the tax code, including introducing a flat tax or a sales tax. Looking into what is the correct size of the government, as far as the tax burden it imposes on the American family.

Also regulatory reform -- how to make sure that necessary regulations are compatible with the free-market system. Rather than going after specifics, we're looking at how you reform the government so that regulations are proper, and the process reinvolves Congress rather than just leaving it up to the executive branch.

I'm a deregulator. I came into the political realm to try to bring free-market principles to government.

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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