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Gephardt Says Dems Serve Hispanic Interests
Editor's Note: Last week, as the House of Representatives prepared to vote on the first phase of President Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal, PoliticoMagazine.com's Editor and Publisher James E. Garcia conducted the following interview with Democratic House Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
The interview with Mr. Gephardt -- regarded as a likely contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 -- is the first in a series that PoliticoMagazine.com will conduct in the coming weeks with leaders of Congress about issues affecting the Latino community. Look for our upcoming interview with Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, Sen. Tom Daschle and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
The interview with Mr. Gephardt was conducted by telephone on March 8.
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Politico: President Bush and the Republicans in the House are promoting a $1.6 trillion tax cut. Where do you stand on a tax cut?
Gephardt: We think the Republican tax cut proposal is ill advised. We think our alternative tax cut, which is more reasonable in cost, is better fro the economy, better for interest rates, and especially better for working families with children. People that have a larger payroll tax liability than they do an income tax liability. People who are trying to get out of poverty and into the middle class. We think it's much better approach. So we're very strongly against the Republican effort to do this without a budget, without any sense of what it does to Social Security and Medicare, education and prescription drugs. Their tax bill is focused primarily on the top one percent of earners, people earning more than $600,000 a year.
Politico: The tax cut proposal you and the Democrats have set forth is $900 billion. Is that a reasonable amount given the uncertainty of what could happen with the economy over the next several years?
Gephardt: I think it is a reasonable amount. It's about one third of the amount that the Republicans want for a tax cut. We think it is sensible given the vagaries of the projections. We know that projections are often wrong, probably always wrong. But we think that given the size of the surplus, given the projections, that a cautious, moderate, sensible approach isabout a $900 billion tax cut, especially if aimed at people in the middle class and people trying to get into the middle class.
Politico: Secretary of Commerce Don Evans has said that the recommendation from the Census Bureau that the federal government should not adjust the 2000 population count based on statistical sampling is the right decision. What do you believe is really the motive behind that decision by Mr. Evans?
Gephardt: Well, I think they're trying to affect redistricting in a positive way [for Republicans]. You'll notice that they didn't say they weren't going to use sampling for the purpose of figuring out who gets what federal funds, but only for the purpose of redistricting. We're going to continue to fight until the Census Bureau is given the necessary time to complete the adjusted count and release those numbers. The reason we're doing it is because we want to make sure those who were missed in the census are counted. The 2000 census had a net undercount that was smaller than 1990, but there were still millions of people left out. And African Americans and Hispanics were missed at a much higher rate than non-Hispanic whites. We think that this is a very important issue.
Politico: You say sampling results could still be used to impact federal funding, but continuing the fight won't impact the redistricting process itself, will it?
Gephardt: Well, we're still hopeful that we can affect that. We're still exploring ways that we could have sampling affect the redistricting process.
Politico: I thought that once Mr. Evans made his decision that it was a done deal.
Gephardt: Well, it doesn't look good. But we're continuing to fight it.
Politico: But sampling can be applied to the federal funding decisions?
Gephardt: That's a later decision.
Politico: And when does that decision come?
Gephardt: I'm not sure. But it's certainly not in this time period.
Politico: Do you the Bush administration is going to allow the sampling results on how to allocate federal funding?
Gephardt: I have no idea.
Politico: Have you given any thought to how the Democrats tax cut proposal will specifically affect Latinos nationally?
Gephardt: Our plan focuses its relief on working couples and families with children by providing an average tax cut of over $500 to those groups. The Republican proposal gives a disproportionate share of tax relief to the wealthy -- which of course leaves out the working poor and leaves out over half of Latino children. Our proposal provides refunds for lower income working families worth as much as $320 for a couple with two children. Our marriage penalty relief would total $528 for this family, and they'd get a maximum tax cut of about $850. We think that's where the money ought to be focused. And, as you know, the future success of families, and certainly Hispanic families, depends largely upon tax policies that protect and help children.
Politico: There have been several thousand more Border Patrol agents sent to guard our southwest border with Mexico in recent years. But overall illegal immigration across that border has not been reduced. Is the plan in place working, especially given the growing number of immigrants dying as a result of being forced to cross in more rural regions of the border instead of places such as San Diego and El Paso?
Gephardt: First of all I think that protecting our borders is a matter of national security. The reason why we protect our borders are concerns about terrorism and narcotics. And there always needs to be a greater effort with Mexico in this concern. The Border Patrol programs,I think are working. I think the proof is that three of the major sectors in our economy -- construction, agriculture and the service industry -- are asking for a [immigrant] guest worker program. If our border program was not working, I don't think that would be happening. The border is a complex area with a lot very special needs. And I have advocated, and many of my colleagues have advocated, that we come up with a comprehensive border development plan, including economic development, environmental cleanup, transportation, housing and health care. I was a leader in trying to get border (development) institutions....set up [after Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement]. But frankly they've never gotten the resources that they need in order to fulfill their promise. Hispanic Caucus Chair [Silvestre] Reyes is the leader on border development in Congress. So I'm really am optimistic that we'll be able to come up with a good plan. And hopefully we can get it funded, because ultimately that's the way to deal with these complicated issues.
Politico: The Republicans have been making a big push to recruit Latinos to their party. President Bush has had some success. At the same time there's been an increasingly common refrain that perhaps the Democratic Party has taken the Latino vote for granted. Is the Democratic Party serving the interests of Latinos and can keep you keep them in the fold in the coming years?
Gephardt: Well, the Democratic Party is going to continue its effort to reach out to the Hispanic community. In the last election, 62 percent Hispanics nationally voted for the Democratic party. In Texas, 77 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic Congressional candidates. Clearly the Latino vote has grown in size and influence over the last decade. If one-third voted for the GOP that represents the diversity of the Hispanic American community. You can't treat the Latino vote as a bloc vote. It's not a bloc vote. But actions are what count, not words. And in the Democratic Party we don't use Latino communities as a background for an event. We actually work on legislation that helps improve their lives and their future. Whether you're talking about housing, transportation, education, health care, Social Security or immigration, it's really the Democratic Party that is, in a tangible way, meeting and dealing with the needs of the Hispanic community, and every community of people across this country.
Politico: Are there specific legislative proposals in this session that Latinos will feel are addressing issues important to them?
Gephardt: Obviously, the tax cut.... We think that will be of particular interest in the Latino community. We are working hard for improving public education, and Hispanic serving institutions [colleges and universities]. The Republicans have wanted to take those institutions into a different subcommittee because they're always trying to cut funding for those institutions. So we're going to be fighting very hard for [Latinos] because we know that education is such a critical issue.
On immigration, we're going to continue to try to get amnesty for many of the groups who have come here from Latin America, Central America. We think that's an exceedingly important issue. The Republicans would not go along with us at the end of the last session. We're going to continue to fight for those issues because these folks are in the United States, they're paying taxes, they're working hard, and their contribution to the country needs to be recognized.
Politico: Do you think that a bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants will be passed in this session?
Gephardt: We don't run the Congress. All we can do is make suggestions and try to put together bipartisan coalitions. We're going to try to do that.
Politico: And what's your position on guest worker legislation?
Gephardt: I think it's something to be closely considered. But our attitude has been that we want to consider it in the context of other legislation that has to do with immigration, like the amnesty proposal.
Politico: Racial profiling. President Bush announced in his address to Congress that he has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to come up with a plan to address the issue. How sincere do you think Bush is about addressing that issue?
Gephardt: I think it's a problem all over the country. And I'm happy that the administration is willing to look at it. I assume they're sincere. I hope, first, they'll put the facts out on what they have found. Then if we need legislation to be able to affect it in a positive way, we ought to do that. And I would obviously be very interested in doing that. I think that before we go further in passing legislation we need to let this administration effort go forward and see where it takes us.
Politico: Is there real leadership in the Democratic Party? The kind of leadership that's needed to take the party into the next presidential cycle, the next congressional cycle and beyond. And do you have any interest in running for president in the next election?
Gephardt: I really think we have strong leadership, and not just in the House. I'm a big fan of [Sen.] Tom Daschle. I think the Senate Democrats are doing a great job. I think we've got a lot of great Democratic governors around the country. And I don't think we have a shortage of leadership. We have the right ideas. We have real passion for those ideas.
My focus is to win the House back in 2002. We're working very hard on that on a daily basis. It really takes all of my time. It's what I'm interested in doing. It's what our focus is. I feel we have the right... stand on the issues that people really care about, like education, health care, Social Security, Medicare, taxes. I think we'll have a very good election in 2002. And after that the future will take care of itself.
Politico: Thank you, Mr. Gephardt.