Simpson on Budget Dealings and Gingrich

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, US Congressman (R-NJ 5th) Scott Garrett discussed unfinished business including the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), co-chair with Democrat Erskine Bowles of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, talked about his bipartisan plan for budget-cutting and the latest trouble in Congress. 

Spooked by Newt? 

Simpson said his experience dealing with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political wrangling over policy was indicative both of Congressional sausage-making, but also gave insight into a scorched earth leadership style that he would take into his presidency.

I’d be very spooked, not because of his personal life. It’s what he did – and I watched him – an extraordinary breach of trust.

Simpson described a deal orchestrated by Gingrich and some Republican lawmakers in both branches of Congress known as the Andrews Airbase group to remake fiscal policy - and the extraordinary betrayal engineered by Speaker Gingrich to President Bush and Senate Republicans.  

They met in confidence at Andrews Airbase and they said “look, we can get two year budgeting, we can get this, we can get this,” it was an extraordinary, sweeping proposal. And they said “but, it can’t work unless we get some revenue.” They went to [President] George [Bush], and they said “George, Mr. President, this is a thing that will solve things and do things for this country but we’re going to have to have revenue.” And George said, “well, read my lips is what I’ve said, but if you guys can do this and you can promise me you can get the votes in the House and Senate I will accede to that knowing what it will do to me politically, but I will do it for the country.”

And they said we’ll get it for you. And [Senator Bob] Dole came back to the Senate and I think the vote was about 60 to 30, it was a good bipartisan vote. And we got it done. It went to the House. And Newt got up on his hind legs... and he said “well, as a member of the group out there I voted for it, but now as a member of the House, an individual member, I’m going to vote against it and I hope many of my party will.” He took with him Armey and Delay, all the troops. Imagine the glee of the Democrats. I mean, they were just chuckling. They said: it’s a two-for. Newt broke his word and this is the end of George Bush cause of ‘read my lips.’ Go look at the roll call vote of that vote, and you will say to yourself: “man oh man, this is some guy.”