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Republican Rep. Tom Cole On Trump's Tax Plan And The Divided GOP

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. Congress is deeply divided. That's a line that could apply most any week, but it's especially apparent now as lawmakers try to fill in the thin outlines of President Trump's tax plan. We're joined now by Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. Good morning, Mr. Cole. Good to talk to you again, sir.

TOM COLE: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: We say thin outlines because we're talking about just a one-page document that calls for fewer tax brackets, fewer deductions and lower business tax. Yet, that's enough for you to oppose it. Why?

COLE: Well, I'm not opposed to the president's plan. And I think, frankly, we just wait - need to wait and see what the details of it are. There's a lot in there, frankly, I agree with. And this weekend, actually, the Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of writing the Republican-House version of a tax cut, is meeting through the weekend. And I think we'll start seeing text from them in the relatively near future. So, you know, over time, I would prefer a tax cut that paid for itself. In other words, it was revenue neutral or a tax reform plan that followed those guidelines. But again, I'm very interested in what the president has to say and look forward to the dialogue as we go forward.

SIMON: Well, let me follow up on when you're talking about revenue neutral, you're on the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

COLE: Correct.

SIMON: There's no government spending without you, really. Is the deficit as much a worry to you and other conservatives as it was under the previous administration? Again, President Trump and his treasury secretary say don't worry, all the growth these tax cuts are going to bring about will take care of the deficit.

COLE: Well, I do worry about the deficit. I think, you know, I wouldn't be cavalier about something when we're $19 trillion-plus into debt, and it gets worse every single day. But, you know, the real way to tackle this - and where I've been, frankly, disappointed in the president's position, I'm disappointed in his predecessor, President Obama's, position - you have to reform entitlement spending. That's the 70-plus percent of all federal spending. Sixty percent is simply Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So if you're not addressing those areas - those are the most rapidly growing parts of the budget - you don't have any hope of ever bringing in the - it into balance no matter what you do on the tax front.

SIMON: Yeah. But you're still open to tax cuts even if they aggravate the federal deficit.

COLE: Well, I would - if it resulted in higher growth so you could literally project out over time you're going to generate revenue, more revenue, than you lose - and by over time, I mean a 10-year budget window, that's what the Congressional Budget Office works with - well, then, I'm certainly open to something like that. We've been limping along at sort of 1 to 2 percent growth ever since we came out of the Great Recession. And that's not typical for the American economy. We're usually at 3 percent or better, and that makes a huge difference over time and where you're at in your deficit projections for the federal government.

SIMON: You have a Republican Congress and a Republican president. So far, they can't get together. May I put it this way - you can't get together to change health care, to change the tax code, to change many immigration policies, all of which Republicans ran on to get elected. What does that say to you about the divisions in your party?

COLE: Well, it tells me that they're certainly severe, but I think they can be bridged. You know, the failure on health care - and we're still working that and we're actually much closer than we were a couple weeks ago - it really is Congress' fault. And I don't think you can blame that on the president. Congress has been running on this for eight years, and it's not our leadership's fault. They're very united around a plan.

SIMON: I said your party and as you...

COLE: Yeah, no, I said - I'm putting it on Congress and absolutely my party. I don't think tax - the tax issue is going to be impossible to achieve at all. I actually think we will achieve that, and again, we're not quite done on health care. I think that we've still got a shot of passing what we've got. We've changed it. We've picked up votes in the last couple of weeks. But no question, you know, it's disappointment when you're not able to move that legislation and you intended to do so.

SIMON: Yeah. Is health care a possibility right now? Do you think that...

COLE: I think it is. You know, there's a lot of us. Look, if you're from my state in Oklahoma, we're down to a single provider. Our rates are going up 69 percent. We're a non-Medicaid expansion state, so our hospitals are taking care of a clientele that in some states you get compensated for. In our state, we do not. So the Republican plan for us is honestly much, much better. And there's quite a few people in that boat. We're well north of 200 votes. We need to get to 216 or 217, depending on the number of vacancies. And so, you know, again, I think we still have a chance to get there.

SIMON: Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks so much.

COLE: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.