BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Congressman Mike Pence, why did you decide not seek a leadership position at this point?
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well, I view the role of leadership in Congress to be extremely important. And I really want to validate people that feel called to those positions. But at this point in my career, you know, no less extent at this point my family’s life with three young children at home.
My wife and I concluded that that was not our calling, no. I also am very excited about the work that we are doing in our 110-member caucus, the Republican Study Committee. The ability for me to focus exclusively on issues affecting limited government, fiscal discipline, traditional moral values, all issues that really emanate from my heart, was much more attractive to me at this time in my career than a attempting to seek a leadership position in Congress.
LAMB: You are chairman of the Republican Study Committee, what is it?
PENCE: The Republican Study Committee was actually formed back in about 1974. A handful of conservatives, deep in the bowels of a Democratic majority in Congress decided that the time had come to begin to bring people of like mind together.
Phil Crane, with his staff assistant, Ed Feulner, who now famously heads up the Heritage Foundation here in Washington, all began the process of creating this caucus. It has taken on a couple of different incarnations. When the Republican majority came to power in the 1994, the Republican Study Committee had been understood to be a driving force behind the Contract for America.
And in fact many of the leaders that would emerge in the Congress in the ’90s came out of the Republican Study Committee. But for now it’s the largest caucus in the House, roughly 110 members, men and women dedicated to a strong defense, limited government, traditional values.
And its purpose it really to impact policy by bringing together likeminded legislators. And we meet every week, sometimes more often. And our goal is to impact the agenda with conservative values.
LAMB: Is Roy Blunt a member of your caucus?
PENCE: Mr. Blunt has not been a member of our caucus, even prior to his ascension to leadership positions that he has held for many years. But there have been members of leadership who in the past had been members of the caucus…
LAMB: Is John Bainer a member of your caucus?
PENCE: To my knowledge John Bainer was not involved in earlier versions of the Republican Study Committee. Although he, like Roy Blunt, has a strong conservative voting record. And, you know, both of those men would represent a conservative legislators in Congress, in my view.
LAMB: But they are not a member of your group. And then there’s the third one running for majority leader, John Shadegg, who you just endorsed. Is he a member of your group?
PENCE: John Shadegg is not only a member of the Republican Study Committee, but he is a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee. You are right to say, Brian, I did endorse John Shadegg late last week as my choice for majority leader of the House of Representatives. And I see John Shadegg as a real son of the Republican revolution.
He was raise literally and figuratively at the feet of Barry Goldwater. His father managed Barry Goldwater’s campaigns. And John is one of those conservative members of the class of 1994 who has never lost his zeal for reform. And so I felt very drawn, as many Republican Study Committee members have been, to his candidacy. And I certainly wish him well.
LAMB: How many years did you have a talk show in Indiana?
PENCE: I was on the radio part-time and full-time for the better part of eight years. I began with a weekend radio show and eventually moved in the 1994 to a daily radio program, three hours a day, became six days a week. And it was just really one of the greatest jobs in my life.
LAMB: Eighteen stations on the Network Indiana, and did you take phone calls?
PENCE: I took phone calls every day. In fact, I would usually open the program as the format for many talk radio programs, it continues to be. I would open the program with a monologue and then immediately go to calls.
My wife, who didn’t listen to the radio program everyday, would often say -- when I asked her how the show was, she would say, it got really good after you started taking calls.
So it was really about dialogue. We did talk about political topics, but as you know, being one of the most celebrated Hoosiers in media, if we really wanted to get to controversial, we would talk about Bobby Knight or Daylight Savings Time.
And so there was a broad range of issues. And whatever Hoosiers we were talking about, we were talking about on the Mike Pence Show.
LAMB: This is being taped on Thursday, and I want you to hear just a flavoring of five or six calls from the morning call-in show where they were reacting to both the Democrats and Republicans suggestions for change in the ethics rules.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t see where either party is doing anything really truly to try to do something about the problem. They are both just pandering for more power. If they just don’t absolutely stop earmarks, they are not going to get anywhere. And I really feel like about 75 percent of both parties not only need to be out of office, but I believe they need to go to prison.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don’t care if they throw these people in jail. I don’t care if they make them pay the money back. The damage that has been done to the American people cannot be gotten back. Our jobs are gone, it’s all gone. So -- but they need to do a lot more. This is a good beginning, but they need to do a lot more, and especially, like I said, the Republicans. They sold us out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if they would give each person that wanted to serve one term of four years or five years and they are out, these people, when they come in brand new, are encouraged to want to do something positive for their country. You get these career politicians in there for years. Phil Crane was in there for 38 years, Ted Kennedy, I don’t know whether he has been in there for 60, whatever it is, but that’s where the problem lies. They would never have to raise funds for the next election. They would go in, they would serve their four years, and they would be out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An individual can write an e-mail to his own congressman, and most other congresspeople don’t want to hear from you if you are not in their constituency. But the lobbyist can get in to see anybody because they have the money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people have made a lifetime job out of something that’s supposed to be public service. And then they vote themselves raises and they basically screw America.
LAMB: There you have it. People are not buying what has been proposed, why do you think?
PENCE: Well, I think you have to begin with the fact, Brian, that millions of Americans fear that this Congress is fiscally and morally bankrupt. And I think it’s imperative that while we consider important ethics reforms, that we also put our own fiscal house in order.
I was very moved by the first caller’s reference to earmark reform. You know, I’m looking very carefully at the proposals that the speaker and my colleagues in the Democratic Party are bring forward about changing the way lobbyists spend their money.
But if we don’t change the way we spend the people’s money, then we will still have the environment where lobbyists will have the incentive and the opportunity to promote either excess or outright corruption.
And so my ambition for the Republican Study Committee and for our members, beginning the day after we elect our new majority leader is how do we drive an agenda of both fiscal and moral reform that will restore the confidence in the American people and the integrity of the national legislature?
LAMB: Of all the proposals that have been made by you, the speaker, or David Dreier, or the Republicans, on the other side, the Democrats, which ones of those can you endorse?
PENCE: Well, I think that however well-intentioned the allowance of privately funded travel was when Congress authorized them in the mid-1990s, we would probably do well to heed the president’s call and end the practice of privately funded travel for members of Congress.
The great irony here is is that when the Republican majority authorized that, it was all part of an austerity plan. It was an effort to say, let’s save the taxpayers’ money, allow private organizations to pay for travel expenses of members of Congress.
But I think the American people are troubled about what may have been the abuse of that system by some. And for that reason I think we ought to make a clean break from that 10-year experiment and simply return to a system where if there is an official reason for a member of Congress to travel, the taxpayers should pay for it as they have on my many trips overseas to visit soldiers in deployed places and in theaters of combat.
But then if there’s a political motivation, every member of Congress has a campaign committee that can pay for those costs. And I think that’s probably a good route to go.
I do want to say, though, that I really do believe that we have to marry fundamental budget process reform to the ethics reforms. I’m someone who, like you, grew up in Indiana. I actually know what an earmark really is. We had a 100 head of cattle when I was a kid.
And an earmark is a tag or a cut that you put on the ear of a cow so that you know whose cow it is. One of the great ironies of the use of that term in the budget process is that you don’t have to earmark earmarks. Members of Congress, in the wee hours of the night, can -- with maybe some help from lobbyists, can stash spending items into enormous spending bills at the eleventh hour and never put their name on it.
I think greater transparency would promote greater accountability and restore public integrity. We ought to require members of Congress earmark the earmarks and marry that with these ethics reforms that are being discussed.
LAMB: Here’s an editorial, I won’t tell you who wrote it first, and see what you think of what they say: "Here’s a better strategy," according to the editorial, this is on January the 6th, "banish the Abramoff crowd from polite Republican society and start remembering why you were elected in the first place."
Do you have any idea who would have written that?
PENCE: I think that sounds a little bit like David Brooks or maybe The Wall Street Journal.
LAMB: You got it, Wall Street Journal.
PENCE: And I have to tell you, I am so deeply grieved by the corruption that Jack Abramoff brought to this process. I don’t accept contributions from gambling interests. And I never met the man or any of his clients. But he has done an enormous amount of damage to the credibility of the Congress, and those members of Congress who were involved in misdeeds, in my judgment, should be held to the very strictest account.
But what the author suggests there is that we ought to really reconsider a community of interests that gravitated around the priorities that Jack Abramoff represented. And to the extent that there are people who have seen the purpose of the Congress to be to serve interest as opposed to serve the values that this Congress was minted to advance in the best interests of the American people first, I would agree strongly with that assertion.
LAMB: That same editorial, The Journal wrote: "What’s notable so far about this scandal is the wretchedness of the excess on display, as well as the fact that involved self-styled conservatives who claimed to want to clean up Washington instead of cleaning up themselves, that some Republicans are just as corruptible as Democrats won’t surprise students of human nature. But it is an insult to the conservative voters who elected this class of Republicans and expected better."
PENCE: I have to tell you, and anyone who knows a little bit about my biography knows that sometimes I like to refer to myself as "the frozen man," I ran for Congress twice before the Republican revolution, before 1994 and was not successful…
LAMB: Eighty-eight and ’90.
PENCE: Yes, sir. And I wasn’t elected until 10 years later. I was completely out of politics. And I tell people sometimes I feel when I arrived in Washington, D.C., and the first bill that was handed to me was a 50 percent increase in the federal Department of Education, when I had campaigned a decade earlier on ending the federal Department of Education, when in my second Congress the number one priority was the creation of a new entitlement in Medicare, when I had campaigned to come to Congress to end welfare as we know it, I felt a little like "the frozen man."
You know, frozen before the revolution, thawed out after it was over. And I will tell you, the last five years have been -- there have been times of great frustration to me, where I have really felt in my heart that Republican governance was steering off-course into what really are the uncharted waters of big government Republicanism.
There are actually pundits that say that that is actually a legitimate term to apply to a form of governance. And it may be, but it’s not what minted this majority. This majority was minted on the ideals of Ronald Reagan. It was minted on the passion and vision of the Contract with America and Newt Gingrich. It was minted on the ideals of limited government, a strong defense, a commitment to traditional moral values and reform.
And I have had cause in the last five years to feel as that editorial suggests, that many people in and around this movement in Washington lost sight of those ideals. And the expansion of government and what appears to be an unfolding series of corrupt acts supports that conclusion.
LAMB: Here is another editorial from November of last year: "It’s bad enough that annual federal spending since Republicans captured Congress in the 1994 elections has surged by nearly $1 trillion rising to $2.4 billion this year," they must mean trillion, "representing a 63 percent increase in annual spending, that’s an average jump of nearly $100 billion a year for the entire decade. In fiscal 2005 alone, which ended September the 30th, spending increased $181 billion over 2004. According to the Congressional Budget Office baseline projections which forecast entitlement spending based on current law," I know this is a lot of language, "and discretionary spending based on anticipated inflation, annual federal outlays are on track to soar to $3.1 billion in 2010. That $661 billion increase represents a rise of 27 percent."
Any evidence at all that George Bush is a conservative?
PENCE: Well, I believe George Bush is conservative, but I don’t believe he is a conservative. And in my short five years in Congress, I arrived on Capitol Hill with a belief that we are party that is committed to fiscal discipline, the principles of limited government, the principles of federalism, the role of the national government in our local schools.
And I have differed with this president on several of his signature domestic objectives, and differed publicly, because I have seen a willingness of this administration, both expanding the role of the federal government in our local schools with national testing in the fourth and eight grades, as well as the creation of the first new entitlement in 40 years in Medicare.
As I said, I greatly admire the president, I consider him -- the privilege of considering him to be a friend, and I think in his heart he is a conservative man. But in the policies of this administration in many respects on the domestic level, spending, size and scope of government, the role of government, it would hard to argue that this had been a conservative administration at home.
LAMB: But you do hear a lot of conservatives say, he is my friend and I consider him to be a conservative, but then you look at the details on what you stand for, take Medicate Part D, that’s an $800 billion expenditure over 10 years. We were told that it was going to be $400 billion. How do you track with that? It’s double what we were told before the election.
PENCE: Well, I struggle with that. But it is at least worth remembering that as a candidate, George W. Bush called for a very limited Medicare prescription drug benefit. He literally, in his -- in the fall of the campaign of 2000, he advocated an expansion of the helping hand program at the state level to extend prescription benefits to seniors up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
That literally, Brian, would have taken in almost every one of the one in four seniors who lacked prescription drug coverage. But Congress, as you know, is a place that believes if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.
And instead of passing a program that even this conservative would have supported, that focused resources at the point of the need, as the president first advocated, quite frankly the leadership in the House and Senate, with some very effective legislating by the likes of Senator Kennedy and others, managed to create a one-size-fits-alls massive new entitlement, the price tag of which, as you have observed, has doubled in the first 10 years so far.
And the unfunded obligations of which, the day we passed it, exceeded all of the unfunded obligations in Social Security today.
LAMB: How old are your kids?
PENCE: My kids, I love to say, are -- my son is 14 and my daughters are 12 and 32. She’s 11 chronologically. But if you have met my daughter, Audrey, you would know she is quite a personality.
LAMB: Do you talk to these young folks in your family about what they are going to get down the road?
PENCE: We do sometimes. I’m -- my family lives with me here in Washington, D.C., and has lived through the travails of the last five years. It warms my heart sometimes when my kids will talk about understanding that sometimes dad is a little less popular with his colleagues than he might like to be because he has taken stands consistent with his beliefs and his core principles.
And I would say, I think my kids get it. I think they understand. And frankly, I’m in classroom in my district every two weeks in eastern Indiana. I was visiting schools in Muncie and Anderson and Richmond, Indiana, this week.
And I have got to tell you, whether it’s Social Security reform, whether it’s the national debt, young people today understand they are getting the bill. And I think they represent my kids and other young people represent a great reservoir for reform in the future.
LAMB: You often say, and it’s reported in a lot of places, that you are first a Christian, second a conservative, and third a Republican. Explain that.
PENCE: Well, that was derived from back in my radio days, Brian. People call in and say, I’m trying to figure you out. Are you a conservative or are you a libertarian? And I took to saying, I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order.
Because my Christian faith that I embraced in my 18th year when I was a college freshman, and continues forward as we worship in an evangelical church here in the Washington area, and as well as are members of a church in Indiana.
It’s the most important thing in my life, my relationship with the lord, the way that expresses itself in real ways day in and day out, the way I conduct myself at home and at work is really what I would like make my end-all.
The next most important thing to me is my values, my conservative ideals, my genuine belief that America and our Constitution is an experiment in limited government. I’m not a green eyeshades guy. I actually think there are more profound issues even than actuarial perfection.
I think that as government expands, freedom contracts, and that to ensure the ongoing vitality of the American experiment on which turns the ongoing vitality of freedom in the world, we have got to be about defending limited government and the traditional moral values upon which it rests.
And that’s my passion as well. So I say I’m a Christian, a conservative, and -- but I’m also a Republican. And I try in my voting record and even on some of these votes where I have broken with my colleagues to reflect those priorities, to live them out, but I’m still proud to be a Republican.
I became a Republican because of Ronald Reagan. I was the youth Democratic Party coordinator in Bartholomew County, Indiana, when I was a teenager, but Ronald Reagan’s and values convinced me that I belonged in the Republican Party.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
PENCE: My father, who has passed away, I think was kind of a small business Republican. We didn’t talk politics a whole lot in partisan terms when I was growing. Although we -- I never remember too many dinner tables where we weren’t talking about issues. Three brothers, two sisters, mom and dad, all opinionated, Hoosiers.
My mom grew up in a Democratic family and Irish immigrants and…
LAMB: What church did you belong to growing up?
PENCE: Born and raised in the Catholic Church. I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church. I still have profound affection for Mass and Liturgy and, frankly, I take in a Mass when I’m home and with family with great joy.
My reason for worshiping in an evangelical church has more to do with what challenges me more than any quarrel with the theology of the faith of my upbringing. I have great admiration for the Catholic Church and great respect for the theology represented there.
LAMB: You said in one interview that I read that "it is part of my beliefs that my life is not my own."
PENCE: Well, I really believe that. I -- most especially as a Christian, when I made a decision to put my life in God’s hands, it was part of what I think is really a transaction in which a believer says I will endeavor now both on my knees and opening up the book to discern what you want me to do as opposed to getting up every day and deciding what I want to do.
And I try and say that often to colleagues and friends, this recent encouragement that I received about a leadership position. I didn’t dismiss it out of hand because for me and my house, we serve the lord. And we will always make every effort with deep humility to discern whenever we can what God require of us, what our faith requires of us in any situation, and then put feet on that and make that real.
LAMB: Let me go back to the current ethics discussion we are having and quote you from an essay you wrote after your ’88 and ’90 defeat. By the way, how badly were you defeated when you ran in those two races?
PENCE: I came very close in 1988, which was a competitive year for Republicans. But I think I got 40 percent of the vote on my second run.
LAMB: Where did you run, same district, Sixth?
PENCE: Yes, sir. It was a very…
LAMB: Who was there then?
PENCE: A very distinguished member of Congress by the name of Phil Sharp who retired voluntarily in 1994 after 20 years of service.
LAMB: You wrote this: "There’s a tendency when you are in a public position to begin to think more highly of yourself than you ought to." Have you had that problem lately?
PENCE: I think that any time you are -- whether it’s in public life as an official or even my years in media, there is a natural tendency to think more highly of yourself than you ought to.
My antidote to that is -- I always tell folks is that after that some pretty heady days on Capitol Hill I will usually get in my 1998 Explorer and drive to the small home that we have in the suburbs and Washington and walk into a living room where there are four people who have absolutely no respect for me at all, and -- but they all love me.
But I do think that much of the pace and much of the accoutrements around the business of being a member of Congress tend to erode your sense of servanthood. I often tell my children when we are home in Indiana and meeting with constituents, if people will greet me and say it’s nice to meet an important man, I will say in earshot of my kids that actually I’m the least important person in these 19 counties, because I’m the only person that works for everybody.
LAMB: A couple of weeks ago a man who was born in the same -- he wasn’t born there, but he lived in the same town that you did, Columbus, Indiana, and represented a district close to yours, Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, was here. And I asked him whether or not money influenced what he did when he was in the job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE HAMILTON, FORMER INDIANA REPRESENTATIVE: I sure was. Let me give you a simple example. I’m busy, I come into my office. I have got a list of 15 people who have called me. I have got time to make three phone calls back. Who do I call back?
I’m afraid that I probably call the big contributor back before I call the fellow worrying about his Social Security check in Salem, Indiana. So, yes, I was influenced by it. You cannot but be influenced by it. You have got to raise thousands and thousands of dollars every single week.
And if a person says to you, I’m going to work in your campaign, I’m going to contribute to your campaign, I’m going to have a fundraiser at my house and so forth, and then they come to you and say, would please consider this, that or the other? You can’t ignore that.
That doesn’t necessarily mean I or any other member of Congress is bought, but it’s a very subtle process that works here. And it clearly distorts judgments. And I would not be immune from that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Only about 35 percent of the American people will vote in this election, if past is prologue this year, off-year election. Call after call to our call-in show and polls show that people don’t trust members of Congress and think they are the take. What do you say?
PENCE: Well, I say that’s -- first, I understand it in the wake of the extraordinary series of headlines that we have seen. You know, the Bible says righteous exalts a nation. So the opposite is probably also true. These kinds of headlines pull down and demoralize the American people in ways that aren’t always especially evident.
I will say though that I love reading Mark Twain, I love -- I actually have a degree in American history and I’m usually reading a biography of some kind.
LAMB: Yes, from Hanover College in Indiana.
PENCE: Yes, sir. Disliking congressmen and question their motives is a time-honored tradition in America, all of which is healthy in my view as a limited government conservative, keep an eye on people in power pretty closely. But I certainly understand why the recent headlines would result in greater cynicism.
LAMB: One of the first reactions after it was announced that some of the major changes would be take away the meals and the travel and all that, right away you heard commentators say, yes, but there’s an enormous loophole there. All they have to do is call it a fundraiser, and they can do all that. And we have seen them in the past in this town, they will do that.
PENCE: Well, that’s right. That’s why I just honestly believe that the two sides of the reform coin here have to be not just changing the way lobbyists spend their money, Brian, but we have got to change the way we spend the people’s money.
Only if you marry those two things will you eliminate or at least greatly reduce the opportunity for both excessive spending and outright corruption.
LAMB: Susan Schmidt of The Washington Post broke the story on Jack Abramoff, a very short clip on what has come to be known as the skybox caper in this town with politicians. Let’s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN SCHMIDT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you can imagine, you know, if you were in control of these four skyboxes, two at Redskins stadium and then, you know, MCI Center and Camden Yards, it was like a full-time job to keep track of who was filling up those seats every night or every other night. And Abramoff had an assistant that that was basically her job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Can members and staff be bought with tickets to these games and these skyboxes?
PENCE: I want to say from my heart that I don’t believe so. I think one of the best kept secrets in American today Brian is that the overwhelming majority of men and women, Republicans and Democrats who come to work in the Capitol every day do so with integrity, and with a commitment to living under the rules of the institution.
I also think the overwhelming majority of men and women who are representing interests as lobbyists on Capitol Hill do the same. That’s the reason why I do believe that we need to bring about reform. But it would be, in my judgment, a mistake to change the laws excessively in the area specifically of lobbying, and ignore the budget rules that have allowed for, in my judgment, the greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., which is a $2 trillion increase in the national debt and the expansion of government and increase of deficits that have resulted.
LAMB: Is there a connection maybe?
PENCE: I believe there has to be. I believe that the budget act, which we haven’t reformed since 1974, a budget act that allows for last-minute deals in the dark of night and the addition of tens of thousands of earmarks to bills without any member of Congress ever having to say that they asked for that spending, created an environment where there can be excessive spending, abuse, or outright corruption.
I have to believe that -- as you think, Ronald Reagan, I believe in 1987, vetoed a highway bill because it had a couple of hundred earmarks in it. I think the last highway bill had close to 20,000 earmarks.
And as someone who -- actually, I advocated a handful of those for my district that involved some roads and infrastructure, many of those were very meritorious and very appropriate. But to the extent that some were questionable, we have a system today that allows members, maybe with the help of lobbyists, to squirrel those earmarks into spending bills at the last minute.
And only by advancing greater transparency in the budget process, as well as new ethics rules for lobbyists, will we restore the confidence of the American people.
LAMB: Here’s an editorial from The Washington Post, January 16th, Monday. "Congressional leaders of both parties and other influential lawmakers such as committee chairmen are especially frequent flyers. According to a report in The Post last May by R. Jeffrey Smith and Derek Willis, a dozen current and former leaders in both houses and both political parties flew on corporate jets at least 360 times between January of 2001 and December of 2004. Republican leaders took 265 trips, Democrats 95. Mr. DeLay and then-Majority Leader Roy Blunt, now seeking to take Mr. DeLay’s place, were the two top users, accounting for at least 140 tips between them. Mr. Blunt alone hitched a ride on about 30 companies’ planes."
PENCE: Well, not if it was consistent with the rules of the House.
LAMB: Well, forget the rules for a moment. Do you like the idea that people in your job can pick up the phone and call companies and say, I need a jet to fly to a certain place and then pay a first class ticket instead of the actual cost?
PENCE: Right, right. I’m willing to have that debate. And I am willing to support a prohibition of privately funded travel to restore public confidence. But I will be honest and tell you that there is a reason why our Constitution prohibits ex post factor laws.
I think the American people ultimately believe in fairness. And to the extent that you have men and women of good will, Democrats and Republicans, who come in to the Congress and are very careful about the -- about living within the rules and the standards that have been and adopted by the House, that while we may need to change that to restore public confidence, I would hesitant, so long as the rules were fully adhered to in those cases, to condemn Democrats or Republicans living within the rules of private travel, as they have been on the books.
LAMB: A New York Times editorial a couple of days ago, some of the needed reforms, they suggest, "a far more detailed disclosure of lobbyists’ expenditures and business contacts on Capitol Hill, and then the growth business of spending big in lawmakers’ home district, this sunlight approach must include timely electronic disclosure accessible to the general public."
Right now, if you take a trip somewhere or somebody gives you a contribution, we won’t hear about it for six months.
LAMB: How fast should that be available to us?
PENCE: Well, I’m someone who over the last several years have been very involved in developing campaign finance reform legislation that takes a little bit different tack than Senator McCain and my colleagues in the House, where their approach is and has been, on the McCain-Feingold and the new 527 legislation, greater regulation, more reports being filed.
My approach has been more daylight, more sunshine, and more freedom. And the reality is that while that may be a very good proposal that lobbyists should detail their expenditures, if that information doesn’t make it to the American people in real time, then people will not have the ability to make informed choices, both at the time that major issues are being debated and when election time comes.
We ought to require, and in my opinion, and it’s something I have advocated for years, we ought to bring forward a campaign finance reform system that requires all contributions over a certain level to be reported on the Internet within 24 hours of their receipt.
That there isn’t a reason in the world with the information technology we have today, why my little campaign headquarters on 8th Street in Anderson, Indiana, couldn’t take those contribution checks, scan them, and post them on the Internet in real time, so that, as you point out, Brian, as the process is going on, as bills are being debated and vetted, the American people and our vigilant allies in the fourth estate will have access to real-time information.
LAMB: We can’t even tell our audience how you vote for some time after the vote. We have asked for it for years, where you can’t get -- with computers today, the public could immediately find out how you voted on a bill, why is that necessary?
PENCE: I don’t know why that information would not be available. I -- one of my most often repeated phrases is a former Republican congressman who made good later in life, from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who said: "Give the people the facts and the republic will be saved."
All of my heroes in American history have been men and women who fundamentally believed in the right judgment of the American people, but that all depends on people having the information that they have a right to now, and real time information about who is supporting public people, about how public people exercise their vote, I believe, would contribute to the well-being of the republic in the next century.
LAMB: The New York Times says also, calls for a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, including "an end to such thinly disguised shakedowns as donations to incumbents’; personal foundations and charities, the garish special interest salutes at political conventions, check-writing binges benefiting ranking incumbents should also be ended."
PENCE: Well, it’s -- all of these things are going to debated and vetted in the Congress. And I do know that one aspect of the guilty plea that Mr. Abramoff entered involved the -- what was clearly the illegal use of non-profit foundations.
One of my career jobs was as the president of a non-profit educational foundation. I understand the law in that area. And the idea that any individual would use an apparatus that is designed in our tax code for educational purposes and really for promoting the public good, and use that simply as a vehicle to reposit illegal campaign contributions is deeply troubling to me. And I’m sure it will be a matter that we consider throughout the debate this year.
LAMB: Another New York Times proposal: "A tightening of the rules by which lawmakers and their aides cross over to platinum careers as lobbyists." "Since 1998," you came actually after that, you have only been here three terms, "half of the 36 retired senators and two-fifths of the 162 House alumni have registered to lobby. They should be stripped of insider’s access to the House floor, gym and restaurants. They should wait two years, not one, before lobbying, and disclose any job-seeking while in office."
We know that most of that has already been suggested by David Dreier and by the speaker. What do you think of the idea of eliminating access of former members to the House floor, to the gym, they could now, of course, use the dining room, they have parking privileges that they have, should they be allowed to do this and lobby at the same time?
PENCE: I think that we need to seriously reconsider the rules about access for former members. I -- frankly, I don’t use the House gym, not for any particularly high-vaunted reason. I prefer to work out at home. But my understanding is that it’s a pretty social place and that a great number of former members availed themselves of the House gym, and that that becomes a place where a great deal of work does get done, some good work, good discussions that take place.
But in the environment in which we live today, the primary objective should be to restore the confidence of the American people in the integrity of our national legislature. And simply saying to our cherished former colleagues, we are going to go ahead and close the House floor to anyone but members and approved staff, we are going to go ahead and close some of these other meeting areas, like the House gym, I think would be an important first step toward demonstrating that independence that members have.
LAMB: Lee Hamilton, again, I ask him whether or not things have changed, if this was a different place than he had seen when he first got here. Let’s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAMILTON: When I was elected in Congress in 1964 for the first time, the constant theme I remember was get off my back, get the government off my back. I heard it from the farmer, I heard it from the businessman, I would hear it from the labor unions, I would hear it from everybody, get the government off my back.
OK. Fast forward to 2006. What do you hear now? What you hear is, can I get a tax break? Can I get a subsidy? Can I get a change in the regulation? In other words, there has been sea-change in the mindset of people about government.
Early on, get government out of my life. Today, what can the government do for me? Now that is a huge change. And we are not going to switch it back to the old ways, I don’t believe. Maybe there are some advantages to that change, but there are also some big disadvantages.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: You both have red ties on, you both have grey hair. You are considerably younger at this stage than Lee Hamilton. You are both from almost the exact same spot in the state of Indiana.
PENCE: Yes, sir.
LAMB: You are a Republican. He is a Democrat. You sound alike. Do you think that he is right about that, that things have changed?
PENCE: Well, let me say, there is a -- there would be no one in public life who I admire more than Lee Hamilton, irrespective of differences in public policy issues, he was my congressman when I was a little boy, a close friend of my late father’s, and continues to be a real inspiration for me.
That being said, I’m prepared to take issue with an element of his conclusion, if I can. Since I literally represent the same hometown from which he came, Columbus, Indiana, my home as well. People back home in Indiana still want government off their back.
Lee probably knows that. But I will tell you that I think Washington has changed a whole lot more than America has. And I know that this is a city that, as the economist James Buchanan coined the term, "rent-seeking," this is a city that spends an awful lot of time trying to figure out how it can expand government and how individual interests can see that expansion of government inure to their benefit.
But out in America, I will tell you, in the heartland district that he was elected from and that I serve to this day, most Hoosiers on the farm and in small business and raising families, they pretty much want strong defense, less government, less taxes. They want protection of and a cherishing of traditional values. And otherwise they want government off their back still. I really believe that.
LAMB: Well, The Wall Street Journal editorial that read earlier has this paragraph: "More broadly, however, the Abramoff scandal resonate nearly as much with the public if it didn’t fit a GOP, Republican pattern of becoming cozy with Beltway mores. The party that swept to power on terms limits, spending restraint, and reform, has become the party of incumbency, 6,371 highway bill earmarks and K Street. And it is no defense to say that Democrats would do the same. Of course Democrats would, but then they have always claimed to be the party of government. If that’s what voters want, they will choose the real thing."
Now there was a story and I don’t -- I couldn’t find the actual copy on it, did you get called in by the speaker at one point when you were becoming critical of what was going on and suggested to you that you ought to quiet down?
PENCE: Well, I never comment on private meetings with colleagues, Brian. But when we -- when many House conservatives, after Congress appropriated $60 billion in six days to pay for the cost of Katrina, and we should, many House conservatives were very troubled about the fact that we hadn’t even begun the conversation of how we were going to pay for it.
And I will be candid with you and say that when we put together what we called "Operation Offset," responding to a member of our leadership who said -- was reported to have said, there is nowhere else to be cut in the government, we…
LAMB: It was Tom DeLay, if I remember.
PENCE: It was. And I challenged the Republican Study Committee to spend a long weekend with our members and to build some proposals for budgets cuts. And we ended up coming up with about $500 billion in proposals, just ideas that we unveiled in a press conference in September under Operation Offset.
You know, it did create some friction in the Republican conference. In any social setting, it’s sometimes awkward to bring up the small matter of the bill. But in the end, the passage of the first deficit reduction act since 1997 that Congress passed and I think will certify in the next two weeks, was an important first step.
It showed that that process, even that friction could ultimately result in a step toward fiscal discipline. And my ambition is to make that just a first step.
LAMB: Speaker Hastert comes from a district over around Joliet, Illinois, which is not a whole lot, I suspect, unlike the district you come from. Why is he…
PENCE: Where Ronald Reagan grew up.
LAMB: Why is he not more of -- I mean, has he gotten caught up in Washington as the leader?
PENCE: Well, let me just say there -- Speaker Dennis Hastert is a man of integrity, and he is -- it is not an exaggeration to say he is a beloved figure in the Congress. He has -- to me every day he evidences what servant leadership is all about. And he does come from a conservative district and is a conservative.
In the course of his career in Congress it would be hard to describe his voting record back when he was voting more than speakers are obligated to as anything other than conservative.
But I want to say very generously that I understand that when you are the leader of an entire majority that takes in both cheerful conservatives like me, but also takes in people who have a much more moderate view on social issues, on spending issues, the job description of the speaker of the house is a little bit different than those of us who are -- embrace a role of advancing a set of ideas. And I respect that.
LAMB: What’s your opinion of Tom DeLay?
PENCE: I’m heartbroken about the difficulties through which Tom and Christine DeLay have passed. I -- like every American, I think he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. And I know he will have that. I know he will be afforded due process. And it’s my fondest hope and prayer that he is completely vindicated from the charges that have been leveled at him in Texas and is able to return to his full attentions, to serving the people of Sugar Land in Congress.
LAMB: Well, put that aside for a moment and deal with the other things that have been reported about his closeness to a man named Jack Abramoff, would you have ever let that happen to you?
PENCE: Well, I have read the accounts, and I’m not aware of specific accusations or indictments relative to Mr. DeLay.
LAMB: Well, forget that, I’m not really getting to the illegal part of it, but would you go on the trips to Scotland and these kind of things? I mean, is this something that members of Congress ought to be doing?
PENCE: Well, I haven’t. I haven’t done it. I have traveled a handful of times on a private dollar that has generally been to speaking engagement, organizations, National Right to Work or some organizations that support Israel and invited me to come and make a speech.
But the majority of my extensive travel, I -- all of my extensive travel has been official and I’m fairly certain has all been related to visiting troops and trying to get out in the world and understand our -- issues that we deal with on the International Relations Committee.
LAMB: But company X sits here in Washington with lots of money and lots of lobbyists, and they look at Congress and they see members, and they say, well, we can take them to dinner, and their staffs, of course, from time to time, we can take them to the baseball games or the footballs games, we can fly them to a conference we are having in Phoenix in the middle of the winter, we can pay them an honorarium or we can give them a campaign contribution.
And most Americans can’t do any of that. This is what I think people are really getting -- trying to get at, whether or not this kind of a process should continue.
PENCE: Well, and I understand that, although remember, tens of millions of Americans are represented by those organizations in most cases. There are certainly lobbyists that represent companies that employ in some cases thousands of Americans.
But I think it’s important to recognize that the process of organizing political action committees to represent the interests of farmers or to represent the interests of doctors or small hospitals, is a way that the American people express themselves in our national life, and that we shouldn’t -- I think we should -- in the wake of criminal behavior by a few, we should be very careful about condemning everyone that’s involved in the process.
I think that the process of people donating to their local labor union or to a political action committee at their company is an expression of the American people’s desire and will to the Congress of the United States.
And in my judgment, the antidote here, as I said before, Brian, greater transparency will result in greater accountability. But it would be misnomer for us to focus entirely on the lobbying process without recognizing that if we did not have a budget process itself that created such ample opportunities for excessive spending, abuse, and corruption, you would not have the admitted incidents or the opportunity that we have today.
LAMB: What are the chances that that will be changed?
PENCE: I believe they are very good. I believe that the new leadership team underneath Speaker Dennis Hastert understands that in the wake of these unfurling scandals, that we have to take decisive action to restore public confidence in the fiscal and moral integrity of the Congress.
And I think we all understand too what the stakes are, with the developments in Iran, with today the news of a public communication by Osama bin Laden for the first time in months, threatening another attack against our country, the American people have to have confidence in the fundamental integrity of our national government.
And so there can be no higher priority in 2006 than us restoring their confidence in the way we spend the people’s money and the way people in the lobbying community spend their members’ money.
LAMB: Thank you, Congressman Pence.
PENCE: Thank you, Brian.