Monitor Breakfast: Rep. Dick Gephardt

Selected quotations from a Monitor Breakfast with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D) of Missouri, minority leader of the US House of Representatives.

On whether Congress should repeal part of the tax cuts it passed last year:

You have to be realistic about where we are. If I were king and could decide all of this, as you would know from what I said last year, these tax cuts are not the way I would do it. We had a different set of tax cuts that we thought were better. We thought they went to the right people and we thought they went to the right people for the right purposes and goals. But we had that fight and we lost it. The president has said he will veto - in fact he said over my dead body will we change the tax bill. So my thought is that rather than sitting here re-litigating something that we have got to deal with where we are...I don't think you should repeal taxes in the middle of a recession. I don't think that sends the right message...

On issues arising from Enron's contributions to Congress:

First, we are still in the process of figuring out what happened. So I think it a little tough to jump to conclusions other than the obvious things. We are trying to find those facts. I just think the whole business of soft big money contributions is terribly flawed for two important reasons. One is just the appearance of impropriety. To people in my district or any district, there is just a nagging suspicion that when someone gives you $100,000 or $500,000 that they are getting something they shouldn't be getting in return for that amount of money.

Secondly,... when trouble happens as happened in this case, there may be an unwillingness on the part of an administration to - when they find out about this - to take action that should be taken to save pensions for people, say, because they are worried about the appearance of impropriety that they got all this money from Enron. So the thing we ought to look at going forward is: was the administration inhibited from taking some action at an early point when they found out this thing was imploding to safeguard the pensions for the people that were there? I don't know that, but I worry about that. And I think it is another problem that is presented by these large contributions. For those two reasons, and others, we have got to change the system. And I am bound and determined to do everything I can to make it happen."

On the situation in the Middle East after his recent trip there:

"One of the interesting things that I kind of sensed on this trip was that even though Camp David was a failure and left everyone frustrated, bitter, and resentful, in a way, it did do one very important thing. It gave people in the region a vision of what can be achieved. The outlines of a final deal are on the table. And I think there are Palestinians and Israelis and others who now can begin to see what they can accomplish. I don't know whether these leaders will be able to bring it off or whether it will take other leaders and a younger generation. But my sense in talking to many of the younger people on both sides is that they are truly heartened by what they have seen. They have been to the summit, they didn't quite get there, but they want to go back. And that gives me some hope that if we lead and help, we can help get there."

On spending for homeland defense:

In this new war we are in, we have an enormous obligation to keep our people safe and that means all kinds of things for homeland defense. I think we have got to be careful there because you don't want to spend the entire national wealth trying to protect the national wealth. So you have got to try to find things that are the most important, that have the most synergy, that do the most good, knowing that you can't do every last possible thing you can think of. So when (Homeland Defense Director) Tom Ridge sends his recommendations we have got to rigorously go through them.

On whether he would run for President in 2004 or stay in the House as Speaker if Democrats take the majority:

"I just haven't thought about this, figured it out, and I'm not going to until the election is over. What I have said before still holds. I guess I would use my St. Louis Ram's football analogy. If I am Kurt Warner on the one-yard line, I'd better be thinking about getting across the one-yard line and not about the next game. I have believed since we started this two-year process that my job was to try and get the team over the one-yard line, and I am going to do everything I can to do it. And that's it."

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