March 15, 1995
By Yolanda Reynolds
Photos by Mary J. Andrade
Decisions in Washington D.C. will affect the present and future of the children
On a chilly early spring day, last week in Washington D.C. this writer interviewed U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
Washington, and the rest of the nation, was in suspense that week over the pending vote on the “balanced budget” amendment that was proposed by the Republican leadership as the central element of their agenda for action that is contained in a document they call the “Contract with America.”
They say that the “Contract with America” was endorsed by the voters when they voted the new Republican majority in to Congress. The Democrats had controlled the House and Senate for the last 45 years and it is obvious the voters wanted a change, but it is also clear that very few people knew of the contract or, if they did know there were few specifics given on hw these stated goals would be achieved.
Republicans blame the Democrats for; the disaffection of voters, the uncertain economy, the increase in the numbers of unwed mothers, and a large deficit that, many Republican claim, is caused by people who receive social services from the government, in particular those people on welfare.
Democrats say that the Republicans plan to balance the budget by cutting social services (including taking food away from millions of children and poor) reducing taxes for the rich giving tax breaks of $500 for each child among other big tax breaks for wealthy people, and by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund among other major changes they propose.
Among the services that the Congress plain to cut is the school lunch program for children. This, the Republicans claim will help reduce the budget deficit. The school lunch program, by all accounts, is one of the most successful of the programs that were initiated as a part of national attempts to combat the effects of poverty on poor people. Educators say that the school lunch program resulted in significantly improved school attendance, improved performance and fewer student drop outs.
These proposed cuts have caused an uproar and the Republicans have made a few concessions, while maintaining their stated objective of “ending the welfare state.” Critics charge hypocrisy and point out that the “welfare state” they so abhor will not be eliminated unless the Republicans also delete the subsidies (welfare) given to big business and the tax breaks allowed for the wealthy.
Zoe Lofgren is serving her first term as a Congresswoman. She had been a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for 14 years. Congresswoman Lofgren is familiar with Washington D.C. and the process in Congress – she also once served as an Aide to retired U.S. Congressman Don Edwards.
Congresswoman Lofgren said that her work years in Washington were in the late 1970’s, when Congress battled over passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She explained that the biggest change from those days was that that the Democrats were in the majority and that now the Republican leadership in Washington represents an even smaller special interest. She says that Republicans are dominated by a very right wing minority – the discussions are now sharply partisan and “less civilized.”
“The whole tone of the House is more partisan than it was when I was here before,” says Lofgren. She explained that before, both parties basically shared similar domestic and foreign policy positions. Lofgren pointed to the Section 8 Housing program for poor people. This program, she says, was developed and funded during the Nixon (a Republican) administration. Another example, Lofgren said, was the school lunch program which was begun during Harry Truman’s presidency, continued to be supported by the Nixon administration and was actually expanded during the Reagan administration. These and other programs were created and supported with bipartisan support, says Lofgren.
“It is unprecedented,” Lofgren says. “These folks (the Republican majority) want to turn back to a pre-World War II era.”
Lofgren says that this plan (the Contract with America) is clearly House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s plan. Lofgren explained that Speaker Gingrich has signed his staff to attend every committee meeting to make sure that Republican party members follow the party line or face severe censure.
“You see complete block voting by the Republicans,” Lofgren says.
“Some of my Republican Congressional colleagues say that they would like to vote otherwise, but are afraid to do so. La Oferta inquired what censure could be exerted if they did not follow the party line. Lofgren explained that many of the newly elected Congress persons felt that they were in Washington because of Gingrich’s support. Congress persons face reelection every two years and fear that they would be purged by Gingrich and his allies.
Lofgren explained that Speaker Gingrich has been able to amass power to his office in a way that never existed before. “For example,” she says, “in the Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, seniority ordinarily determines who will be the chairperson but instead, Gingrich appointed the Chairperson who now owe their status to him.”
The fact that legislation is occurring so rapidly and with so little discussion concerns Lofgren. Lofgren explains that even the best intentions at carefully crafting legislation can result in the “creation of unintended problems or consequences.” Lofgren says that there is very little time allowed to review and comment on the proposed legislation. Lofgren says that one bill was passed within less than two days. It had just been made available on a Monday afternoon late and that voting was held the very next day.
The consequences of so rapidly undoing years of work by both parties that was designed to maintain a certain stability through needed social services to help poor people is something, Lofgren doubts, was really on the mind of the voters when they voted for the Republicans. Lofgren adds that, “the next elections should be very interesting.”
The Republicans leadership has proposed discontinuing the summer youth employment program. Lofgren says that this has brought them a lot of criticism. She is supportive of having local government, take the lead, in distributing social services, with the provision that they work closely with the people who directly provide the services to the people. “They are the people who know how best to serve the needs of the community,” Lofgren explains.
Gingrich has been chided by many opponents and even some in his own party, as well as the press, for lapses of “ethical conduct.” Lofgren says that the Speaker has taken as many steps as possible to squelch these criticisms. There is already an investigation under way-it and will all depend on whether the Republicans on this committee are honest and vote to conduct a full inquiry.” Lofgren explains. (The Committee is equally balanced between Republicans and Democrats so it is not certain whether an investigation will happen.)
La Oferta asked whether it was hard for Lofgren to keep her spirits up or if she felt inquired to ﬁght even harder for ideals. (Lofgren has long been a champion for the needs of children.) Lofgren explained that it was especially difficult for those who
have served in Congress for “some time, but especially if they were older. Lofgren explained that she works late every evening and is up very early in the mornings regardless, of when she had gone to bed because there is so much reading and studying to do.
Senator Bob Dole, the Senate Majority leader has notably darker and darker rings about his eyes. Lofgren adds that she cannot think of any other time during peace time that legislators have tried to rush through legislation with such haste as is now occurring in Washington.
While la Oferta was interviewing Congresswoman she kept her TV monitor on in order to catch a discussion – that was taking place among senators regarding the balanced budget amendment. Ultimately (the next day) the amendment failed – much to the distress of the Republican leadership. Nine Democrats voted for the amendment along with all but one Republican, moderate Mark Hatﬁeld of Oregon. The Republican refusal to rule out the use of the Social Security Program to balance the budget was a prime cause of its failure.
No voters want a huge government deﬁcit, but some U.S. legislators say that an amendment, such as that proposed, does more than attempt to balance the budget. It could tie the hands of government in such a way that crisis would be hard to address. Furthermore, very few enterprises can function without borrowing money at some time. Just a thought about how households and businesses function – few could start a business or buy a home without some debt and, at times even a signiﬁcant amount of debt, Government business is no different.
As in all government issues, priorities are the issue. Here in San Jose, neighborhood advocates appeal to City government for activities for young people, job opportunities for adults and their teenage children, a curb in neighborhood violence, and for better educational programs for everyone.
They also want a responsible use of the tax-payers money with accountability on the part of their elected ofﬁcials. This appeal is similarly presented in Washington but it is precisely such programs that are now threatened by the Republican leadership in Congress.
Lofgren serves on the Science and Judiciary Congressional Sub-Committee. Lofgren said that she is very concerned about talk of closing down the Onizuka Air Force Station in Mountain View and the potential impact of that closure on NASA.
NASA Ames scientists hold world renown for their research in understanding and exploring the universe — the frontier of the 21st century.
Turning to foreign policy and the volatile situation in Mexico, Congresswoman Lofgren expressed concern for how the events in Mexico will evolve. Lofgren explained that whatever happens in Mexico will also have an effect on the United States. Lofgren was concerned that the President had had to act independently on the bailout to Mexico and would have preferred the bipartisan support of Congress.
Lofgren remarked that Gingrich favored a bailout but seemed to back down when some members of the Republican party were critical. There have since been mixed reactions, both here and in Mexico to the bailout.
Lofgren interrupted the interview to speak to her daughter, Sheila before she caught her bus to school. Being separated from her family is difﬁcult. Lofgren explained, but that the work she faced every day does not leave much personal time. Lofgren explained that as soon as school was out and the ﬁrst 100 days were over, the pace of her work would become less hectic and the family would be joining her in Washington.
In the meantime, Congresswoman Lofgren ﬂies home every Friday evening to spend time with her family and catch upon local affairs with her local staff and constituents. She returns to Washington on the “redeye” Sunday evening flight.
Washington was beautiful, even with overcast skies. There is so much there to see with reminders on almost every block of some historically important event or personality, the visitor can marvel anew this unique experiment to democracy that that has so long been a beacon of hope for most of the world’s people.
For more information on legislation pending in Washington contact your Congressperson. Congressman Norm Mineta who represents District 15 may be contacted at (408) 984-6405. Lofgren, who represents District 16, may be contacted at (408) 271-8700. Senator Dianne Feinstein may contacted at 1-415-249-4777. © La Oferta Newspaper.