ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Joining us from his office at the Capitol now is California Republican Congressman David Dreier. Welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE DAVID DREIER: Always good to be with you, Robert. And as the sun sets across the country, happy Hanukkah.
SIEGEL: Thank you very much. Eighty-nine senators, Republicans and Democrats, found a way to extend the payroll tax cut, extend unemployment benefits, do the doctor's fix, force President Obama to decide yes or no in the Keystone pipeline in 60 days and then go home for the holidays. Your party in the House defeated that Senate bill. Why shouldn't people hold House Republicans like yourself responsible for those things not happening in January if they don't happen.
DREIER: Well, regular order calls for going to conference. And we all learned as children, in looking at how a bill becomes a law, that the House passes a measure, the Senate passes a measure, and if it's not identical it goes to conference. And that's exactly what we're doing. The president of the United States made it very clear that it would be inexcusable if we did not extend for one year the unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday extension. And we feel strongly that certainty is important here. In fact, I argued that uncertainty is the enemy of prosperity and economic growth.
SIEGEL: But Senate Majority Leader Reid has been pretty clear on it. The Senate's gone for the holidays right now, and they had what they thought was a compromise over the weekend.
DREIER: Well, Senator Reid is not the czar, and the Senate is certainly welcome to pass the legislation that they want. But when the president said it's inexcusable not to have a measure that goes for a year, and we as House Republicans believe the same thing - and by the way, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, the Republican leader, who albeit was part of that compromise, made it very clear that he supports our going to conference.
We have a December 31st deadline. The fact that the Senate chose to leave and the United States House of Representatives has chosen to work, signals to me that they should rethink this. They should appoint conferees. I believe that in one day, in one day, we could bring about a resolution to this, Robert.
SIEGEL: One of the questions here is whether your leadership, Speaker Boehner, is someone who can negotiate and has been able to negotiate in good faith. Last Friday, he didn't seem to have any objection to a two-month stopgap bill, which was the best the Senate could do. Is it fair to say, as the Democrats have been saying, that the House leadership was yanked back from approving a deal that Speaker Boehner seem to have approved when Tea Party members in the caucus said they wouldn't approve that bill.
DREIER: Well, it's really not, because I will tell you that it was all across the political spectrum within the Republican conference. Junior members and senior members alike came to the conclusion that, you know, when we found that there are no reforms on the issue of the extension of unemployment insurance...
SIEGEL: You want to extend unemployment insurance and make it a shorter period?
DREIER: No, we wanted to do it for an entire year.
SIEGEL: But you reduced the length of time that people would have benefits (unintelligible).
DREIER: Well, the real reform that we're focusing on are giving the states the option for things like drug testing, encouraging people to get GED qualifications, looking at overpayments that have taken place and having those reimbursed. Common sense reforms, those were thrown out.
SIEGEL: But let me ask you, though, congressman, on Friday, Speaker Boehner expressed real objections to there not being language he could approve of about the Keystone pipeline...
SIEGEL: ...and you've got exactly what you're asking for. It's the same - it's the same thing in both bills.
DREIER: No, we did not - that's not right. That's not right.
SIEGEL: It's the same language, isn't it, between the House bill and the Senate bill?
DREIER: Here's the problem: For the next 60 days, the president would have the option to accept or reject this. And our language, if we do this package over a year, will insist that we proceed with the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, so we can start creating jobs. And we can create 20 or 25,000 jobs immediately if we proceed with this. And having it over a 60-day period of time means that it can be mixed. And it creates, again, great uncertainty for Prime Minister Harper and our Canadian friends.
SIEGEL: So you're saying the language on the Keystone pipeline, as it is in the Senate bill, is unacceptable. The two-month period is unacceptable.
DREIER: The two-month period is unacceptable...
SIEGEL: The treatment of unemployment benefits is also unacceptable in...
DREIER: Well, let me just put it this way, the best way for us to deal with this is, again, the way we learn how a bill becomes law. We will go to conference and we will obviously have to negotiate with the Senate to come up with some kind of reconciliation. And I feel confident that we can support an agreement between the House and the Senate because we want to ensure again that we do proceed with extending unemployment insurance. We do proceed with extending for an entire year, the payroll tax holiday.
SIEGEL: The Social Security tax that, without agreement between the House and the Senate, would rise by two points - that's the regressive tax that's paid by millions of people who pay no federal income tax because their incomes are too low.
Democrats argue that if there were a 2-percent tax cut expiring right now for rich people, for high income taxpayers, you guys would all be checking, you know, to see if your pledges against raising taxes would be violated by doing this. It's much simpler when it's for people who make less money, who make $50,000 a year as opposed to $250,000.
DREIER: Well, you know, that's the standard class warfare, us versus them argument, and I don't accept it. What we want to do is we want to generate policies that encourage job creation and economic growth. And we believe, as President Obama has said, as former President Clinton has said, that the notion of engaging in a tax increase when you're dealing with difficult economic times is bad public policy. And we're determined to make sure that people who are working Americans who, today, are not looking for a tax increase as we go into the next calendar year, will not have a tax increase.
SIEGEL: Well, Congressman Dreier, thanks a lot for talking with us.
DREIER: Always great to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: As you said at the outset, Khag SamAy-akh, happy Hanukkah.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DREIER: Happy Hanukkah to you and merry Christmas.
SIEGEL: That's David Dreier, the Republican congressman from California and chairman of the House Rules Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.