"...you look at the number of cars in the federal government auto fleet, it's unbelievable ... reduce that!" Rep. Jim Jordan
Rep. Steve Driehaus (D)
By Whitney Chaffin, via Skype
Rep. Tim Ryan (D)
By Ulviyya Asadzade, via Skype
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D)
By Debora Lee, via Phone
Rep. Steven LaTourette (R)
By Robert Makar, via Phone
Too Busy for the Budget
By Debora Lee
It's likely one of the easiest questions members of Congress will be asked in this hotly contested election year. However, when students from Kent State University tried to ask the 20 member Ohio Delegation what specific government program should be cut to reduce the trillion dollar budget deficit, 13 couldn't find five minutes to answer it. That's how much time the student journalists requested for the mini interview, five minutes during their first week back in Washington after the August recess.
Most Congressional staffers blamed a busy schedule for the unavailability of their bosses. "It's not that he doesn't want to help students," Senator Sherrod Brown's press secretary said. "It's just sometimes it doesn't work out. Right now, he's flying on an airplane for a few hours."
An aide to Columbus Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy also voiced concern over "gotcha" journalism, interviews that entrap the interviewee into making damaging statements. "Due to a scheduling conflict, Congresswoman Kilroy won't be able to participate in the story today," Communications Director Brad Bauman said later. He added that Kilroy might be available the following Monday, three days after the students' deadline.
Of the seven members who did grant interviews, several are looking at the defense budget as one way to trim spending. "I would cut back on having companies like Halliburton administering a lot of what was traditionally done by the military where they administer, whether it's the food or different services to the military in the war zone, but they have a tremendous markup and a tremendous profit margin on a lot of the stuff that they do," Youngstown Democrat Tim Ryan said.
Along with defense, Cleveland Democrat Marcia Fudge wants to take a look at farm programs. "Farming has become a multimillion dollar industry and I just think some of the tax incentives that we give to farmers are not appropriate," she said.
Republican Jim Jordon of Mansfield didn't name a specific program that should be cut, but he does think the government has too many Fords and Chevys. "You look at the number of cars in
the federal government auto fleet," he said. "It's unbelievable. Reduce that!"
But for Republican Steven LaTourette of Painesville, one specific program is not enough. If he has his way, everything will be on the chopping block. "I think we're going to wind up, and it's something I support, [with] an across the board haircut of the budget. It's not a specific program. It's a total reduction in federal spending."
Democrats Steve Driehaus , Charles Wilson, and Zachary Space also agreed to be interviewed for this story.
Ohio Miracle: Politicians Who Won’t Talk
By Bobby Makar
During this election year, the country faces a $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit. Student journalists from Kent State University contacted the 20 members of congress from Ohio to ask them the easiest softball question ever.
The student reporters requested five minutes of the delegate’s time to talk about the budget deficit. The goal for KSU reporting students once the Congressman or Senator got on the phone was to ask one question: ‘As we face a trillion dollar budget deficit, what specific federal program do you think needs to be cut?’
The student reporters contacted press aides of the representatives on Monday September 13, 2010. Each reporter requested five-minutes of the delegate’s time to conduct a video Skype interview by 10 PM on Friday, September 17. Skype is a free software application that allows users to make video phone calls over the internet.
13 of the 20 refused to be interviewed and gave a variety of reasons.
Allison Preiss, the press secretary for Senator Sherrod Brown (D), said that the Senator’s busy schedule prevented him from commenting.
"To be honest, sometimes its just a matter of scheduling. It's not that he [Senator Sherrod Brown] doesn't want to help students,” Preiss said, “its just sometimes it doesn't work out. Right now he's flying on an airplane for a few hours."
Reenal Doshi, the press assistant for Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-9th district), also refused the request due to scheduling conflicts. Doshi said that the congresswoman “already has meetings with constituents and she also needs time to read legislature.”
Brad Bauman, communications director for Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D-15th District), initially withheld Kilroy’s time, fearing that the phone call was being recorded as a piece of “gotcha” journalism. Bauman later said in an e-mail that Kilroy would be unavailable to do an interview until the following week due to a scheduling conflict.
Of the 20 delegates, only four had the capability of conducting a video Skype interview. Out of those four, only Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-17th District) and Steve Driehaus (D-1st District) gave the interview. The use of the software was also limited because of a congressional ban on Skype. Congressmen Steven C. LaTourette (R-14th District), Jim Jordan (R-4th District), Charles A. Wilson (D-6th District), Zachary T. Space (D-18th District) and Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-11th District) gave traditional phone interviews.
Of the seven members who did talk to reporters, there weren’t many specific program cuts suggested.
Congresswoman Fudge said that she would focus on making cuts to the defense budget, which exceeds $900 billion a year. However, Congressman LaTourette was not able to name a specific program to be cut. Instead, he suggested cutting all of them. LaTourette favored giving the federal budget an “across the board haircut” in order to keep the process equitable.
Congressman Space also suggested across the board budget cuts, but also recommended creating jobs “so that we can stimulate additional revenue in the economy.”
Congressman Jordan did not offer a specific program either, but offered another solution.
"... in our budget proposal we went through and you look at the number of cars in the federal government auto fleet, it's unbelievableâ€¦ reduce that!” Jordan said.
If the Congressman or Senator did not have a specific program to cut, students were given a follow up question to ask. This question was in reference to a recent series of reports by The Washington Post on the huge build up of the nation’s homeland security and terrorist response apparatus following 9/11.
The Congressman or Senator was read the first line in the first report in the series. The line read:
“The top-secret world that the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”
The Congressman or Senator was then asked if they thought cuts needed to be made in this area. Congressman LaTourette was unfamiliar with the report because he is “not a big fan of The Washington Post.”
In response to the excerpt, LaTourette said that the premise of The Post’s argument was wrong.
“They’re correct in that there’s been a huge explosion in homeland security spending, but they’re incorrect in that nobody knows how much there is or where the money is spent. It’s classified,” LaTourette said, “but any member of congress can go up to the fifth floor of the Capitol and read whatever it is they want to inform him or herself about the program...I suggest to you that there are a number of Republicans that will say ‘Oh yeah, we’ll have an across the board spending cut, but we can’t touch defense and we can’t cut homeland security.’ I don’t agree with that. I think the whole budget’s on the table, and whatever number you pick, five percent, seven percent, ten percent, it goes across the board.”