Bob Livingston Broke the Mold for Pelican State Lawmakers

Article excerpt

When he first ran for Congress his district was 3 percent Republican; today it is the most Republican in Louisiana. And Rep. Livingston is now the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

When asked to describe his political beliefs, 53-year-old Rep. Bob Livingston, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, replies: "In a word . . . conservative." He was only the third Republican congressman from Louisiana in 100 years when he was sent to Congress in a 1977 special election. At 6 feet 4 inches in height, Livingston is one of the tallest men on Capitol Hill; he's also one of the most personable. Among other honors, Livingston repeatedly has won the Watchdog of the Treasury Award of the National Associated Businessmen, and the Leadership Award from the prodefense Coalition for Peace Through Strength.

Insight: What should Congress be doing right now?

Bob Livingston: Eliminating duplication, inefficiency and waste in the federal government. We have nearly 300 job-training programs, for example, and we have to anticipate that we can do with 40 or 50.

There are 267 youth-at-risk programs and 48 nutrition programs in the various agencies--examples of the overlap and redundancy of this government!

Our [ballistic-missile] defense is lacking badly in needed preparation for the future. We can have an effective missile defense only if we have a president who has the political will to deploy it. This president doesn't exhibit that kind of political will.

Insight: What do you say to people who charge that Republican budget-cutting programs take food from hungry kids and prevent the poor from getting an education?

BL: Every [government] program has its good purpose, based on fine intentions. But the cumulative cost is destroying us.... It's out of control and getting worse.

If we do our job cleanly and efficiently, we can get more money for these children, more money for the people truly in need and save money for the taxpayer.

The average American family sent 5 percent of its income to Washington during the years right after World War II. Today, it is 25 percent. That's intolerable and it's one of the reasons we have more poor and indigent.

Insight: Will Republicans in the 105th Congress be able to work with President Clinton?

BL: To work with him closely, one has to trust him. That's going to be difficult. This is one of the most talented, gregarious people ever to occupy the White House. He's a very likable person. But it has not taken any of us long to understand he tells us only what he thinks we want to hear. Then he goes and does what he wants. This does not engender a great deal of trust.

Insight: Is the Republican Congress managing to slow federal spending?

BL: We have saved $50 billion and eliminated 297 [federal] programs under my guidance of the Appropriations Committee.

I believe we cannot balance the budget with the discretionary funding alone. We've got two-thirds of a budget that is mandatory. Without tackling those mandates substantially--more than we've done so far--frankly, we cannot get the balanced budget.

It used to be that our first priority under the Constitution was to protect the security of the nation, of the people. Now our first priority is to pay the interest on the bonds, on the debt. The interest on the debt is $245 billion a year.

It is my goal, and I probably won't be around when we do it, to see that $245 billion virtually eliminated. Until we do, we are not doing justice to our children.

Insight: You were a successful attorney both in private and public practice in Louisiana. How did you happen to decide to try for Congress?

BL: I hated [private] practice of law; I liked public service. A friend saw the newspaper headlines that Eddy Hebert, the venerable congressman for 36 years in [Louisiana's] 1st District, was retiring [in the mid-1970s] and he said `Why don't you run for that? …