D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood to chat about her upcoming fight for re-election.
Federal lawmakers walk Congress — and the region’s local economy — to the edge of a “fiscal cliff.” The District’s homicide rate dips below a major landmark. And one of Virginia’s most prominent Republicans publicly ponders an independent run for governor. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Kaya Henderson Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
- Chris Van Hollen U.S. House of Representatives (D-Maryland, 8th District)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Video
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson addresses the District’s school boundaries, an issue she has said could end up pitting communities and neighborhoods against one another. “I love my job, I’m willing to do lots of hard things, but this is the thing I fear most,” says Henderson.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Look out, old Mack is back. You were under the weather a little bit coming towards the end of the year last year. Now, you seem to be much better.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI can see the finish line. I've got to take, you know, sinus medicine for a while, but I hope my voice doesn't irritate too many people, maybe deeper than normal.
NNAMDII was about to say no more. It just hasn't passed.
SHERWOODBut it's all good. You know, as the doctor said -- today, he says, well, the good news is you don't have emphysema. You don't have asthma. I said, good. This -- but, anyway, we went up from there, so I'm all good, and I'm looking forward to this show.
NNAMDIThat's Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. I like to start with a bit of sad news. We talked in November about the passing of well-known activist Lawrence Guyot. Well, unfortunately, in December, his well-known wife, Monica Guyot, also passed, and it was very sad. I'd like to simply share a little bit of what her daughter Julie Guyot sent out for public distribution about Monica Guyot.
NNAMDIShe said, "My mother said her life began when she met her father, and he said she was the best political decision he ever made. They were ridiculously devoted. My parents met in Berkeley where dad was recruiting for the movement. He called to confirm that two of mom's friends would be heading to Mississippi and was surprised that she would be joining them. He asked how -- her how long she planned on staying.
NNAMDI"For as long as you'll need me, I suppose. Dad crooned indefinitely. Little did she know, he meant it. He did. She loved engaging children. She built a childcare center of 28 staff and over 100 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years from a single conversation with two other dissatisfied moms. They wanted to provide better education for children. She educated generations of babies, babies who later returned to GAP as staff and enrolled their own children into the program.
NNAMDI"And finally, there's this. The love of her life, my handsome, smart, charismatic father, passed away some time in the night on Nov. 22, and my mother awoke next to him after he'd gone. On the evening of Dec. 22, after weeks of trying to think of a way to live in a world without Guyot, she followed him home. We are devastated by her loss."
SHERWOODShe basically died of a broken heart.
NNAMDIYes, basically of a broken heart.
SHERWOODShe was a -- I did not, in fact, know her well because she wisely didn't speak to some reporters.
NNAMDIWell, they said that...
SHERWOODBut, you know, but Guyot always was centered. However fulminating he could be on the subject at hand, he was always centered, and everyone knew part of that being centered was Monica at his side, behind his back, and in his heart.
NNAMDIJulie says, "She really hated being listed as Monica Klein Guyot in dad's obituary. She was Guyot's wife, period. But in some circles, Guyot was known as Monica's husband."
SHERWOODBoy, that's true. And...
SHERWOOD...can we just take a moment also? I know that Barbara Lett-Simmons'...
NNAMDIBarbara Lett-Simmons passed and...
SHERWOOD...funeral is this week...
SHERWOOD...at Shiloh Baptist Church on Thursday.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, she, too, played a major role in the city and in the image of the city.
NNAMDIStarting as an activist and then her tenure on the school board, and then she was one of the electors...
NNAMDI...in 2000, in the election in which Al Gore lost to George W. Bush.
SHERWOODShe actually took action. She didn't vote for the Democrats who won because we don't have voting in Congress. You know, as I've said a number of times, I don't know why the Democrats when they go to the conventions don't refuse to vote when it comes time to nominate a nominee or they don't refuse to vote for the person on the ballot in November. If you're serious about not having a full vote, then stop playing around with half a vote.
NNAMDIIs it good news that D.C. dipped under 100 homicides in 2012, 88 homicides less than the city has seen since, I think, John F. Kennedy?
SHERWOODIn 1960. I can't remember the exact year. Yes, it is good news that the homicide -- and we could beat Chicago's 500-plus.
NNAMDIThis is true, 514.
SHERWOODNew York is down, but, you know, even as Chief Lanier says, "100 homicides or 88 homicides is way too many homicides." But whether there's a national trend in the reduction of homicides or whether it's anti-gang violence, whether it's focusing on illegal guns, it is a good thing. We were known as the murder capital of the country, unfairly in my opinion, but still, that's the way we were known when we had 400, 500 murders in the '80s. So, yes, it's good news. There are other crimes, you know, crimes of violence.
NNAMDIEspecially sexual assaults.
SHERWOODAnd just, you know, these street robberies and beatings that are occurring just frequently enough to make people be nervous, and that's something the chief says she'll be focusing on.
NNAMDIIs it all good -- also good news that the Redskins will be playing in their first playoff game in years come this Sunday?
SHERWOODWell, they're playing out in that suburban state, you know.
NNAMDIThey have a quarterback who has apparently lifted the spirits of a whole lot of people throughout the region -- Robert Griffin III.
SHERWOODYes. But the running back, Alfred Morris...
NNAMDIAlfred Morris, yes, who drives a...
SHERWOOD...also a rookie, also carrying -- yeah, we talk about how RGIII is carrying the team on his shoulders. Well, it's a two-mule wagon here. Morris is doing his part well beyond what you'd expect a rookie to do, and it's just exciting to watch. Now, some people don't like Dan Snyder, the owner, don't like seeing the shots up in the owner's box...
NNAMDIThey think he's going to...
SHERWOOD...but he's excited...
NNAMDIThey think he's going to find a way to mess it up.
SHERWOOD...because they want the team to win in spite of him, but it's a good thing. It's great for the region. People are feeling good about our -- Pat Collins, of Channel 4, has been doing silly fan stories this week, and they're very funny. Had a great time. But this is a very serious game, and Seattle has the upper hand on us for the last times we played. So we got to get with it.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is "The Politics Hour," and Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst.
SHERWOODBut I mentioned how Maryland has the team. You know, that's politics.
NNAMDIOh, yes. Well, we're hoping that Washington, D.C. gets the team back. Here come the calls from Prince George's County. Tom Sherwood is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our guest last joined "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" in November, right as the system was rolling out the outlines of a plan to close roughly two dozen schools, the system being the D.C. public schools. And joining us now in studio is the chancellor of the District of Columbia's public schools, Kaya Henderson. Kaya Henderson, good to see you. Happy New Year. Thank you for joining us.
MS. KAYA HENDERSONHappy New Year. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDISince the last time you were here, you've been seeking input from parents about how to move forward. What have you been hearing, and how has it changed, if at all? You're thinking about to move ahead.
HENDERSONWell, we have been out in the community. We have met with seems like zillions of people, actually thousands and thousands of constituents in the city. And I was serious when I said this was a proposal around consolidations and reorganizations. We don't believe that all of the best thinking comes out of our building. And we knew there were things that the community knew and wanted that we wanted to inform our proposal.
HENDERSONAnd so through meetings, through -- with all of these different people, I think one of the most surprising things that we heard was this very powerful and consistent demand for neighborhood schools. And when I think about how many families avail themselves of the out-of-boundary lottery, how many parents are choosing charter schools these days, it was actually really encouraging to hear people, I think, recommit to the traditional neighborhood school where children have a right to go.
HENDERSONNow, they were very clear that the neighborhood schools, in fact, are not enrolled because we aren't offering the quality of programming that they want to see. And so I think there are some challenges put before us in terms of ensuring that our schools are providing the foreign languages and the arts and other things that are important to families. But I think...
NNAMDIBut you put challenges also to the parents themselves. You said, don't come in here crying about please just save my school 'cause I love my school. Please come in with some concrete alternative proposals. Have you been getting any of those?
HENDERSONWe have gotten a number of alternative proposals. In fact, it is encouraging to see that the community views this as a partnership. DCPS can't do this work by ourselves. And so parents and community members, education councils got serious and put together ideas on how we could increase enrolment, shared with us some of the challenges with some of the plans that we had and I think helped re-ignite a vision of D.C. public schools that we all want to see.
SHERWOODChancellor, you put out this proposed list of 20 schools late last year. When do you make the final decision? When will you publicly announce your decision of the schools you've chosen, whatever you've decided to do 'cause it is your decision? It's not the Council. It's not the mayor. You're in charge. You get to make this decision.
HENDERSONWell, I work for the mayor. I'm accountable to the mayor. And so ultimately, I take my recommendations to my boss, and he says yes or no.
SHERWOODOK. Well, when is that drop-dead date?
HENDERSONWe will announce the final plan the week of the 14th, 13th, whatever that week is.
SHERWOODSo within two weeks.
SHERWOODEmma Brown in The Washington Post on Jan. 1 wrote a story about how the -- just what you had asked for, for the teachers and the community people and the parents to respond positively with plans and ideas of what to do.
NNAMDIWhich doesn't make good television at all, does it? We would prefer to have rallies and people yelling on the street.
SHERWOODI know. I actually watched them -- the DCPS -- the -- some of the channel -- was it 99 or whatever it is -- where you were handling some of those crowds and it got pretty rowdy in some places.
HENDERSONNot so much. Not at all. Were you here in...
SHERWOODWell, I happen to see some guy came up and ran in front of you.
HENDERSONAh, yes. That's true. But were you here in 2008 when they were screaming, you know...
SHERWOODYeah. But that was Michelle Rhee's problem.
SHERWOODHere's -- you said in this Post story, I want to make sure that this is not the case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease, meaning that just because some parent groups yell louder than others or -- you weren't -- didn't want to consider that. But have these parents given you solid information? And I'm going to mention Garrison only because they have been so aggressive to show that they can grow the school, add resources, get more students. Had they done more than just cheerlead for their schools?
HENDERSONAbsolutely. And I'm not even speaking about Garrison. I'm speaking across the board. We saw documents come in with updates on the demographic information that we put out. We saw recruitment plans with benchmarks for each year in terms of how folks were going to grow the school and the strategies that they were going to use.
HENDERSONWe saw partnerships where a university, in one case, said, we're willing to put $50,000 up to help the PTA with their recruitment campaign to get -- I mean, what this -- the -- in fact, the Garrison PTA president, Ann McLeod, said to me and actually tweeted, right, that effectively while this is all horrible, right, it's a crisis situation that out of the crisis the silver lining is that they -- it has forged a bond within their community that wasn't there. Parents who previously weren't engaging with one another are now rallied around a common cause.
SHERWOODNow, will this be the 20…
NNAMDIOur guest is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia's public schools. If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
SHERWOODSo you had the list of the initial 20 schools. In the decision you finally make, will there be 20 schools? Will there be schools that weren't on the original list? Will there be -- some schools will fall off this list? Or do you have to 20 different budget reasons for the budget number you're trying to reach?
HENDERSONSo we don't have to have 20 necessarily. But when we looked at the criteria around -- under utilization and under enrolment, these were the 20 that came up. We haven't quite decided, you know, how many will ultimately make the final list. But we -- so yeah...
SHERWOODWhat about schools that are under enrolled? It costs you the same as a school that's fully enrolled. You have to heat it. You have to provide services. You have to provide janitorial services. You have to have all the security things that you do. Is it possible to close parts of schools, to close a wing of a school that is unused, and minimize your cost so the school and the neighborhood can stay open?
HENDERSONSo, you know, Tom, part of it is about the fixed cost and cost of heating the building and whatnot. But really the big expenditure is in providing overhead, providing administrators, providing, you know, the...
SHERWOODThe librarians and the...
HENDERSON...it is -- right. It is all of the non-classroom teachers that you ultimately have to pay for in order to have a school be able to offer a full compliment of academic programs. And, you know, what we heard in these proposals is we want more foreign language. We want more arts. Can you -- you know, we want an IB program.
HENDERSONAnd if we just went along with what the proposals ask, in fact, we'd add a zillion dollars to our budget. And so what this consolidation process offers us the opportunity to do is to recoup those overhead funds that we're paying for and to plough them into the kind of academic programming that people want to see.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, unless Tom has another question, which he does.
SHERWOODNow, let's go to the phones.
NNAMDIBut let's go to Randall in Northeast Washington first. Randall, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RANDALLOh, I'm about to say that I live in Ward 5, and for the past, there are no acceptable -- for me and a lot of parents I've talked to, there are no acceptable public schools. And a lot of us don't want to utilize the -- and I live in Ward 5 -- utilize the child schools that we don't really believe in those either. And we're having a big problem that all of you allow all the public middle schools to close.
RANDALLI know you have a plan to bring someone on board, but they're not on board yet. And I'm in the process of searching for a public school, number one. Number two, it's like a de facto resegregation, particularly that now you can't go to the school in your zip code where sometimes across the city (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, we are going to get to the boundary discussion very shortly. But please allow me to have the school's chancellor respond to your search for a good public school in your ward.
HENDERSONWe've been working with the Ward 5 education council over the last two ears around the middle school question, and I'm excited that we will be opening this August, the McKinley Tech middle school. In the A wing of the McKinley Tech building, we'll open a 6th through 8th grade neighborhood middle school for children in Ward 5. And those children will have access to a state-of-the-art STEM middle school education.
HENDERSONThere are engineering labs and science labs, and that building will be able to maximize the resources that are both at the high school and at the middle school level. And that will hold about 300 additional kids. That is -- the shovels are down on it right now and we'll open in August. In fact, two years from now, we'll re-open what was the Brookland Education Campus as the Brookland world languages and arts integration middle school. And so there will be some great options. We also are beginning an IB program at the middle...
HENDERSONI'm sorry. An international baccalaureate program at Browne Education Campus in their middle grades program. And so I think you will see starting with this year and increasing over the next two years many more high-quality middle school options in Ward 5.
NNAMDIRandall, thank you very much for your call. Randall implied -- and I'll bring up that you're moving, in fact, from one minefield, the closing of schools, to another. You're about to take on another hypersensitive issue for D.C. families -- school boundaries, a conversation that you yourself have said could end up pitting communities and neighborhoods against one another. How do you plan on getting that conversation started?
HENDERSONI'll be very honest with you. I love my job. I'm willing to do lots of hard things. This is the thing that, I think, I fear most. I think it's unconscionable that we haven't really changed boundaries and feeder patterns since the '70s in a city that is changing so rapidly. And we've created problems for ourselves by not dealing with this issue in part because it's a political football. And so, you know, leadership is hard stuff, and we have to figure out a way to do this.
HENDERSONI think that Councilmember Cheh actually suggested what I think is a very good idea, which is the convening of a task force made up of multiple stakeholders across the city to start to look at this issue and develop a set of recommendations. Again, I know for sure I don't have all of the answers on boundaries and feeder patterns. And the issues that we're going to confront are going to be much deeper than D.C. public schools. And so it's going to be important to have a variety of voices around the table helping us to come up with a set of recommendations.
SHERWOODWhat is the goal of the boundaries? In the -- let's, say, perfect world, what is the boundary? What does it mean?
HENDERSONSo the boundary is the area around a school where the children...
SHERWOODThe physical boundary.
HENDERSON...the physical boundary where the children who live within that boundary have a right to go to that public school.
NNAMDIThey got first choice, first bits.
HENDERSONYes. And if there are any open spaces after the in-boundary children are placed, then out-of-boundary children have the opportunity to apply. This is going to be a very difficult issue in places like Ward 3, where for years...
NNAMDIThat's (unintelligible) where you got Wilson High School here. You got Deal Junior High School, which are located in this most affluent ward of the city. But they serve kids from all over the city. It's going to be a problem.
SHERWOODBut more and more kids in Ward 3 are actually electing to attend middle school and high school...
SHERWOOD...which cuts the number of kids from other parts of the city.
HENDERSONThat's right. One of the -- I think one of the benefits of parents not choosing D.C. public schools in Ward 3 was that it opened the door for at least a diversity of children to be in some of the Ward 3 schools. The -- and in fact, what is part of the challenge is not just the boundaries are too big now or kids are coming back, but many of these parents say to me, I want my school to remain diverse. And if you close off the boundary, I'll only be with in-neighborhood kids when, in fact, I came to live in Washington, D.C., because I want my child to have friends of all stripes.
SHERWOODWell, for timing -- (unintelligible) all about time. You have a school-closing decision to make in the next two weeks. When will the boundaries issue be settled? Do you have to do it just by the spring?
HENDERSONSo we will spend January to June engaging around the boundary issue, put out a set of recommendations and finalize them, hopefully, by the end of the school year, but they won't take effect until the following school year.
HENDERSONI think it's too much for parents to negotiate school consolidations and boundary and feeder pattern changes all in one year.
SHERWOODSo that'll be 2014, '15?
HENDERSONYes. This is...
HENDERSONYes, '14, '15.
NNAMDIHere is Oscar in Northwest Washington. Oscar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OSCARWell, yes, to consider that again, unfortunately. The question is, does it makes sense by Chancellor Henderson to close schools and then discuss the boundary issues? That seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Now, I have a child in a D.C. public school that's planning to close. I'm going to pull the child out because the alternative is no viable alternative once the school closed. You're going to lose those parents because they're not going to follow the kids...
NNAMDIWell, can you -- you care to mention the school so that the chancellor can tell you whether or not there is a viable alternative?
OSCARSure. Sure. Sure. Smothers Elementary School.
SHERWOODIn Ward 7?
OSCARYes. Now, the alternatives will not -- my child would not go to the alternative. It's too far. Now, here's my question now. Partly the problem is is that you're talking about these programs that are coming on board down the road. But if the enrollment continues to drop because more kids are going to the charter school, you won't have the funding to bring these programs off.
HENDERSONWell, let me say a couple of things. First of all, wait until January 17 because we haven't made any final decisions. In fact, one of the things that we heard loudly and clearly from many of our community meetings is that the receiving school that we chose was not sufficient for parents. They actually suggested other receiving schools. And so in some cases, we'll change the receiving schools. I just say all of that to say the proposal isn't finalized until we come out in two weeks.
HENDERSONSo, you know, you should take that into consideration. On the cart before the horse piece, you can't set boundaries until you know what schools you have. And in our ideal world, we would have been able to finalize the schools that we will have moving into the future and set up the boundary and feeder pattern stuff all at the same time.
HENDERSONBut there's no way to engage the community meaningfully and then be able to do all of the data work that comes afterwards and engage the community again. And if we don't begin to make some of these changes, literally, there's no way that we're going to be able to provide the children with the increased resources that they need. Our enrollment, in fact, has not been declining. In fact, we've stabilized our enrollment.
HENDERSONIn fact, right after the 2008 closures, in fact, 2009, '10 was the first year that D.C. public schools saw an increase in enrollment in nearly 40 years. And so one of the great things, I think, that's happening is we have an overall increase in public school children. We're up to 80,000 kids, I think, between DCPS and public charters. And what my job is and what my challenge is is to create compelling schools so that we can actually increase our enrollment.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Oscar. The politics, you know, since this is the Politics Hour, we do have to discuss politics. The politics of your job may be more, well, now political. The D.C. Council, once again, has an education committee chaired by David Catania. What expectations do you have for how this may affect the dynamics between the city's lawmakers and the city school system? And what lessons have you drawn so far from your experiences dealing with the council?
HENDERSONWell, I want to know why is it just getting political now. It has been political the whole time. The -- I actually am excited to work with the education committee of the council. For the entire time that I've been here, both as the deputy chancellor and the chancellor, education has been in the committee of the whole which means we've had to cultivate, keep informed, work with 13 different people which...
SHERWOODAnd their staffs.
HENDERSON...and their staffs which, you know, stretches our capacity a little bit. We have now five people who I have good relationships with all of them, have worked closely with all of them on a variety of projects. And, you know, we are over the days where we are fixing nuts and bolts things. We still have things to fix, don't get me wrong. But we're not at the low-level operational, just make the train runs on -- trains run on.
SHERWOODYou're not in the emergency ward.
HENDERSONThat's right. And so I think we have the opportunity to have the council and the executive branch work together to really create a very different and inspiring school system.
NNAMDITom Sherwood said in his column that David Catania is known to have a laser-like focus and attention to detail on all the issues that he looks at. How has your relationship been so far, and would you appreciate someone with a laser-like focus?
HENDERSONYes. I mean, my goal is to be as transparent as possible. I want people to know where our money is going. In fact, this past year, for the first time, we created a budget guide which crosswalks where we are spending our money and the budget guide that goes to the council. We want people to trust and have -- we want to be credible. And so to the extent that Chairman Catania and the other four people -- 'cause it's not just Catania, right -- to the extent that they can help us do that so that the public has confidence, so that the public knows what our priorities are, I'm excited about that.
SHERWOODWell, I did write -- if I may cite my own column. The Catania is both a blessing and a trouble for you 'cause he is going to be focused. He does pay attention. People complained or talked about how he ran the health department. He was health committee chairman.
NNAMDISherwood wrote why we can expect Catania to be Catania with his sometimes withering temperament when things are out of sorts.
SHERWOODYes. Yes. Exactly. I've experienced that...
SHERWOODBut -- as many people have. But, you know, but he also put money into the health care system when people were reluctant. And so I can see in this situation where once he understands where you're spending money and he fixes the parts he doesn't like, I can see you getting more money. Is it even possible that you could get more money in the closed, fewer schools, or is this just a fiscal thing that's going to happen 'cause you have too many school buildings?
HENDERSONWe have too many school buildings. But, you know, so I like your thinking, and I'm excited. If Councilmember Catania is listening and other members of the committee...
NNAMDIYou'll be on next week, by the way. Yes.
HENDERSONAll right. And they want to give us some more money, that's great. But I have a responsibility to be a good public steward of the resources that are given to me. And right now, we are not stewarding our resources well with these under-enrolled schools.
SHERWOODCan I ask?
NNAMDIYes, please do.
SHERWOODThe governor of Virginia, McDonnell, suggested in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings that they ought to open a discussion about having armed administrators or teachers in public schools. And I don't think...
NNAMDIShould Kaya Henderson be packing heat, is that what you're suggesting?
SHERWOODWell, some of those -- sometimes when she's trying to get something done, maybe she should. But, you know, very, you know, I just -- I have a feeling I know what your answer is, but I haven't heard you actually respond to that suggestion that in order to protect our children, they ought to -- some armed camp ought to occur inside the public schools.
HENDERSONI don't agree with that at all. At Columbine, there were armed guards but the disaster still happened. I believe that we have to -- we can keep our children safe. In fact, our educational professionals are there every single day. And every day, all kinds of tense and crazy things happen, but we equip them with tools to manage those issues. And I just think that the more guns there are, the more opportunities for, you know, unintended things to happen.
SHERWOODAnd your principals actually, I think, it's your principals and maybe the senior school staff take a class in what to do if there's a -- what's called an armed...
SHERWOODAn active shooting. That's such a benign phrase for what that means but an active shooter situation and what to do.
HENDERSONYes. So I love our partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department and Chief Lanier. And she, you know, advised, last spring, that we should train all of our principals on active shooter protocols. And so as part of our summer leadership academy, we train school leaders, not just principals, assistant principals, teacher leads on active shooter protocols. And so that is one of the benefits of being in partnership with MPD.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time. Very quickly, I have time for one final issue. Food service apparently has been losing millions of dollars over the last several years. You have expressed some reluctance for the school system itself to resume operations of the food service program. Where is that now?
HENDERSONSo the hearing that was held just right before the holidays really examined our food service contract until 2012. We have actually drafted or created a new contract situation. We did a new request for proposals, and we have different contract terms that we believe are going to save us quite a bit of money. We still will not be making money off of our food services, Kojo, but let me explain something to you. We have been aggressive about healthy food.
HENDERSONAnd you know what I know. Buying food at Yes! Organic mart is much more expensive than buying food at Giant or Safeway. So we -- well, you can't make an apples to apples comparison when we actually have a very different quality of food than other school districts. That being said, there are lots of contract management things that we could do differently. And, in fact, the contract pricing structure was not to our advantage, and so we've changed that.
SHERWOODAnd just to be clear, you do a breakfast program for some children, a lunch program, an afternoon snack program. This is not just one lunch time meal.
HENDERSONNo, this is -- yes, this is three meals. In fact, we have the highest breakfast participation rate in the country. And I want people to, I guess, you know, to stop thinking about this as an -- as simply an operational dilemma. We've made an investment in our children's nutrition, and you can't say you want healthy food and not be willing to pay for it.
NNAMDIKaya Henderson, she is the chancellor of the District of Columbia's Public Schools. Kaya Henderson, thank you so much for joining us.
HENDERSONAlways a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter, a columnist for the Current Newspapers and the only one who can explain the details of how a D.C. police officer, Sergeant Mark Robinson, has been able to apparently successfully challenge a speeding ticket he got because the speed camera was giving whatever. Explain. Only you can explain. This...
SHERWOODWell, it is truly...
NNAMDIThis police officer sounds more like an attorney than a police officer to me.
SHERWOODThe complaint is that the speed -- the ticket was not enforceable because the speed limit was set 5 miles per hour too high, not too low.
NNAMDIThe speed limit should have been set at 40 miles per hour...
SHERWOODInstead of 45.
NNAMDI...because this was a construction zone. It was set at 45 miles per hour.
NNAMDIThe officer got a ticket. He was able to successfully challenge it. And I, for the life of me, can't quite figure out the distinction.
SHERWOODWell, because the camera was not set properly for the speed limit.
NNAMDIAnd then -- so they're going to have to throw out a lot of other tickets?
SHERWOODSo it was -- you're right. It was set too low. But -- so what happens -- so this sounds like a major administrative nothing that the -- that at the end of the day, the DDOT, the police department say that this is not an issue, that the tickets are not his -- this officer suggested hundreds of thousands of dollars in tickets may have to be refunded. I've seen no evidence that that's going to happen.
NNAMDIWell, my friends and I only have one question, is there any way we can take advantage of this apparent loophole?
SHERWOODNo. No. I'd give you the advice the chief gives, if you don't want a ticket, don't speed.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Chief Lanier. Joining us now by telephone is Chris Van Hollen. He is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a Democrat from Maryland. Congressman Van Hollen, thank you for joining us.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLENIt's good to be with you, Kojo, and you too, Tom.
SHERWOODNo speed traps up there in Capitol Hill, the tortoises.
HOLLENLot of traps up on Capitol Hill, all kinds.
NNAMDIThe holidays on Capitol Hill were not exactly time for singing Christmas carols and drinking eggnog. This year, it took every ounce of energy, every second of the calendar, to squeeze out a deal that spared the majority of Americans from tax increases to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. But your colleagues are already gearing up for fights in just a few weeks over the debt limit and spending cuts. How do you feel about the deal reached on Tuesday night, and how do you feel about where things go from here?
HOLLENWell, I think the deal reached the other night was an important step forward. As you indicated, if we had not reached that agreement, we would be going over the fiscal cliff in full right now. In other words, everybody's taxes would be going up. As a result of the agreement, we have ensured that we continue the middle-class tax cuts. Very high-income people will now contribute more to reducing the deficit. We also eliminated the portions of the alternative minimum tax that were set to hit about 30 million Americans.
HOLLENAnd we were able to extend unemployment compensation for people who are out of work through no fault of their own. Those are just some of the important measures that were in the agreement. Now, you're absolutely right. It is incomplete in the sense that we have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time because we have these other looming deadlines, including the across-the-board sequester where we were able to deal with it for only a two-month period by coming up with alternative savings, not these indiscriminate cuts.
HOLLENBut we're going to have to face that at the end of February, coupled with the debt ceiling issue. And then in March, we have the end of what's called the continuing resolution, which is the funds to help with the government. Let me quickly say with the debt ceiling. I mean, the president's absolutely right. Nobody should be playing political games with the debt ceiling. Failure of the United States to pay the bills that are due would result in economic catastrophe. It would make going over the fiscal cliff look like a cakewalk in comparison.
SHERWOODCongressman, I've seen you on CNBC, MSNBC, several of those other stations, and I've seen the Republicans, I heard Joe Scarborough this morning and basically saying that, yes, the Democrats had their way with the fiscal cliff issue, that there's the revenue increases. But nowhere can we find -- and I'd ask you if you can point it to me. Where can we see the spending cuts the Democrats might support going forward, not cuts from the past? What's the answer to that?
SHERWOODRepublicans say you guys are just not interested in cutting. You're just interested in raising more revenue.
HOLLENWell, first of all, that's just not true. What we've called for, what the president's also called for, is a balanced approach, meaning combining cuts with revenue. Now, you asked about cuts going forward, but it is important to mention that the cuts that were adopted a year-and-a-half ago as part of the Budget Control Act are continuing cuts over the next 10-year period.
HOLLENIn other words, we have capped discretionary spending, and the result, if we continue to enforce it -- and we should -- will be well over $1 trillion. On top of that, the president proposed to Speaker Boehner just a few weeks ago that we do another $1.2 trillion in cuts, but we needed to match those cuts with $1.2 trillion in additional revenue.
HOLLENSo now, you know, as you know, Speaker Boehner decided not to pursue that agreement because he could not get his own House Republican members to support it even though the president put $1.2 trillion in cuts on the table. So they walked away from that. So now we had a sort of partial revenue measure that raises about $620 billion. So the next round has to be cuts but coupled with additional revenue to get back to the proposal the president made...
HOLLEN…$1.2 trillion in revenue, $1.2 trillion cuts.
NNAMDIWe interviewed your Democratic colleague from Virginia, Jim Moran, last week. He told us he did not support the deal because he did not think $620 billion was enough in revenue. He said it was inadequate. It only sets up more fiscal cliffs and that, frankly, when you get to the next stage, they're only going to be talking about cuts because you've gotten all the revenue you're going to get. How do you intend to get more revenue?
HOLLENWell, the same way that the president stated just the other day, which is that he is going to insist on a balanced approach going forward, which means that if Republicans want to replace the sequester -- and there's bipartisan support for replacing the sequester because it has these across-the-board cuts impacting defense and non-defense alike.
HOLLENIn fact, 50 percent of the cuts fall on defense, 50 percent on non-defense. So there's bipartisan agreement. That's a bad way to make the cuts. And the president will put forward -- and has in his budget -- a plan to replace those cuts with a mix of revenue and targeted cuts, not cuts that are these sort of across-the-board arbitrary cuts.
SHERWOODI'm sorry. The president has a plan that he's going to propose in -- has he...
HOLLENWell, let me -- the president has a plan already on the table in his budget that lays out the $1.2 trillion in cuts and also lays out how he achieves the $1.2 trillion in revenue. In fact, he's got more revenue than that in his package. But my point is that, in addition to the cuts, we're going to have to do some additional revenue.
HOLLENAnd the shame of this is that, you know, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans could have had an agreement that matched cuts with revenue. But because they opposed the revenue component, we had something go through here with very little cuts, but only half the revenue the president had originally proposed. So, going forward, we need to take that balanced approach the president has been talking about...
HOLLEN...additional cuts, but also additional revenue.
NNAMDIIn case you'd like to join the conversation, we're talking with Congressman Chris Van Hollen. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat from Maryland, ranking member of the House Budget Committee. You can call us at 800-433-8850 with your comments or questions, or send us email to email@example.com. Congressman Van Hollen, when the president says he won't negotiate anymore with House Republicans on the debt limit, what leverage does he have left on this issue now that some taxes are going up?
HOLLENWell, let's look at what the Republican sort of strategy on the debt limit is. The threat they're making -- it's important to understand this -- is that they're going to tank the U.S. economy if they don't get their way. And what the president is saying is, you know, he's not going to fall for what I would call the madman approach to negotiating. In other words, if you don't give us what we want, we will blow up the entire U.S. economy because that is the consequence of the United States failing to pay its bills.
HOLLENYou would see an immediate freefall in the economy, not just our economy, but the worldwide economy. The United States has never failed to pay its bills. You know, on a small scale, it's like you and I waking up one morning and saying, you know, we're not going to pay our mortgage, or, you know, we just put all that stuff on the credit card. We're not going to pay for it. Well, the United States government can't do that without causing irreparable economic damage.
HOLLENSo what the president is saying is, look, I'm happy to talk about ways to continue to reduce our long-term deficit. We have to do it in a balanced way. But I'm not going to give in to the equivalent of political blackmail, and I'm not going to deal with people who are threatening to blow up the U.S. economy. Let's have a rational conversation about how we achieve further deficit reduction and, frankly, how we continue to invest in areas that are really important for our global competitiveness: education, science and research and infrastructure.
SHERWOODIt doesn't sound like the Republicans have much to bargain with if they don't use the fiscal debt ceiling. And maybe some people say maybe the country ought to reset itself, what you say would be a disaster, but you would have a reset, much like the fiscal cliff would have been a reset.
HOLLENWell, Tom, I mean, there's a big difference in terms of the financial response to beginning to go over the fiscal cliff and the United States not paying its debts because, you know, as many people remarked, I mean, going over the fiscal cliff was really a very slow fall where you could stop the fall and get off at very different points.
HOLLENNot paying our debts would mean essentially the United States totally wrecked its credit rating, and so -- I mean, this is, you know, not paying your bond holders. This means, all of a sudden, cuts to folks on Social Security across the board. I mean, there are very negative impacts in the economy, and the markets would respond immediately.
SHERWOODLet's take a positive -- I can't believe a media person is about to take a positive view. Well, you know, the jobs report today wasn't too bad, and many economists across the board believe the economy is starting to uptick and gather some momentum. And I know you don't want that to be sabotaged by any action on Capitol Hill. But isn't it possible that if the economy really does start to improve that the government will take in more money, that it can get closer to a balanced budget just because the economy itself is doing better?
HOLLENWell, there is no doubt that in recent years, one of the biggest contributors to our deficit was exactly what you say, Tom. It was the slow economy. Because when the economy is in recession or when it's not growing quickly, two things happen. One is obviously less revenue is coming into the U.S. treasury so you don't have as much money to pay your bills. And two, these programs that help the very vulnerable, the safety net programs, obviously require greater spending. So on Medicaid and food nutrition programs, those kind of things.
HOLLENSo as the economy improves, you have more coming -- money coming into treasury, less money going out for safety net programs because fewer people need them. So there is no doubt that that has a positive impact in terms of reducing the deficit. Now, that's not enough for the long-term deficit because we have, as a result of the 2001, 2003 Bush tax cuts, less revenue coming in.
HOLLENAnd that's why the president had proposed not the $620 billion that we got from the most recent agreement. But he actually had originally proposed $1.6 trillion in revenue coupled with these cuts that have to be made but made in a smart way. So, yes, the improving economy will certainly help the long-term deficit, but we're going to have to do more than that. We just need to do it in the smart way.
NNAMDIHere now is Andrew in Arlington, Va. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWThanks, Kojo. And thanks, Congressman Van Hollen, for taking my question. During the election season, we heard a lot about the carried interest rule. That's the lower tax rate that's applied to certain kinds of income, particularly for high-net worth individuals like Warren Buffett and hedge fund managers and VPs and the like.
ANDREWNow, I'm gratified to see that the Congress passed legislation to raise the tax rates on high-income individuals, but I didn't see anything about carried interest. And as far as I know it's still in place. It seems unfair. So my question is, you know, are there -- am I wrong? Was something changed in the legislation? Has carried interest gone away? And if it has not, do you plan to change it?
HOLLENWell, the answer is it was not taken away. And you're absolutely right, I believe, that we need to get rid of this huge loophole in the tax code, the carried interest loophole, which essentially allows hedge fund managers to have their, you know, their salary, their income taxed at a much lower capital gains level. So the short answer to your question is for individuals with incomes of $400,000 or more a year, we changed the capital gains rate across the board from 15 to 20 percent.
HOLLENBut the carried interest loophole remains -- in other words, it's 20 percent now -- but we need to change that. And as I indicated earlier going forward, we have to take a balanced approach that includes not just cuts but also additional revenue. And we should, in my view, get some additional revenue by permanently shutting down the carried interest loophole.
NNAMDIAndrew, thank you very much for your call, well-informed caller. Both Tom and I wished we'd asked that question. But go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I actually understood it, which is a good thing. But if closing loopholes is a way of counting additional revenues -- I know the Republicans talked more last year about closing loopholes and not raising rates. But closing loopholes is a way to get more revenue, is that correct? Is there a lot of money that can be gotten through closing loopholes?
NNAMDIOr is that a debatable question?
HOLLENWell, as you -- it all depends on how you define a loophole, right, Tom?
SHERWOODYeah, that's true.
HOLLENI think for some people -- someone says it's an important policy exemption versus, you know, a special interest loophole. And I would say that there is certainly revenue to be found there. For example, I mean, there are lots of, in my view, loopholes that provide special tax breaks to the big oil companies. We should get rid of those.
HOLLENObviously, you get a much more healthier debate when it comes to things like mortgage interest deductions, which have a public policy purpose. So I think we need to take a look at all these things. But there are some immediate loopholes that I believe can be eliminated, like the subsidies for the big oil companies, like the carried interest provision.
HOLLENBut let me make, I think, a point that lot of people don't know about, which is that the Grover Norquist pledge that we heard so much about during the fiscal negotiations essentially says, you cannot close any of these loopholes, whether it's for big oil companies or for Puerto Rican rum, unless you, at the same time, reduced the rates or provide a tax break somewhere else. In other words, the Grover Norquist pledge says you can't raise any revenue from closing these loopholes in order to reduce the deficit.
HOLLENYou can only use that revenue to provide additional tax relief somewhere else in the code 'cause many of us are pushed for a long time to get rid of these loopholes, to generate some revenue, to reduce the deficit. But, again, Republicans who signed that pledge and it's, you know, about 95 percent of the Republicans in the House that signed that pledge, it prohibits them. If they continue to buy, buy it from closing, say, the big oil subsidies in order to help reduce the deficits. So we're going to need to change that.
SHERWOODWe're almost starting to run out of time. Let me ask you -- speak to the more than 200,000 federal workers who are within the Beltway in the Metropolitan Washington area. Going forward, do you see the federal government reducing its size? We have had an extraordinary growth in the federal government here in the Washington region. What is the message to the federal workers? Should we be seeing the cutbacks to slow our growth? What -- what's -- what should they look for?
HOLLENWell, if you look at the size of the federal workforce, most of the growth has been in the area of security. For example, the TSA and other things we did to respond to 9/11, including the Department of Homeland Security. If you look at other federal agencies, they actually have not grown -- certainly not grown relative to the population growth. So, look, we should always look for ways to make the federal government more efficient, and we're in the process of looking at things we can do.
HOLLENThe president's put forward some proposals on how to do that. However, what we should not do is take these across-the-board meat axe cuts or try to use federal employees as our piggy bank for trying to balance the budget, and, unfortunately, everyone of the budget proposals put forward by Republicans in the House has included just dramatic across-the-board cuts for our federal workforce, including an arbitrary, sort of, 6 percent effective across-the-board pay cut.
HOLLENWell, that's not right and that's not fair. And that's not the way we should be dealing with our budget. These are folks who go to work every day, as you know, making sure that planes don't crash in the sky, looking for cures and treatments to diseases at NIH, making sure we have safe food and drug supply through the FDA. I mean, these are really important government functions. And the first people to complain when federal agencies somehow dropped the ball are the same people who want to slash their budgets.
SHERWOODBut -- well, are we going to have more base realignments?
NNAMDIIn 30 seconds or less.
HOLLENWe've -- I think we should have another BRAC process because that is a way we can make sensible reductions in a way that's politically achievable through that kind of process. And I should say just in closing, you know, we've been talking about the budget, but we have so many other challenges in this country we have to focus on.
HOLLENSo we cannot tie our self down every month when we should be also doing immigration reform, sensible efforts to deal with gun violence, including some commonsense gun control measures. It's important that we have an energy policy that makes sense. We need to do campaign finance reforms (unintelligible) agenda.
NNAMDIAnd hopefully you'll come back to discuss...
SHERWOODInfrastructure. We've got to deal with it.
NNAMDIChris Van Hollen is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat for Maryland. Congressman Van Hollen, thank you very much for joining us.
HOLLENThank you, and hope we're all rooting for the Redskins this Sunday.
NNAMDIWe certainly are. It should be pointed out that Monica Guyot will be publicly remembered on Jan. 12 at a venue to be named later. Tom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst, NBC 4 reporter and columnist for The Current Newspapers, good to have you back. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODGood to know. Have a good weekend.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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