After more than 40 years in Congress, Rep. David Obey decided to walk away from Capitol Hill primarily because of the influence of money in politics.
"I detest what money is doing to politics," the Wisconsin Democrat said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union. "And I am frankly fed up with trying to convince people that we should do something to deal with the fact that we have the greatest maldistribution of income in the history of this country."
Obey also said that his time in Washington, as well as six years as a state lawmaker, "is quite enough." He said he is looking forward to spending more time playing music and "perhaps increasing my allotment of gin and tonics from time to time."
Appearing with him on CNN was Sen. Byron Dorgan, who agreed that he was ready to have "more time to do interesting things" after 30 years in the House and the Senate, plus 10 years in the elected position of tax commissioner of North Dakota.
"I want to have another chapter in my life," the Democrat said. "You know, I'm not leaving because I'm upset, because I don't like the Congress.
I have great respect for the Congress. It's been a great gift to me to be able to serve given to me by the people of North Dakota."
Addressing the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will be among the high-profile tasks the chambers are expected to take up in the lame duck, before the two lawmakers' tenures come to an end.
Obey said that while he doesn't know how Congress will handle the expiring cuts, he favors extending tax cuts only for the first $200,000 in income ($250,000 for couples). "We have had the greatest surge upward of wealth on the income scale in the history of the universe. You've had a huge amount of money transferred from the middle class to the top dogs," he said. “You've had the biggest rip-off of the middle class by the elite that, I think, I've ever seen. And under those circumstances, I don't think we ought to be spending $750 billion in order to give people who make over $250,000 another tax cut."
Republicans are pushing hard for an across-the-board extension. "What's likely to happen is there will be an extension of the tax cuts for everybody for a period of time. I don't know what that might be," Dorgan said. "But it's the wrong remedy for the country. I mean to give someone who earns a million dollars a year a $104,000 a year tax cut at a time when we have a $13 trillion debt, a $1.3 trillion annual deficit and people at war? That's absurd. That makes no sense."
Republicans in the House and Senate are also moving to end the practice of earmarks, which Obey and Dorgan argued misses the larger deficit problem.
"As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I don't care what happens to earmarks," Obey said. "I'll play that flat or round. You can keep them or dump them. The fact is, they are inconsequential in comparison to the other problems we face and less than half a percent of the budget."
Dorgan added, "It's a complete charade. You can get rid of every single earmark. It's not going to change one cent in federal spending. So it's just a — it's a charade trying to direct attention over here when the big issue is an unsustainable fiscal policy put in place largely by the — the 2001 tax cuts. Look, most of that benefit went to the wealthiest Americans. And here's where we are."