Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, accused Republican Genevieve Atwood of being an opportunist at a press conference Friday, then found himself facing the same epithet from reporters - and later Atwood too.
Owens complained that Atwood as a challenger has the luxury of not having to vote on tough budget matters - and that she criticizes Owens' votes without clearly saying how she would vote on the specific packages that Congress faces. At the same press conference, Owens announced he introduced a bill to delay the $22,400 pay raise approved for House members next year until they meet the 1992 Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction goals. But he admitted his bill has absolutely no chance of passing because of its introduction just days before adjournment.That brought questions of whether Owens himself was being an opportunist by introducing a bill that he knew could not advance in hopes of scoring political points against an unpopular pay raise. He said it shows his intent to pursue similar legislation next year, if re-elected.
Some reporters also questioned whether Owens and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, were properly separating their political campaign budgets and official House budgets.
That's because Owens had his House-paid press secretary organize the political press conference Friday and hand out releases there, and Hansen's House-paid press secretary, Rick Guldan, was at the event taping it.
Guldan said he came to obtain first-hand details for Hansen about Owens' pay raise delay bill. When asked if he was also acting as the "Atwood Washington Bureau," he laughed. Owens said actions by him and Hansen's staff were within rules and appropriate.
Owens called the press conference after days of attacks by Atwood claiming that Owens is supporting budget proposals she says will hurt the middle class and senior citizens.
Owens said he has supported packages that are easier on the middle class and seniors by taxing the super-rich more. He added, "Atwood is refusing to take a position on what she stands for in terms of budget packages."
He noted she has publicly opposed the original budget compromise pushed by President Bush and congressional leaders that failed, and has opposed a version passed by House Democrats.
"And last night in a radio debate she refused to say whether she supported the Senate package. She has those three choices. I think the public in Utah is entitled to know where she stands on tax policy," Owens said.
When Atwood was later asked by the Deseret News how she would vote on those packages, she said, "I can't answer because I don't have enough information. I only know what I read in the newspapers. When you are part of negotiation, you know what is being traded, and where people are immovable."
She said, though, she supported a House Republican plan that would have made $420 billion in spending cuts. It never came to a vote because it was ruled out of order for not meeting the $500 billion deficit goal set by resolution.
Owens said, "The essence of the job of being congressman is making tough decisions when times require it, even when they're politically unpopular. . .. Genevieve has admitted that she is `squishy' on social and environmental issues. She obviously is also squishy on tax policy."
Atwood later said Owens was being squishy on his support of the pay raise, for which he voted earlier this year. She called his bill to delay the raise until Congress does its job with deficit reduction "just political posturing. He knows the raise is unpopular, and he's trying to do something about it."
She noted she has pledged to return the 25-percent pay increase back to the Treasury Department, if elected. Owens said he will keep the raise. He turned down a smaller raise this year - giving the money away as scholarships - saying members of Congress should stand election between when they vote for a raise and accept it.
Owens said that through his bill, he wants to further the idea that "Congress should accept some of the pain that we are imposing on others in this budget."
He said he has urged such action in two Democratic caucuses, and is unhappy that more cuts from Congress have not been included in budget packages.
About questions whether he and Hansen may be using staff improperly for their political campaigns, Owens said he typed his own press releases early in the morning on his own computer at home, and all their actions complied with the letter and spirit of House rules.