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Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Washington, D.C. has emptied out, and everyone is ready for a break. I decided that I wanted to catch up with Congressman Erik Paulsen, my Total Spectrum colleague, and my friend of 30 years. I hope you enjoy the article we called Three Egg Omelet and Crisp Bacon: A virtual breakfast with Steve Gordon and Congressman Erik Paulsen.
Thanksgiving is a time to be with family, so from our family to yours, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We’ll be back in early December with the next issue of This Week.
Total Spectrum Managing Director
Heard on the Hill
By Steve Gordon, Total Spectrum Managing Director
Washington, D.C. is quiet over the Thanksgiving holiday, and there are a ton of things that await Congress when it returns. The short-term continuing resolution to fund the federal government runs out on December 3rd. The short-term extension of the debt ceiling is also due to run out, and Senate Democrats will have to decide what they are going to do with President Biden’s Build Back Better social infrastructure bill.
Congressman Erik Paulsen and I have been friends for over 30 years, and he’s a strategic consultant to Total Spectrum. I decided it was time for us to catch-up, and since native Minnesotans (and we are) love breakfast (and we do), we connected by Zoom on Tuesday morning while we ate eggs and bacon.
SG: Erik, I’m glad we’re doing this. Our schedules have been crazy, and I miss breakfasts in Minnesota with you.
EP: It’s like old times.
SG: A lot of folks don’t know that you lived in Washington during your years in Congress with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX 8), Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA 1), and Congressman John Shimkus (at that time, the Republican Congressman representing the 15th district of Illinois). Kevin Brady was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Steve Scalise was – and is now – the Minority Whip, John Shimkus was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and you were a highly respected member of the Ways and Means Committee. There was a lot of firepower in that townhouse. Remind me how that occurred.
EP: I was connected by an email looking for a place to stay as soon as I came to Washington, D.C. I liked all the guys, but who wouldn’t. Kevin Brady is originally from South Dakota and moved to Texas to run a local chamber of commerce. John Shimkus was from southern Illinois, and Steve Scalise is a natural leader. I stayed in the basement in an 8 x 8-foot room and lived there for ten years. They are all great guys, and they are all special friends.
SG: Kevin Brady was the Chairman of Ways and Means when Republicans passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and I thought he did a masterful job crafting the legislation.
EP: No one else could have ushered the tax reforms through Congress. He is great – a wealth of knowledge on taxes, trade, healthcare. Kevin Brady is both policy-oriented and focused, a strong advocate with a big heart. He’s now Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee but he announced that he will retire from Congress at the end of 2022.
SG: I know you’re taping an interview in the next week or so with Congressman Brady for Total Spectrum Spotlight. It should be fascinating to hear what he says about the Democratic push to fund their social infrastructure bill. By the way, who are the leading candidates to become the next Chairman of Ways and Means if Republicans take over the House of Representatives in 2023?
EP: There are two members who are actively seeking the spot. Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA 22) was chairman of the of the Ways and Means Health and Trade Subcommittee. He really knows the issues. The other person who would love to be Chairman is Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL 13). Vern is a very successful businessman who owns a number of car dealerships and a Republican rising star.
SG: Speaking about taxes and economics, what do you make of the rising rate of inflation? I remember the record inflation days followed by the stagflation days of the 1970s. Hyperinflation caused real hurt for people on a fixed income. President Reagan and Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker had to raise interest rates to bring inflation under control, and that caused real pain for other people. I surely don’t want to go down that road again.
EP: Steve, you have quite a personal perspective. Some of us only have memories passed down by our families. We are coming out of the pandemic. The stock market is white hot, but some of the President’s economic agenda may be fueling inflation. Medicare premiums next year will be the highest ever. Inflation is in effect a tax, and households will lose up to $1,800 in the first year of the Biden Administration resulting from the inflation tax.
SG: Inflation is defined as too many people chasing too few goods. Our current situation is almost textbook. People were siloed through the pandemic. They want to get back to enjoying life and they have money to spend – either from their savings or from federal spending. Now let’s reduce the availability of goods because of supply chain problems. The result is bound to drive up the cost of goods and services.
EP: You’re right, but also throw in a shortage of people to do the work. But even more than the shortage is the changing view that some folks have about work in general and their current jobs. We as a nation have always created great ideas and then worked to see the positive results of our labor. There are now people in Congress who want our society to be more like a European welfare state.
SG: I think you know I’m a strong supporter of infrastructure spending. But spending money on infrastructure for some is like that old Irish saw, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants new roads, bridges, ports, and water, but most people don’t want to pay for them.
EP: It’s easier to analyze bills after they pass than before you vote on them, and that’s because there are very few Senators or Members of Congress who have the time to read a 2,000-page bill before they vote. I am sure that there were some Members who wanted to vote for a bipartisan bill because there were good things in the bill. But there’s a flip side. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee voted no on the bill because it wasn’t paid for and they felt it would put new spending logs on the inflation fireplace. I would have supported the bill if the cost had been scaled back.
SG: I may have told you that I was recently with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). He said that the number of new entitlement programs in the President’s social infrastructure bill concern him more than the number of new dollars Democrats want to spend – and he’s right. There are few if any entitlement programs that have been passed by Congress that have ever been taken off the books.
EP: I think it’s both the new entitlement programs and the size of the proposed bill that concern me. They have put a lot of gimmicks in the proposed legislation to make it look like the bill is mostly paid for, but the Congressional Budget Office said that there is a wide gap between money they want to spend and new revenue, even after all the new taxes they want to raise.
SG: It’s hard to believe that we first met in 1989 in the reelection campaign of our mutual friend, former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN). I was a consultant to Senator Boschwitz. I think you were a field representative.
EP: It’s true. I was young, and you didn’t have one gray hair. After Rudy lost, I went to work for Congressman Jim Ramstad, first in Washington, D.C. and I later ran his district office. Then I won a seat in the Minnesota state legislature, where I later served as House Majority Leader. Jim Ramstad retired from Congress in 2008, and I was sworn in as a freshman Member of Congress in January 2009.
Steve, you just celebrated your 42nd year in politics. We also just noted the 58th anniversary of President John Kennedy’s assassination. What do you remember about that terrible time?
SG: I was a senior in high school. They announced it over the loud-speaker and then dismissed school. I remember going home and watching television almost non-stop for days thereafter. We lost a President and a whole generation of Americans lost their innocence. It was the start of our turbulent times.
EP: Probably so, but I am reminded this week of something that former President Teddy Roosevelt said at his inauguration. “No people on earth have more cause to be thankful.” Steve, I’m grateful for you and all you do. Happy Thanksgiving.
SG: Quite true – and the feeling is quite mutual, Erik. Happy Thanksgiving, friend.