During a set of interviews I conducted in mid-December for a forthcoming feature in the March issue of Reason magazine, four Republican congressmen who had been endorsed by outgoing Texas Rep. Ron Paul spoke about the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations: Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.), and Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.)
Here are edited excerpts of their comments on that topic. The full interview transcripts are forthcoming in Reason’s March print issue.
Rep. Justin Amash, 32, will be beginning his second term in Congress next month and is riding a wave of notoriety for being booted from his seat on the House Budget Committee, apparently for not being a good GOP team player when it came to voting for spending bills that didn't cut enough, in his view. His was one of the votes that helped kill House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” last week (though this interview was conducted before that vote):
Reason: Do you see anything good coming out of the fiscal cliff negotiations?
Amash: I think we are headed toward a situation where taxes are likely to go up and spending is not likely to go down and borrowing is likely to go up, which is what we’ve been doing for decades.
Reason: No signs of hope, then?
Amash: Things can change very quickly. You can have new leadership in our Party, have new leadership on the other side that would actually work together toward dealing with our debt. There is hope there is a new group of representatives coming in who view this problem very differently. Our constituents are putting pressure on us in new ways that is very different from, say, 10 years ago. When I go to Town Halls people understand the debt problem in ways I think they didn’t several years ago.
Reason: Can you imagine approving tax hikes to solve the debt problem?
Amash: The number one problem is debt. If someone brought a proposal that dealt substantially with entitlements, reforming them to ensure our government remains solvent in the long run, then we have to put everything on the table including taxes. I know some libertarians say it’s wrong to put taxes on the table under any circumstances. I disagree. The number one problem is debt. I don’t want to raise taxes; I don’t believe we need any more revenue for the federal government, but I cannot rule out discussion on taxes if someone else is willing to put on the table major reforms for entitlements.
Rep. Thomas Massie, 42, a new congressman from Kentucky’s 4th district, had retreated to a life of cattle and timber ranching after a successful career as a tech entrepreneur. Inspired by Ron and Rand Paul, he’s now an incoming freshman already seated in Congress due to winning a special election to replace his predecessor. He too was one of the votes against Boehner’s “Plan B” (and again, this interview occurred before that vote). He also told me he thinks the cuts embedded in the “fiscal cliff” need to happen, and in that sense it’s more a “fiscal remedy” than a horrific “fiscal cliff”:
Reason: The “fiscal cliff” negotiations are the first big drama you’re facing. Hopeful for a positive outcome?
Massie: I wouldn’t say “hope” is one of the things I’m full of after three weeks here. But when deciding which is worse, spending or taxes, without a doubt spending is worse than taxes, since taxes are an inevitable byproduct of spending. Once you’ve decided to spend, the only tax question is, are you going to pay or are your children going to? As far as tax rates going up, I’m afraid that’s going to happen as a consequence of the re-election of Obama. He has leverage right now. But I would rather see us in Congress vote on all these elements individually then make a giant hairball and try to pass it all once. I would not increase the debt ceiling before January 3. The current discussion about the so-called fiscal cliff should not include it.
Rep. Ted Yoho, 57, a career veterinarian, is an incoming freshman from Florida’s 3rd district.
Reason: Have you been watching your soon-to-be colleagues deal with the fiscal cliff negotiations? Hopeful that anything good might come of them?
Yoho: The fiscal cliff is not something that just came up at the end of the year right after the election. The fiscal cliff was put off two years ago, and put off two years before that. Our debt in ‘89 was $2.9 trillion and it’s now $16.2 trillion and in 10 years will be $23-25 trillion if it doesn’t go beyond that. When would we have liked to have dealt with that? It’s not a matter of whether we have to deal with it, the question is when, and it sure would have been a heck of a lot nicer to deal with it at $2.9 trillion. We don’t have an income problem, we have a spending problem.
I think the outcome will be a temporary band aid. We need to start dealing with problems with a heavy hand and a kind heart. But when we can no longer afford things in my household and business, we made cuts. We didn’t like them, but for longevity they were the best thing to do. We need to take the message to the American people and be honest with them, say “This where we are at as of this day,” not to fix blame, we are beyond that, but just, “This is the situation today and if we do this in five years this is what we will have,” and say we are all going to have to give a little bit, it’s painful but we know in 5-10 years it will be a lot better.
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, 61, the incoming congressman for Michigan’s 11th district, is a former automotive design engineer and schoolteacher who currently raises animals—including reindeer for Santa displays--and is also a veteran of the U.S. Army and Army National Guard who served in Vietnam, Kuwait, and Iraq.
Reason: How do you think the fiscal cliff negotiations will end?
Bentivolio: Your guess is as good as mine, it’s changing every day and I’m not in Congress yet; I’m here at home getting ready to go, I’m not in midst of it yet. But what’s important is to cut our spending and getting rid of that debt. Is it gonna hurt? Yeah it’s gonna hurt, but when it comes down to it we’ll be better for it. But I won’t vote for a tax increase. My constituents do not want me to vote for a tax increase. I’m not going to vote to raise the debt because my constituents don’t want me to raise the debt. Why steal from your grandchildren yet to be born to pay today’s frivolous bills?