Rep. Walz on coming back to Congress in the minority
St. Paul, Minn. — As Rep. John Boehner and the Republican Party takes control of the House in the 112th Congress, MPR is checking in with members of the state's Congressional delegation.
Rep. Tim Walz, the DFL'er who represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, spoke with MPR's Tom Crann on Wednesday.
Tom Crann: Could you compare the difference in mood there from four years ago, when you were first sworn in and the power changed to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats?
Rep. Tim Walz: Well, I think it's really similar. It's just one of those great moments to be there and watch something that's so unique, that peaceful transition of power ...
There's of course some political gloating, that, 'We won,' type of thing, but I think it's more, 'Look what we can do together.' It's always, for me, a real reassuring (moment) and ... I look to what could be possible if we just decide to get together on a few things.
Obviously, I think my Republican friends were a little happier than they were four years ago, but the fact still remains we're all elected to serve those who, whether they voted for us or not, and whether they're with us on our side of the caucus or not. And so, it's a pretty moving ceremony.
Crann: I imagine, though, that ... those feelings of bipartisanship are not deceiving too many people, because right away there will be some business, and it will get partisan. And the fact that one of the first orders of business for Republicans is a vote on repealing the health care law, what does that say to you?
Walz: Well, it says to me that it's certainly not going to create any jobs, and it's not going to help the middle class. It will not pass. It doesn't have a chance to do so, and it's symbolic. It's frustrating to me that that's all going to happen very quickly, when the complaint (with) the original bill (was), 'We didn't have enough time. We didn't have enough debates,' even though it was debated more than any other bill in U.S. history, and it went on for over a year.
So I understand the realities of this -- that you have to throw some things to your base or whatever. The unfortunate part of it is it's not going ... to create jobs. It's not going to make health care more affordable ...
There were things in it that I didn't agree with, but the greater good, we had to move forward. I wish that would be the approach, but it's mostly theatrics. It's mostly to appease the base. The thing that I think that my friends in the majority now need to recognize is their base really wants them to do this. And it's not going to happen, and that's going to be an interesting dynamic.
Crann: Is it a preview, if you will, of the gridlock ahead, given that the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, the president is a Democrat? Can anything really get done?
Walz: Well, I think it has to, Tom. And I've said this before, and I, of course, took some heat - the bill on taxes during the lame duck session. I did not agree with the upper-income tax cuts on that. I thought it added to the debt. It didn't do anything economically, but the choice of having the entire thing fail or support that was one that I decided to make that decision. I hope we're willing to do that.
I've been talking and had a bipartisan energy bill that was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike that was in vogue, I guess, when gas prices were over three dollars the last time. Nothing has changed on that. We still have issues that we're going to have to get a handle on - our energy independence, we're going to have to create jobs at home. And I hope people are willing to put that aside.
I have no illusion, and I think this idea that there's a mandate from the public that you know what they want (is incorrect). I think there's very few things you can know for sure, other than if they want jobs, they want to make sure those are there, they want to make sure that there's a fairness to our system.
And for us to continue to let ideological divides do nothing, I think is really counter to what we were sent here for. So I know that ... sending me back here was a mandate to get something done and to do it in a manner that's good for the country. So I hope that prevails. I feel it needs to be there. I'm not interested in what I saw the last two years, of just saying no and make sure that Speaker Boehner fails. That's not my intention at all, because that's not good for the country.
Crann: So how do you get beyond the gridlock? Is it a matter, as you point out, of having to compromise on things all the time to get any work done? There are going to be things you're going to have to vote for that you just would rather see another way or just aren't ideal.
Walz: I believe that, and I'm somewhat troubled by this because I know prior to the election, at that point minority leader Boehner said that he's not interested in compromise. He doesn't see it as a virtue. I do. I see it as one of the core virtues of a functioning democracy that it ensures that some of us don't get everything we want and some of us get nothing. It ensures that there is that give and take ...
This question got brought up - how do we get beyond this? It was an elder statesman in Minnesota who said, 'One person at a time.' So you need to be that change that you want to see. And I'm not, as I said, interested in embarrassing or going to the partisan bomb throwing. I'm more interested in what the facts are, what creates jobs, what makes government work efficiently and effectively, and doing that.
So I think the only thing that I can guarantee, and I think each of us has to do that, is we need to each live that change. And then the public needs to judge us on that. Are they really trying to work together? I mean there's a good percentage of the population that thinks, 'Well, the other side is totally wrong every bit of the time, and you just have to destroy and eliminate their ideas.' I think that's a very dangerous way to approach this.
So I do think that compromise, that giving, and that voting for bills that are far from perfect is the only way you make things work.
Crann: When it comes to reining in spending, will you vote for reducing the spending on Congressional offices, in effect, the administration of what you do, by five percent, as is proposed?
Walz: Absolutely. The thing that frustrates me, Tom, is that I've cut and sent back every year. You don't need a bill to do this. Any of these people posturing on this could have done it. And then a story comes out that three offices, myself and a couple other, had given back salary, and we have given back part of what we didn't need.
The problem with cutting that across is the years we were able to give back more than five percent, we did it effectively. There were other years we couldn't give back as much as five percent because we had flooding, and that money provided the resources to get the staff out there to help people get back in their homes, to negotiate (with) the Small Business Administration, all that.
That's the problem with this type of theatrics and, 'We're going to cut it across the board.' Now you're going to ensure that you cut programs by five percent that should've been totally eliminated. And if you're going to save Congressional spending, have the courage to stand up and defend what you did.
It's frustrating to me that all of these people who are cheering this now could have done it on their own all of these years exactly as we did. I just don't understand that. I'm for it. I'll vote for it. It's good. If we don't have the self discipline to do it on ourselves, I think that (a bill) is good.
But I have a problem with if there is a natural disaster in a Congressional district where I voted on cutting that money and somebody's constituent, whether it be in Alaska, Florida, North Dakota, or Minnesota, is left without that ... office being able to deliver those services, that's simply not good government then. So I'll vote for it. It's fine, but I think the people knows it's posturing.
Crann: I heard you refer to 'my friends in the majority,' Congressman. Does that sting just a bit?
Walz: Not for me, I don't think, Tom, and I honestly say that .... My first elected office was here, and people said, 'You don't even know enough to know that we're in the majority, and that's a good thing.' And I said, 'Well, my job is to represent the people and to do the best I can.' And I was under no illusion that it was just those that voted for me.
When I get frustrated, Tom, is when I believe that policies are being put forward that are not going to work and it's factually inaccurate ...
I'm a transparency guy and have tried, from putting our expenditures online and everything else, but the Speaker (Boehner) said that, 'It won't be like it used to be. They'll be open rules.' The first rule is a closed rule. So the rule on the rule is closed.
And those types of things are frustrating of how it gets done. For me, it's more of a frustration not that I think we need to be in charge or whatever, but I see a flip flop of the things that irritated them are now going to be done the same way.
And so I'm optimistic maybe we can break through that. I think much of what Speaker Boehner said I could fully agree with and would be there to support and hope it goes through, but just telling people, 'Well, we're going to cut the size of committees' or whatever, well that just makes sure that there's places that don't have a representation and the American people's voice on those committees and the committee work of searching through facts and determining what's the best way to go.
Cutting those down and making those smaller, we're going to get back to the point where we've been before where the lobbyists on K Street write the bills. They move them to the floor, and we vote on them. And they're not crafted by legislators.
So I guess the thing that stings a little bit to me is that it's not improving the way things have been, because the public knows this, and I think Republicans would know this. This will probably not be the last wave election. There's always a high water mark. I'm very well aware of that, and I think the American public is in a mood right now is either you deliver or you're gone. We need to bring back some stability, some true bipartisanship that doesn't just mean I say I'm bipartisan and I do this, but we really understand that there's good ideas and bad ideas on both sides. Let's try and just weed out the good things.
Crann: Do you see support in your party's leadership, though, for that kind of bipartisanship, or on the other side of the aisle, for that matter? We hear a lot of these complaints every time the power switches in the House. The other side makes the same complaints.
Walz: I think you have to be honest with yourself. It's one of those things, 'Oh, we're doing it.' 'Well, but they're not.' I think there were cases where I would agree that we could've been more open, but I also think there's places where they could've admitted that we were open and were inclusive and they simply didn't take advantage of it or chose not to be a part of that process.
I'm going to be optimistic that it's yet to be seen. I respect the will of the American public. I certainly respect the election certificates of the members of the Republican party, and Speaker Boehner, that he's there, and that's the way it is.
But we need to make sure that at the end of the day, the things we're doing here truly do make it better for the middle class, create jobs, and things like that. And all that rhetoric, we got a lot of it in this campaign, of freedom and this and all that. We all believe that, and it's disrespectful to think we don't, but at the end of the day, there are some legitimate things that government needs to do, and the first one that I think is going to be a real test coming up is the debt limit vote that the Republicans are going to have to determine, two wars, tax cuts, and all of that. They're going to have to vote for that.
Crann: Let me ask about the debt limit. It looks like right away you're going to get into dealing with the debt and the debt limit or the debt ceiling. Where do you stand on that?
Walz: Well, I've said all along the only thing more irresponsible than overspending is not paying your bills. I had to vote on one of those immediately (after) getting there that the Bush administration, through tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Medicare Part D, left us with quite a bill.
You've got to do the responsible thing, and I think there's a portion of the Republican Party, and Speaker Boehner has expressed it, that ... called it his adult moment. Good luck with some of the new members who simply believe that you can cut this. They can cut a hundred billion dollars and they can make sure that we have no way of getting out of this recession. And they can cut education. They can cut whatever they think, and that's fine. If they're cutting wasteful spending, I'm right with them on that.
But at the end of the day, the debt limit still needs to be addressed, and there has never been a time in this nation's history that the full faith and credit of the U.S. government has been in jeopardy. So they're going to play with fire on this one. And what they're going to find is that all that rhetoric and all that partisan ideology kind of floats away when you actually have to govern. So I think that's an opportunity. I really do.
Crann: And so would you be in favor of raising it then, as necessary?
Walz: I'm going to wait and see what they have. I can certainly tell you this, Tom, that I will let my colleagues from Minnesota, like Ms. Bachmann and others, they will go first on that because they're in charge now. So they can do the responsible thing, go first, and then we'll take a look at it and see what happens after that.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran.)
- All Things Considered, 01/05/2011, 5:23 p.m.