Pipeline politics, payroll taxes, the 'supercommittee' and his former vote on the bulb ban
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, took a few minutes for a telephone interview with Capitol Confidential. Camp had just returned to his Washington, D.C. office from the floor of the U.S. House.
Throughout this month the hot issue has been H.R. 3630, the "Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011." On the day of the interview, Camp, the bill sponsor, had been named to the House conference committee for H.R. 3630. A conference committee is a panel that tries to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill.
Key provisions of the bill would require prompt approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, extend the employee payroll tax deduction a year (which would otherwise end Dec. 31, 2011), extend unemployment benefits 13 months, increase the mortgage guarantee from Freddie and Fannie, and make a small adjustment in Medicare by increasing premiums for upper-income receivers.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the tax relief extensions to prevent the pipeline provision. The Democrat-controlled Senate had passed a version of the bill that only extended the tax relief and unemployment benefits for two months, and then sent it back to the House and left for the holiday break.
The following are excerpts from the interview with Camp:
Q. Realistically, is there any way to get this bill enacted with the pipeline in it?
A. “Yes, because the pipeline is in both the House and Senate versions.”
Q. Would that make it harder for the President to veto?
A. “I think it makes it much harder.”
Q. What's the biggest stumbling block?
A. “It's the payroll tax deduction. That's the real difficulty. The Senate version would only extend it for two months. That doesn't make any sense, but the Senate put it in for just two months and then left town. It's unworkable. Yesterday, we received a letter from the National Payroll Reporting Consortium - an association whose members cover more than one-third of the private sector workforce. Their letter says the Senate bill would create confusion. Employers aren't even set up to be able to do it like that. It doesn't make any sense, the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) has said that, ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) has said that, and other private sector groups have said that. It's unworkable.
'And for physicians . . . they can't do it that way with Medicare. In fact, sometimes patients quite often can't even get an appointment within two months. That's unworkable.”
Q. Did you consider the Supercommittee to be a realistic idea?
A. “I approached it as realistic. But then the president came out with his $500 billion spending package.”
Q. Is all of this just posturing?
A. “There's too much campaigning going on, especially by the president and the administration. They're looking at the election year and playing political games. We're trying to do something right now. We shouldn't be looking ahead to the election now. We have bipartisan support for doing something by the end of this year.”
Q. Just a couple of years ago Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. were voting for things like the light bulb ban and cash for clunkers - things like that. Now Republicans in Washington seem to be going the other way. What has changed?
A. “We've just passed legislation that would delay the light bulb measure for a year. It was in an appropriations bill so we couldn't do it for any longer than a year. The thinking now is that this [light bulb ban] really isn't something that's necessary. It's something that really should be handled by the market place.
'People's reactions to it were that it was too intrusive. They should have choices out there.”
Q. So it was a reaction to the ban that has affected the change?
A. “I didn't like it. It was rolled up in a much bigger bill and that bill was a very important [one]. We didn't get to get it in a separate vote.”
Q. Has the default position in Washington D.C. changed from trying to avoid looking like obstructionists to digging in your heels and standing up for principles?
A. “I do think there's a greater sense of urgency in tough economic times. Obviously, when times are better there's a greater tendency to look for trade-offs. During times like we're going through now everything becomes more clarified. Obviously the differences are more intense now and that does magnify principles. It tends to be different at different times.”
Q. Would you say that Washington, D.C. is in a bubble, in terms of being out of touch with the real world?
A. “I do think that's true. That's why I don't live in Lansing; I live in Midland with my family. My kids go to school there, we do our shopping there and that's where we live.”
“I think it's very easy to get caught up in the debates and so on that are always going on in Washington. But now we're seeing many more of the newer House members choosing to live in their districts. I think they want to keep in touch with the people in their districts. They feel, that way, they can do a better job of protecting their [constituents'] interests.”
Q. Is there more respect for the free market in Washington D.C. now than there has been in the past?
A. “There's always the core difference between those who believe more government spending is the way to solve problems and those of us who don't. But I would say that right now there is a better understanding that government spending is not the solution.”
“It's the free market that creates the wealth that ultimately creates the jobs we need.”
Q. You've been in Congress for more than 20 years. Is it possible to be there that long and still have a taste for real reforms?
A. “Yes . . . obviously. I am very interested in fundamental reforms. For example, we need a flatter and fairer tax code. I continue to be a strong supporter for that type of reform.”
Q. Republicans in particular have been talking about changing the tax code in that way for years. What would need to happen to actually bring it about?
A. “The last time we had that kind of a change was in the 1980s when we had a president who was willing to put his full weight behind it. That president, of course, was Ronald Reagan.
'I'm going to work as hard as I can to bring about the kinds of changes that would result in jobs being created in the private sector. Also, we're continuing to focus on debt. Our debt is actually having a negative affect on the economy. It' has the effect of placing a cap on economic growth.”
Q. Would you say that Obamacare is having a negative impact on the economy as well?
A. “It is significantly impacting the economy. Businesses aren't going to do much hiring when they're unsure about what's going to happen with health care. How do you bring on new people when you're unsure about that?
'Uncertainty is not good for the economy, and that's what this two month creature of the Senate's does. It creates even more uncertainty.”
Congressman Dave Camp will be speaking at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan on Thursday, January 26. Details for the event are coming soon and will be found at www.Mackinac.org.