With Matt Vande Bunte
What's more insane, gashing federal spending by sequestration or continuing to spend money the country does not have?
After two years representing Michigan's Second Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said gridlock in Washington, D.C. isn't based on partisan political identification, but a philosophical gap.
"The real divide isn't 'R' versus 'D.' It really is the fundamental conversation of size, role and scope of government," Huizenga said Monday, March 11, while speaking to the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.
"There are people who believe if we just doubled the size of the stimulus we would be in a much better place. And there are other people, like me, who think if we had done half as much (with the stimulus) we'd probably be about where we are right now."
Huizenga spoke at Calvin College's Prince Conference Center to the GVMC board, then to more than 100 people at the council's quarterly luncheon. Here's a sampling of Q&As from both sessions:
Q: "The sequester hurts local government. It hurts cities, for sure. Can you give us some confidence and comfort that this will be short-lived and sanity will return to Washington?" --Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell
A: "It depends on your definition of sanity: $16 trillion in debt, some would say, is not real sane. We have to figure out what our long-term solution is here. That is being lost in all of this. (Sequestration) is an extremely inelegant way of doing something that we need to do. (Sequestration or no budget cuts) is not good choice versus bad choice. That's bad choice versus really bad choice."
Q: Do you see a way to bridge that philosophical gap by getting to know each other better? --former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie
A: "If you can't have trust and you don't have a personal relationship it makes it all the more hard. This is not meant as a partisan shot: the president hasn't had a relationship with the Legislature. That has been part of the problem. There is a lack of a relationship that has led to a lack of trust, and when you don't trust somebody how do you do business with them?
"We definitely have to work on that. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to get to know (other Congressmen) on a personal level. We kind of kicked it around (the idea of moving to Washington). I would not rule it out, but I kind of like having (my children) in Zeeland. I know what the values are. I know what they're being taught. I can actually afford a home with a garage in West Michigan."
Q: What are you hearing about possible elimination of the mortgage interest tax exemption? --Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg
A: "One person's loophole is another person or industry's vital tax credit. I'm a flat tax guy. If you could go in and have as minimal exemptions as possible, that makes a lot of sense to me. I'm not delusional enough to think we're going to be voting on a flat tax in the next two months, but you're getting some common parlance now: flatter, more fair, fewer deductions, fewer "loopholes.' But I think you're going to see some areas where there's going to be major pushback.
"What it points out to me is if we're going to start doing that, we can't just close "loopholes' selectively in the tax structure we currently have. We need to do a real tax overhaul. There are going to be some things that will be easier to defend and more expected to be protected (like the deduction for mortgage interest)."
Q: Do we face a bubble on "easy money," with a spike in interest rates imminent, or can we expect a soft landing? --East Grand Rapids City Manager Brian Donovan
A: "I'm very nervous with the easy money policies that we have put in place. We have artificially lowered interest rates here in the United States. At some point these interest rates have to go up. If we had our interest rates go to where they are in Germany and France, our debt service would go from $240 billion a year to almost $600 billion a year, at which point it rivals the (entire budget of the) Defense department. We are going to swamp the boat not on additional spending, but on financing the spending we've already made.
"Guess what? That pulls money out of every other program. Whatever program you're interested in, that means fewer dollars available to go do that, simply to finance what many would argue has been a lifestyle. We are now finding ourselves in a spot where we are borrowing to support a lifestyle and it's affecting generations (into the future)."
Other thoughts shared today by Huizenga:
on replacing U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a longtime Democrat who's not planning to seek re-election in 2014:
"There is a fairly shallow bench on the other side of the aisle and I think (U.S. Rep.) Gary Peters - I would call him a friend, he's a good guy - he seems to be sort of their leading candidate. Our side it's going to be a donnybrook. We saw it in the gubernatorial primary (in 2010). We saw it in the senate primary (in 2012). There's a lot of good options, so we'll see what it's going to sort out."
on comparing individual government regulations to individual grains of sand:
"But when you take a rubber mallet and you start pounding the stuff into the gears, that (economic) engine is going to break down. It's not just tax policy. It's not just our spending. It's also the regulatory policy we have. Nobody wants dirty air and dirty water, but how do we make sure that we have an economy that's thriving and moving forward."
on Social Security and Medicare reform for future generations with longer life expectancies:
"To deny that we have to deal with that is foolish. It's the definition of sticking our head in the sand. If we don't fix what's driving that long-term debt, we're really in trouble."