Jan 26, 2023
GOP’s Arrington Urges Calm as Debt Fury Rages: ‘Let’s Be Adults’
(Bloomberg) -- Republican Representative Jodey Arrington aims to emulate the leadership style of his hero, Ronald Reagan, as he takes a post that thrusts him squarely into the middle of the US debt-ceiling battle.
Reagan, the great communicator, seems a fitting role model for the easy-going, youthful Texan who believes in small government and fiscal restraint — positions that will guide him in his new role as House Budget chairman.
He says the GOP needs to return its focus to cutting spending.
“I think we have lost our way,” Arrington said candidly during an interview in his Capitol Hill office.
Arrington, who first came to Congress in 2017, is a taking a more flexible approach compared to many fiscal conservatives in the House GOP caucus who stridently demand steep spending cuts in exchange for their votes to avoid a catastrophic payments default.
The 50-year-old sees a debt ceiling deal between President Joe Biden and Republicans as within reach. Republicans, he said, will compromise — a hopeful sign that a market-rattling endgame to the debt standoff can be avoided.
It will be up to Arrington to produce a fiscal plan in March that unites Republicans and serves as the party’s marker in negotiations over raising the $31.4 trillion cap to prevent a US default later this year.
That document will be key, too, for Democrats, who have blasted GOP lawmakers for just broadly calling for cuts without making tough choices.
“It’s almost as if they want to take the hostage first and then figure out why they’re doing it later,” Brendan Boyle, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin.”
Arrington’s plan, however, is starting to take shape. He wants to cut $130 billion from the $1.7 trillion discretionary budget next year — and that could include GOP sacred cows like defense spending.
Arrington readily acknowledges he’s not going to get all the spending controls he wants, the type of candid admission that is all too rare on Capitol Hill these days.
“Let’s be adults,” he said. “I can tell you in West Texas they would just as soon as we cut this budget in half and start from there.”
He’s inspired by a quote from the Persian poet Rumi — “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling” — which he came across in one of his daughter’s books.
“We need to start bringing deficit spending down year over year and crawl. Then we can walk, and then we can run,” he said.
Arrington also admits Republicans have been part of the budget problem. Democrats have pointed to the 2017 Trump tax cuts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as record levels of defense spending, as major drivers of the debt.
“Putting balanced budgets on paper and beating our chests about fiscal responsibility in a party that has also contributed to the problem — not interested,” he said
Arrington got his start in politics working for George W. Bush during both his time as Texas governor and as president. His office features photos of him with Bush and with former Vice President Dick Cheney in the West Wing.
“Here is this guy from Plainview, Texas, home of Jimmy Dean the sausage king, wanting to change the world one day like Reagan and finding myself in my 20s sitting in the Oval Office advising the president,” he said. “God has been good, is all I can say.”
Arrington left the Bush White House for senior roles at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup effort, before working at his alma mater Texas Tech as a vice chancellor.
Amid the immediacy of negotiations on the debt ceiling, Arrington also has a long-term goal: to balance the federal budget within 10 years. That’s something Reagan never accomplished.
The last time the federal government had a balanced budget was under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
That won’t be easy, given the US demographics and rising healthcare costs that have made popular programs like Medicare and Social Security the primary drivers of deficits.
As with the looming debt crisis, it will take a bipartisan deal to balance the budget.
Arrington proposes focusing on domestic discretionary cuts, such as to the Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, the National Parks Department and the National Institutes of Health.
That, however, would require an 85% cut over 10 years to that part of the budget, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates — a proposal that Democrats, who want a massive tax overhaul rather than deep spending cuts, would flatly reject.
Arrington said such a budget would be an “ideal” but he recognizes it’s unlikely to become reality.
He also is drafting a plan that balances the budget when interest payments are excluded as well as a proposal to return the debt to pre-pandemic levels. Another proposal in the works is spending caps that limit the ratio of debt to gross domestic product, possibly enforcing them by automatic cuts known as sequestration.
All of this is subject to negotiation with Democrats, many of whom Arrington counts as friends. He plans to work with moderates like Scott Peters of California and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey to find common ground.
“I’m a rural Republican and I think rural Republicans we are very practical people,” said the representative whose district is centered on Lubbock.
And he is optimistic that Biden will engage in talks eventually.
“The American people are going to get him there,” he said. “The American people are going to demand that their leaders act like adults.”
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