A recent ABC of Wisconsin discussion with U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany after his first 100 days in office
Q: Thanks for taking the time, not only to call into the ABC of Wisconsin Board of Directors meeting the week after you were sworn in, but for taking the time to participate in this interview.
A: Thank you. I am always happy to make time with the Associated Builders and Contractors. It’s been an honor to work together on shared goals during my time in the legislature, and I’m looking forward to continuing that record of cooperation in the Nation’s Capital.
Q: Well, we miss you being in the Wisconsin legislature, but are glad were elected to Congress. By the time this interview is published, you will have been in office for a little over 100 days. What’s it been like so far?
A: Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi has kept the House in recess for much of the time since I was sworn in, and that has really limited our ability to get things done. When we have convened for short periods, fewer members have been present as a result of a new “proxy voting” rule put in place by the Democrats. This allows individual lawmakers to “loan” their vote to another member to cast on their behalf. Under this new rule, one single “designated proxy” member can vote on behalf of as many as 10 other representatives – which means just 22 members of the 435-member House of Representatives can wield control of a majority of the chamber’s votes through proxy. I’m against the rule because I believe I was elected to represent folks in my district – not to outsource their voice to someone from another district or state. So I’ve been showing up personally to carry out my duties, and I will continue to do so.
Q: How do you think your job has changed in a post COVID19 world?
A: On a basic level, much more communication is happening over the phone or through videoconferencing rather than the kind of personal interaction we are all used to. And I already mentioned the proxy voting change in the House, which I think has unfortunately limited the ability of lawmakers to talk face-to-face, build relationships and work together. But I think we are seeing some encouraging signs as the economy begins to reopen, and I’m hopeful that the House leadership will follow suit so that Congress can get back to normal operation.
Q: We often hear about the bad things about being in Congress – the constant travel and being away from home. Are there any pleasant surprises?
A: Ask me in a couple months.
First and foremost, I’m focused on getting the economy back on track.
Q: What are your priorities to get accomplished in your first term? Specifically, what do you want to get done for northern Wisconsin?
A: First and foremost, I’m focused on getting the economy back on track. I think many of the one-size-fits all, state-mandated closures went too far and inflicted a lot of pain, and I’ve been pretty vocal about that even going back to my time in the legislature. The good news is that we’ve seen how resilient this economy is thanks to the landmark tax and regulatory reforms put in place by President Trump. As states have reopened – like Wisconsin did after our State Supreme Court overturned Governor Evers’ wide-ranging business shutdown order – we’ve seen record job creation, a steady decline in new unemployment claims, and a historic increase in retail sales.
That’s all good news – but there’s a lot more to do. Businesses need common-sense liability protections and we’ve got to get our schools reopened so our kids don’t fall even further behind in their studies. We’ve also got a lot of work to do on nuts and bolts issues like securing our border, expanding patient choice in health care, addressing the security and economic challenges we face from China, putting our state back in the driver’s seat on conservation by removing the wolf from the federal endangered species list, and removing the many government obstacles that prevent folks like your members from creating opportunity and prosperity in our communities.
Q: What was your first vote and so far what do you think was your most important vote?
A: I’ve only cast a few non-procedural votes so far – two of them were very important. One was a vote to give Paycheck Protection Program recipients more flexibility in how to spend funds and keep their businesses afloat during this difficult time, and the other authorized sanctions against Communist Chinese officials responsible for operating forced labor camps and committing wide-scale human rights abuses.
Q: In a repeat of the movie Groundhog Day, there is talk again about a significant federal infrastructure investment to spur the economy. What are the chances of such a significant investment taking place, and what do you think should be part of it?
A: I think there is broad agreement on both sides of the political aisle that government has a role to play when it comes to maintaining an adequate transportation system. But I think there is a lot of disagreement about what such a package ought to look like. believe we have to start by spending the gas tax dollars people are already forking over a lot more responsibly. We hear a lot about how the federal gas tax is a “user fee,” but in reality, somewhere between 25 and 50 cents of every gas tax dollar that the federal government collects is being frittered away on projects that have nothing to do with roads, and that percentage is rising with each passing year. While people sit in traffic, their gas tax dollars are being wasted on boondoggle passenger-rail projects, bike paths, landscape beautification and even museums. Even worse, highway planners seem to be spending more time and complying with red tape than they do putting down concrete and asphalt. Major federal highway projects now take between 9 and 19 years to complete thanks to bureaucratic permitting and analysis requirements. Other government restrictions like prevailing wage mandates and project labor agreements can artificially boost project costs and short-change taxpayers. I think there is definitely a need to look at infrastructure, but it can’t be a situation where we simply hammer motorists with new taxes at the pump while avoiding long overdue spending-side reforms.
Q: What’s next on tap for the federal Government’s response to COVID19?
A: I think we need to look at ways to make targeted, temporary relief programs like the PPP more flexible and useful to recipients, we need to explore tax changes that make it easier for employers to hire and retain workers, and we need to review and modernize regulatory policies and laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act that often do more to harm the economy than they do to protect public safety or the environment. We also need to enact common-sense liability protections for employers so that businesses can reopen their doors without the constant fear of being bankrupted by job-killing lawsuits. And most of all we need to resist the urge that we’ve seen in recent months to turn relief packages into gravy-trains loaded up with funding for unrelated pet-projects and programs.
Q: The issue ABC members are talking about most is COVID19-related lawsuits.
A: I’ve talked a little bit about that already and I think it is immensely important. We are already seeing instances where trial lawyers have attempted to take advantage of the current crisis to pursue junk lawsuits, and that threat is something that a lot of small businesses are being forced to consider as they grapple with decisions about whether to reopen or not. Some states have taken steps on this, but we need to do something at the federal level to provide certainty for businesses. Senator McConnell and Rep. McCarthy are committed to finding a solution, but so far Democrats continue to balk. I’m hopeful that we can build a bipartisan consensus to address this as leadership in both houses continue to negotiate on what a future relief package might look like.
Q: Anything we missed?
A: I hope to see you all out in Washington when Congress gets back to work.