Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., has one more year in Congress before he plans to retire, but he thinks that more than enough time to build on the significant achievements of the Class of 2010.
Three years ago, Griffin was one of more than a hundred freshman GOP lawmakers sent to Congress to put a check on the profligate, left-wing agenda President Obama rammed through during his first two years in the White House. And while they have largely succeeded in doing so, there is plenty more that can and must be done in order to restore fiscal sanity to the nation’s capital.
It starts with educating the public, Griffin says during an interview in his Capitol Hill office, the walls of which are stacked with poster boards he uses in budget presentations to constituents. It doesn’t take long before he is on his feet, launching into one of these presentations, speaking energetically and scribbling numbers on a white board.
“Margaret Thatcher used to say, ‘first you win the argument,” Griffin says, noting that despite their (occasional) political successes over the past three years, Republicans “haven’t won the argument yet. We still have a long way to go.” The biggest problem in American politics, he says, is “the disconnect between the facts, and people’s understanding of the facts,” particularly when it comes to questions about the federal budget.
Griffin, 45, says he’s finally found an “iconic symbol” to describe the country’s fiscal woes, one that everybody can relate to: Pacman. He points to a series of pie charts on a poster board, which an increasingly greedy Pacman chowing down on an diminishing slice of pie that represents the discretionary spending portion of the federal budget. Pacman is the mandatory, entitlement spending (primarily Medicare and Medicaid) that threatens to crowd out all other funding in the absence of significant reforms.
“We got to stop Pacman’s mouth from closing,” Griffin says. “Constituents need to know that all the spending cuts, and all the budget battles, are not because there’s a bunch of crazy people up here, who just don’t want to fund things. That is what they’re led to believe.
“When I give this presentation to constituents, they thank me for it, because no one has ever explained this. No one has taken the time to walk them through a lot of this stuff.”
So when does he think meaningful entitlement reform is likely to happen? “The short answer is when we get a president who wants to do it,” Griffin says. “The longer answer is, we need to look for every opportunity we can, areas we can agree with the president on, and we need to make it happen.”
Even some Republicans, he laments, “are not quite there yet” in terms of being able to stomach the significant structural changes to Medicare and Medicaid that House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed since becoming chairman of the House Budget Committee. “If you really wanted to come here to deal with our spending problem, you cannot do it unless you deal with [entitlements],” he says, noting that George W. Bush failed to do so even when Congress was under unified GOP control.
You can credit the Class of 2010 for at least starting the conversation. “We’ve done something that, in some ways, is against our own interests. We’ve raised awareness on the spending issue at a time when there’s less money to spend,” he says. “The reason we have these budget battles is because our predecessors spent with abandon. When we get elected in 2010 they’re like, hey, we got no money, here are the keys, have a good time, see you later!”
Griffin is also hopeful that, sometime early next year, House Republicans can at least initiative a productive conversation about comprehensive tax reform, which he has been working on as a member of the Ways and Means Committee. “You are going to see something,” he says. “Is it going to be easy? No. Will we get everything we want? No. Is there a possibility to get some key reforms enacted? Yes, I think there is.”
As an Iraq war veteran and national security hawk, Griffin is focused on protecting funding for the Department of Defense, but argues that he and his fellow hawks “need to be the biggest critics of the Department of Defense (DoD),” and should be conducting vigorous oversight in order to make specific recommendation for sensible spending reductions, as an alternative to the across-the-board cuts in place under sequestration.
“Most of the people decrying across-the-board cuts at DoD are the same people who cannot provide you a list of specific reductions,” Griffin says. “If you don’t have a list of specific cuts, then you’re going to get across-the-board [cuts], and you got no reason to complain about it.”
The congressman has also authored a number of bills this year that aim to restore some element of fairness and lawfulness to Obamacare. One, which has already passed the House with bipartisan support but has stalled in the Democratic Senate, would provide what many would say is the necessary legislative validation of Obama’s executive order to delay the coverage mandate for large employers. Another is a companion bill to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R., Fla.) proposal to repeal a provision of the law that could result in taxpayers funding a partial bailout of insurance companies if enrollment numbers fall short of expectations.
Griffin may be retiring next year, in part to focus on raising his two young children, but he plans to stay “engaged” in politics. And he’s expecting a good year for Republicans in 2014. “We’re going to keep the majority in the House next year, and it looks like we got a good shot, if we don’t screw it up, of taking the Senate,” he says. Griffin’s home state of Arkansas is a prime target for Republicans, who are hoping to unseat incumbent Senator Mark Pryor (D), whose vote for Obamacare makes him extremely vulnerable heading into next year’s midterms.
“There’s not a good strategy for him,” Griffin says. “He’s either going to lose badly, or really badly.”
Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review. Pacman can image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.