Congressional Republican freshman: Rep. Bill Huizenga
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) is a freshman, but he's hardly new to Congress. He replaced Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), for whom he served as policy director for six years. But it is his experience out of government that makes him unusual in a body with few members who have met a payroll, created a job or turned a profit.
Unlike some freshman offices, Huizenga's is up and running and fully furnished. Huizenga projects an air of calm and confidence. Sitting down with him, I had to ask -- is he related to mogul Wayne Huizenga? He laughed, "Not close enough." Some of Wayne's cousins are in his district, though.
Huizenga's life was always a mix of business and politics. His early memories of family dinners center on discussions about Vietnam and Watergate. But his father was a businessman. Working in construction meant no summer vacations (when business was brisk). His father left at 6 a.m. and returned at 7 p.m., but was also involved in local politics. That was the model Huizenga imagined for himself. By age 19, Huizenga was doing his first real estate deal. He turned down a chance to come to Washington as a congressional aide in 1994, thinking "that would be later." Instead, he continued to build a successful career as real estate developer. After his work for Hoekstra, he served in the state legislature and purchased a small gravel company. All of that, he said, gives him "a set of experiences to drawn on."
It also helped to shape his demeanor: smooth without being slick. He seems to understand how to advance aggressive goals without being aggressive or off-putting. He is more fluid in issues than many new members, and he also understands how the process works.
Did anything surprise him? He said, "My wife and I had a realistic understanding of what we were getting into." As Hoekstra's scheduler, he knew the routine of a congressman. What is different, however, is getting used to a new way of operating. "In the private sector, you are seeking something of mutual benefit to both sides," he said. "This is different. They are pitching for your head." He's got that part right.
For the 112th Congress, he is assigned to the House Financial Services Committee. And at the top of the committee's agenda is the mammoth Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill. Huizenga said that the game plan is to go methodically through that legislation. "First, we have to find out the idea behind it." If a provision is based on an unsound purpose, "then we repeal it," he vowed. If the problem is in the implementation, or the flood of "unintended consequences" he is now hearing about from the banking community, then the statute will have to be fixed.
What does he make of statements by Obama and some Democrats who now show concern about the impact of regulations on job creation and growth? He smiled. They are learning that "their actions have real-world consequences," he said. He gave an example in ObamaCare: Congress passed an onerous requirement for businesses to file 1099's on all healthcare-related expenditures. "They say,'Oh well, just issue the 1099's. Umm. I know that's pretty significant."
His main goal is, simply, to "restrain spending." He said, "I've got five young kids. If we do not [cut spending and debt], I'm afraid of the diminished opportunities they will have."
I asked him about the argument that it's fine to spend a few trillion on ObamaCare, because the government can collect even more in taxes to pay for it. He looked flabbergasted. With a burst of enthusiasm, he exclaimed, "That's the problem! We can't keep spending. The private sector creates prosperity." He said that the Democrats' policies are "strangling the infant in the crib."
He points to the Democrats' desire to hike taxes on those in the highest income bracket. "But then they want 'help for small business.'" He continued, "Virtually all small businesses are LLC's or S corp's. What they take in flows to the bottom line." He said it is precisely "that lack of [understanding of] how it all works" that has typified Congress's behavior. "Whether I am sitting around the table or in the not exactly palatial office of the gravel company, I'm trying to figure out how to make sure expenditures don't exceed revenue," he said. "Now, there's a concept!"
Unlike some Tea Party candidates who come to Washington with an axe to grind against "the establishment," he said the current House leadership is "very solid." "I give Eric Cantor and [Kevin] McCarthy credit," he said. "The speaker too. They pretty quickly understood and embraced the freshmen."
His own family is staying in Michigan, although his kids have come out for an extended visit. "We are going to be better able to raise our kids the way we want back home," he told me. He noted with a sheepish grin that he got in hot water with the Michigan chapter of U.S. Lacrosse. "I said I want to watch my kids play baseball and football in Michigan, not lacrosse in Maryland." That didn't sit well with the lacrosse mavens.
Like some other House freshmen, Huizenga is sleeping in the office. He observed that the couch on which Hoekstra slept during his tenure was acquired by a local museum. But Huizenga has moved up to an Aerobed. "Maybe it's sort of that Dutch austerity," he joked. With more seriousness, he said: "This is not home. Home is Michigan. And besides, people want to know, 'Are you careful with your own money? If you are, you'll be more likely to be careful with other people's."
In the months ahead, we'll see how careful he is with taxpayers' money and whether his deft business skills serve him well in negotiating for some dramatic changes in the way Congress does business.
| January 20, 2011; 10:01 AM ET
Categories: House GOP
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