Rep. Tim Griffin is supposed to be embarking on a “Jumpstarting Jobs” tour, but at Philander Smith College Thursday evening, the talk was about the budget deficit.
Two days after President Obama signed the debt ceiling extension, Arkansas’ Republican Second District congressman defended his own vote for the deal. He said that while he wasn’t happy with it and wouldn’t have voted for it had Republicans controlled the White House and Senate, he “wasn’t willing to roll the dice” on the economy had it not passed.
Describing the deal, he said, “It’s like canceling your cable bill when you can’t afford the mortgage.”
Griffin broke with some in his party by saying that he believed the government should increase revenues by reducing the amount of tax deductions. Some Republican leaders have said that rates should be lowered in that case so that there is no net increase.
But he reiterated his opposition to increasing taxes. He said that tax revenues did not decrease as a percentage of the gross domestic product because of the Bush tax cuts. He repeated a favorite GOP line that Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem, punctuating it with a Powerpoint slide showing that while revenues have remained consistent since the 1940s, spending is rising dramatically as a percentage of GDP. Even if revenues were to increase somewhat, he said, there’s no way they can keep up with that rate of growth.
Ultimately, he said, the spending explosion will be addressed – if not by the government, then by its creditors.
Griffin said economic growth was the key to reducing the deficit. He called for a flatter tax, regulatory reform, patent reform, free trade, and pro-growth energy policy.
The debt ceiling deal includes automatic spending cuts if a committee of Republicans and Democrats – dubbed the “Super-Congress” by some – and the Congress as a whole cannot agree on reductions. Griffin said he expects Congress to make those cuts without the automatic trigger.
It was a lively discussion. Griffin opened the evening by asking who in the audience was the angriest and then handed the microphone to a man named Patrick, who read a lengthy statement in support of health care reform and against the Bush tax cuts. Despite it being his fifth event of the day, Griffin energetically engaged his audience. He didn’t shy away from any questions and even gave out his cell phone number.
He also didn’t sugarcoat the realities of the country’s budget deficit problem. Saying Medicare needs substantial reforms, for example, he said, “If you love Medicare, then you’d better reform it because it’s going away.”
The audience of about 60 was fully engaged and highly informed on the debt ceiling debate. And it seemed aware of the nation’s fiscal problems. “Everybody’s going to have to take a big bite of this doo-doo sandwich,” said a constituent named “Edmond” who described himself as an independent.