by Gene Marrano
Morgan Griffith picked an interesting time to be a freshman in Congress. With the debt ceiling argument a major political topic these days in Washington, the 9th District GOP lawmaker from Salem has a front row seat as the two major parties wrangle over budget cuts, possible tax increases for the wealthiest Americans and the idea of raising the country’s debt limit.
If it’s not done, according to many Democrats, the government could default on some payments and be forced to shut down certain public agencies. “Let it happen,” some Republicans say, adhering to the belief that this country must learn to live within its limits.
Griffith is no political rookie, so it’s not exactly like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“I feel relatively comfortable,” the longtime Virginia House of Delegates majority leader said on a recent trip back to the Roanoke Valley. He’s currently working on a list of rules he’d like to see changed. “There’s [also] lots of policies I’d like to change but we have to pass bills and get them through the [Republican] side first.”
Whereas Griffith needed to cobble together 51 votes in the Virginia House in order to get a bill passed, now he must collect 218 in a very partisan Congress. “Other than that it’s pretty much the same, except the issues are more complex and the rules between Congress and administrative agencies are a mess. They don’t make a lot of sense.”
Griffith would like to see more Congressional oversight of certain federal agencies. He doesn’t blame it solely on the Obama administration and figures those changes are about 30-40 years overdue.
He landed only one committee assignment as a freshman – energy and commerce – but calls that a plum role, on “one of the most powerful committees up there.” Energy policy and discussions on “Obamacare,” as he terms it, come through that committee before heading out to the floor for debate.
Griffith said criticism of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to curtail Medicare costs is unfounded. The bottom line, he claims, is that without substantial changes, “those programs will not exist in 20 years, in my opinion. We have to make changes if those programs are to exist down the road.”
Those changes would not affect people over 55 he notes. “It may not be good politics,” said Griffith, but “good governance,” and that is what’s needed at the moment in D.C. “The country can no longer afford good politics verses good governance.” He’s willing to put everything on the table, including defense spending.
“Borrowing 40 to 42 cents of every dollar spent on running the government is not sustainable,” said Griffith, who is opposed to any tax increases. When tax rates have been increased in the past “they haven’t cut spending. We have to focus [on that].” If everything that can be cut is and revenues are still not healthy enough to balance the budget, Griffith said future Congresses can decide on tax hikes. “We have to draw the line – we have to make the cuts.”
As for the debt ceiling debate, which could come to a head within the next few weeks – with August 2 proposed as a “D-Day” – Griffith doesn’t view it as a bargaining chip. “Bring me a dump truck load of cuts [however] and I’d have to start thinking about [raising the ceiling].”
Raising the debt ceiling would allow the federal government to borrow more money, in order to finance its obligations. At age 53, Griffith feels people of his generation should solve the problem now, not leaving it for a younger generation to grapple with. It’s also why Griffith believes many Republicans were elected to Congress last fall—to solve the debt issue.
None of the plans offered balance the budget soon enough to please Griffith, who doesn’t want to see his young daughter have to bear the burden of debt being incurred now. “Not raising the debt ceiling—with a systemic change in the way Washington thinks about spending—is the best tool we have to make sure we get the cuts we need. I don’t say that lightly. I understand that not raising the debt ceiling is a drastic measure.” It’s a bargaining chip many Republicans are willing to use.