Rep. Erik Paulsen said Wednesday that the new Republican majority in the House will focus on transparency and the economy.
Paulsen, a second-term Republican representing Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District, spoke with MPR's Tom Crann.
Tom Crann: What's your reaction today to the swearing in and the GOP control and the ceremonial aspects of this?
Rep. Erik Paulsen: Well, the ceremonial aspects obviously involve family and friends that come and participate with a lot of new members, basically nearly one hundred new freshman members. So it's a pretty large sea change that's coming, bipartisanly. I think that's a really good thing, not to mention the fact that there is new leadership and a new majority, which I will be a part of. And I'm excited about my new committee assignment in (the House) Ways and Means committee, which will give me an opportunity to do things a little differently in the majority for the next year to two years.
Crann: I want to talk about what's on the agenda. It looks like one of the big things on the agenda (is that) the House is set to vote next week on repealing the health care law. And given that that isn't likely because of the Democratically-controlled Senate and the president wouldn't sign it, is that an example of what the president is warning about, that Republicans will just be playing to the base?
Paulsen: Well, when I look at this health care law and the health care bill, I really am worried about the job-killing tax increases that are a part of it, especially on small businesses that impact Minnesota's medical technology industry. And I hear about that continuously. And the whole reason we had the health care reform debate was the issue of rising health care costs, and health care costs are still going up.
And so if the repeal effort fails, I do suspect that there'll be an attempt to dismantle parts of the law that are going to cause the most damage to our economy, because we should be focused more than anything on job creation right now. And I think the last Congress really lost track of that, which is why I think we saw that sea change in the electoral results just a month and a half ago, for instance. So yes, that vote will come up next week.
Crann: In other words, why not then just dismantle the parts of it that you'd like to see changed piece by piece, instead of this vote to repeal it, which will ultimately be more symbolic than anything?
Paulsen: Well, this was a large component for the last eight months leading up through the election. The health care law is widely unpopular. It was passed very partisanly, a partisan vote, very bipartisan opposition. I expect the vote to repeal it will be also bipartisan.
And I think it sets the stage again for getting things done, like I said, dismantling parts of it that are going to be very harmful to the economy. And I'm optimistic. I should say that because if you look at how Republicans worked with the president just in the last month on the tax issues in extending those tax rates, I think it really bodes well for opportunities to work together.
Crann: Where do you see those opportunities?
Paulsen: I think the opportunities come in first of all having a more open and transparent Congress. In the last two years, in my freshman term here, I never once had an opportunity to see an open rule where any amendments can be offered.
That's going to change because the new leadership is demanding openness where bills are now going to have to be put out for at least three days for the public to see, let alone members of Congress and their staff have a chance to read it, and also making sure, as a part of that, that amendments can be offered by the minority, by the majority to help shape and craft legislation in a more thoughtful, responsible manner. And I'm encouraged by that.
Crann: There are some concerns or questions about party unity for ... Speaker Boehner, between tea party Republicans and some of the newer incoming freshmen and some more traditional Republicans. So how do you see that playing out?
Paulsen: I think there's going to be a new generation of leadership, as a part of the new freshmen class. And certainly there are some members that come from more conservative elements and some tea party bastions in different areas of the country, but you know, from a Minnesota perspective, I expect our delegation to work together pretty thoughtfully and together on many of these issues, I really do ...
It'll be an effort to get things done, and I think more than anything, we do need to roll up our sleeves, work together bipartisanly to get things done. And reduce spending is a part of that, too, because that's going to be the other component, I think, where we have to as a country and a Congress focus attention on.
Crann: I want to get to that issue of reducing spending. And right off the bat, will you vote to reduce Congressional expenses by five percent, as has been proposed?
Paulsen: Yes, I will. I think Congress has to lead by example. I think we have to prove that we mean business right off the bat. So, cutting our own budgets by five percent, just as Minnesota families and small businesses have had to tighten their belts, is the example we should be at least doing in Washington. And so I will support that. I strongly support it.
Crann: Is that enough, five percent?
Paulsen: It's absolutely doable. It's reasonable, a reasonable expectation. We actually, I think, seeing how that goes, there may be even opportunities to reduce Congressional budgets even more down the road, but right off the bat, a five percent reduction.
Crann: Your colleague Michele Bachmann doesn't want to raise the debt ceiling and wants to force that issue. Some would say that would mean automatic cuts. Where do you stand on that?
Paulsen: The debate over our debt ceiling proves that it's time Congress works towards a balanced budget and getting our fiscal house in order. And I'm hopeful that in this new year, with a new House majority, we can stop kicking the can down the road and finally solve that issue.
And I think any efforts to raise the debt ceiling, when that comes along at some time, are going to have to be combined with a committed plan on actually lowering spending. Because over the last couple of years--. Last year, we didn't even have a budget put in place. So we have to have a budget. We have to live within priorities. And I think the vote on the debt ceiling sets the stage for establishing priorities.
Crann: So you're for that.
Paulsen: Absolutely, it'll be a great discussion to have to focus attention on raising the debt ceiling only if there is a plan to actually lower our spending. And that'll hold Congress' feet to the fire.
Crann: I want to get your reaction today from news from your colleague Michele Bachmann that she has not ruled out a presidential run or looking into that. What's your reaction to that?
Paulsen: Well, today of course is kind of an opportunity to be excited about a new House majority in Washington and bringing more openness and transparent processes to the public. And I haven't even had a chance to see the stories surrounding my colleagues potential, I guess, announcement.
But you know what? I'm guessing that over the next year, we're probably going to see a lot more names come forward, down the road, or people that may want to run for higher office or other offices. And that'll be getting attention down the road, but for today, I think we have to focus on what's really important and in front of us. That's getting control of spending, getting our priorities set on creating jobs for our country.
Crann: So, what does that say about her timing on this?
Paulsen: Well, you know, I suppose folks that are interested in moving forward with the presidential campaigns need to get out the gate early, but I just think it's really fundamental (and) important for all of us right now in Congress to focus on what is important right now, and that's getting our economy back on track, because we have too many who are unemployed. And we have real issues with our debt and our deficit. And I know that my colleagues from Minnesota all share that view.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran.)