By Leslee Kulba- Congressman Mark Meadows was the guest speaker at Thursday’s CIBO Power Lunch at the Land of Sky Shrine Club in Swannanoa. He titled his talk, “Things Aren’t Always As They Seem.” To illustrate, he told a “real story” about the wife of an Episcopalian priest who needed to pick up some pantyhose from Walmart. She went out to her car to put them on and saw a man staring at her. She screamed, “What are do you want, you pervert!” and he replied, “I don’t know, but you’re sitting in my car.”
He spoke of how different Washington, DC was from the business world. He liked how John Carroll had just overseen the election of CIBO’s officers in two minutes, contrasting it to the partisan gridlock in DC. He said he puts lives and community above the Republican/Democrat dynamic. For example, he indicated he mellowed somewhat toward Obamacare when a lady called to say it saved her 25-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. He now performs the “Elizabeth test” on big legislation.
He told members of the audience their voice matters. His staffers tally for and against calls and emails for key votes. He sends out surveys on big issues, and 3000-3500 constituents respond to them. Sometimes he is surprised by the feedback, which he said “dictates the vote.” Meadows often calls constituents back, and not just the happy ones. Sometimes people will rant and say, “Make sure you tell the Congressman that . . . ,” and he’ll say, “You’ve been talking to him for the last five minutes.” Constituents may contact Meadows and sign up for his email list at http://meadows.house.gov/contact.
As Congressman, he accepts that whatever he does,48 percent of the people will disagree with him; but sometimes it feels more like 75 percent. Not all comments are face-to-face; some are posted on facebook. Meadows said he has, “learned more Alternative English, more new words and new phrases . . .” But the negativity is offset by the kindness of people he has the opportunity to help, people with Social Security issues, veterans, and people needing quick Visa turnarounds. Meadows said if he doesn’t know how to help somebody in need, he often starts at the top of the bureaucracy. He finds people are responsive, as they assume he has a lot more power than he does.
Meadows said some of the best ideas come from constituents. He illustrated with a tip he received from a man in Hendersonville who didn’t think Habitat for Humanity should have to comply with Dodd-Frank. Habitat builds moderate- and low-income housing with sweat equity. The organization does not have the resources the big financial institutions do for compliance, appraisal, disclosure, etc. The bill that was drafted didn’t pass, but it highlighted the issue enough for the Administration to change policy. Now, Habitat has $195 million more to spend on housing instead of compliance.
Meadows then tipped his hat to various WNC businesses. He said countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Croatia still look up to the US. One person from that part of the world told him Americans should, “never stop thinking big.” The proclivity of Americans to overcome obstacles serves as a light for the world. The Congressman encouraged all to pursue what they’re good at and invest back in the community.
Meadows next fielded questions. He said his siding with 24 other representatives in voting against giving John Boehner another term as Speaker of the House either took guts or stupidity, but he had to vote with the people. He had received over 3000 calls from Republicans and Democrats who were tired of the status quo and gridlock. He said Boehner had since told him that he had gotten the message, and he will work more closely with those who voted against him.
As for compiling an agenda, Meadows defied anybody in the audience to meet him out back after the presentation and tell him all ten planks of the Contract for America. He is, however, working with staffers to compile a new, positive vision of “thou shalts” instead of “thou shalt nots.” He expects it will be unveiled in about 45 days.
Asked about the No Labels organization, a nonprofit advocating non-partisan leadership in Congress, he said most of the organization’s bills did not move. Regretfully, the longer one works in Washington, DC, the harder it is to rise above party lines. Meadows asks his aides to find legislation he can cosponsor that is “good for the community,” and he has cosponsored more Democrats’ bills than any other North Carolina Congressman. He then said he had a reciprocal agreement with Gerry Connolly (D-VA) to campaign for each other’s opponents on the grounds the incumbent cannot work across the aisle. As an aside, he said every week he tries to find fourteen honest, sincere things in others he can compliment and encourage.
Meadows said there likely would be no gas tax increase while prices are low. He isn’t supportive of a tax hike because prices are, “one Middle East war away from ratcheting back up.” The gas tax is influenced by a lot of factors, two of which, fuel economy and gas prices, are pulling down revenues. Aligned with the president, he preferred repatriating foreign investment and subjecting it to a 6-9 percent tax to make sure the Highway Trust Fund can keep infrastructure in good repair. The Keystone XL pipeline would be a no-go this time around because gas prices are so low. Businesses can’t justify it, but unions want it. He expected to see the discussion revived soon, because that’s what happens when businesses and unions are at odds.
He was asked if he expected Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to get a new subsidy, and he said, “Normally, government has to subsidize anything that doesn’t work.” A subsidy would be needed to keep the national mortgage companies running, but he would rather work with lending institutions on deregulation, a move that would unleash the economy better than any subsidy. Current subsidies for lending institutions are such that, “You almost need to not need it to get it.”
Meadows said foreign investment in the US is a good thing. The greatest barrier to it was this country’s tax structure. The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. He was currently working with somebody who wants to move his WNC company to Ireland. He reminded members in the audience that Warren G. Harding’s and JFK’s tax cuts resulted in eras of thriving business and prosperity. He supports fortifying the EB-5 visa program to help foreign nationals invest big dollars in American businesses.
On foreign affairs, he regretted Benghazi had been politicized. He couldn’t share classified information, but he said he would work, with the world’s best military and intelligence forces, for the safety of US embassies.
He highly praised Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. He did a good job communicating considerations for the US and Israel. Iran already has a missile delivery system it uses on Israel. Its enhanced ICBM capability can only be intended for the United States. Israel is an ally. Its citizens live every day with the fear of missile launches. It is unrealistic and not fact-based to believe Iran can change its heart overnight. If they are suddenly allies with the US, they could offer a good-faith gesture, such as releasing Saeed Abedini, an American imprisoned while building an orphanage because he had preached the Gospel elsewhere before. Instead, Iran remains the greatest sponsor of terror in the world.