Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan is a friend and a regular guest. Today we talked about the infrastructure spending that President-elect Trump promised, “the Fence” that is going to get built, and his future in Ohio politics (while plugging The Fourth Way along the way):
HH: There is a lot of news on this Friday, and it’s not the news you’re seeing on TV. The Intelligence brouhaha continues, but it’s actually not very interesting. We know the Russians broke into the Podesta emails. We know they broke into the DNC emails. We know they put them out there. As Paul Ryan said last night, the Russians didn’t make Secretary Clinton not go to Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, didn’t cause her to lose Ohio by ten points. Let’s look forward to what the Congress is actually going to do. And to begin that effort, I am joined by Congressman Tim Ryan, Democrat, Democrat from Ohio’s 13th Congressional District. His Twitter handle is @RepTimRyan. He’s an old friend of mine from Warren, Ohio. We share a lot in common, though he is a young man. We are both long-suffering Browns fans. And the Youngstown State Penguins, which he once quarterbacked, are in the championship game, I believe, this weekend. Am I not correct about that, Tim Ryan?
TR: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, a little redemption for the Ohio State game last week.
HH: Oh, that was bad. We weren’t even going to bring that up, actually. Who are they playing? Who are the Penguins up against?
TR: James Madison.
HH: Okay, well, sorry, Virginia, we cannot be with you. We’ve got to go with the Penguins. So Tim Ryan, two stories I want to ask you about. Congratulations on being sworn in again. There is a story today, GOP leaders slow walk Trump infrastructure plan. It’s over at Politico. The President-Elect campaigned on a trillion dollars. I think he ought to do one tenth the size of the Obama stimulus and come up with a hundred times the benefit. I write about that in my new book, The Fourth Way. What are you hearing about the infrastructure bill? How much it will be and when we’ll see it?
TR: Well, I don’t think it’s going to be a trillion. I think they’re going to balk at being able to pay it. And I don’t think anybody wants to get into government spending on the Republican side. They’ll do some repatriation, which could account for maybe $200-300 billion dollars, which you know, would be a little bit. But there’s very much concern on whether or not they could get the money to do this thing, and it’s certainly not going to be anywhere close to a trillion bucks.
HH: I don’t think it needs to be if it’s done the right way. I devoted an entire chapter in The Fourth Way to how you do this the right way. If I were, for example, to say that you’re doing $100 bucks per infrastructure per citizen, and it goes into Mahoning County and Trumbull County, could you find local people who knew how to put that money to work right away in Youngstown-Warren, Congressman Ryan?
TR: Yeah, there are projects out there.
HH: Yeah, that’s what I, it’s not hard. The last stimulus, it must have been very frustrating to you, because there was so much bureaucracy involved.
TR: Well, what happened with the last stimulus is that you know, you’d have Trumbull County or Mahoning County, they would have a project that they were already going to do, and they were going to spend 2 million dollars on a certain road project, for example, and then the federal government came in with the stimulus money, and they just replaced the stimulus money to do the project that they were already going to do, and used the stimulus money to plug the hole in the budget. And so there wasn’t, and I think this is part of the reason the stimulus didn’t have the effect that we wanted it to have, I think it did what it needed to do. It stabilized things, but it didn’t get the kind of growth rate that we thought we were going to get, because the locals were just replacing money they were already going to spend, and there was no net gain.
HH: Now Congressman Ryan, my first job out of high school was working at Waddell Pool at Waddell Park in Niles. You ever been there?
TR: I sure have. Yeah, that’s where I played baseball growing up.
HH: All right, so I spent three summers there. That’s a WPA building. That’s a Works Progress Administration building, as is Packard Park. Why didn’t Team Obama figure out they had to build things?
TR: You know what? That’s a good question. We were fighting for things like that to get in there, and you know, it was just, I think, people were getting spooked at that time about building things like the WPA, because they didn’t want to be associated with big spending, government and all the rest. But the reality of it is that puts people directly to work. You have something when you walk away at the end of the day that people have done. It stays in local communities now. They even opened up the pool up a few years back for a couple of years. Now they’ve got some insurance issues, so they’ve closed it back up, but it was still good to go with a little bit of refurbishments. Here we are in 2014, I think it was ‘14 or ’15. So those things stick around, and I think that’s the best way. It’s directly hiring people to do things that need to get done. And look, we seem to talk about broadband, you talk about some of these other issues. These are things that could change the trajectory of our economy.
HH: And the trajectory of communities. And so I’m going to send you a copy of The Fourth Way. I think that people could actually get behind doing infrastructure investment if it’s done with a federalism point of view. I’m also in favor of just giving a bunch of money to every elected representative. I don’t know if it’s $25 million or $50 million and say hey, you go and invest this in the not-for-profits in your community that do the best work. If that money came to you, Tim Ryan, could you, would you know where to give it to endow?
TR: Hugh, you’re talking my language here. I mean, this is, no one knows the community better than your Congressmen, than your state senator, what projects are going to be the transformational project, the transformational non-profit that’s partnering in appropriate ways to really have an impact on the community. And there’s no question about it. I think we do rely too much on bureaucrats in Washington, and this is the argument we make about Congressionally-directed spending, also known is earmarks, is making sure that the local Congressman, of all the trillions of dollars that are being spent, they say what the transformational projects are. And I’ll tell you, we did this in Ohio, and we needed the money for, we needed $20 million dollars for site preparation, and that led to the VNM Star, the Valoric Steel, the billion dollar steel mill that’s now in Youngstown, Ohio. That came from stimulus money that we directed to that project, because we knew it was going to be a transformational project.
HH: Now I am not in favor of returning earmarks. I am in favor of giving a big bag of money to every Congressman and say put on your website what you spent it on. I believe in transparency. I don’t want to make this more complicated than it has to be, and hopefully, the Republicans will get on board. Let me ask you about the second thing in Politico. There is going to be a border fence. It is finally happening. It was originally authorized in 2006 for 850 miles, double layered. It got narrowed down to a minimum of 700 in 2008. Only 36 miles of double layer fence was built, Congressman Ryan. Are you going to support the effort to finally build the double layered fence?
TR: Well, I have in the past. I think part of any well-rounded strategy to control the borders, you’re going to need some fencing. It’s not the be all, end all, and it doesn’t mean you don’t want people to come into the country. So these things are not mutually exclusive.
TR: I think you can do both. My concern is that you know, people can dig under these fences now. I mean, I think we need to lean more towards technology, and the real solution, and you know this, Hugh, the real solution is making sure the Mexican economy is doing well. And as much as Trump talked about NAFTA, what he never mentioned was the fact that NAFTA wiped out millions of Mexican small farmers, and those small farmers lost their way to make a living in Mexico, and they started leaking over the border, and because the economy was soft. So the long term smart strategy is okay, look, how do we help them have a solid economy so they don’t need to come to the United States in the first place?
HH: And my argument is not that it’s comprehensive and a single silver bullet. It isn’t. But it is the visible expression of an invisible commitment to border security, that if it doesn’t get built, people don’t believe Congress ever does what they say they’re going to do. And the fence is the number one example of that. Let me ask about your unfortunate run…
TR: Well, we want to make sure the Mexicans pay for it, too, I mean, like Trump said, right?
HH: Well, he said today in a tweet, they will eventually. We’ll see.
HH: Last time I had you on, you were running for chair of your caucus. You didn’t win. That’s too bad. That’s good for the Republicans, it’s too bad for Tim Ryan. So the question becomes are you running for governor?
TR: I don’t know. I’m sitting down now with my family to look at it. You know, it’s certainly intriguing. It would be an honor to be there. It’s a great political position to have. You know, you’re CEO of the state. And I’m an Ohio guy for sure, so we’re going to look at it very, very closely. The phone’s been ringing off the hook here from people that want me to take a close look at it, and I think we would have a lot of support. But you know, I’m moving up in seniority here. I’m on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. I’m on the Appropriations subcommittee. People keep retiring. They get beat in primaries. And I’m moving on up here, and in a pretty safe Congressional seat. So I’d have a lot to give up.
HH: I don’t want you to do this. A) we’ve got a basketball team running on the Republican side – Renacci, Mary Taylor, John Husted, we’ve got Mike DeWine. There’s going to be a fifth one. We’re going to have so many people running for governor that you know, it’s going to be a scrum, and you’re going to be the one target for them all if you do this. But number two, you are going to be senior ranking member of Defense Approps pretty soon, aren’t you?
TR: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I’m 43. I think the next one ahead of me is maybe in their 60s as far as age-wise goes, so you know, and there’s only two ahead of me. So I think if you want, if you’re on the escalator going up, it may be a long escalator, but you’re going to get there at some point. So I’ve got a lot to give up, and I really enjoy it. I enjoy the foreign policy thing, Hugh. That’s the thing that I would probably miss the most if I left. I love what’s going on now in the world and being engaged at a very high level on that stuff. So it’s a lot to give up, too.
HH: And if we rebuild the Navy, and Trump has said 350 ships, I’ve got a chapter about this in The Fourth Way as well, if he makes that happen, a lot of that industrial base has to come out of Northeastern Ohio. It just has to, Tim Ryan.
TR: Yeah, no doubt, and here’s the issue, Hugh, and it gets to broadband, and I don’t know if you touch this in your book. But we have Mike Garvey back at home, M7 Technologies, and they’re doing some defense work. We don’t have the broadband capacity in places like Youngstown to even be able to download a lot of the files that we need to be a tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 supplier. So when you hear broadband, and you hear like building out the new infrastructure in the United States, if we want to get communities like Youngstown or people in coal country back on line, they’ve got to be able to have the new infrastructure that’s going to allow them to even get the information to be able to do the manufacturing piece. So that’s got to be a piece of it, too.
HH: Tim Ryan, keep coming back. I look forward to hearing your conversation about that. Mike Garvey, that’s very funny, one of my old friends, had no idea that that’s what he was into. Tim Ryan, always a pleasure, Congressman, talk to you early and often.
End of interview.