Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, Chairman of Ways and Means, joined me this morning:
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome back to the program Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He is, of course, the author of the sweeping tax reform and tax cut legislation that is driving the economy to new heights. Kevin Brady, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
KB: Good morning, Hugh. Thanks for having me.
HH: It’s always a pleasure. It’s been 10 months. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 months since Harvey came ashore in your district in Houston and rained down such destruction. How is your district? How is Houston doing 10 months later?
KB: So look, we have a very strong economy, so it’s bouncing back. But look, there are a lot of people who are not yet back in their homes. Our district got hit hard, but there were other communities and neighborhoods that got hit even harder. And so we’ve, while Congress has appropriated a record level of recovery and rebuilding funds for Harvey, Maria and Irma, we’re still working to get those dollars down into Texas and down into these communities. And so we’re making good progress. I was really proud of how Texans responded to this hurricane, but we can’t rebuild just by ourselves. And so we’re anxious to get those dollars really applied to these communities.
HH: Now Chairman, I want to talk to you about welfare reform. I also want to talk to you about the tax cuts and whether they’re working, but I want to give you some context. I have been in a back and forth with Jon Favreau, the former speechwriter with President Obama. And he’s been mad at me because I compare him to Stephen Miller in his tactics and his approach in the White House. They’re both provocateurs. So he took to Pod For America, and he said this about the tax bill. We’ve bleeped out the profanity, but I want to get your reaction to his comment on the tax bill and our agenda, Jon Favreau in Pod For America podcast.
JF: Trump and the Republicans, their entire midterm strategy is outrage. And they know Democrats are fired up, and they know they’re not going to be able to get Republican voters excited about anything Trump has done, about any legislative accomplishment. They don’t like this tax, his voters don’t give a f*** about his tax cuts. On Wednesday, Virginia finally passed a Medicaid expansion, and the only reason they passed that expansion, 400,000 people in Virginia are going to have health care now. And the reason, the only reason they are going to have health care is because people showed up in November of 2017, and they didn’t just show up for Ralph Northam, who was at the top of the ticket. They showed up for all of these first time candidates who were running in these state assembly races. We can have an enormous difference that will make a positive impact in people’s lives in November if we go vote. And we have somehow got to get out of this like poisonous, toxic cycle every single day of just like fighting back and forth with these f***ing Republicans who only want to just attack Democrats all day long. They have no issues. They have no issues or ideology. Forget about an ideology or issues that we disagree with. They have nothing anymore.
HH: All right, so Kevin Brady, first, forget the profanity. “Voters don’t give an f bomb about the tax cuts.” Do you agree with that?
KB: No. This is exactly that disconnect from Main Street America and middle class families, is why the Democrats will not take back the House in November. Look, America, there is, America is back. There’s new optimism about jobs and growth and opportunity like we haven’t seen all through the Obama administration. Jobs, investment dollars are coming back from overseas, not leaving America. You’re seeing Main Street businesses, their highest level of optimism. 6 out of 10 Main Street businesses are hiring and looking for workers as we speak. And young people coming out of school for the first time have real job opportunities. And so this is the classic, this is the November question right here. Do you want to go back to the bad, old days where Washington took more of what you earn, where small businesses along Main Street were discouraged and closing at a faster rate than they were opening, and our jobs were, kept leaving America? Do we want to go back to that, those bad, old days? Or do we want this new future where there’s real opportunity? And families are keeping more of what they earn. So look, this is the perfect illustration of the Democrats’ disconnect with Main Street and the middle class.
HH: And I want listeners to understand I did not edit that except to get rid of the profanity. That’s what Pod For America put out as representative of their content on a tweet. Now Chairman Brady, consumer confidence is at a 17 year high. Unemployment is at 3.9%. I am, however, an opponent of the President’s steel and aluminum tariffs. I know the Speaker is as well. I think they’re going to interfere with our expansion. Have you counseled the President on this? Have you said to him, look, this is not the way to go?
KB: We have had, certainly, I really cherish my relationship with this president, and working with him on tax reform has been incredible. So yes, I continue to engage with the President in the White House. Look, I think he’s absolutely right to go after China and the way it’s cheating on trade. The challenge here is to make, to do that in a way that you don’t punish American jobs while you do it. These tariffs, I believe, hit the wrong target. Europe, Canada, Mexico are not the problem. China and its trans-shipments and unfair practices are. In fact, Canada, Mexico and Europe, they’re great customers of our made in America products, including steel. They’re great suppliers. They allow us to become more competitive. And so I think the focus needs to remain on China. I think these countries ought to be, Canada, Mexico and Europe, ought to be exempted from these tariffs. They ought to stay at the table, our administration with them, continue to work on expanding free trade for America, because look, it isn’t enough just to buy America. We want to sell American all throughout the world. And these trade agreements, done right, helps us do that in a major way.
HH: Now you know your old friend, Mike Pence, has got the point on this. He’s not going to let this go. I assume the Vice President is not going to give up on a NAFTA renegotiation.
KB: Well, I think Mike Pence, in my view, understands, and coming from Indiana, understands how selling American, selling our made in America products, grows jobs back and home. And he understands, too, you know, when you have these supply chains where you can link up with partners in Canada and Mexico, the U.S. is stronger and more competitive against China, against Europe, against the world. And so I think one of the most pro-growth things the administration can do to maximize the growth from tax reform is a new modern NAFTA, because I think there are big economic wins for America in that type of an agreement.
HH: Now let’s turn to the agenda. You just heard Jon Favreau, who was the brain of Obama for so long say we have no agenda, and praised the Medicaid expansion. I am very skeptical of Medicaid expansion because of my experience in California where you end up getting paper and not health care. But part of our agenda is welfare reform. You’re spearheading that. What does it look like?
KB: Yeah, so to your point, look, Republicans have a very positive, optimistic agenda, and are delivering on it – tax reform, rebuilding the military for our security, deregulating. This rebalancing regulation so Main Street businesses can grow again. And yeah, welfare reform is a key part of that. And so before we left for the Memorial Day weekend, Ways and Means Committee passed a bill by Adrian Smith of Nebraska that restores the promise of the hugely successful 1996 welfare reform that was spearheaded by Newt Gingrich and ultimately signed by Bill Clinton. So here we have a booming economy today. We’ve got a jobs gap, millions of workers needed. Yet we have millions of people trapped on the sidelines in welfare. So this bill restores that promise, basically says look, in the past, states were required to engage half of the people on welfare to help get them to work. Today, many states are barely engaging anyone. So we have a new standard – all, 100%. Everyone who is work eligible on welfare will have a plan signed by them and the state to move them, train them toward work. We’re making sure the focus is on men and women. I say men, because we’ve got 7 million men who are missing prime working age, ought to be in the workforce. They’re nowhere to be found. We think many of them are tied to the welfare families and can be frankly an important part of our economy as well.
HH: And so people say work requirement. They immediately begin to think of Dickensian workhouses and terrible situations. What’s a work requirement really mean, Kevin Brady?
KB: Yeah, what it means is there will be a tailored plan for each individual to move them back to work, whether it is to begin that part-time work leading to full-time work, whether it’s training that’s needed. Maybe there is a single mom who’s only barrier is some child care or transportation to work, a good, smart, tailored accountability plan for every person who’s eligible to work on welfare to get them. And then the new standard under this jobs act is not success, isn’t defined, is not defined as a temporary one-month job and then sliding back into welfare. The new standard is that our welfare recipients get and keep that job so they can begin those first steps up the economic ladder. And we’re introducing not just more flexibility for states, but more accountability. So you know, everyone will be able to see how successful states are in moving people into a new opportunity for them.
HH: What did the Obama administration do that effectively Swiss cheesed the welfare reform of 1996 that was so effective?
KB: Yeah, the standards had begun to weaken, and they weakened them much further by basically not holding states accountable to engage people to move them into work and then broadening sort of with a wink and a nod what constituted work, so people really weren’t, you know, having to take the steps necessary to move them out of the welfare system and give them a shot a prosperity. And so I think the timing with the economy is right. You know, we can’t give up on people who are trapped in poverty. And as we know from the ’96 reforms led by Speaker Gingrich, you know, with that work requirement, with a plan to get to work, you know, we helped millions of women move into work, move off of poverty, and doubled their family’s income. I’m convinced we can do even more with women and men under these new welfare reforms.
HH: When does it get to the Senate, if it gets to the Senate, Chairman Brady? And do you have a prayer of getting 60 votes?
KB: Well, I’m hopeful. We’re going to move it to the, now that it’s come out of the committee, it’ll move to the floor this summer, we hope, is the timing, and then onto the Senate. And I think, look, these reforms, I think, are so common sense and so hopeful and optimistic for families that have really been, a lot of states and a lot of government have given up on them. And we’re not, and because of that, you know, because they’re tailored to each person to move them into work and a better life, I think it can, look, if Democrats are serious about helping the poor move into the mainstream, go from the sidelines to the front lines of employment, they ought to be joining us.
HH: Last question. I am talking with Leader McCarthy on my MSNBC show tomorrow, Chairman Brady. 1) are you supporting him for Speaker when Paul Ryan retires?
KB: You know, I am. I think Kevin has, McCarthy, has done a terrific job throughout this country and throughout our caucus, and he deserves a chance to move into that position. And what I appreciate among our leadership right now is no one is distracted by this potential Speaker’s race in November. We’re all focused on delivering for the American people. That’s the right thing to do.
HH: And so what kind of stylistic difference, if any, do you expect between a Speaker Ryan and a Speaker McCarthy?
KB: You know, I think their styles are different, but I think the agenda that they are working toward today is identical. Look, we created this Better Way agenda for America to create a confident America. We’re delivering on that agenda, and we’ve got more work to do. I know Kevin McCarthy is helping us, whether it’s tax reform or here in welfare reform, helping us deliver on that agenda. And so that’s what I really look forward to.
HH: Last question. Any doubt in your mind if the Republicans hold the House, Kevin McCarthy will be the Speaker?
KB: I think he will.
HH: Chairman Kevin Brady, great to have you on. I appreciate it very much, and good luck back in Houston. I’m sorry about the Astros getting pummeled by the Indians in most of those games, but you know, that happens.
KB: Yeah, that hurts. That hurt, Hugh. But wait, we’ll see you in the World Series.
HH: I don’t think so. I think we take you out before we get there, but we’ll see. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. Be well.
End of interview.