LL: You are a freshman lawmaker on several powerful committees including the Appropriations and the Budget Committee. How are you going to use your influence as an accountant and businessman in cutting the budget and spending?
RJ: I’ve spent 31 years in manufacturing, building an ability to analyze figures and identify the key data. I’ll focus on analyzing the nation’s balance sheet—going through the financial data, highlighting the most important points, and using that information to convey to the American people just how urgent the need is to start to seriously address these problems.
LL: President Obama has said he would veto any spending bills with earmarks. Do you think he will stand by that State of the Union pledge?
RJ: I am fairly confident that this is one promise President Obama will stick to—because the result will be to leave him in the position of deciding how these dollars are spent.
This is the one valid objection of those who have supported earmarking: it does cede to the president enormous power over the allocation of spending. But until we heal the federal budget process— until we apply real constraints—the least that we can do to rein in spending is to refrain from earmarks. If he stands by his promise to veto all earmarks, then the president will have the sole authority to ‘earmark.’ Once we fix the process, this spending power can return to Congress, where it more appropriately resides.
LL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Obama to "back off" on that pledge. Are you hearing similar rumblings of push back in the Senate?
RJ: I’ve only been here for a short time, but I’m encouraged that all the talk here is about restraining spending. From my standpoint, I absolutely intend to stand by my commitment. I think this is one area where the president will stick to his commitment as well, and I support him on it.
LL: You have never been to DC before you were elected. Some say that is a disadvantage. Could it also be a blessing? I sometimes feel politicians get caught up in the DC bubble. Are you being underestimated in what you can bring to Washington?
RJ: It is a huge advantage. We need a new perspective on the budget process and on federal spending. We need citizen legislators with long-term experience in the private sector. It is critical that we bring this new perspective to ally with those who have been fighting this fight for years. I will always be an outsider, no matter how long I serve. I have been in the private sector way too long to be changed by the time I’ll be spending in Washington.
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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."