The pro-business group — no fan of the Obama administration — named Gibbs a “Guardian of Small Business,” a distinction he proudly touts on his campaign Web site. As chairman of a House subcommittee with oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, Gibbs is pushing to reduce federal regulations that he believes make it more difficult for constituents to hire new workers.
He is running in the redrawn 7th Congressional District, an area that stretches from Canton, west toward Mansfield and then north to the western suburbs of Cleveland — a critical region for both Mitt Romney and President Obama if they hope to win the state. The race is considered a “likely Republican” district in The Washington Post House race ratings, but Gibbs faces Democrat Joyce Healy-Abrams, a first-time candidate who enjoys modest name recognition because her father and brother are local politicians.
Gibbs, who made a name for himself as a successful commercial hog farmer, later served as head of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, a state assemblyman and state senator. In 2010, he defeated Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) as part of the national wave that swept dozens of Republicans into office.
2chambers spoke with Gibbs last Friday in his Capitol Hill office about the presidential race, his concerns with the nation’s economic recovery and the nation’s displeasure with Congress. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity:
2chambers: How can Mitt Romney win your district and how can he win Ohio?
Gibbs: They’re spending a lot of time there. I’m hearing from my constituents that they want him to get a little more forceful, to take on the president’s statements – I guess I’m being nice with that. Some of the things that he says just aren’t accurate. That’s going to happen in the debates.
I was a lead up speaker for Romney in Mansfield a few weeks ago. And I said that I heard in the president’s State of the Union address in January and in his acceptance speech this month: It amazes me that we’re winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he says that he wants to take that money and use half of it for infrastructure and the other half to pay down the debt.
And I’m asking myself, how does that work if it’s all borrowed money? As Bill Clinton said, the arithmetic doesn’t add up.
If you take that money that’s allocated in the war efforts, it’s a separate line-item, and you bring it over here and spend it domestically – I’m not against infrastructure – but spend that domestically, well, then spending will go up domestically. And then we get in another conflict – what the hell just happened to spending overall? He’s not serious about spending and that’s our number one challenge.
2chambers: How about Gov. Romney’s videotaped comments about the “47 percent”?
Gibbs: You know, I know what he’s referring to – the 47 percent – because everyone says that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income tax, they pay FICA and Medicare and all that.
What I think that he’s trying to say is that there’s a lot of people in this country now that because of the bad economy have to rely on the safety net. It might be unemployment, insurance, welfare, food stamps – we’ve seen food stamps go from 27 million to 43 million, doubling its cost in four years.
And I think the thing he was trying to say – it wasn’t said right – I would have tried to say that because of the policies in Washington we’ve had economic contraction and very little growth. We’re in a stagnant economy.
2chambers: But it sounded as if Romney was giving up on that 47 percent in that video.
Gibbs: I don’t know if it was the media who blew that out of proportion – I don’t know, because I didn’t see the clips, I just saw the reports. But I’m sure he was referring to the 47 percent of people who don’t pay income taxes, that’s a fact. I’m sure that’s what he’s referring to, I just can’t believe otherwise.
I think the media – the media is biased. I just can’t believe what happened this last week – why isn’t there more stuff going on about what happened in Libya? Here we had an ambassador killed – he had no security on September 11th in a country in the Middle East and he had no security? Hell, [House Majority Leader Kevin] McCarthy came out for a fundraiser Tuesday night in my district and he had more security than that ambassador had – he had three people. Which I don’t think is all that necessary.
But think about it – what the hell is going on? Why isn’t the media making a big deal about that?
2chambers: Do you think it would be any different in Libya or the Arab World if Mitt Romney was president? Or if John McCain was president? Wouldn’t they still have those feelings?
Gibbs: Oh yeah, because there’s no doubt they hate us. But I think there would have been a different reaction from the press. The press would have been asking, why would our ambassador in a country like Libya on Sept. 11 not have any security?
I mean, that amazes me. I couldn’t figure it out. They tortured him, they killed him and the other three people? That’s inexcusable. And then the president goes off to Las Vegas to raise money several hours after it happened.
2chambers: Why should people reelect you?
Gibbs: I’m concerned about the direction this country is headed. I ran in 2010 because I felt that my congressman was part of the problem: He voted for cap and trade, he voted for Obamacare, he voted for the stimulus.
Now what I’ve seen is that we’ve gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression. I think it’ll be worse than what we went through with Jimmy Carter. It’s close, but there are a lot of parallels – the energy crisis, high inflation and high unemployment.
I have four points I talk about a lot about how I think we can restore that confidence: Number one, we’ve got to get spending under control. It’s not sustainable, it’s morally wrong what we’re doing to our kids. It acts like a wet blanket over the economy. Almost everything comes down to that issue.
Two, common-sense regulatory reform. That means getting rid of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and Obama’s EPA. That’s what I hear about the most: Higher costs for businesses and states, higher taxes.
Three, tax reform. We’ve got to lower these rates, we’re too high. We can’t let it happen. We can’t let January 1 happen. But they’ve got to be permanent. This temporary stuff just adds some uncertainty.
Four, an energy policy that encourages new development. Aggressive, responsible development of our resources in this country, which we’re blessed with. We have a big shale plate in my area – I mean it’s just unbelievable. For sure, nobody in our lifetimes is experiencing what we’re beginning to see in Eastern Ohio.
2chambers: You’re part of what modern history will record as the least productive, most unpopular Congress. How do you defend the institution to voters back home and why do you want to be here?
Gibbs: The United States House, we’ve passed two budgets in two years…
2chambers: I know where you’re going with this – but the Senate has tried to send you things as well. But it works both ways, because the Senate has sent you things that didn’t get passed either. There are two chambers not talking to each other.
Gibbs: Well, I’m not that high enough in the totem pole to talk about the two chambers not talking to each other. The process is definitely broken. I served six years in the state assembly and two years in the state senate. I got here and this process here is just unbelievable.
When I passed my first bill a year ago last March [the Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011], I said to my committee staff, what happens next? You know what the answer was? “Well, we hope some senator over there picks it up.”
And I said, “What?!”
About two weeks later Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) picked up my bill, or it was nearly identical. But we never had any conversation – me, or a senator, my office or their office. The subcommittee staff apparently does, but that’s where I think the process is broken.
2chambers: Well why not pick up the phone and call Sen. Roberts yourself?
Gibbs: Well, I think we tried, I don’t know if we tried – have we? [Editor’s note: He turned and asked that question to a staffer.]
I mean, he introduced the bill, so he was doing it, and I talked to [Sen.] Rob Portman. And Rob Portman was pushing for the bill. And I would say, it had a super-bipartisan majority, so why the hell wouldn’t you take it up?
When I was in the general assembly, if you passed a bill out with a super-bipartisan majority, you’d at least get a hearing and more than likely you were expected to get passed. They might tweak it a little bit just to get their fingerprints on it – the other chamber.
2chambers: But you said you reached out to Rob Portman and you might have talked to Pat Roberts. But have you talked to Democrats? Did you call your state’s Democratic senator Sherrod Brown?
Gibbs: I’ve talked to Sherrod. Sherrod knows about it. Sherrod invited me over early on, I didn’t know they had those private offices in the Capitol – I don’t think I’d ever find it again.
2chambers: So pretend I’m a voter back home and I tell you, “You’re part of this unpopular, unproductive Congress.” Why should I send you back to Washington?
Gibbs: I’ve been trying to work bipartisan. What I like to say on this is that the guy in the White House has to show some leadership. When Harry Reid or John Boehner, whichever one, aren’t working together, the president’s got to bring them together. Unfortunately, this president has done the opposite – he’s been the most divisive president in our history, probably, it’s unbelievable.
He’s tried to – people who are successful – he tries to make them feel bad, blame them, it’s unbelievable to blame people who work hard.
You’ve got to bring people together. To make people that have been successful like that, to tell them they haven’t done their share – what do you mean?
They’re supplying all kinds of jobs for people, creating jobs. We ought to be thanking those people. I thank them for doing that. They don’t have to – a guy who’s expanding his business now, in this climate – I tell him he’s got guts. Because if the economy goes south, he could be in trouble. But he’s doing it, because he’s a smart business man, he’s selling stuff around the world and he’s creating jobs.
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