Getting Washington Back to Work
Nick DiFrancesco (ND): Congressman thank you for taking some time to talk to us today. You’re now in your third term, representing the 10th Congressional District. Do you mind sharing about your motivation for running for office, your perception of Congress as an entity prior to running and how that perception may have changed since arriving in Washington?
Congressman Tom Marino (TM): It’s important to provide some background to give you the full perspective. As you may know I started working in a factory at a young age and then went to college, community college, two weeks after my 30th birthday. At the time it was Williamsport Area Community College, now it’s the Pennsylvania College of Technology which is part of the Pennsylvania State University system. Then I received my four year degree from Lycoming College and decided to pursue law school, graduating from Dickinson School of Law shortly thereafter.
It’s pretty simple why I decided to run. I left a job in private industry, working in private law, because I was terrified as to where this country was headed and had grave concerns about my children’s future. My daughter is going to be 20 later this year and my son will be 16 and I’m not quite sure they’re living a better life than I did when I was growing up. My father was a fireman and a janitor and he worked hard in order for our family to have a good life. When I say a good life I mean that we had a roof over our head, we had food on the table, and we each would receive a Christmas present.
With all of those things, growing up, we had a better life than our father. My concern comes down to the question, are my children going to have a secure financial life ten or twenty years from now when our country is already looking at an $18 trillion national debt? I’m afraid that may not be the case unless we turn policies around immediately. I don’t think the issue of the $18 trillion debt is a partisan issue when you look at how we’ve arrived at this point over the past 50 years. I hold every person responsible, Republican and Democrat, who could have done something but instead stood on the sidelines.
I remember quite vividly the night my wife and I decided that I would run for Congress. It was Thanksgiving night of 2009 and we were sitting around as a family watching television. We were bouncing around the channels listening to all of the pundits and I must have said something to which my wife responded, “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and run?”
And that was that.
ND: Have the perceptions that you had coming in held or have they shifted at all?
TM: I always have to be careful about saying this but before I came to Congress I was never impressed with anyone that thought they demanded respect just because they had Representative or Senator in front of their name, and that goes for either the state or federal level. Now I’m even less impressed. I’m still a little uneasy when someone identifies me as “Congressman” or gives the impression that I walk on water. My job is no more important than the job of any of the 700,000 folks back home, who I represent, who are working hard every day to earn a living.
Members of Congress need to put aside the notion that they’re royalty and get back to making policy based on common sense, not politics. The fact that we have a two party system is not going to change. Around here the first rule seems to be getting elected and then either keeping power or taking power away. Power isn’t a bad thing but when you’ve been tasked with that power and that leadership you have a responsibility to act. I firmly believe that Republicans in the 1990s and 2000s had opportunities to address important issues and they did not make the most of the opportunity.
ND: Making a shift to this legislative session, what are some of the policies you are hoping to accomplish? There are a lot of big ticket items that everyone hears about but we want to know specifically the issues that are going to be consuming the bulk of your time.
TM: There are four game changers that I’ve been working on since I arrived and they are definitely uphill struggles. The first would be term limits for elected officials in Washington because I think that would help ease some of the gridlock. My proposal would be 12 years so that someone could do six terms in the House and two in the Senate. Too many people in Congress have ended up making a career out of something that was never intended to be a career. I’m not saying they weren’t motivated for the right reasons when they first arrived, but some folks, after they get a taste of power have a difficult time ceding it voluntarily.
One of the things I enjoy is the conversation I have with colleagues, both sides of the aisle, when I work out in the morning. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to make some strong bi-partisan friendships and I think it leads to more constructive dialogue on policy. But one of the things that I’ve been told, and I’m sure this goes both ways, is that if Republicans vote yes then Democrats are to vote no, and it’s designed to make the other side look as bad as possible and try to regain the majority and the power.
The second change I would like to see is single subject legislation. Too often there are bills that might cover 4 or 5 subjects and be 200 or 300 pages long. It isn’t productive for governance and I think it makes it harder for transparency and for the public to know what a bill is or isn’t going to do. The third change is preventing any leader, irrespective of party, from stopping a bill, provided it has made it through the committee process, from going to the floor for consideration. This is a democracy and last session you had one Senator that was sitting on nearly 400 pieces of legislation and preventing those bills from being considered. That isn’t right.
I have no doubt that Republicans have done the same thing in the past and that doesn’t make it any less wrong. I don’t want people to think that Democrats are all evil and Republicans never did these things because that isn’t true. At the end of the day we have a job to do, and that job is to enable job growth and economic growth for our country. This administration had the opportunity to do that and the last administration had that opportunity, but it just isn’t getting done. You create jobs by lowering taxes, getting rid of job-crushing regulation, which you’re seeing in very real terms in the banking community, and expansion of trade. The fourth issue, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, is working on sensible regulatory reform. Regulation can be a good thing if it’s done responsibly but when it’s used irresponsibly it can have a devastating impact on small businesses and middle class families.
ND: This session you were appointed Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law. Talking a little about regulatory burden what are you hoping to accomplish in the next two years with your position? The community banking industry is just being hammered with regulation and being pushed out of the marketplace due to complex rules and increased compliance.
TM: The amount of regulation is especially damaging for the small banks. There are two approaches I want to take when it comes to tackling regulatory reform. The first is we have so many regulations out there and we need to start looking at and identify the ones that are duplicative. When you have six agencies and multiple departments that are regulating one industry, like banking, we need to weed out the regulations that are just killing business. We do need regulation, it’s absolutely essential for our economic stability. Congress over the years has abdicated its authority to the President and bureaucratic agencies and Congress needs to step up to the plate and take back ownership. Bureaucrats making decisions that impact farms, when they’ve never been to a farm, or banks, when they don’t understand the banking system let along small town banking, is not a good model.
The second approach I want us to take a look at is the whole regulatory rulemaking process. Congress must get involved to the point where, when regulations are proposed, we have a responsibility to say yes or no. We can no longer let agencies and departments make financial determinations without sending it back to the House so that we have an opportunity to review. Congress needs to be more involved with the regulatory process and I plan to use my role as Chairman to help steer that conversation. There’s also a transparency argument to be made for reforming the process. If folks back home aren’t happy about the direction of proposed rule, they should be able to contact their Representative, who they elected, and offer input.
ND: Senator Pat Toomey has floated the idea of a new bankruptcy chapter to deal with the “Too Big To Fail” institutions. Do you think your subcommittee may take a look at this issue or work collaboratively with your Senate counterparts?
TM: Taking a closer look at the bankruptcy issue, to me, is a no brainer. I’m familiar with Senator Toomey’s legislation and we talk quite often about issues like this. One of the things I’m going to be doing as Chair is reaching across the other side and working with my counterparts to try and identify the issues of a subject we agree on and go from there. Right now the process for a bill is to go through the House, or Senate, make it over to the other side, and then they put in the language they like. It just becomes an inefficient use of time and it slows the process. Representative Spencer Bachus had similar legislation in the last Congress and it’s something I’ve been looking at more closely. It’s not something that is going to come up tomorrow but it is going to come up this year because I’m going to push it.
There should never be such a thing as “Too Big To Fail” and what we need to do on the bankruptcy side of things is expedite the process and also simplify it. First of all small banks don’t need to be regulated like a Wall Street institution. We need to strip out the most onerous provisions for small hometown banks that were intended to corral Wall Street. Who knows the people that are asking for a loan to start a business or expand a business better than their home town banker? Those individuals can make that determination and assess the risk better than a regulator in Washington.
On the bankruptcy side of things we need to quickly get in before a bankruptcy judge, an auditor, figure out the assets and liabilities, and not wipe them out, but reorganize. We may lose parts of that particular entity and we may pick up parts of that entity but reorganize where that institution can immediately get back to functioning, and working to generate a profit, and get out from the red and into the black. There’s no upside to shutting something down because you’re admitting there’s a loss and we aren’t going to recoup that.
ND: Do you have concerns about the number of banks that are being merged out of existence right now? 95% of your district is considered to be rural and that’s a large segment that relies on an institution like a community bank.
TM: It’s very disconcerting to me and I think it has a lot to do with Dodd-Frank. That bill is one of the Achilles Heels that’s really hurting small banks. We need to look at stripping away these regulations for small banks, because there’s no such thing as one size fits all. Our current system is broken because it emphasizes shutting down a bank and saying to a larger institution, “you have to take the responsibility and liability”, and that isn’t fixing the problem. That’s just shifting the liability over to another bank that has to deal with it on a larger scale.
Right now banks are hiring compliance officers instead of lending officers. If you could swap that around, by creating an environment that allows small banks to operate how they’ve been doing for over a hundred years, those lending officers would be able to look at someone that has a great technological idea or a great plan for a new start up and be out making loans. Why not operate on that premise? Now we’ve complicated it and look at where we are.
ND: We talk a lot about the big businesses that are failing but left out of that conversation is often the small banks and small businesses that are being hard hit.
TM: Look at the statistics for job creation in our country. Over 50%, and depending on some statistics saying closer to 70%, of small business is driving the economy. Government mandates and over regulation have severely limited their ceiling for growth and it’s the local communities that are facing the pressures. One of my colleagues gave a great example of the regulation problem on the House floor recently. She had six or eight regulatory books that were maybe a foot high, and that was just regulation from the past week. Regardless of the intent of the regulations, that’s too much for any small business or small bank to keep pace with.
ND: One of the moments that your name has been attached to most often, for better or worse, was an interaction on the House floor with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Anyone can look at the video clip but do you want to share what that interaction was like for you?
TM: That happened in August of last year and no matter where I go in this country, even with the media, it still comes up and I think it’s the perfect example of the problems with Congress I referenced earlier. Here we have an individual that for the last decade, maybe longer, has been in leadership. Just about everyone in leadership thrives on the power that comes with their position. They enjoy the security detail, the three or four car entourage, and this belief that they sit on Mount Olympus. It’s noticeable that they carry this attitude of, “we’re better than you” wherever they go. To give some background on the exchange it’s important to note that a congressional leader can speak on the House floor whenever they want whereas rank and file members, we may have a few minutes.
So Minority Leader Pelosi broke the major protocol rule on the floor because when I was speaking she started running over to me, shaking her finger at me saying, “you’re lying, you’re a liar”. I think she was shocked that I had taken her on. The acting Speaker and Parliamentarian were stunned and said to me, “direct your remarks to the Chair”, because I had said to her that I had done my homework and my research and that she should try it. I took umbrage at the fact they were only requiring this of me so I responded that remarks to the Chair go both way, referencing Pelosi speaking directly to me.
Afterwards they came to me and the Parliamentarian said to me, and he’s been there 30 years, that that’s never happened. I had concluded my remarks and was walking back and apparently she was walking up behind me carrying on and I asked her if she wanted to continue the discussion in the cloak room and have a mature and civilized conversation. Well that must have struck a chord because it inflamed her. That’s when she told me that I was insignificant. I took that to mean that she thought she was better than I am and better than my constituents. I just responded that she was incredibly arrogant, and the Sergeant of Arms and someone else actually had to take her off the floor.
I went over to her at the suggestion of one of my colleagues to tell her my comments weren’t aimed at her. Subsequently her office put out a press release saying I apologized and that’s when I went on the circuit to clarify that I did not apologize. I didn’t have anything to apologize for. This is the primary example of why we need term limits. To knock those people off their high horse and stop this thinking that they’re better than everyone else because they have money and power.
ND: It’s a fascinating anecdote that I think helps explain some of the dysfunction that is in Washington. Thank you again Congressman for sitting down with us and sharing your story and some insights on Congress.
This interview can be found featured in the March 2015 issue of Transactions. Not a subscriber? Visit the Transactions page on this website or call PACB at 717-231-7447 to start receiving the magazine.