PACB President/CEO Nick DiFrancesco (ND): You are now entering into your eighth month as a newly elected member of Congress. What are your thoughts on what Congress has been able to accomplish so far and what do you see ahead for the remainder of 2017 and through 2018?
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (BF): Coming from the FBI where I worked on arresting corrupt politicians, coming to Congress has certainly been a major paradigm shift. The first seven or eight months have been hectic, but we’ve made some real progress on priorities like regulatory reform and passing the Financial CHOICE Act. Unfortunately, these successes get less coverage than other issues, which is a shame. I think the 115th Congress – especially with the leadership of our Freshman class of members – can be a successful session through 2018 if we focus on finding areas of agreement and working on bipartisan priorities we all campaigned on and talk about: tax reform, infrastructure investment, healthcare reform. We can accomplish a lot if we’re willing to actually sit down and get to work instead of politicking.
ND: You currently serve on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. Your comprehensive background and career in the FBI makes you an important voice on those committees. What are your thoughts on the security of the United States, our place in the world and the status of our current threats? Can you tell us about what your committees have been working on and your priorities within those committees?
BF: It is an honor to have been named to two of the most important committees in the House as a Freshman – Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs – and my background has enabled me to play an active role in debating and shaping policy at such an important time in our history. From the start, I’ve said that to be successful in their vital missions, these committees require bipartisan cooperation and independent thinking – which we’ve seen for the large part.
On Foreign Affairs we’ve covered a range of issues, from human trafficking to the Iran nuclear deal. One issue I’ve been very focused on continues to be North Korea’s rush to upgrade its weapons systems and nuclear program. North Korea is a direct threat to our safety and security, and our foreign policy needs to recognize that. That means increased sanctions pressure, increased international cooperation and upgrade to our defense systems at home and in South East Asia.
Protecting the homeland is equally as important. Working with the committee, I’ve been named to a bipartisan task force to investigate how we can prevent terrorists and those who wish to do us harm from entering our country. Some of that is border security and addressing illegal immigration, but – with my background in the FBI – I’m focusing on loopholes and shortfalls in our Visa and legal immigration system, as well as our international intelligence sharing.
ND: As part of the Homeland Security Committee, you also serve on the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection. The Financial Services sector, including community banks, encounter cyber attacks on a daily basis. What are the Department of Homeland Security and Congress doing to address emerging cyber threats?
BF: As a member of the Homeland Security Committee’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee I’m working to defend America’s domestic networks and establish a comprehensive assessment of the current cyber threat environment to help guide the Department of Homeland Security’s governmental and civilian cyber defense mission.
Whether it is state actors from North Korea to Russia, hacktivists or cyber-criminals targeting consumer and personal data, Cybersecurity is a complex and serious national and economic security issue that our country will continue to face over the decades to come. It is the responsibility of DHS to work with public and private sector stakeholders to secure networks to protect critical U.S. infrastructure – 85-percent of which is owned and operated outside of the government.
The committee is working closely on this issue to ensure we have the information we need to address this challenge on every front, and we’re prepared to equip DHS with the tools it needs to carry out this mission. It is my belief that to address this 21st century challenge, we must establish a cybersecurity agency at DHS so it can most effectively carry out civilian cyber defense statutory authorities.
ND: You also serve on the House Committee on Small Business and its Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access. Part of that committee’s objective is to assess the financial markets’ ability to provide access to capital to small business and the effects of federal tax policies and federal regulations like Dodd-Frank on the small business community. What are your observations on the current economic climate for small business and what are some of the ways we can encourage economic growth?
BF: One and a half percent growth in GDP is simply unsustainable. If that trend continues, we will not be able to fund priorities such as bolstering our national security, taking care of our veterans, combatting the addiction crisis, funding public education, and preserving our environment.
If this Congress is serious about standing up for middle class families and unleashing the power of the American economy, tax reform is the natural starting point. The positive impact of strong, sustained economic growth has the potential to not only help families make ends meet, but address a number of other pressures we face.
The model is straightforward: we need to simplify the ridiculously complex internal revenue code, eliminate the loopholes that allow corporations and individuals to avoid paying their fair share, lower the rates for middle class families and small businesses, and broaden the tax base. However, in Washington, we tend to immediately find the smallest areas of disagreement and work from there instead of finding points of agreement and realizing there is more that unites us on the issue.
That’s why, as a member of the Small Business Committee, Problem Solvers Caucus, and as a concerned taxpayer, I’ve outlined these commonsense reforms in terms of objectives we share – like encouraging growth, simplifying the tax code itself, and increasing service for taxpayers. Once we’re on the same page, we can stop fighting and start fixing.
Growth: It has been over 30 years since the last major overhaul of our tax system. Despite rapid economic change from technology to medicine, the tax code has only expanded its burdens on the American people, restricting opportunity and economic freedom. A successful tax plan should:
• Increase take-home pay for hardworking Americans by reducing the number of tax brackets and cutting individual rates
• Lower rates for small businesses and job creators so they can invest in growing their business, hiring new workers and raising wages
• Repeal the ‘Death Tax’
• Allow American businesses to immediately write off the full costs of new investments – including research and development, or technology
Simplicity: At over 70,000 pages, the current tax code forces American taxpayers to navigate a maze of burdensome regulations and compliance costs that include treasury regulations, IRS forms, instructions, publications and other federal guidance. A successful tax plan should:
• Simplify tax benefits for families
• Reduce numerous exemptions, deductions, and credits that riddle the tax code, making it less fair for those who cannot take advantage of such provisions
Service: Americans pay taxes voluntarily knowing that their tax dollars fund the federal government. As the agency in charge of this relationship, the IRS should have a singular focus: ‘Service First.’ A successful tax plan should:
• Restructure the IRS to resolves routine disputes quickly
• Hold the IRS commissioner accountable to the people by implementing term limits, keeping politics out of the IRS
ND: You have set a goal to visit with 100 small businesses in your district. Can you talk about that effort?
BF: When our local small businesses succeed, they create jobs, invigorate our communities, and preserve the distinct character of our local economy. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and member of the House Committee on Small Business, I’m committed to visiting 100 small businesses across Bucks and Montgomery Counties this year, and every year, to better appreciate the needs of local small businesses and to help them create good paying jobs right here in our community.
From restaurants to hospitals, my 100 small business tour allows me to connect directly with local businesses and exchange ideas on important issues ranging from tax and regulatory reform, to healthcare and infrastructure.
ND: Serving the constituents from the 8th District has been a passion for your family for many years. We would like to thank you for continuing your brother’s legacy of support for community banks and specifically would like to thank you for your affirmative vote on the Financial CHOICE Act. Why do you think it is important to preserve the community banks in your district and across the country?
BF: Every American deserves the opportunity of financial independence. Unfortunately, top-down regulations from Washington missed Wall Street and hit Main Street – increasing consumer fees, slowing economic growth and crushing the small community banks crucial to Bucks and Montgomery county families and businesses.
Dodd-Frank promised to end ‘too big to fail,’ but instead gave us ‘too small to succeed.’ Unlike big banks, which can afford an army of lawyers and regulatory experts to navigate the Dodd-Frank loopholes, the community banks that empower entrepreneurship and local lending have been squeezed out. Since the enactment of Dodd-Frank, nearly 1,900 banks – many of which were community financial institutions – have vanished, leaving consumers with fewer choices and increased fees.
Wall Street and the big banks don’t like the Financial CHOICE Act – in fact, they fought against the bill, its consumer reforms and increased accountability. But that’s OK, because I work for your members, not them.
The truth is: The Financial CHOICE Act is a clear-eyed reform that levels the financial playing field, supports access to capital and credit for all Americans, prevents taxpayer-funded bailouts, and increases penalties for white-collar criminals and accountability for regulators.
Economic growth is a three-piece puzzle: tax reform, balanced budgets, and regulatory reform. The House’s passage of the Financial CHOICE Act shows this Congress is serious about unleashing the American economy. Now it’s crucial to build on this momentum and get to work on bipartisan tax reform.
ND: As a candidate you were a champion of governmental reform. Once elected, you founded the Congressional Citizen Legislature Caucus, a group of legislators committed to Congressional Reforms. Can you talk about the group and its priorities?
BF: It’s important we take a moment and think about the government our Founders envisioned: Citizen legislators, chosen from among their peers to work on their behalf; to serve honorably, with a focus on solutions; and return home to live under the laws they’ve passed, making way for a new generation of leadership with new ideas and a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, we as a nation have strayed from that vision. Today, too many Americans feel left out. They see a system that does more to preserve the status quo than it does solving our most pressing challenges. They see a class of career politicians and elite insiders.
I wish I could tell my constituents that this problem is exaggerated; that this mess in Washington doesn’t affect them, or their families, or their businesses. But, as a former anti-corruption FBI special agent, I’ve seen the brokenness in our system and I know the real-life impact that it has: soft and hard corruption that tilts the legislative agenda towards special interests; electoral complacency that causes lawmakers to focus on accumulating power rather than serving constituents; and entrenched partisanship that grinds the gears of government to a halt.
That’s why I formed the Congressional Citizen Legislature Caucus and introduced a sweeping reform package on my first day in office. This included:
• A Constitutional Amendment (H.J.Res. 7) enacting term limits for all members of Congress;
• A Constitutional Amendment (H.J.res. 9) preventing members of Congress from being paid unless a budget is passed. This is not just withholding pay for a little while, this is complete forfeiture;
• A Balanced Budget amendment (H.J.Res. 8) so we are forced to stop kicking the can down the road, and will create a fiscal path that will allow the next generation to thrive;
• And a bill I call the Citizen Legislature Anti-Corruption Reform [CLEAN] Act (H.R. 145) that includes language to:
• End Congressional “pensions for life” and directs members toward standard 401K retirement savings accounts
• Requires this body to debate and act on single-issue legislation
• Codifies that all laws passed by Congress apply to its members
• Reforms the broken “Gerrymandering” process by moving all redistricting to independent, non-partisan citizen commissions, and
• Expands access to political party primaries to include both Independents and non-affiliated voters
Washington needs fewer politicians and more independent voices focused on serving the American people. The time is now to answer their call to fix this system, so we can then get to addressing the challenges we face as a nation.
ND: The Congressional Session Schedule had been uncharacteristically hectic this year. What do you like to do in your spare time?
BF: I love to travel – particularly foreign travel – although I don’t know how much time I’m going to have to do that. My favorite part of being an FBI agent was when I entered that international role, working international corruption and counterterrorism and having the opportunity to travel overseas. I knew I was always interested in international travel but then having that chance to do it in a work capacity, where I was given a chance to work in embassies around the world, working with foreign police officers, foreign leaders, was just an amazing experience.