Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, spent much of 2012 trying to turn back the clock.
Stutzman voted to disapprove of President Obama’s authority to increase the nation’s debt limit, which Congress had agreed to in 2011.
He introduced legislation to eliminate the Corporation for National and Public Service, created by Congress in 1993, because many of its volunteers receive compensation.
He voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – that was passed in 2009.
But Stutzman also proposed a radical departure from the past: The LaGrange County corn and soybean producer pushed for nutrition programs, including food stamps, to be split off from the farm bill.
Farmers are caught up in this big monstrosity of a bill, he said in August.
The conservative Stutzman easily won election to a second two-year term in November and has since been named to the powerful House Financial Services Committee.
Thanks to the departures of Reps. Dan Burton, R-5th, and Mike Pence, R-6th, and because he took office in the last weeks of 2010 after a special election to fill a vacant seat, Stutzman becomes the longest-serving member of the seven Hoosier Republicans who will serve in the 113th Congress.
He spoke to The Journal Gazette by telephone on Dec. 14, only minutes after a gunman had slaughtered 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Neither Stutzman nor The Journal Gazette reporter was aware of the shootings during the interview.
Asked later to comment on possible gun regulations in the wake of the massacre, Stutzman said in an email, I look forward to a fact-based discussion during the next session of Congress on ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.
Following are excerpts of the Dec. 14 interview.
Q. At 36 years old, you will soon become the most senior member of the Indiana Republican delegation in the House. Could you imagine such a thing when you were elected in 2010?
A. You see how other delegations have such seniority. For us in Indiana, it’s just very unique the turnover we’ve had in two (election) cycles. A little bit of luck and the right timing – who would have imagined the position that I’m in today?
Q. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas (the next Financial Services Committee chairman) wants to dismantle the Dodd-Frank financial regulations. Between that and the continuous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, are House Republicans in danger of spending too much time and energy on fighting lost causes rather than pushing new ideas?
A. I think it is important. Especially talking to bankers and insurance folks, savings and loan folks across the state, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
For example, there is what is called the Volcker Rule that is really creating a lot of havoc.
(Note: Named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the rule is designed to separate a bank’s lending and investing businesses.)
There get to be a lot of caveats where the financial institutions don’t have any guidance. It’s almost like Dodd-Frank has complicated matters so much. I don’t think it is wrong for Chairman Hensarling to go back and re-evaluate it, to sort out those things that don’t make sense and question their validity and then try to fix it.
I think it’s the same thing with the health care law. There are certain parts that are valid, that will fix problems in the process. But there’s also a much larger picture within the bill that just gives government so much more control, heavier regulation, that just doesn’t fit within a conservative philosophy, that we would disagree with.
Q. What legislation do you plan to introduce or sponsor or get behind in 2013?
A. My hope is to work, on the Financial Services Committee, to make sure that there are responsible lending practices. The private financial institutions are such a big part of our overall economy, whether it’s access to credit or whether it’s insurance, whether it’s pensions, savings, individual retirement accounts. I’m really anxious to learn. I’ve got a lot to learn on the Financial Services Committee.
I will always continue to support a balanced-budget amendment (to the U.S. Constitution). That’s going to be the big issue for me. It is just so important for the long-term stability of our country.
Q. Why did you replace your chief of staff?
A. We had a great team put together. Tim Harris was a seatmate of mine in the General Assembly. As I looked at everything when we were first elected, being new to Washington, Tim was a very good friend of mine who was willing to come aboard and build the staff, the office. But (with Harris) living in Marion, we had agreed he would work from the district, work out of the Fort Wayne office.
Carlin Yoder (a Republican state senator from Middlebury) as our district director has really taken over all of the district’s needs. Tim was just not able to get to Washington as much. We started to see the need for the chief of staff to be in Washington more with the committee work. It’s just more of a logistical issue. Tim is settled (in Marion). We discussed it.
Things are working out well. We hired Matt Lloyd from Congressman Pence’s staff. (Gov.-elect Mike Pence) had offered him a job back in Indiana, but he was living in Maryland and he wasn’t really wanting to pick up and move back to Indiana. So it seemed to make sense that we make that change. Matt Lloyd is going to do a great job for us.
Q. You were an organizer of the Freshmen Hold ’em PAC. Its goal is to keep the 2010 Republican freshman class in office. And your own Marlin PAC is set up for pretty much the same thing. What is it about the 2010 freshmen that clicked, that makes members want to help one another get re-elected?
A. I think it was just the time we were elected in. A lot of discussion about the spending in Washington, the health care bill had passed. People had this sense that something’s not right, and our country is the greatest country in the world and we want to keep it that way.
We felt that the number of 89 freshmen was a powerful number. One of the things in politics that gives you influence is numbers. You want to utilize that and keep that intact. People know that as a group, we’re looking out for each other and we planned to make an impact in the election of 2012, and it was very successful.
(Note: 76 out of 89 freshman Republicans were re-elected Nov. 6. The Republican majority in the 435-member House shrank from 241 to 234 for the 113th Congress.)
Q. You’ve been through two years of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. After the status quo election in November, it looks like you’re in for two more. How is Congress going to get anything done in the next two years?
A. My hope is that the president realizes that he’s not getting anything done, either, by having gridlock, and that he does move off of the positions that he holds. If there is a willingness to work together, there’s a way to get things done.
I sense that Republicans continue to be asked to move off of positions, but the president has not. I mean, I’m willing to reform our military spending, to make changes, to move more of our active military into our National Guards across the country. It will save a lot more money. We can cut spending in military and do it responsibly and carefully to where still we have a strong military.
A real leader says, Let’s figure out a way to make some changes and touch the things that I care about first’ and show that it’s not just about trying to take away from someone else.