A GOP Freshman's First Weeks

Host Scott Simon visits Capitol Hill to check in with freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Republican from Michigan, who was interviewed on Weekend Edition Saturday at the beginning of the session. Huizenga talks about his first weeks on the job and his vote against funding the F-35 jet engine project that was favored by House Speaker John Boehner.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Congressman Bill Huizenga, Michigans 2nd Congressional District, calls himself a fiscal and social conservative who is one of those Republican freshmen who joined Democrats in voting to strip feature funding for the new fighter jet engine, a program that had been backed Speaker John Boehner.

Representative BILL HUIZENGA (Republican, Michigan): It was a difficult vote. Frankly, I have a facility in my district that supplies parts. Its a GE facility. It supplies parts in for that potential engine. And knowing that it could potentially, you know, impact my district, I needed to step beyond that and do what I felt was the right thing.

SIMON: What was it like to cast one of your first really well-publicized votes and go against the leader of your party, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner?

Rep. HUIZENGA: Yeah, you know, he has been very good about allowing people to go do what they think is the right thing. I would highly suspect he didn't think I made the right choice. But, well, I'm a fiscal and social conservative. I mean that's who I am. I'm not here to just, you know, to just show up and follow a party line.

SIMON: And where else do you take a look at this budget and see where cuts ought to be made?

Rep. HUIZENGA: My general philosophy as we've been going through this process, if it is not impacting troops ability on the ground to keep themselves or us safe, and it actually is a reduction of some sort, I have been voting for it. In a way, it was sort of good, I think, that it was Defense cuts first. You know, that sort of shuts down the whole argument of well, you know, youre going to cut everything but, you know, those sort of quote/unquote, traditional Republican programs.

We have a $1.3 trillion deficit for the year. We haven't solved it and were not going to solve it with one vote or in this year. What has to happen is we have to have a fundamental change in the trajectory of spending in Washington. That's going to take time. Were on a battleship. Were not on a Boston Whaler.

You know, it's going to take some time to turn the wheel and to see that ship of state nose around. Now, I think we need some very demonstrable benchmarks of progress; where are we going? And we need to be able to point those out and we have to make the case. We have to make the case with the American people.

SIMON: Youre one of those representatives who will dine in your office three nights a week, right.

Rep. HUIZENGA: Yeah. Yup. Yup, I am. Yup. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. Why?

Rep. HUIZENGA: Well, a couple, you know, there's a practical and then theres also the symbolic. And I'm following a gentleman, Pete Hoekstra, who very famously slept on his couch for 18 years when he was out here. And this is the God's honest truth. The three most commonly asked questions when I was out on the campaign trail: One, what are you going to do about health care? Two, what are you going to do about the deficit? Three, are you going to sleep on your couch like Pete did?

So back home, theres in many ways an expectation out of them that I'm going to live frugally, you know, and they want to see that in my own personal life. Guess what? I've discovered that that makes them much more comfortable when they hand their dollars over to us to go spend it and, you know, that - so there is that symbolic element, so.

SIMON: So youre in Washington how many days a week, generally?

Rep. HUIZENGA: Yeah. We're usually here four and a couple weeks well be here three, and a couple of weeks we might be here five. That means two evenings or three evenings practically a week. So but, you know, what I was starting to say is, you know, the practical element is, you know, I've got to pack it every night that I'm required...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. HUIZENGA: ...requested to go through, you know, whether it's reading, sending letters, you know, memos that I need to get back, co-sponsorship of bills. So I usually get back to the office somewhere between 10 and 11 and put in an hour or an hour and a half of work and then I'm up and usually out of here by 6, 6:15.

SIMON: Heres a question I want to raise about the workday or the work week that you describe. The whole idea of representative democracy is that you are supposed to come here from Michigan and you're supposed to meet people from all over the country, and you're supposed to talk with each other and treat with each other, and exchange ideas and maybe change your mind. When you just spent three days a week at the Capitol, if you're sleeping in the office, are you -with your life so anchored to your district, are you fulfilling what representative democracy is supposed to be, which is making yourself open to changing your ideas?

Rep. HUIZENGA: Oh, absolutely.

SIMON: Working with others?

Rep. HUIZENGA: Yeah, sure. I dont see that being a conflict at all. I really don't. You know, it's more about attitude than geography, frankly. It's about whether youre going to be able to go in and work with people who you may or may not agree with and regardless of party affiliation. You know, and again, when I'm here, I'm working my tail off. You know, I've got my attention on Washington. When I'm back home, I still have my attention on two things: My district and my family.

So theres no pure way of doing this. And again, I think it's a very personal decision for people. It works great for some people who move their families out here. It works great for some people who decide to commute. I think it is more important, what are you doing between 6AM and midnight to make sure that youre achieving those goals that you're talking about.

SIMON: Bill Huizenga represents Michigan's 2nd Congressional District. Thanks very much for letting us into your office.

Rep. HUIZENGA: Well, I appreciate that and you are welcome back any time.

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