A Congressman who gets it

I saw a politician last week. I had not attended a political event since I went to one of Sam Coppersmith's townhalls some 18 years ago. Mr. Coppersmith rode Bill Clinton's coattails into office. When I went to that townhall, Mr. Coppersmith had recently voted for the Assault Weapons Ban. When I questioned him about it, he defined an assault weapon as one that shoots at a high cyclic rate without much accuracy. Why then, I asked, was the AR-15 on the list while the Ruger Mini-14 was not? Both shoot the same round (.223) at the same cyclic rate (one shot for each pull of the trigger) with similar accuracy. He responded that the AWB was one of the most technical pieces of legislation that Congress had considered that term. Magna cum laude from Harvard, law degree from Yale, and he thought the AWB was technical. Thankfully, he has gone back to practicing real estate law.

There were plenty of chairs in the room last week but only one man in the front row, so I thought, I may as well go up and get a ringside seat. As I sat I realized that the man in the suit to my left, engaged in a conversation, was the representative. I glancing briefly at him, he gave me a warm smile, and I had two thoughts: 1) I can't remember when I've met someone so outgoing, and 2) I could never do his job.

I introduced myself and said that I write for American Thinker. He was familiar with the site, gave me his card, and said if I need facts to contact his staff as they're very good at financial and actuarial data. When he rose to talk, rather than recite a canned speech, he conducted the meeting entirely with questions and answers. He is the first Westerner to sit on the House Financial Services Committee in as long as anyone can remember. He is an actuary, having been treasurer of Maricopa County. I must have been exposed to his biography when I voted for him, but I had not realized what a numbers man he is.

He began by asking how many want the politicians in Washington to stop fighting. Some hands went up. "It ain't going to go away, because with a shrinking portion of the budget available for discretionary spending, there are going to be endless fights on what to preserve and what to cut." He laid out the stark numbers: every day 10,500 Baby Boomers turn 65. Today nondiscretionary spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt) consumes 63% of the federal budget. In 4.5 years it will account for 75%. In 17 years, when the last of the Boomers turns 65, 35% of the country will be on Social Security and Medicare--and nondiscretionary spending will be 100% of the budget.

No military. No space program. Nothing for education. Just Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt. Period. I'm sure all of you have read these things before. I know I have. But somehow words on a page or screen do not have the same impact as does a person in the flesh.

The conflict in Washington, Rep. Schweikert said, is not between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives, but between those who do math and those who don't. I guess that's a polite way of saying the same thing. When I talked to his aide afterwards, he said that one of the representative's greatest frustrations in Washington is people who just do not see the problem with the numbers. No kidding.

I'll vote for Rep. Schweikert again. Not that I went into the meeting with doubts, but I came away impressed by his ability to communicate the gravity of the situation we face in terms anyone should be able to understand.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.