Alan: I'm here today with Congressman Mike Conaway, and Mike I enjoy having you here on today's show.
Mike: Well Alan, thanks for having me here. I’m glad to be here, thanks for having me on, I appreciate it.
Alan: So, a little background I guess kind of to introduce the listeners to your unique background. You used to work with George Bush?
Mike: I did, George and I were business partners in the oil business for over five years in Midland, Texas. It was a great experience he’s a terrific guy. I wish I had been partners with him in the baseball team I’d had made a lot more money. But he’s a terrific guy and a good warm human being. What you see is that what you get not a lot of subterfuge there; he’s a straightforward guy and a terrific Boss.
Alan: So, you entered Congress in which year?
Mike: So, I’m starting my 5th term.
Alan: And what roll are you currently playing?
Mike: Well, I got, I wear several hats. One, I’m Chairman of the Ethics Committee, the House Ethics Committee which is a full committee. I’m also, Subcommittee Chairman of the largest subcommittee on House, on the House Agriculture Committee, the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, so I share that. I’m chief, I’m a Deputy Whip on the Whip team and a Deputy Whip. As well as, I’ve got a couple of other rolls, but to those are the main ones that I run, I do.
Alan: Mike, what would you say is the most essential quality in leadership today?
Mike: Certainly integrity, and just being able to have a vision for where you want to go and strength of purpose to know that you're doing the right thing and then be able to stick with that I think the country is just screaming for leadership today, we’re hungry for it and we’re not getting it, quite frankly from the White House and obviously that’s the most important leader we have in this country is the President of the United States. And he should be, since he doesn’t face re-election again, he really ought to be focused more on leading this country where we ought to go, as supposed to worrying about 2014 election.
Alan: As head of the Ethics Committee how do you see that integrity is enforced?
Mike: Well it’s a complaint driven system much like the State Board of Accountancy is here California as in other places. So, we deal with complaints that come up, we can generate those complaints ourselves, the Ethics Committee can, or we can get them from other members of the house. And it's a slow tedious process, as are all judicial like processes; you want to protect the innocent. You want to make sure that everyone has due process, and that due process is lengthy and time-consuming. You know the court of public opinion, which, most of us get judged on, is almost instantaneous, there are no defense lawyers and there are no standards for evidence. So, you’ve got the court of public opinion running, and at the same time we’re trying to run an ethics investigation that has to give, a, proper due diligence, and those kinds of things, to the accused, and to the folks that make the complaints. So, it works, the committee is the only 50-50 split committee in Congress. So, the ranking member and I have to agree on most everything to make something move forward. And the votes have to be, you have to have at least one person on the other party vote to move an investigation forward. So you can’t have a partisan witch hunt, so to speak. I’m quite proud of what we did the last two years before I became Chairman, in that every vote was unanimous on the committee to move all the investigations, to take all the actions that we were taking. So it works, but it's a slow, agonizingly slow but it’s important that we protect the innocent as well as give the accused a fare day.
Alan: Should the citizens be concern with what’s happening in the world today?
Mike: Well yes, short answer.
Mike: Whether you want to narrow that down a little bit, to what’s going on in DC.
Alan: Let’s bring this back to currently what was going on within the government within, I’m going to narrow this back down to the Constitution.
Mike: Yea let me answer it this way, just kind of to set the backdrop, and the stage, for a conversation. We currently have if you project the promises, the financial promises that we made to each other with Social Security, Medicare interest on the national debt all those things that we've committed to now, basically promises made to each other over the next 75 years what that cost you then discount that to today's present value is $71 trillion of present value of future promises that we’ve made to each other. It’s not sustainable and affordable; you’d need $71 trillion dollars in the bank today to be able to pay that off on a proper basis. So, it’s unsustainable and, and that ought to concern every single American. Now, it doesn't because it doesn't touch our quiet lives. People all over America got up today they trying to go to work, get the kids off to school, one of them was sick, they got to find a Dr. appointment, the car wouldn’t start because the battery was dead, you know, life. But this pending fiscal wreck that many of us see doesn't touch our daily quiet lives. And as a result of that…
Alan: Will it ever touch our lives?
Mike: March 1
Alan: March 1?
Mike: It’ll start March 1, with sequestration.
Alan: And this is the sequestration?
Mike: Yes, sequestration, when that kicks in, now it won’t happen immediately because some of the furloughing and the layoffs and those things it will begin to build over time but beginning March 1, sequestration kicks in and at that point in time, there will be quite lives disrupted. And hopefully, the American people gets thinking why is this happening and what’s the results and what's the Republicans trying to get done with this forced cuts to the budget.
Alan: Mike I need to take a quick break, we’ll be right back after this message, and when we get back, I want to talk more about the sequestering coming up.
Mike: Very good.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm here today with Congressman Conaway. And before the break we were talking about what's going on with congress or Washington DC right now with the upcoming sequestering.
Alan: And how it will affect their lives, I want to pick up on this, now I'm reading in the paper today, that Obama, President Obama, has the upper hand. What's this all about, upper hand?
Mike: Well, I'm not sure he does. The sequester relates to the Budget Control act of 2011, as a part of that the president insisted that we insert a sequestered mechanism to enforce the spending cuts that were agreed to. We agreed to a 1.2 trillion increase to the debt ceiling, but accompany that, there had been $1.2 trillion reduction in deficit. And if the super committee couldn't work, which they wound up not been able to work, the sequestration kicked in. And automatic across-the-board cuts were to be implemented. And this was the President's idea and so I'm not sure where the upper hand thing comes from?
Alan: Yea, that’s, I had heard that it was his role to put the sequestration in place.
Mike: It was his idea, and he's got the upper hand in the sense he has to implement it. The Office of Management of Budgets is in charge of implementation of the sequester. The sequester is a ten-year number, of the 1.2 trillion, is over 10 years. The idea was to get the 1.2 trillion off of 100% of the budget. Sequester pools at 1.2 out of a much narrower band sequestration, I mean discretionary spending, plus a little bit on the mandatory side, but it's a mess. The numbers are not as dramatic as you would think though, the sequestration for fiscal 2013 which the Senate insisted, be, instead of starting January 1, the senate insisted that it get kicked to March 1, so, we've got 7 months in which to get a years' worth of cuts. And so you've exacerbated the issue little bit, about $85 billion total, and the total spending is running right now to a $1.04 trillion. So, it's something less than a 10% cut, and even if you annualize it from the 7 months, it's still not a disaster that it should be.
Alan: Would you agree though, that there's a lot of fat that can be cut out of spending?
Mike: Oh sure, absolutely, but what you see the president do, as an example of what he's done, with the department of AG. He's communicated to all executive branch agencies sent out the worst scariest stories you can as to what impact sequestration will have. So, as it relates to the house agriculture, I mean the Department of Agricultural, Secretary Vilsack has said he's going to furlough the meat inspectors. Well you can't sell meat in this country unless it's been inspected. So, what he's arguing is that inspecting meat is less important than some of the other things that the USDA's doing. So you'll see these stories this coming week and then during March. I suspect the president will scour the country looking for families and others who've been impacted negatively by sequestration. He'll have them in front of the cameras and trying to persuade the American people to try to bully Congress or bully the House into unwinding the sequestration it's not going to get unwound. Now it can be substituted, we can find better rational more thoughtful cuts to spending and substitute those for the across-the-board cuts. Across-the-board cuts or mindless, they are very unthoughtful. They leave 90% of bad programs, the fat you were talking about, they leave waste in place, they cut 10% off the good programs you shouldn't cut at all. So, it's not the best way to run a government, but we are so frustrated with his President and this Senate, in not wanting to deal with spending at all, that we're willing to let these bad cuts go into effect just to get their attention, try to drag them to the table. The President and the senate.
Alan: When you think about this, why do you think it's important for society to live within its means? We seem to have gotten off track.
Mike: We have for the last four years, and there's plenty of blame to go around this is not a Republican or Democrat problem, it's all of us, we're all complicit in the $71 trillion in unfunded promises the 16 or $17 trillion now in hard debt. What that says is we've had an inability to take care of today's problems with today's resources. It's much, far more easy to take care of today's resources with tomorrows, I mean, today's problems with tomorrow's resource i.e. the 17 trillion dollars we borrowed just to fund our normal operations which no business or family would ever do on any kind of scale over a long period of time.
Alan: I got to slip one other question in here, the statutory pay raises 2013, why did you vote to eliminate the statutory pay adjustment for the federal government?
Mike: We're going to have a trillion dollars in deficits and have President's pandering. He's a master at this, by the way. As soon as he announced that pay raise, it was for all federal employees it was not just for members of Congress, it was for all federal employees. The media immediately went to the fact that it gave raises to the Senators and Congressmen. Our phones lit up, people were so mad at me, they thought I had done it. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't lobby for that pay raise, it was 800 bucks, a nice chunk of change I agree. But we didn't lobby for it. But the President knew if he did it, the backlash would be against congress for being part of it, he did the pay raise. Now's not the time for a pay raise.
Alan: We need to take a quick break, right back after this.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm here today with Congressman Mike Conaway from Texas and we've been visiting with him on Congress and the upcoming sequestering. I'd like to turn the page here and I want to get into gun control.
Alan: Texas, guns, tell me what your stance is on this?
Mike: Thanks Alan, the issue is gun violence. And who's not against gun violence, we all are. But it's not inanimate objects that are the issue, its mental health and the folks that would pick up a gun and do what these mass murders have done. The fellow in Connecticut had to be deranged, he had to be crazy. And I'm a CPA I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist so maybe using those terms in-artfully, but only a deranged crazy person does what this fellow did. He had all the laws in place to say don't do those. It's against the law to kill your mother, it's against the law to steal her guns, everything he did is against the law already. And so, it's really not inanimate objects. Most of the focus is on scary looking weapons, it has nothing to do with the actions or the way these weapons shoot. They're still single shot weapons, high-capacity magazines it's, you know, easy to understand, but it's not the issue. Second Amendment, the emphasis on the second amendment, which I think is hopefully a part of what we’re talking about. Is not in place for hunting, it's not in place for target practice or gun collecting even. It's in place because our founding fathers knew that an armed citizenry is less easy to enslave than an unarmed citizenry. And it is just as simple as that. Now that sounds a bit crazy, that you would worry about a tyrannical government doing something to you that you didn't want done or didn't fit under the Constitution. But the second amendment is there on purpose and it protects us. It's one of the pillars on which our freedoms and foundations rest and without it we are not nearly as free or as safe as with it. Now yes, there are irresponsible uses of guns, but I'm not willing, at this point, to restrict law-abiding citizens ability to own weapons and firearms, just because there are a few people out there that are misusing them. And, and they are not addressing mental health issue, which is much harder. It's far easier to think you can, can deal with an inanimate object, than it is to deal with the real issue, which is his mental health. It's a state based problem, the resources applied to that, all those kinds of things, the privacy issues associated with it, are hard, I got that. But that's where the real issue of gun violence is concerned. So, our second amendment is an important right, and I'm unwilling to try impinge on because of some false sense of safety. And to take away that right that our founding fathers. It would have never occurred to them in their right minds to disarm in front of the king. And quite frankly, their opposition to the king would look as crazy as our opposition to this government today. But that it’s simply, I don't want to sound like a crazy berserk kind of person but that's the truth. Just quietly say, second amendment is there to protect us not only physical violence in our homes and persons, but also against a government that would do something that doesn’t fit within our constitution.
Alan: You know, I don't think any other President compares, or has more executive orders issued.
Alan: And so, say the President issues an executive order on some type of gun control, how does congress respond?
Mike: Well we don't respond very well. Because the House and Senate as a legislative counterbalance to the executive is only effective in concert. The House has no unilateral authority, so whether it's using the power of the purse or other ways to get at these executive orders, unless we can get the Senate and Harry Reid to go along with it, which so far been pretty hard to do, because Harry's in league with his President they're shoulder to shoulder in all of these issues. We're not very effective; we'll have to rely on the Judiciary quite frankly to protect us. Because if he goes and overreaches with an Executive Order, there will be lawsuits across this country filed to push back on that. At that point in time, we're stuck with relying on the judiciary because of lack of getting the Senate to agree on this stuff. They're not going to buck the President on anything, certainly not something as important as gun control.
Alan: You know I'm going to go back to your role as a CPA going into Congress.
Alan: How would you define ethics when you're looking at your roll on the Ethics Committee?
Mike: Well, House ethics, we have a code of conduct that statutorily in place that describes how members are supposed to go. You got your personal codes that we have to rely on, we got laws and rules and regulations that affect the way we raise money, the way that money is spent all those kinds of things. And so, the ethics are doing your best to comply, not only with the letter of these actions, these rules and regulations, but also spirit of it. You can't write rules regulations and laws so detailed that a crafty person who wants to get around them, can't find a way to try to get around them. So, it's mainly the right attitude toward, I want to do this job right, I want to do it in an upright, worthy basis and I'm going to comply with the spirit of whatever these rules are in addition to working to comply, very specifically with the letter as well. So, it's an attitude of I'm going to keep, obey the rules and I'm going to try to insist everybody my team obeys rules, and we work at it. Now, if you have inadvertent mistakes, tax returns get filed from time to time that have mistakes in it, did you breach your code of ethics? No, you made a mistake, so you get it, fix it, you go take care of it.
Alan: Like Geithner?
Mike: Well, maybe not that one. But a, that, but intention, intent is a big problem in that regards as well. So, a part of our problem is that we've blown every breach of conduct of the rules into a, out of biblical proportions, there's no gradation in terms of mistakes. If you file you make a mistake in your, honest mistake in your financial disclosure, that gets counted in the press as bad as if you had taken a bribe. And, the same kind of penalties on every single thing, and that really shouldn't be the case. We're working to try to hold members accountable, it's hard to do. You’re sitting in judgment of your peers, but its important work. I've spent 7 and 1/2 years on state board of accountancy in Texas, so I've got some background in holding peers accountable for either behavioral issues or technical compliances, as you and I worked on tax returns and audits, on those kinds of things. So, I've got some background that I've brought to this job in the House of the exact same kind of scenario.
Alan: Is it getting harder to enforce the ethics out there?
Mike: No, because it's a voluntary compliance, and you know most all members want to do the right thing, want to comply. You'll have a few that get off the reservation. Jesse Jackson is an example, just pled guilty to stealing money from his campaign accounts, so those are the exceptions rather than rules, most everybody that we deal with are goodhearted, their intent is to obey the rules. And they just get caught up in something, and certainly willing to make amends and fix it. But there's a bad apple and they get all the press, they get all, and they taint the rest of us. You got 435 members of the House, most all of them good folks, but the few bad apples taint the rest of us.
Alan: So, what's the difference between an ethical dilemma and an immoral dilemma?
Mike: I don't know that there is a difference. Our founding fathers knew that only a moral people could self-govern. Amoral people and immoral people cannot self-govern. So, we as a society are being less and less moral, as we develop, as we move forward. And as a result, you're seeing all these abuses, all these frauds all this cheating and stealing. All these things going on in society, that is not evidence of a moral society, and as that morality continues to deteriorate, as the path were on, it will be a real strain as to whether or not we can self-govern under the ways that our founding fathers wanted us to do. Democracies and Republics last about 250 years, we're at 237. I've been telling high school students last year during the campaign, that when they are adults 15 to 20 years from now. When they are adults on the leading edge of running companies, running not-for-profits, running, being in the new government and those kinds of stuff. Our country will be in uncharted territory with respect to longevity of Republic, and whether or not we can hold it, will be up to them. And only a moral people can hold this government together, we are not a path that says it will last much longer.
Alan: Congressman Conaway, we appreciate you being on today's show.
Mike: It was my pleasure.
Alan: We'll be right back after these messages.
About The Guest:
Serving in his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Mike Conaway has earned the reputation as “a voice of reason” in Washington. Mike represents the 11th Congressional District of Texas consisting of 36 counties in Central and West Texas including Midland, Odessa and San Angelo.
Mike’s background as a CPA has given him the credibility to be a vocal proponent in reducing the national debt. Mike believes it is time for Congress to make “tough choices” and has authored “No New Programs” legislation to change the House rules on spending to require that the creation of any new federal program be joined with the elimination of an existing federal program of equal or greater cost. Mike has also advocated for a simpler and fairer tax system in Congress and has sponsored legislation that would bring more accountability in government funding. Mike demonstrated leadership in numerous policy areas and currently serves as a Deputy Republican Whip in the 112th Congress.
Mike currently serves on the House Agriculture, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Ethics Committees. As a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, he supports the goals of the Global War against Islamic Jihadist and our young men and women in the armed forces. He understands the sacrifices that are being made by our troops and their families.
On the Agriculture Committee, Mike serves as Subcommittee Chairman of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, working to protect the interests of rural America and the American farmer.
A native Texan, Mike grew up in Odessa and graduated from Odessa Permian High School in 1966 after playing on Permian's first state championship football team. He earned a BBA degree in Accounting from Texas A & M University-Commerce in 1970. After serving in the Army at Fort Hood, Mike resumed his career with Price Waterhouse & Co. he returned to the Permian Basin with Price Waterhouse and settled in Midland where he later worked with George W. Bush as the Chief Financial Officer for Bush Exploration. Mike developed a lasting friendship with President Bush as together they learned what it takes to run a business. An ordained deacon in the Baptist Church, Mike and Suzanne have four children and seven grandchildren.