Augusta, GA (WJBF) — The Means Report welcomes back to its set Congressman Jody Hice from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District to tackle the hot topics in Washington D.C., find out what’s going on on Capitol Hill and how it impacts all of us. Of course we will talk tax reform; that has been dominating the news of late. Also, IRS oversight, is that agency a tad too involved in our lives? Congressman Hice has felt it personally, and now he and his colleagues are pushing back. We will let you know how those efforts are going. And, Congressman Hice recently pushing forward, the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. Do our ex-presidents get too much money once they’re out of office? Should we pull back on those pensions and other allowances that they get? The congressman says yes. We’ll let you know why, and of course we’ll talk about all the other news-making issues going on.
Brad Means: We welcome back Congressman Jody Hice, no stranger to this broadcast. Thank you for squeezing us in, your schedule is non-stop.
Rep. Jody Hice: Hey everybody. Brad, glad to be with you.
Brad Means: Well, we sure do appreciate it. As promised, we will start with tax reform. The House has just recently passed its version of an overhaul for our tax system. I want your feelings on it, but also I want you to tell us how this works with the Senate, because they have their own version, which makes us all think nothing will come of this.
Rep. Jody Hice: Right, well I think something will come of this. Let me start with the last part of your question first. The House has passed a bill, the Senate is in process of working through a separate bill which has some significant differences from the House. Assuming they’re gonna pass that, which I believe they will, we will then go to conference to justify the differences between the two, and then a bill, a final, will come out of that and each chamber will vote on it. So I think that’s gonna happen, and we’ll work out the differences. Now, back to the original part with the tax bill itself that was passed yesterday. I’m really, really excited about that. I think it is an enormous step forward. We’ve not had tax reform in over 30 years in this country. Individuals as well as businesses have literally just been suffocating under the burdensome taxes that we have, and just the difficulty of a complex system that’s antiquated, that we have. So, what we passed yesterday, majorly simplifies the tax code, and at the same time it majorly brings relief to businesses as well as individuals. I think it’s going to create a boost in our economy, the biggest economic engine in the world. We’re gonna see it take off and I’m really excited about it.
Brad Means: Alright, so you say it helps businesses and individuals. Opponents say no, it really hooks up the businesses and forgets the common folks. What do you say to that?
Rep. Jody Hice: Well it’s just not true. Certainly, businesses are getting enormous help, which they need to. Right now, we are the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Now how in the world are we supposed to compete on a global market when we are the highest tax in the world? And so, what this does, it takes us down a little bit below average. Average is around 22% but this takes corporate rates down to 20%, which really makes us competitive on the global market. Take small business rates, and that was 35, so the businesses, corporate’s going from 35 to 20, small businesses, the highest rate is right at 40. They’ll be going down to 25. On the personal side, we’re gonna see people, double the standard deduction. That’s huge. I mean, the first $24,000 that people make, nothing. And then you start the process going up from there, those who were previously in a 10% bracket, for example, now they’ll be paying zero. And so you get to $24,000 and build up from there. Georgia, right now, it’s projected that the average Georgia household is going to see an increase of about $2,300 annually, to their back pocket. And that’s just a great step forward. I think it’s gonna be a wonderful thing.
Brad Means: What kind of timetable can you talk about, as far as passage of tax reform, and when it would kick in for our paychecks?
Rep. Jody Hice: The Senate is gonna come back and start doing their work after Thanksgiving. I would anticipate certainly by the end of the year, it all oughtta be done. Of course time is becoming a factor, you have Thanksgiving and then immediately moving into Christmas. So the Senate is gonna have to act fast, but I feel confident they’re going to. We’ll have it all done by the end of the year. Assuming that does take place, this new tax bill goes in effect January first. So, beginning January, people will probably start seeing some impact on their withholdings, from wherever they work. Now, when it comes to April 15th, when they’re filling out their taxes, they won’t see much difference because they will then be doing this year’s taxes. So, obviously this year is not included in the new tax reform. They’ll start seeing some impact on their withholdings.
Brad Means: Congressman, do you have to get this done to get re-elected?
Rep. Jody Hice: Listen, the American people sent us here to get work done, and it’s very frustrating that we’ve not been able to accomplish some of those things that we all ran on. The American people gave us the House, the Senate, and the White House. The Senate has been an enormous bottleneck. They just simply have not been able to get hardly anything accomplished because of their Senate rules, that 60 vote thing. But yeah, I think we’re gonna suffer dire consequences if we don’t get this passed, but I firmly believe we will. And by the way, the Senate version does include a repeal of the individual mandate in Obamacare. So we could come out of conference, really, with both a tax reform and healthcare, significant changes, which not only helps the American people, but will have huge ramifications for the party.
Brad Means: What do you say to people who say you all aren’t getting much done up there, despite the majorities that you hold in the House, Senate, and control the White House? And, would you just say, back when you go to the 10th District, to campaign, look, I’m doing the best I can. It’s everybody else, or it’s these other folks who aren’t working along-side us. And that’s why the wheels keep spinning. Is that kind of what you have to say to ’em? I’m doing the best I can?
Rep. Jody Hice: And it’s true, I am doing the best I can, and we’re working it from every angle we can. It’s a big machine in Washington, it’s very difficult to move the needle. But I’ll tell you, the House has passed over 300 bills of which the Senate has not even had a debate on those things. And that is extremely frustrating, and it’s just, you know, if I can throw the Senate under the bus right now I’ll be more than happy to do so. We have repealed and replaced Obamacare, we have now sent tax reform, we have dealt with Dodd-Frank, which deals with huge financial banks and all that sort of stuff, we’ve dealt with sanctuary cities, with rebuilding our military, sex trafficking, I mean, you name it. And the Senate hasn’t even dealt with these things. So yeah, all we can do in the House is what we can do. The Senate has got to get the ball across the finish line or I do believe all of us will suffer.
Brad Means: When The Means Report continues our conversation, what the Congressman does as well. We will talk about healthcare, you heard him touch on that just a moment ago. Also, what Capitol Hill is doing for our veterans, the Congressman with some thoughts on that for sure, when The Means Report rolls on.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. Our special guest today is 10th District Congressman Jody Hice, talking about all of the things that are happening in Washington D.C. And Congressman, you mentioned that this tax reform package that the House just passed includes a provision that impacts the Affordable Care Act, that we could have tax reform and healthcare reform all in one. Does this make the Affordable Care Act as we know it go away? What happens there?
Rep. Jody Hice: Well that part of the bill is in the Senate version of tax reform, not in the House. So the tax reform bill we sent does not have that feature, so that’s in the Senate–
Brad Means: Senate version.
Rep. Jody Hice: They will have to pass it, and they go to conference, but I do believe if it goes to conference that will certainly pass in the House. One of the biggest complaints we hear from constituents is, they can’t afford the Affordable Care Act, so-called, and if they don’t pay for it they’re penalized. So, doing away with the individual mandate, this is the first time in American History, Brad, that our Federal Government has forced people to buy something in the individual private market, that they don’t wanna have, and it doesn’t give them the options that they wanna have.
Brad Means: What do you say, though, to someone who says please don’t make that go away, it’s how I get my coverage?
Rep. Jody Hice: It’s a disaster. I don’t know that there’s anyone that cannot testify personally of how their insurance premiums have gone up, their deductibles have gone up, and the quality of service and the doctors available have gone down. We in the 10th District now have 16 out of our 25 counties who only have one provider in the county. That’s unacceptable! This is not America free-market. And so this is something that has to be fixed. I guess the issue comes down to an argument between the philosophy that government is the answer to everything versus private sector and free enterprise is the solution. And I certainly believe that free enterprise offers much better solutions than government.
Brad Means: Let’s talk about sexual harassment, sexual assault. This has also dominated the headlines lately. We know that it’s being discussed in Washington D.C. Allegations are being leveled daily, it seems like, for members of both parties, about incidents that have allegedly occurred. What can be done legislatively or just even generally to prevent or at least address these sexual harassment issues?
Rep. Jody Hice: Well I can tell you in our office, both, and this involves everyone, myself included, both in D.C. and in the three offices in the 10th District, we’ve required everyone to go through sexual harassment training, and I think that will be helpful. We just wanna make sure people understand the lines, and that we’re not crossing any lines, period. But yeah, it is stunning what’s happening in our country right now, from Hollywood to politics, everything you mentioned right now. It’s amazing, some of the things that are taking place. I feel very confident there will be some legislation to tighten up on some of this. I just found out this week, there’s some sort of fund in D.C., to help pay-off people who have filed sexual harassment claims. And they pay these folks off, and the half of whatever representative or whoever supposedly committed the issue. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
Brad Means: Does it make you, let me just ask this more generally: does it make lawmakers fearful that someone may come out of the woodwork and say something that could forever damage their reputation? I’m not trying to diminish the claims that are out there whatsoever, but I just wonder because there are so many of them. Are lawmakers kind of paranoid or fearful that it might hit them?
Rep. Jody Hice: Yeah, you know, I certainly can’t speak for everyone. I know I’m as cautious as I could possibly be.
Brad Means: Sure, you have to be.
Rep. Jody Hice: I don’t even wanna get on an elevator with just another single individual anymore. So you do have to take precautions, but you do what you have to do.
Brad Means: Well, you’re right, and it brings back a memory. I once had a general manager, in the television business, who was sitting next to a woman at a group meeting, at a restaurant, and he moved his seat so he would not be seen sitting next to her, because that’s how careful he was trying to be. But you’re right, yeah, always make sure that you’re beyond reproach. Let me ask you about the tax-exempt status that non-profits enjoy, especially churches, as I ask you to put on your Pastor Jody Hice hat instead of Congressman Jody Hice, or both. You have pushed a measure to get the IRS to lay off. They’ve always been able to threaten to take away your tax exempt status if you talk about politics from the pulpit. How’s that going?
Rep. Jody Hice: It’s going great. The repeal, if you wanna call it the repeal of that, which you refer to as the Johnson Amendment, a code that was placed in the IRS code in ’54, 1954. Whip Steve Scalise and myself presented a bill called the Free Speech Fairness Act, and that language was placed in the tax bill, and I’m thrilled about it. It protects the rights of pastors, non-profits, houses of worship, from a de minimis expense, which means it’s just about the regular course of what they always do. This does not allow churches to become political action committees, but just in the regular course of what they’re doing. If there’s a candidate who agrees with the position of that organization, they’re able to say something about it without fear of harassment or punishment.
Brad Means: Well I was gonna ask you, does it allow the preacher to say good Sunday morning, everybody. Please vote for Jody Hice.
Rep. Jody Hice: It probably could, if Jody Hice is a candidate that that church supports, and there’s reason, and so forth, and that kind of thing. But it would not allow a church, for example, to go out and run a full-page ad in USA Today, if they are not customarily in process of doing that. This is just in a regular business of what they typically do. They can address certain things without fear.
Brad Means: Have you gotten any push-back from people who say no, we must keep those things separated?
Rep. Jody Hice: You always get some push-back. Listen, this is an issue I’ve been involved in for years and years, there was a group of the original 33 pastors that challenged the IRS. The heart of our First Amendment is not only political but religious speech, to be able to express your beliefs in the public square. And where is religious speech if it’s not in a church? And the core of that is in the pulpit. The last thing we need is our government, and this is what’s been happening, our government policing and literally censoring what can and cannot be said from the pulpits of America. And that is not separation, like we hear about so often.
Brad Means: Let’s talk about a bill that you authored, the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. What it does is, or what it could mean is less money for ex-presidents. Why?
Rep. Jody Hice: Ex-presidents get a pension, a personal pension of about 200,000 a year, plus they get 500,000 a year for their staff, and this, that, and the other. And then they have security measures and all that, and that’s good and fine, none of that goes away, unless a former president, which now they all do, have book deals, speech engagements, this and that. The Obamas just signed a $65 million book deal. George Bush had like a $10 million book deal.
Brad Means: They don’t need the 100,000, 200–
Rep. Jody Hice: They don’t need a couple hundred thousand, and so our bill basically says why should the American taxpayer be on the hook to pay for some of these expenses, when these individuals are making millions of dollars. So, anything over 400,000 that a former president would now make, anything over 400,000, dollar for dollar after that, would start decreasing some of the expenses, and save the taxpayers a lot of money.
Brad Means: What are you doing for our veterans? What should they know about your work on Capitol Hill?
Rep. Jody Hice: Veterans have a very special place in my heart. I don’t believe any group deserves a red carpet treatment more than our veterans and those who have laid their lives on the line for all of us. I would tell our veterans, if they’re having issues with the VA or any of these issues, contact our office or whoever their representative is. That is the number-one top group of people that we serve and help. But we’ve been able to pass 44 pro-veteran bills in the House of Representatives, this year. Six, I believe, of those have actually passed the Senate, helping on a variety of issues from educational issues to extending and expanding GI benefits, to health issues, across the board just a number of different things. It’s a top priority for us.
Brad Means: Since we’ve last met, sadly, we have had mass shootings, most notably at least from a numbers standpoint if you will, the one in Las Vegas that claimed dozens of lives. I had a political scientist on here one time who said this is the new normal. These shootings are going to happen. And he was right. My question is: legislatively, can anything be done, either from a gun control standpoint or from a mental health standpoint, to address this?
Rep. Jody Hice: You know Brad, to be very honest with you, to me what that is a reflection of is a spiritual problem more than a legislative problem. We have people who are forsaking the true understanding of right and wrong and morality and proper treatment of one another, and we are seeing that more and more as we forsake our Christian principles that we were established on. That being said, there’s only so much that legislation can do to stop someone who has evil intent. By definition, a criminal is someone who does not abide by the law. That’s what makes them a criminal. And so, we can pass more laws of this, that, and the other, but to be honest, none of those laws have prevented any of these vicious, vile people from doing what they’ve done to this point. And I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more that can be done. I’m a strong believer, as you know, in the 2nd Amendment, and for people to be able to defend themselves. And I think in many instances, had people had the ability to defend themselves, a lot less of this would have, it would be a lot less in the bottom line, in terms of the mass murders.
Brad Means: My last question, probably 30 seconds: are you hopeful for the future? If we meet again in six months or a year, is America gonna be on the right track?
Rep. Jody Hice: We’re on the right track. Look, already in 10 months, we’re seeing one and a half million more jobs that have been added to our private sector, the GDP is going up, fewer people entering the country illegally, stock markets hitting records week after week after week. So yeah, we’re on the right track, we just gotta get, send it in gear. We’re gonna see some good things happen.
Brad Means: Well we will continue to keep an eye on them, and all things political. Congressman Hice, thank you for the time.
Rep. Jody Hice: My pleasure, thank you.