Tillis: The Time is Now for TPA

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Thom Tillis (NC) spoke to a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society yesterday morning, delivering a speech in which he discussed his first few months in office and a number of critical issues affecting his home state, including Trade Promotion Authority.

“If we don’t take the opportunity to get TPA now, we won’t have it if we have a Republican President in 2017,” he stated.  “It will be structurally impossible to get it done as this is a six-year agreement.  We ultimately have to get trade agreements done if we are to be a serious global player in trade.  So hopefully we will be able to get folks to come together.”

Tillis, who most recently spent four years as Speaker of the House in the North Carolina legislature before defeating Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in November, offered insight into some of the nuances of his new job while transitioning from state representative to U.S. Senator.

“I usually get the question: ‘What surprises you most about the Senate,’” he recalled. “I think it is understanding the absolute finite capacity of the Senate.  In North Carolina, you were only limited by how long you were going to make people work and by how many days a week.  You could use that sheer threat to get a lot done by Thursday afternoon if you made it clear to them that you would work all the way through Saturday night if that’s what it took to get done what you wanted to that week.

“You don’t really have that device here as a leader.  There’s a finite capacity and the minority does a masterful job of burning every single minute of daylight if they are trying to slow things down or prevent you from moving forward very quickly. It really means you have to be disciplined and spend the time stacking up the things that are most important just so that you can make progress.”

Senator Tillis also described what he sees his role is within the Senate Republican conference as a freshman and why he’s aiming for legislative “singles and doubles.”

“My goal is to be defined as one of the most effective and intensely boring Members of the U.S. Senate.  While everyone else is chasing the shiny objects that will always be questionable as to whether or not you can get it done, I want the singles and doubles.  I want the things that you can put into regulatory reform measures that can make an impact.  They’re not necessarily going to get you on TV, but they will get you to a point that over time will have an enormously positive impact on the business climate.

“I saw it in North Carolina – four straight years of regulatory reform. That’s why we are now third in CEO Magazine for being the most business-friendly climate.  We weren’t even in the top-10 a few years ago.  We went from 44th to 16th in tax reform because we systematically reduced the tax burden.  On unemployment, we went from fourth to now under the national average.  Very few of those were done with home runs, but with a series of bills that in the aggregate had an enormously positive impact on North Carolina.  That’s the sort of thing that I want to work on right now as a freshman – support all of the big bills from the senior Members and I will try to go in and make them better through suggestions on amendments or through measures that are simply focused on singles and doubles.”

Senator Tillis was introduced by Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (NC-2).  In her remarks, she praised his considerable background in business and pointed to a specific joint-issue that they are currently teaming up to address.

Tillis and Ellmers

“Thom is an American success story,” Ellmers proclaimed.  “He is someone who brought himself up through the channels on his own and made it to the top by becoming part of an incredible leadership team at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a real leader there.  Then he moved on to the House of Representatives in North Carolina where he came to the forefront and helped change the majority from Democrat to Republican.  We’ve seen a real transformative time in North Carolina and Thom was part of that as Speaker of the House.  He really led his fellow Members.  He was a voice of leadership and a voice of strength.

“We’re working on some efforts together right now representing Fort Bragg – which is a huge responsibility for me.  We have some issues with the dismantling of the 440th Airlift Wing that we feel very strongly is a shortsighted initiative by the Air Force.  We’ve been working very closely on that, and he’s been so sensible and pragmatic.  I think he is going to be a huge leader in the Senate moving forward, and I know we will continue to work together on so many different issues.”

Tillis was asked his thoughts on the prospect for entitlement reform in the near future.

“What I consider meaningful entitlement reform will have to happen under a different President,” he stated.  “The political exposure that comes with entitlement reform without seeing it play out so you can silence the critics by the reality of the policy, is an environment that you have to have in place.

“This President will not allow meaningful tax reform so that we can simplify things.  Even if we were talking about simplifying things by keeping the revenue where it is and maybe not even cut it where some of us may want to be – this President is not prepared to do that.  So why on Earth would you go through all of the challenges of doing tax reform in the way that I describe it?  We will do tax reform, but probably ‘small r’ reform where we change a few things over the next year or two.  But ‘big R’ reform where you’re broadening the base, lowering the rate and working on exceptions and exemptions – it’s not going to happen.  Entitlement reform is the same way.”

In response to a question on trade, Senator Tillis also warned of the consequences that would occur if fast-track authority is not approved for robust trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“If we have an isolationist mentality with regard to building relationships with our trading partners, the vacuum will be filled by China in a heartbeat,” he said.  “We’re playing checkers with the TPA discussion and maybe TPP while they’re playing chess throughout the globe.  This is the best opportunity to really stem that tide.

“I tell everyone, look: ‘NAFTA absolutely decimated certain areas of North Carolina – particularly in textiles and furniture.  Now, we’ve recovered and a part of that happened because we didn’t really have that diversified of an economy back then.’  That trade agreement happened to impact us in a very negative way and there are some deep scars and wounds in North Carolina over that.

“There are a few friends of mine who are concerned over TPA, and people who share concerns with Senator Portman and me over currency manipulation.  But I think we can take steps to get there outside of TPA and we just have to go and have those honest discussions.  I believe that if we do it, then over a reasonably short period of time we will see the benefits of it because it happens to be one of the few issues that the President and the new majorities in Congress are on the same page with.  If we miss this opportunity, there will be no TPA for the next President and we will fall very far behind in terms of trade over the next six years.”

To view the complete remarks of Senator Tillis before The Ripon Society’s breakfast discussion yesterday morning, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.