Our democracy depends on the ability of its people to rigorously debate ideas, to outline values, and to develop policies that will be in the best interests of citizens and future generations. When we elect our representatives we entrust them to engage their best thinking skills to solve our biggest problems. We are often grievously disappointed when our legislators act in vacuous ways to make partisan votes and work in their own self-interests. We know that many don’t even read the bills they vote for, but simply vote with party leadership.
While rigorous debate is essential to a democracy, many career politicians have developed the ability to stick to talking points to avoid addressing difficult issues. Indeed, Rep. Erik Paulsen is one of those whose rehearsed talking points are so slippery and genuinely spoken that those who aren’t listening closely are often fooled. Paulsen’s easy grin and folksy speech even earned him the nickname “Opie” in the Minnesota legislature where his participation in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) taught him that the conservative elite can do all of his thinking for him and he is simply a tool to be used to advance the conservative agenda.
We wonder, what does it take to get to a place where the skill of using talking points to deflect from a genuine discussion is considered a badge of honor? Is it just a matter of time? Or does it take a special set of immoral instincts to deliberately steamroll over the critical issues of the day?
And steamroll, he does. If you pay close attention to Paulsen’s techniques, his easy dismissal of serious problems will take your breath away. He rolls right over them. For example, in a recent robo-call, when asked about whether he would support legislation to protect the Mueller investigation, he claimed that that “the average person that you talk to doesn’t talk about Russia or the Mueller investigation.” Really? No one cares? While advancing the American Health Care Act, he delivered interview after interview about how everyone would save money in premiums as a result of the plan. Non-partisan analysis indicated that was not true, and that the plan, in fact, would make health care unaffordable for many older adults and millions would lose coverage. When advancing the GOP tax plan, Paulsen used his GOP talking points to avoid discussing the impact of the bill on the debt and deficit, and to this day continues to ignore data that does not support his agenda. Not only does he ignore data, but he has become a pitchman for scam sending dozens of tweets and publishing articles in newspapers touting the benefits of the tax plan while ignoring the real harm it will do to the American economy in the long run.
But how can Paulsen, with the boyish grin and Opie charm, sell policies based on a bunch of half-truths and lies? What should we call that kind of behavior? Can you say that someone who deliberately ignores the available data to make false, misleading, or incomplete claims about legislation is an honest man?
We don’t think so. While some may dismiss Paulsen’s deflections and misrepresentations as politics as usual, we see his speech as evidence of something more sinister. His willingness to misrepresent policies for personal and partisan gain is evidence of a serious moral failing. The fact that he does it with a smile and a nod is even more disturbing.
Minnesota’s Third District deserves honest representation in Washington. We will replace Paulsen on 11-6-18.
Paul Ryan and his minions in the House like Erik Paulsen have held their noses against the stench of Donald Trump to blindly pursue their supply-side trickle-down economics ideology. If Trump was willing to sign their legislation cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, they were willing to put up with Trump’s most egregious behavior and policies. Even leaving aside the obscene immorality of furthering economic inequality, such tax cuts were always a bad idea. Democrats and the clear majority of economists noted that the Republican tax plan would not “pay for itself” with increased growth as Republicans claimed, that corporations would most likely use their tax breaks for stock buy-backs rather than investing to modernize and increase productivity or by paying more to employees whose wages have been mostly stagnant for years. They argued that both deficits and economic inequality would increase because of the trickle-down tax bill.
But Republicans rejected those arguments and shot down a provision that would have triggered an automatic tax increase if their outlandish economic growth predictions did not materialize. That refusal to implement a fail-safe mechanism tells us they really didn’t care whether their plan was based in reality - they just wanted their tax cuts, come what may.
Well, the data is starting to come in and guess what? Critics of the Republican tax plan were right.
On April 9th, the Congressional Budget Office released a report which concluded that the deficit is rising sharply and will surpass $1 trillion per year by 2020. The CBO Budget Director said “federal debt is projected to be on a steadily rising trajectory throughout the decade.” The loss of revenue due to the Republican tax bill will be $1.3 trillion from 2018 to 2028 and when the costs of paying interest on that debt are included, the total addition to the deficit due to the Republican tax bill comes to $1.9 trillion. The increase in the interest payments just on the increased debt from the tax bill is about what we currently spend on the military. Republicans had claimed their proposal would spark massive growth that would limit or even eliminate growth in the deficit. However, the CBO projected that the bill would boost economic growth by only 0.7% over a decade - not nearly enough to keep it from adding to the debt. After the report came out, Republican Senator Bob Corker said, “If it ends up costing what has been laid out here, it could well be one of the worst votes I’ve made”. Other countries are using the comparative calm we are in now after the 2008 financial storm to pare back their deficits. The International Monetary Fund has projected that the United States is the only advanced economy in the world expected to have its debt burden get worse over the next five years.
And what about the critics’ claims that corporations would most likely use their windfall tax breaks for stock buy-backs that further enrich executives and investors rather than for productive investments? Buy-backs have been increasing since the tax cut was passed in December and in February reached a monthly record of over $150 billion. Analysts expect buy-backs this year to exceed a high mark of $589 billion per year set in 2007, just before the crash of the Great Recession. To the extent those buy-backs benefit any one, they will benefit those already wealthy and thus further increase economic inequality which is at record levels now.
Deficits are not necessarily bad and in fact under some circumstances are necessary to finance national priorities like waging a necessary war or pulling the country out of an economic recession. Our largest deficits as a percentage of GDP were for military spending during World War II and after 2008 to pull us out of the ditch of the recession. But to pile on national debt now, at a time when it is not necessary, to hand out tax breaks that primarily benefit the wealthy and corporations is a very bad policy and the height of hypocrisy for politicians like Erik Paulsen who claimed to be so concerned about increasing the deficit when they opposed Obama’s policies that brought us out of the Great Recession. We need a Representative who will do what’s right for the country and all of us, not just hand out goodies to the well-heeled and corporations based on flawed trickle-down economics ideology which has failed every time it has been tried before.
Replace Erik Paulsen.
As residents of the Third Congressional District in Minnesota, the best way for us to resist Trump between now and 2020 is to replace Erik Paulsen in 2018.
They say that politics is the art of the possible and there are many avenues of resistance that are simply not available to us as private citizens. We have no way of defusing Trump’s corrosive tweets or stopping his public statements that divide the nation. Nor is anyone else able to have much effect on Trump in that regard either. We cannot undo his ill-considered Executive Orders. We can’t reverse his awful appointments of cabinet secretaries like Scott Pruitt or his choice of John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Nor can we do anything to stop Trump from following the xenophobic and hateful advice of Stephen Miller on immigration issues. If articles of impeachment are ever brought against Trump as a result of the Mueller investigation, none of us are going to be able to vote on them and of course we can’t directly vote against Trump’s legislative agenda or for the measures we care about.
But don’t despair. It is possible for us to vote Erik Paulsen out of office in November 2018 and that will eliminate at least one of the tools Trump relies on to advance his agenda. As we’ve noted before, Paulsen has voted in line with Trump’s positions more than 97% of the time. Just last month, Vice President Pence thanked Erik Paulsen for his “tireless efforts” in “fighting every day, shoulder-to-shoulder with President Trump to make good on all the promises” Trump made.
By all means go ahead with other ways of resisting Trump; participating in protests, writing letters to the editor, joining active political groups, and donating to political organizations (including this one if you can). But above all, vote to replace Paulsen in 2018. It’s the most powerful concrete action you can take.
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.