As Americans experience inflation at a rate not felt in four decades, the Biden administration continues to promote a multitrillion-dollar social spending package.
“Our spending is already out of control,” Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., says, adding that “new government spending is only going to exacerbate [inflation] and make it worse.”
In an effort to get spending under control and inflation rates down, the second-term congressman says, lawmakers should “completely kill this bill.”
The House passed the multitrillion-dollar spending package in November and Senate Democrats are working to gain the votes needed to pass it before the end of the year.
Steil joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the likelihood that congressional Democrats will secure final passage of the social spending bill and what steps lawmakers should take to stop rising inflation rates.
Steil also discusses how small businesses in his home state of Wisconsin are fairing amid economic challenges and after the riots that struck parts of the state last summer.
We also cover these stories:
- The tornado that tore through Kentucky late Friday and into Saturday claimed at least 70 to 80 lives, officials say.
- The Supreme Court declines to decide whether Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers violated the First Amendment by barring a conservative think tank from attending his press conferences.
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will empower citizens to enforce a ban on the sale and manufacturing of “assault weapons.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Congressman Brian Steil of Wisconsin. Congressman, thank you so much for being here today.
Rep. Bryan Steil: Thanks for having me in.
Allen: We have lots of topics to dive into today. Congrats to you. You are now the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness and Growth. That’s such an important position to hold. There are a lot of concerns over the state of America’s economy right now. Republicans and Democrats have very, very different ideas about how we should be moving forward, and how we should be fixing the issues that we’re facing in our economy.
Right now, President Biden is promoting what he’s calling the Build Back Better plan. You recently voiced concerns about that plan. Let’s take a moment and listen to some of your remarks recently at a hearing.
Allen: If you would, explain what exactly is in this bill, Congressman.
Steil: Well, I think what we need to do, we do need to recognize that there are challenges for many people in the United States. And then what I think is so important is that conservatives have answers to address these challenges. Democrats think they have answers, but often their policies will simply exacerbate the problem.
And so there is a gap between the rich and the poor, absolutely. My focus is: How do we bring the poor up? How do we give opportunity for those who are facing challenges? The Democratic proposal is: How do they bring the top down? That doesn’t help anybody on the bottom. What we need to do is focus on creating wealth, in particular for lower-income workers.
When you look at this bill, it exacerbates the problem. So if you break down just the child care section, I think it’s worthwhile to dig into it. Child care: huge problem, incredibly expensive, very difficult for many working families. The Democratic proposal though, is a heavy-handed Washington, D.C., approach. They put significant regulations on, including requiring thousands and thousands of child care workers to have a college degree.
It mandates wages, which will dramatically increase the cost of child care; many estimates are by about $13,000 a year, moving child care costs to roughly $29,000 a year if the Build Back Better plan was implemented.
Some people will get that for free, right? But the average working American family will find themselves with higher child care costs, subsidizing lower-income workers. All the while the wealthy receive a SALT [state and local tax deduction] tax decrease. So it’s tax cuts for the wealthy. It is free stuff for low-income workers. And the middle class, the average American worker, is going to get the bill.
Allen: And in total, how much are we looking at here? What does this actually cost the American people?
Steil: I think there’s two ways to look at the Build Back Better proposal. One is kind of that top-line number. The other is what programs are in there. And there’s a lot of fuzzy math that the Democrats have done under the guidance of CBO [the Congressional Budget Office] and how we do our scoring.
The United States government does accounting like no one else. And so they’ll just do a cash flow over 10 years. And the way that I describe this to people is: If you had a son or daughter that was going to go to college, and that college has a tuition of $30,000 and living expenses of 20,000, it’d be about $50,000 a year. If you were budgeting, how much is it going to cost for my son or daughter to graduate from this school? And you said, “Well, I’m going to make it cost $50,000. They’ll graduate in one year.”
Everybody knows that’s completely absurd. But on paper, you could claim that college will cost $50,000 a year for your son or daughter. We all know, logic would tell you it’s probably four years, maybe five. It’d be reasonable to say it’s going to cost 200,000, or $250,000.
So the top-line number that the Democrats are proposing is way below the actual cost. Because we know once these programs get implemented, they become incredibly difficult to remove. And so the key here is one, to drive the top-line number down. Yes, that’s important.
But also is to look at every single one of the programs the Democrats are putting forward. Because each of them, once implemented, will be very difficult to remove going forward. It’ll have just catastrophic consequences for the American way of life, and for the fiscal structure of our nation.
Allen: OK, so where do things stand right now? I know we saw in November that the House voted to push this forward. Now we’re looking at the Senate, [and] there’s a lot of controversy there. Especially with Joe Manchin, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. We’re hearing from [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi; she’s saying, “I want to have this pushed through before Christmas.” That top-line number is about $2 trillion right now, is what they’re saying from Democrats. What does the next couple of weeks hold as we lead up to Christmas?
Steil: Really, all the pressure’s going to be on the United States Senate. The bill now is sitting on the Senate side. They’re going through a parliamentary process to determine what is actually allowed under Senate rules to be qualified for a reconciliation bill. But what I think is so critical here is that we examine each one of these programs. The vast majority of Americans don’t know what’s in this bill.
And I think what’s really important for us as members of the House–the bill is already out of the House, but we can still be a voice to explain to the American people what’s in this bill, why it’s bad, and actually then put forward conservative proposals to move our country forward as a true alternative to the socialist policies that the Democrats are pushing. But all the focus is going to be on the Senate, and will they actually get 50 votes for any of these proposals? And again, the top-line numbers that they’re advertising are woefully below what would be the real-world cost if these programs become implemented.
Allen: When you talk about the programs that are in this bill, [where do you] right away say, “Oh yeah, we got to scrap that?” And then is there anything in this plan, in this massive, massive social spending bill, that you say, “Well, actually that might be good. Maybe we should be investing there.”
Steil: I think right now we shouldn’t be spending more money. We’re seeing inflationary numbers that we haven’t seen in about 40 years, and they’re behavior-changing for so many people. We need to really hit the brakes on new government spending.
Our spending is already out of control. New government spending is only going to exacerbate it and make it worse. And so what I’d like to see us do is completely kill this bill. I mean, that is our absolute best approach. And informing the American people what’s in it is a real step in the right direction.
Allen: You mentioned inflation, and that is something that’s on all Americans’ minds. What are the steps forward to get inflation under control? Because right now it just feels like every time you look at the numbers, it’s going up and up and up.
Steil: It continues to increase. And as costs go up, families get pinched. And inflation impacts, and higher costs impact, different families in different ways. And low-income workers and seniors really get punched in the face by inflation. Particularly if you think about it this way: If you own your home and the inflationary price goes up, maybe you feel a little bit better. It doesn’t really impact you in the pocket book if you have a 30-year fixed mortgage.
But if you’re a renter, you don’t own the underlying property, the landlord does; the value goes up for the landlord, prices rise. And so the landlord raises rent. And as rent goes up, if your wages aren’t keeping up, and all the indications are that wages are not keeping up with this inflationary rate that we’re seeing that just clobbers lower-income workers who are renting. Clobbers seniors who are trying to live on fixed incomes. And so some families are really getting hit here. And in particular, many of them are beginning to change their behaviors.
How do we get it under control? It’s a real multifaceted thing that we have to tackle. Some of it is pandemic-related. People are changing their behavior, they’re buying less services or buying more goods. That’s put unique inflationary pressure on unique products. We have some supply chain issues that I think will hopefully work out over time. But what can a policymaker do?
I believe that for a long time we’ve had a mismatch between fiscal policy and monetary policy. So on the fiscal policy side, we’re spending way beyond our means. We’ve pumped into the economy trillions of dollars of new government spending, many of which have not yet flowed through the system.
Give you an example: Just the state of Wisconsin is sitting on billions of dollars of COVID-related funds that have yet to be allocated and spent. So this still has billions and billions of dollars that are going to flow through the system, that are going to continue to exacerbate these higher prices.
At the same time we have a monetary policy by the Federal Reserve that has pumped in trillions of dollars in the form of liquidity, in my opinion beyond what we need. And it is part of the pressure that’s driving up inflation, higher costs. And we’re going to be feeling this pressure for some time.
It was positive to see Chairman [Jerome] Powell of the Federal Reserve note that this [inflation] is no longer transitory. And finally, kind of turning the corner here, we really need to right the ship, both from a fiscal policy side as well as a monetary policy side.
Allen: So then regarding inflation, what do you think 2022 holds? Because I feel like a lot of Americans are trying to kind of white-knuckle it and push through, and just hope, “OK, when are numbers going to come down? When are costs going to come down? When are gas prices going to come down?” But from what you just said, it sounds like this might be kind of a long road ahead of us.
Steil: Well, economists look at it differently. And so there’s a lot of different viewpoints on this. I just note that on the fiscal side, there is so much of the money that been allocated under all of the previous spending bills that have yet to flow through the economy.
So … if you look at each state that received funds from just the most recent quote, unquote “COVID” bill–air quotes for listeners, right? But if you look at that $350 billion that went out to state and local governments, the vast majority of that in many states has not been spent.
And so that means that money is still going to come through the system in a period of time where the new government spending is discouraging workers from returning to work. … Almost none of the programs have work requirements that would get people back into the workforce. And so it’s exacerbated by a labor shortage caused by the policies being put forward by the Biden administration, as well as just the quantity of money that’s now in our system.
Allen: Talk a little bit about the mission of the select economy committee, where you’re the ranking Republican member. And is there anything that you all are doing on that committee to try to actively be getting inflation under control? Really be putting our economy back on the right path?
Steil: So Nancy Pelosi stood this committee up [on] Economic Disparity and Fairness and Growth. I call it the Select Committee on the Economy. Only a Democrat could name it like she did. But her focus really is on trying to assist those who are the least amongst us. It’s a virtuous goal, but the policies being put forward by the left do the exact opposite. It actually clobbers many low-income workers and traps them in a cycle of poverty.
When you look at the data, what really helps people get out of poverty? It is a two-parent household and a job. And if you look at the policies being put forward by the left, they clobber both of those. If you look under BBB [Build Back Better], if you just go back again just to the child care proposal, there’s a marriage penalty. You receive more money If you’re single than if you do if you’re married on a per-capita basis. It encourages people to not get married. When we know a two-parent household has positive impacts for children, and allows them to get out of poverty.
The second [ingredient] is a job, and that’s probably the most important piece here. Because I think there’s such dignity in work. And it’s so rewarding. … From a cultural perspective, we need to have people working. And these programs have removed work requirements.
So if you look at what would’ve been ways to get folks back to work, again we’ll just take the child care [element] because we’ve been hitting the topic here. But you would think that you would maybe provide child care, and then have a work requirement since you’re receiving [it]to go back to work. No. The program is simply providing child care for free. Which at some point has the complete discouragement to getting people back to work.
I think there’s a real dignity in work. We need to really drive back to this point. And there’s such a cultural challenge the longer individuals find themselves out of work, and the Democratic policies are discouraging workers to get back to the workforce.
Allen: Congressman Steil, you spent 10 years before running for Congress working in manufacturing in Wisconsin. So how does your own experience of working in America, working in manufacturing, how is that influencing the way that you are trying to lead on the economic issue? And specifically on the select committee?
Steil: It reminds me really just of the dignity of work. I spent 10 years working for two different large manufacturing companies, both headquartered in Wisconsin. I remember going to the second company that I worked for, a big plastics company. Came in, and a buddy of mine that I went to high school with had been working there since he graduated high school.
So I came in, I was probably in my late 30s. And you get to see how all of these jobs provide avenues for success. And so he was running the health and safety division of the company, and had been able to really improve and have a great family-sustaining job. And what we need to do is have policies that are allowing everyone the opportunity to have a family-supporting job.
And the private sector is the driver that’s capable of doing that. The government is not capable of providing you with those types of opportunities. And often the government in fact gets in the way. And so I saw time and again, when we were trying to do expansion, trying to grow the company, trying to create jobs, you’d see the government bureaucracy at work preventing that from getting done.
We need to cut a lot of those rules, regulations that aren’t necessary, to really allow the American opportunity to fully manifest.
Allen: As we look toward 2022, what needs to be top priority for Congress in order to get our economy back on track? What’s number one, what are you advocating?
Steil: I think we got to get the spending under control. I think as we see how higher prices, and we see the implications of that, we need to get the spending in Washington, D.C., under control. Because as costs rise, it’s just clobbering average Americans day in and day out.
The other is we got to rip the Band-Aid off COVID and get back to pre-pandemic policies. So if you look at the very beginning of the pandemic, right, when the governments were forcing businesses to close. We were very concerned that people may lose their house, be unable to pay rent, pay a mortgage, cover a grocery bill. And so the government stepped in [with a] big bipartisan bill, the CARES Act. Lot of things wrong with it, but it did prevent people from losing their homes. It did prevent people from being unable to pay their grocery bills.
Now we understand how to deal with COVID, and now is the time to rip the Band-Aid off all these policies and get back to pre-pandemic policies that were working quite well. We need to remember that going into the pandemic, we saw one of the greatest growth environments we had seen in generations. We had terrific employment rates across the board, but in particular all the demographic groups that this committee is focused in on: blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, veterans.
And we can do that by having a low-tax environment, encouraging the economic growth. And we saw real wages actually increasing, so wages beyond inflation. When you flip this all on its head and we watch the pandemic policies continue well beyond what was actually necessary for the government to do, we start to see the real negative consequences that this has on people. And so … getting our spending under control and ripping the Band-Aid off COVID policies, I think, need to be the top two things that we do going forward.
Allen: Excellent. Thank you for breaking that down. Well, Congressman Steil, we can’t have you on the show and not talk about Kenosha, Wisconsin. The district that you represent, the 1st [Congressional] District of Wisconsin, which includes Kenosha. The Daily Signal has traveled to Kenosha twice … to speak with small business owners who had their businesses destroyed during the riots following the Jacob Blake shooting, and then we were there again to cover the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.
Give us a little bit of an update on how small businesses are doing in Kenosha. Are they coming back strong? I know that part of the country has just been hit really, really hard. Of course, so many people experienced COVID-19. But then with all of the riots and the looting that went through there in the summer of 2020–really, really challenging time.
Steil: Kenosha is just a great city on Lake Michigan, family-centered, hardworking community scarred by three horrific nights of rioting. All of which could have been prevented if sufficient resources were sent to the community of Kenosha. I think that’s one thing that’s really important for everybody to remember, is that this all could have been prevented if we had provided the resources the city of Kenosha needed. Our Democratic governor, Tony Evers, refused to do that.
Tuesday morning before the whole Kyle Rittenhouse incident played out, which was what would be on the third night, I was on the phone with the president of the United States requesting resources for Kenosha. He offered to call the governor of our state. He did, he made the offer to provide federal assistance, and our governor rejected that offer of assistance. And then Tuesday night is when the Kyle Rittenhouse incident played out, an incident that never had to occur in the first place if sufficient resources were there.
But the scars of those three nights of rioting are still seen. By and in large, the city has come completely back. But when I was walking in the Fourth of July parade through the streets of Kenosha, and as you get into the downtown area, there’s still a building with boards up. And somebody had spray-painted on the building “Don’t burn this building, I live here,” with an arrow pointing up.
Which is a reminder that the criminals who were burning buildings and doing other destruction were destroying not only the businesses, but apartments where people lived above them. They put all sorts of people’s lives at risk, as well as the livelihood of individuals. People were seriously injured, people were killed. It was horrific what played out, and those scars will run deep.
But Kenosha by and large is a resilient community, and it has overwhelmingly come back. And if you look at the big picture, one of the things that really it has benefited by is being north of Chicago and Illinois. And as every rational person gets out of the state of Illinois and out of Chicago, many of them find themselves in Kenosha, in Kenosha County. Because it really is just a spectacular city, and a beautiful city on the lake.
Allen: I have loved visiting Kenosha. It’s so beautiful, so quaint. The people are wonderful there; so, so kind. It’s a special, special place for sure.
I think what we’re seeing across America [is] small businesses, of course, so many are coming back after the pandemic. Businesses are recovering after riots. But then you look at states like California, where we’re seeing this sort of smash and grab crime. And businesses are just being overrun by criminals, really. By opportunists.
How do we need to be supporting small businesses right now? I mean, small businesses are the backbone of America. How can we be actively encouraging Americans to pursue those dreams of starting their small businesses when they are looking at states like California and thinking, “Gosh, I, don’t know if I can safely pursue this dream.”
Steil: We need to hold elected leaders accountable. And in many of these big cities, they have elected far liberal leaders of their cities. And the consequences are catastrophic. Everybody deserves to have a safe neighborhood. Everybody deserves to have a safe community. And when that’s not provided, the effects are wide ranging.
Not only is it unsafe for maybe a mother to have her children walk to a school, the same is said for a business that wants to invest in one of these communities. And it’s a refusal by the far left to stand with the men and women of law enforcement, to stand with public safety. And the consequences are truly catastrophic.
You see many of these cities that have just been completely gutted as people are concerned and nervous to go Christmas shopping, to be out to dinner late at night. And it’s just wildly unfair to so many individuals who don’t hold that view. But it’s incumbent upon them to really stand up and elect leaders that are willing to stand with law enforcement and public safety.
Allen: Yeah. It’s so, so critical. Congressman, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate you being here. A Merry Christmas to you, and thank you for the work that you’re doing.
Steil: Thanks for having me in.
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