The Times Interview
This is one in an occasional series of interviews with top newsmakers from Northeast Georgia. The full video interview, conducted by political reporter Melissa Weinman, is available online at gainesvilletimes.com/graves.
View others interviews in the series at gainesvilletimes.com/interview.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves has wasted no time carving out a name for himself in Washington.
The freshman congressman from Ranger is just starting his first full term after serving out the remainder of Gov. Nathan Deal's term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We have blazed our own trail in Washington, and we represent our district with a bold voice and serve on the committees and we speak up. We don't sit on the back bench; we're engaged in the battles and the debate on the floor," Graves said. "That's certainly gotten the attention of a lot of folks in Washington who have been there for years who have said you didn't waste any time, you jumped right into the battle on these issues, which is what we feel like we've been elected to do."
Graves has made it his mission to reduce federal spending and was able to land a spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee this year to do it.
"I want to see us cut a tremendous amount of spending. We know the deficit is way out of control. It can be blamed on Republicans and Democrats - it's not a partisan issue on fiscal irresponsibility. So we're there on the Appropriations Committee to say, ‘you know what, it's time to stand firm and let's spend money in a responsible way and that's within the confines of what the federal government was designed for, within the bounds of the constitution. And let's eliminate duplicative programs, let's devolve things back to the states where they belong in certain areas and then let's just rid ourselves of the needless spending that goes on in Washington,'" Graves said.
He admits it's a lofty goal and one that will require many tough decisions.
"If we were to cut all defense spending and all discretionary spending, we would still have deficit spending, that's how far out of control it is right now," Graves said.
Graves was a tea party darling who scrapped through two runoff elections with former state senator Lee Hawkins to win the coveted 9th District seat in 2010.
The conservative lawmaker's philosophy is that reducing government will be necessary to help the economy recover.
"We want to see our nation get back to a lower unemployment rate, which requires the government getting out of the way," Graves said. "The mentality in Washington over the last two to four years has been expand government, expand the public sector to get people back to work, which is the wrong direction ... So our No. 1 priority is the economy, getting Americans back to work by getting the government out of the way and letting the risk takers, the investors, the job creators, the entrepreneurs, the people with the ideas out there who have a dream and want to build a business, we want them to be the ones creating the jobs."
Graves is also an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He voted to repeal the act in the House and views the recent court decision ruling the law unconstitutional as a conservative victory.
"But more than just repeal, which is really important to do, we need to be offering solutions. That's what the Republicans have been doing; we've already moved forward with the process of debating what are the viable solutions out there that expand coverage and provide more competition in the marketplace, more options for patients but most importantly empower patients in their relationship with their doctors without the government getting in between that relationship. That's really where our focus needs to be," Graves said.
At President Barack Obama's recent State of the Union address, members of Congress sat together as a symbolic move toward bipartisan relations in the coming year.
Graves said he doesn't foresee any more cooperation among the parties this session. He said he is skeptical that bipartisanship is something that has only come up since the Democrats lost control of the House.
"The bipartisanship lasted a very, very short amount of time because the next day everybody's back to the battle of ideas and debate, which is important and we need to do that. We need to stand up for what we believe, the principles we believe in and fight that fight," Graves said. "I know that we all have the best interests of America at heart, we just go about it at different directions and have maybe a different path of getting there ... It might have worked well for some that night, but I think at the end of the day we're all back and fighting the philosophical battles of policy."
In his short tenure in the House, Graves has had the opportunity to experience being in the minority party and the majority, something he said is like night and day.
"The first six months were a very closed process in which members couldn't even offer amendments on the floor when debate was going on with legislation. But Speaker (John) Boehner is just the opposite of that; he wants to open the process up and wants input from all members, and he understands that we're a republic and each of us represents a district and we're the voice of our district. He's giving us that opportunity to do that. We're looking forward to a very exciting session because there are great challenges ahead, and we're going to be right there in the front leading the fight."
He said now that Republicans are in the majority, they have more pressure to get things done.
"As we face the challenges, the responsibility now is on us in the House of Representatives to provide the solutions, and that's what the American people said in November: they wanted a change in direction and they elected new members all across this nation that were limited-government focused and want to get our fiscal house back in order," Graves said.