U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett has no need for cue cards. Judging by the reaction he received in Blount County on Thursday, Tennessee’s 2nd District congressman could have a career in standup, if he chose comedy over politics.
After visiting DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee in Maryville, Burchett swung by McGhee Tyson Airport in Alcoa to brief members of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce on what’s happening in Washington.
Could the nation’s capital be home for a cabal of conniving politicians like in a serial TV drama such as “House of Cards,” Burchett’s constituents wanted to know.
“I say it’s identical to ‘House of Cards’ except that on the TV show, they passed an education bill in five weeks, and we ain’t going to do anything in five weeks. Because unfortunately it’s not evolved, it’s devolved and it’s all about messaging,” Burchett said.
“Democrats will pass a bill that deals with something that’s needed and they’ll tack a poison pill on it, and we do the same thing. It’s just politics and it’s wrong and it needs to stop.”
Adhering to party line is not why Burchett went to Washington.
“At some point I hope the public will be so frustrated with what’s going on in D.C. with both parties,” Burchett said. “We don’t have any moral high ground as Republicans.”
Burchett said he’s shared his own message with his fellow freshmen members of the House: “You need to focus on your constituents because that’s really who sent us there.”
Then he eases his foot off the gas — for a moment.
“I don’t want you to think they’re all just a bunch of crooks, because they’re not. Quite a few people up there want to do the right thing, but I think what’s etched in stone in D.C. is they’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. It’s all about power and it’s about control. That seems to be what D.C. is primarily about.”
Not all rainbows and unicorns
Reenforcing his message to those who might be under the illusion that Washington is “just rainbows and unicorns and wonderful people,” he added that it’s a “dangerous town, and not just in the halls of Congress.”
Expensive, too. He calculated the cost of a 500-square-foot apartment at $2,000 a month. Not in the cards for the son of parents reared during the Great Depression.
“You figure $24,000 a year for a place as big as your little commissary back there, and it’s not furnished.”
He chose the alternative, sleeping in his congressional office, making do with a nice air mattress his wife bought him for a bed. Before that there was the hard couch and a surprise wakeup call. There’s a buzzer and light in his office that alert him to how many minutes he has before business on the House floor. Not welcome on one occasion.
“The buzzer goes off at 12:01 in the morning. I’d been asleep for a little while and I remember waking up and looking at it thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to need to talk to the custodian. There must be a short in that thing.’”
As it turned out, not so.
“The reality was the government had been closed and the president wanted $5 billion for the wall. Doesn’t matter where you’re at on the wall, it’s not really germane to this conversation. He wanted $5 billion for the wall, and I think they gave him $1.45 billion.”
Both numbers turned out to be peanuts compared to what followed, as Burchett recalled.
“In that ominous bill to open government, they tacked on a lot of pork. It was 228 billion more dollars. So a total package of $230 billion. It started off at $5 billion to open government and it was like Christmas. They were lighting it up. I kept thinking they were going to have to have an orthopedic surgeon on the floor of the House because I kept watching C-SPAN and every congressman was patting himself on the back so hard I thought he was going to throw his arm out.”
Burchett, his shoulder apparently still intact, was curious.
“There were things in there that were important, but I asked my staff, I said, ‘Find out what’s in it.’ The first thing they found was there was $60,000 in there for parties for the Department of Transportation. Sixty-thousand dollars in a billion-upon-billion dollar budget isn’t a lot of money, but if they stuck that in there, I just said stop looking now because I know it’s full of junk, and it was. There’s, I think, $62 million for salmon research. I said on Twitter they could have studied salmon down at the Red Lobster for $12.95.”