It’s axiomatic by now that Congress gets little done, even though the nation has a lot of problems that need fixed. At the Milken Institute’s latest annual gathering of business and political leaders, we got to ask one senator why.
“It starts in the House, where you have gerrymandering, and so the extremes now are very vocal and they’ve pulled away from the majority of people in the middle,” Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia explains in the video above. “In the Senate, gridlock is all about getting elected in the next election. This drive to get reelected trumps everything else in Washington.”
Perdue is a career businessman rather than politician, who’s been CEO of Dollar General (DG) and Reebok. He also helped establish Sara Lee’s operations in Asia and spent much of his business career overseas. He won election to the Senate in 2014 and has pledged to stay no longer than two terms, should he get reelected in 2020.
That business background makes Perdue a distinct minority in the Senate. “We have 64 lawyers but only a handful of people with any experience running a business,” he says of the Senate’s composition. “The business acumen [in the Senate] was not where I thought it would be.”
That may help explain why Congress has dawdled despite an underperforming economy and pleas for help from CEOs. The biggest business priority is a corporate tax overhaul that would make the U.S. tax code more competitive and kill the incentive for companies to pursue tax inversions and other end-around schemes to lower their tax bills. If Congress could accomplish that overdue job, it might be nice if it also addressed healthcare and Social Security spending that’s growing far beyond Uncle Sam’s ability to pay for it.
Perdue, who’s established a reputation as a pragmatic legislator able to make bipartisan agreements, thinks there’s a chance Congress will take up tax reform next year, provided the next president, whoever it is, makes it a priority. Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has said lowering the corporate tax rate is an important issue. Democrat Hillary Clinton, his likely opponent, hasn’t said much about it.
Of course, the traditional roles of the Republican and Democratic parties is undergoing something of a transformation, with Trump driving some conservatives away, and Clinton possibly benefiting from the support of businesspeople who think she’ll be friendlier to their interests than Trump. When asked if the Republican party is still the party of business, Perdue says, “That’s a great question. I can’t tell any more. Sometime I think we’ve lost sight of the priorities.” Next year may bring a chance to rediscover them.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.
- Politics & Government
- David Perdue