One Nation Under Debt

Published — August 10, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Hensarling will take hard line into Super Congress debates

House Speaker John Boehner picked Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, for the bipartisan debt "super committee."


Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s appointment as the co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will give the Texas Republican his first big opportunity to apply the leadership skills he has demonstrated among House Republicans in the relentless glare and demands of a high-stakes national forum.

Hensarling, 54, is a favorite of conservatives in the House, where he chairs the House Republican Conference; formerly led the Republican Study Committee (the House Republican policy group); and has compiled an almost flawless conservative voting record on social and economic issues.

In the fall of 2008 Hensarling helped lead the unsuccessful opposition in the House to the Bush administration’s $700 billion financial bailout bill, which was pushed through Congress at a time when the international financial system was tottering and threatening the nation with another Great Depression.

Hensarling brushed away warnings that the nation’s top financial institutions were too big to fail. He stuck to conservative principle, and asked why Wall Street banks should be protected from the rigors, risks and penalties of capitalism. The bailout was the “slippery slope to socialism,” he said.

More recently, Hensarling served on the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, and voted against its final proposal—a bipartisan mix of spending cuts and tax reforms and hikes—because, he said, it called for higher taxes without guaranteed cuts in spending, especially Medicare spending.

The Simpson-Bowles compromise “calls for a massive tax increase on the American people without fundamentally addressing the largest, long-term driver of our nation’s debt crisis – rising health care costs. You cannot change the ruinous spending path of our government if you leave the recently passed health care law virtually untouched and leave out fundamental reform of Medicare,” Hensarling said. “It is neither desirable nor necessary to increase taxes to address the nation’s fiscal crisis.”

But if Hensarling has unchallenged credibility with the right wing of his party, he is no tea party neophyte. He is a career political operative, lawyer and a former congressional staffer for former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. He’s risen, since first being elected to his Dallas district in 2002, to become the fourth-ranking member of the GOP leadership, applying his talents as a back-slapper and a fundraiser. In 2003, he joined other House Republicans and voted for the hugely expensive Bush administration bill to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

“Job creation and growth depends squarely on our confidence in the economy,” Hensarling said, in a statement, after being appointed as co-chairman of the new select committee. “As long as we keep borrowing 42 cents on the dollar and sending the bill to our children and grandchildren, our debt will grow and confidence will continue to shrink.”

Hensarling could kill a budget deal, but his standing among conservatives might also offer valuable cover to Republican leaders trying to sell one. He could use this opportunity to cement his conservative reputation or to demonstrate his skills, at a time of national urgency, in a broader way.

Top Contributors

  • KPMG LLP, an auditing and professional services firm — at least $35,000
  • UBS AG, an international financial services company — at least $35,000
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers, an international professional services firm — at least $34,000
  • Bank of America Corp., the financial services company — at least $32,500
  • Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, a trade association for insurance and financial service brokers and agents — at least $31,000
  • PACs gave at least $1.8 million to Hensarling’s campaign account and his Jobs, Economy and Budget Fund leadership PAC since the start of 2009

Revolving Door

  • None of Hensarling’s former staffers are currently employed as federal lobbyists, according to an iWatch News analysis

Statements on Super Congress

  • “Everyone can agree that we must stop spending money we don’t have, and the time to act is now. This commission will not be able to solve the crisis in a matter of months, but we can work together to tackle these challenges in order to bring back jobs, hope, and opportunity for the America people.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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