The dean of Nebraska’s delegation, Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, believes that standing still with respect to trade and the economy is not an option. “It’s like riding a bicycle. You are either pedaling and moving forward, making progress, or you’re standing still. You’re either moving forward or you’re not.”
He believes, with some good reason, that under the current administration, we have been standing still with respect to both the economy and trade for too long.
He knows what he is talking about. Mr. Smith is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Trade at the House Committee on Ways and Means, and is in the running to be chairman of the full committee. He has had a front-row seat and participated in the national trade and tax debate at close range since 2010.
Before being elected to Congress in 2006, he was an educator and real estate agent, and served his hometown as a member of the Gering, Nebraska, City Council. He represented his local area for eight years in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature.
His current committee assignment on Ways and Means makes it easier for him to promote market access for American products in Asia, South America, Europe and throughout the world. His leadership on trade agreements, such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, has opened new opportunities for agriculture producers and manufacturers in Nebraska and elsewhere. He is also a member of the Subcommittee on Health, where he advocates lower drug costs, innovation, and expanded access to telehealth.
Like a lot of members of Congress, his family first drew him to politics. “My grandfather, a World War II Navy Seabee in the South Pacific, was a retired federal civil servant. We would watch the news and talk about it. He and I, we were very close.”
“I was in fourth grade when we had hostages in Iran. You talk about a formative time. … I just remember being so frustrated. My grandfather was one of the few Nebraskans who liked Jimmy Carter. Enter Ronald Reagan. Both my parents were registered Democrats, but they were, by that point, Reagan Democrats.
“My grandpa liked Jimmy Carter. The neighbors in the carpool to school were Reagan people. My parents were Reagan people. I said, ‘What’s the difference?’ So, they walked me through the difference between Reagan and Carter, as much as a fourth grader could understand, and the rest is history.
“But my grandfather — his work ethic, his desire to know what’s happening in the world, what’s America’s role in the world — he and I would end up having vigorous political discussions, debates. We could disagree on things, but we still loved each other.”
He has clear thoughts about what we need to do next with respect to tax and trade. “We need to make permanent that which is temporary in the tax code. When I look at what we were able to do with tax reform, TCJA, that took years to prepare. … It was great for the economy. There’s greater appreciation for what we did.
“There are some temporary provisions that I think had some appeal to Democrats as well, middle-class tax relief, but [the process for TCJA] was truly legislating. The executive branch let us legislate, and it showed that we could get it done.”
With respect to trade? “We need to take advantage of current opportunities, to lean into it and ultimately level the playing field of trade. … We have given market access away over the years, over the decades. … I think we have opportunities to [lean into trade] moving forward.
On China? “China needs us. I think that the way they have chosen to interact in the world is not just unfortunate, but it’s wrong. We need to make sure that they engage on a better basis than they currently are.
“Market access is important because that’s part of leveling the playing field. … The message we sent to the world (with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement) … was that we are serious about leveling the playing field. We will be aggressive in our negotiation. For all these other countries that have had such fantastic market access to our markets, they need to give some of their own.”
Mr. Smith has a final, more universal thought about the new House majority: “I just hope that as we have a new majority, we will be laser-focused on humanizing these policies.
“Ways and Means gets to be kind of heavy and intangible. But we need to humanize these issues, whether it’s tax policy, whether it’s trade policy, whether it’s poverty programs … unfettered control by the Democrats harms our country, harms the future of our country. It has been very painful.”
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.