WASHINGTON — It seems logical that Reid Ribble would come to Washington determined to get rid of those nagging regulations that he and so many other Republicans contend are the root of the nation’s current job-creation crisis.
After all, Ribble, R-Sherwood, spent more than 30 years in the roofing business before being elected in November 2010 to represent the 8th Congressional District in Northeastern Wisconsin. He thinks he knows a thing or two about the harmful impact regulations can have on small businesses.
“I really believe that government has way overreached in the last couple of years on regulations, and I believe it’s directly connected to jobs,” Ribble said in a recent interview. “I firmly believe that, having run my own company for so long.”
That’s what led him to sit in on a hearing in October to speak against a proposed rule by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enhance safety on roofing projects. A consumer’s group accused Ribble of conflict of interest, saying as a former roofing contractor, he should have stayed away from the hearing being held by a committee on which he was not a member.
Ribble countered his participation at the hearing was consistent with his crusade against what he calls job-killing regulations. He said he had sold his roofing company to his nephew, Tony Ribble, so there was no conflict.
The bit of controversy underscored the passion Ribble has brought to the nation’s capital when it comes to government regulations. In his freshman year, he has put down his marker as a champion of small business. He is founder of the small business owners caucus in the House. As a member of the House Budget Committee, Ribble also is building a reputation as a deficit hawk.
Ribble has drafted legislation to rein in federal regulations, to adopt a two-year federal budget and to allow families and individuals and the self-employed who buy their own health insurance to deduct those costs on their tax forms. He also is a co-author of a bill that calls for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In November, the House adopted an amendment Ribble authored to require that new regulations for ballast water in commercial vessels also apply to federally owned non-military ships.
“Using over 35 years of experience as a small business owner, Reid Ribble has fought to bring accountability back to Washington by developing common-sense solutions to fix Washington’s broken budget process, which will end wasteful spending and grow Wisconsin’s economy,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Budget committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, praised Ribble’s sense of purpose from the start.
“Reid hit the ground running,” Ryan said, “making an immediate impact in the House. Reid has been an effective advocate for our state’s job creators and small businesses. He has also been a leader on reforms to fix Washington’s broken budget process.”
Ribble, 55, was among 87 Republican newcomers sworn in to the House of Representatives on Jan. 5. Many of them rode the tea party movement to victory. While Ribble does not consider himself a tea party congressman, he supports the activists’ antipathy to big government and deficit spending.
Ribble has been a constant critic of the Democrat-controlled Senate, complaining about the chamber’s inaction on bills passed by the Republican-led House. While Ribble has shown signs of heresy on some bedrock Republican positions — for example, he was among the first GOP House members to suggest federal subsidies for the oil industry be eliminated — he has voted with his party on 92 percent of the votes, including all the key votes.
Ribble joined more than 100 members of the House on a letter urging the deficit supercommittee to recommend federal spending cuts of $4 trillion over 10 years instead of the $2.1 trillion it had been tasked to do. Ribble also spoke against the tax pledge that most Republicans have signed, saying he would not sign it again.
To his detractors, Ribble’s voting record contradicts some of his statements.
“Voters are asking why Congressman Reid Ribble voted in lockstep with Washington Republicans to end Medicare and protect tax breaks for billionaires and Big Oil, but hasn’t done anything to create jobs,” said Haley Morris, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
As far as De Pere motorbike dealer James Eng is concerned, Ribble is doing just fine. Eng, who supported Ribble’s 2010 campaign, said he has no complaints about the congressman’s first-year performance in 2011.
“He’s doing a great job,” said Eng, owner of Nick’s BMW Motorcycles. “I send him emails often, and he responds to all of them.”
Eng said as a small business owner, he agrees with Ribble’s assault on government regulations. “He’s a businessman,” Eng said, “and knows what it takes to create jobs and put people back to work.”
In a year-end interview, Ribble said the gridlock and partisan politics that dominates Washington has exceeded his imagination. He expressed frustration over the process, as well as optimism that it will get better by the time his self-imposed four-term limit expires.
“I came into the job pretty cynical,” Ribble said, seated in a leather chair in his office on the third floor of the House Longworth Office Building. “I’m still pretty cynical, but I do believe that the system can work.”
In terms of campaign promises, Ribble said he is fulfilling his pledges of trying to fix the economy, reduce regulations, reform the tax code and help change the tone of discourse.
“I believe that jobs and the economy are the number one issues facing the country, and I’ve focused on things that will help turn the economy around by reining in the out-of-control regulatory environment in this country,” Ribble said. “I supported the (Rep. Paul) Ryan Path to Prosperity that reduces corporate tax rates to 25 percent. I’ve been consistent in tempering the speech.”
Ribble points to a 30-minute colloquy he had with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., over the nation’s fiscal crisis as an example of his intent to engage in civil discussions with colleagues from across the political aisle.
“I’ve actually walked the walk,” Ribble said.
Ribble’s first year has had some embarrassing moments. He drew criticism for walking out of a jobs fair he sponsored in October at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton to attend a fundraiser. He’s also taken some heat for moving out of his congressional district, though he contends his current residence is within the boundaries of a new district drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
When Ribble announced the formation of the Congressional Jobs Creator Caucus in March, he boasted the 20-member group, exclusive to former small business owners, would augment the legislative process with forums, white papers and recommended action. There is little visible evidence of the group having wielded any influence.
Ribble said that’s because most of the caucus work has been out of the public eye.
“There’s been more come out of it than you’re aware of,” Ribble said. “A lot of this regulatory reform stuff are things that members of our caucus pushed and helped get over the finish line. The REINS Act (his bill reducing regulations), our members were pushing it behind the scenes.”
In assessing his first year, Ribble said if he’s learned anything, it’s that loners don’t accomplish much. Building relationships and working together are the keys to success.
“Working in that collaborative way,” Ribble said, “you begin to build relationships and people begin to trust you as somebody who actually is trying to get something done.”
For Ribble, the clock is ticking on accomplishing his goals. He is completing the first year of his four-year self-imposed term limit. He said he intends to introduce legislation in 2012 to limit the time a member could serve to 12 years, or six terms.
“It seems to me, the longer you are here the less you believe in the art of the possible,” Ribble said. “Maybe it’s because you’ve been here long enough to see that things don’t get done. I still believe that things are possible. If we’re ever going to accomplish tax reform, now’s the time to do it. If we’re ever going to fix Social Security, now’s the time to do it.”