It was more than a half hour into an hour-long conversation with Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican who represents much of northeastern Wisconsin in the US House of Representatives, when Mike Gousha, the host, said he wanted to talk about the presidential election.
“Do we have to?” Ribble replied.
Well, yes. You can’t exactly ignore it these days. But Ribble made it clear that he would much rather talk about issues that are central to the nation’s future, and he would much rather if everybody else did, too.
That’s why the first 25 minutes or so of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday focused on Ribble’s proposals for altering Social Security to assure the system functions well for many decades to come.
It’s a crucial matter that almost no one with power in Washington wants to tackle because it would require politically-risky compromise for both those on the left and the right. But until such compromises are made, the system is at increasing risk of financial trouble that will be more costly than if adjustments are made now, Ribble argued.
Ribble sees himself as a businessman who was elected to Congress in 2011 to take on important issues on behalf of people more important than him – namely, the residents of that congressional district and Americans in general. He also sees himself as someone committed to the idea of term limits on public office, which led him to decide to leave Congress after three terms rather than run for re-election this year. You should serve without fear and leave without regret, he told Gousha and an audience of about 150 in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.
Ribble was eager to describe his Social Security proposal, which he said would require compromise on all sides. The plan includes raising the age for eligibility for full benefits and maximum benefits, for raising the maximum level of personal income that is taxed for Social Security purposes, and other steps.
Ribble, who is 60, said that the concerns about the future of the system and the problems of the size of the federal debt as a whole are not going to affect him. But pointing to several younger members of the audience, he said, “You guys are right in the bull’s eye.” Not dealing with the issues increases the prospects that Social Security funding will become “a systemic threat to the nation’s economy” for those who are now young adults (or younger than that).
Gousha asked if Congress has the political will to tackle the Social Security issue. “Of course not,” Ribble replied. But more people are coming to understand that it needs to be done and the time will come when enough overall willpower exists. One thing that will be required is a president who is willing to say no to everybody, Ribble said.
And when that time comes, the plan that emerges will look a lot like what Ribble is proposing now, he said.
But, for now, the subject gets little attention. “It is irresponsible for members of Congress not to have this conversation with the American people,” Ribble said.
Ribble also talked about his efforts to create dialogue and relationships across the partisan divide in Congress.
Gousha said that when Ribble came to Congress in 2011, he found there was little discussion across party lines. Ribble corrected him: “Not little, None.” Ribble was a founder of what has grown to be a sizable bipartisan group of congressman who meet regularly to discuss issues and just converse in informal settings.
Finally, Gousha directed the conversation to the presidential race. In September 2015, Ribble became one of the first Republicans in Congress to say he would not vote for Donald Trump. He stands by that and said he expects to vote for either libertarian Gary Johnson or conservative Evan McMullin.
“I have rejected whole-heartedly . . . the idea that we must demonize an opponent rather than talk about issues,” Ribble said, referring to both Trump, the Republican candidate, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. He said he did not believe either was qualified to be president and that both had “veracity issues.”
“I think civil discourse in this country is a disaster,” he said. He said he did not expect to seek any other political office. He leaves Congress as someone who stood up for conservative positions – and for an eagerness to talk with and work with people of other views.
To view the program with Ribble, click here.