George Holding is now a member of Congress, with an office in the “freshman dorm” and one priority: cutting federal government spending.
“Cuts have to come first,” Holding said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ve just backed ourselves into a corner where we’ve got to cut now.”
But first, the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday in the chamber of the House of Representatives, where Holding sat with his three young daughters in matching navy blue dresses with white collars and hair ribbons. In a few days, there will be another orientation session, this one on the nuts and bolts of introducing legislation.
Since being elected to represent the 13th District in November, Holding has been attending introductory sessions for the new Democrats and Republicans – 35 Republicans and 47 Democrats. North Carolina has four new members, all Republicans.
Holding enters the House at a time of deep partisan divide on virtually every issue. On the one most important to Holding – debt and deficits – President Barack Obama and House Republicans have been unable to break an impasse.
In the next couple of months, the government will need congressional approval to borrow more money when it hits the debt ceiling. And it will have to find new ways to cut spending to prevent automatic spending cuts from kicking in March 1. The cuts were delayed by two months in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the measure passed Tuesday that preserved Bush-era tax cuts for all but the wealthiest 2 percent.
View of the dome
The House, Holding said, is quite a different place from the Senate, where he worked as an aide to the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.
“I’m struck by the overall lack of debate,” he said. Members give speeches for the C-Span cameras, but there isn’t a real exchange of ideas.
Holding still has his Washington condo from his Senate days, a 12-minute walk from his office (fine in any season, he said, except Washington’s steamy summer).
His office is on the fifth floor of the 1908 marble and limestone Cannon House Office Building. The fifth floor is where members of Congress with poor picks in the office lottery end up. Across the corridor from their offices are storage closets and rooms for exhaust fans.
On the bright side, only three of about 14 freshmen offices up there have a view of the Capitol dome – or the top of it, at least – and Holding has one of them.
He walked in for the first time Wednesday morning to find the new blue carpet tiles down, the walls freshly painted beige, and the flat-screen TV on the wall across from his desk. A 1960s black-and-white photo of his father and two uncles, relaxed and chuckling at a photographer’s joke, is on the end table near a couch for guests. Two of his daughters’ paintings are framed and on a wall.
On the day before the opening of the new session of Congress, Holding wouldn’t specify what programs he’d cut or what his first bills would be. Most House business takes place in committees, and Holding said he got his two top choices – Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.
Sense of urgency
In the weeks of orientation since the November election, Holding said, what he picks up as he meets incoming Democrats and Republicans is a sense of urgency.
“The country is in a state of crisis,” Holding said. “Things can go in different directions.”
The urgency for him, he said, is the $16 trillion national debt.
In recent meetings of the Republican members of the House, their leader, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, has assured them that a push on spending reduction lies just ahead, Holding said.
There’s only a small window of opportunity because the debt is so large, Holding said.
“Before too long, we’re going to lose control of interest rates,” he said.
Rates could rise if creditors lose faith in the nation’s ability to pay its debts. And higher interest rates would mean bigger bills.
Holding also said the Republican-controlled House could be expected to push for closing tax loopholes and simplifying the tax code. “That probably would create some revenue,” he said.
A Raleigh native and graduate of Wake Forest University law school, Holding was Helms’ adviser on taxes. Helms later helped him get a job as a U.S. attorney.
That job and working for Helms meant that Holding was often in Washington. He knows the 70 mph, four-hour-plus drive to Raleigh so well, he joked, he could practically drive it in his sleep.
He said he plans to commute on weekends to his home and family. He and his wife, Lucy, are the parents of Beatrice, 12, Alice, 11, and Louisa, 10, straight-A students all three, Holding said, and William, nicknamed Possum, 2.
The children will visit Washington, but it will be for educational purposes, their father said. On Tuesday, they visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; on Wednesday, the Library of Congress; and on Thursday, the floor of the packed House with other families and guests to watch the new session of Congress begin.
Boehner welcomed the new members and their families in a speech.
“You are likely feeling awestruck right about now,” he said. “History runs through here. And now you are among a select few to share in this privilege.”