Rep. Tom Reed of New York, is one of the rising stars in the Republican freshman class. Not only did he win a spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but he was also one of the six GOP House members chosen by leadership to act as a conferee in the payroll-tax-cut negotiations. Reed, a lawyer, former mayor of Corning, N.Y., and the youngest of 12 children, represents a district that includes much of New York’s somewhat-isolated southern tier, dotted with dairy farms and small Indian reservations. He spoke with National Journal about what he considered to be the disappointing end to 2011 and who he thinks is to blame. (Hint: It’s not the GOP House.) Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
NJ What’s your opinion of how the payroll-tax-cut negotiations went?
REED I can tell you that I was very disappointed and frustrated. It was clear to me that politics ruled the day. And it was a complete disregard for policy, which is very problematic. From my perspective, we as a nation need to make policy a priority and drive the politics as a result of good policy.
NJ Who is to blame for the failure to come up with a bigger deal?
REED First, it is the Senate acting at 3 o’clock in the morning. It was just the traditional old-school politics of trying to get out of town and not really doing the job to its completion. Also, when the president made it clear that he was not going to engage that last day, he was sending a message. The message was: We beat you politically, there’s no upside for me getting involved, and I’m not going to engage. It was clear then that we had lost the politics of it.
NJ Do you think any of the blame lies with the GOP House?
REED We were there. The House was ready to act; we were ready to come back. If I’m pointing the finger at anybody, it’s squarely at the Senate and then the president not being willing to do what was right. It was the biggest disappointment of my year to learn that politics is clearly winning the day.
NJ What was your reaction to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to allow a short-term fix?
REED When I say I blame the Senate, I mean that I blame the entire Senate, both Republican and Democrat. I was disappointed when that occurred. It was clear that nobody was concerned about good policy except for us in the House.
NJ Is there any reason to believe that the 2012 fight will be any different than the 2011 fight?
REED Right now the needle hasn’t moved. But I will say that we are prepared on our side in the House. We have to do a better job of getting the details of the policy out to the American people, so old-school politicians can’t capitalize on their messaging and politics. We are going to work real hard on our side to make sure that it’s not just a repeat of the exact same battle. But for it to be different, it’s going to take change on the side of the Senate. We were glad to see the House Democrats come back and say there’s work to be done. We agree with them. It’s on the Senate side where there is a real engagement gap, and that’s the concern right now.
NJ What are the other big issues in 2012?
REED I think in 2012 one of the primary issues that will get a lot of discussion will be comprehensive tax reform. I don’t know if there will be any action until after the elections, but we will be setting the table for the issue this year. I see that as a very active area. I also think there will be a lot of discussion and action on the debt. But, overall, it’s definitely not going to have as much legislative action as 2011.
NJ What are your thoughts on the GOP presidential field?
REED I will admit that [New Jersey] Governor Chris Christie was my guy. I was communicating with him, trying to get him to get into the race. When he decided not to get in, I’ve kind of taken a backseat on presidential politics. I don’t see myself endorsing till way down the road until the process has been completed. It just hasn’t been a priority to me. We’ve just been focusing on what’s best for the district.
NJ What has been the biggest surprise about your time in D.C.?
REED My expectation coming to D.C. was that it was going to be a place where people tell you how to vote, tell you what you’re going to do, and rule over you with an iron-fist mentality. I have been pleasantly surprised by our leadership. They really do listen, they let us speak, and let us be an active part of the governing process.
NJ What’s the hardest part about being a member of Congress?
REED The hardest part of the job is being away from my family. I have an 11- and 13-year-old. They have adjusted to me being a way a bit, but it’s still hard. I tell them that we are trying to do something so America is here for them. I’ve created an internal rule that Sunday is off-limits unless I put it on the schedule myself. That’s family time. I also got the kids iPhones. We’re learning FaceTime and Skype. It’s not the same as seeing them face to face, but being able to see their face is a lot better than just being on the phone.
This article appears in the January 14, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.