‘Numbers guy’ puts his focus on budget

Buried on Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-Ariz.) website is a download button for the PowerPoint deck he uses in community town halls to explain the federal budget.
It’s a polished presentation — and also 64 slides thick.

A self-described “numbers guy,” Schweikert was both ebullient and apologetic as he walked through portions of it on the House floor one evening several months ago.

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“Let’s run through this … I know these are a lot of slides, but I think by the end you’re going to find some of them sort of fun,” he told the empty chamber.

A veteran manager of Arizona’s finances — first as chairman of the State Board of Equalization, which handles property tax appeals, and then as treasurer for Maricopa County, one of the nation’s largest — Schweikert said he’s used to budget debates that aren’t “a place for partisan gains.”

“I don’t want to use the word ‘disingenuous,’ but it’s almost like we in Washington legislate by folklore instead of by math,” he said.

As an example, Schweikert disputes a May report by the Medicare trustees that the hospital insurance trust fund will expire in 2024, saying it figures on an unrealistic 29.4 percent cut to doctor reimbursements.

To him, those projections, and the ideas for deficit reduction touted by Democrats, show a “frustrating” lack of discipline on the numbers.

“People were willing to get up behind microphones and say, ‘Medicare is fine for over a decade,’” Schweikert said of the trustees report. “But the conclusion was based on fake assumptions.” 

He was more insistent in a May 31 press statement: “Sunday, if you watched some of the talking head shows, how many times did you see the Democrat Member get up in front of the camera and say ‘If we would just tax the rich or big oil ... ?’ They are lying to you.”

“Those [ideas] together don’t even buy you three days of borrowing. What are you going to do with the other 362 days?” he added.

Schweikert serves on the Financial Services Committee, where he’s introduced several bills to correct anachronisms in the corporate regulatory environment that he says are hindering job creation.

One of the bills would exempt companies of up to 1,000 shareholders from having to disclose their finances, creating an incentive for smaller firms to go public. Current rules place the disclosure threshold at 500 shareholders.

Another bill, to increase the offering threshold for companies exempted from Securities and Exchange Commission registration from $5 million to $50 million, passed out of committee on June 22.

If enacted, these changes could be powerful, Schweikert argues.

“It was actually a true moment of joy for me,” he said of the recent markup. “Chairman [Spencer] Bachus [R-Ala.] was nice enough to let me sit in the chair … and actually work through my own bill.”

His efforts aren’t restricted to finance. During the House’s FAA authorization debate in March, he introduced an amendment to ease restrictions at Reagan National Airport, which limits the number of nonstop flights to and from western cities each day under what’s called the perimeter rule.

Schweikert eventually withdrew the amendment on the floor, with a promise from Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) to pick up the issue in conference with the Senate.

Even so, Schweikert said the setback doesn’t stop him from feeling “stoked” about his progress, which is unusual for a new member. 

“As a freshman, I’m very happy … I have a couple of bills that look like they’re really moving through the process,” he said.

That confidence extends to fundraising. Schweikert raised $191,000 in the first quarter of this year, ranking him fourth-best in the Arizona House delegation and above more-senior Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva (D), Ed Pastor (D) and Trent Franks (R).

Schweikert has had years to learn the ropes — he launched his first bid for Congress in 1994, but lost the Republican nomination to now-former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
His next try came in 2008, when he won the primary but lost to the incumbent whom he went on to beat last November, former Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.).

The two matchups had practically symmetrical totals — 53-44 percent in Mitchell’s favor in 2008, then 52-43 in Sweikert’s in 2010 — illustrating the effect of Democratic and Republican political tides on Arizona’s moderately red 5th district, which covers Scottsdale, Tempe and part of Phoenix.

It’s a growing community of mostly new residents, according to Schweikert, which means the political culture is just starting to develop.

“If you and I were in Iowa, we’d know that you might have to be a third-generation community member to be a precinct chair. Politics is what some communities do there,” he said.

“Here, we have a great lifestyle; we have great outdoors. Politics isn’t what the community revolves around.”

The district may be know for its burgeoning tech and biotech fields, as well as Arizona State University, but it was a most famous new part-time resident — Sarah Palin — that recently made headlines.

“We’re trying to get her address so we can send her a housewarming gift,” Schweikert said, laughing.