WOODLANDS ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: An in-depth interview with Congressman Kevin Brady
THE WOODLANDS, TX – Woodlands Online was able to recently spend some time with Kevin Brady, longtime representative of the 8th Congressional District whose jurisdiction included The Woodlands, his home town. Recent redistricting moved the 8th to other areas around Montgomery County but no longer included The Woodlands, now to be represented by the 2nd Congressional District currently held by Dan Crenshaw.
Mr. Brady announced his retirement at the annual Economic Outlook Conference to the surprise of many. As his tenure draws to a close – with his historical district up for grabs in a new location and his Township of residence about to be represented by another congressional entity altogether – he discussed with Woodlands Online staff his past, present, and possible future.
WOL: You're about to play in the annual Congressional Baseball Game. Normally it's a subject of bipartisan camaraderie, but unfortunately it's also the subject where someone shot House Republican Whip Steve Scalise a few years ago in 2017. What can you tell us about the game and its importance?
KB: The congressional baseball game has been a long tradition in Congress since 1909. Republicans and Democrats have played baseball against each other to raise money for charity. We've done it annually except for a couple of years during COVID. We've done it all throughout that time. I really love a couple of things up here, including playing on the congressional baseball team. I play second base and this year I'll bat fifth for the Republicans. It's my 25th and final game. But what I love about it is that sports unites people. And while we play each other, Democrats and Republicans, we create real friendships in that dugout across the field.
And so it really gives you a chance to get to know people. Ultimately, you end up working with them on policies and issues that you care about because you've got something you share, which is a love of baseball. And so the game is pretty serious. It's played at National Stadium and will draw up to 25,000 people. And best of all it raises a lot of money for charity; this year we'll raise a million and half dollars that will go to organizations like Boys and Girls Club, inner city baseball academies, and youth literacy issues. And we meet these young people who are part of these programs the morning of the game. It is so rewarding. It is really a neat thing up here and we ought to do more. More of the things that bring us together.
WOL: Is there a mercy rule in this game?
KB: No, but there are some years there should have been. And I've been on both ends of that one. As a matter of fact, Republicans have been taking a beating recently; we won last year, and we hope to kind of kick off a streak this year as well. For me, my goals are to win the game, but mainly not to get injured, because I tend to go out all out, head-first dives, the whole thing. So I tend to walk away each game as my wife will attest, you know, a little worse for wear.
WOL: Who throws out the first pitch?
KB: It depends; some years we have a congressional hall of famer, like last year when we had Cedric Richmond, a Democrat who works in the Biden wine house and a great guy.
WOL: It feels like this game has Republicans and Democrats working together. In the past, we've heard you say how much you enjoy reaching across the aisle and working well with others. For instance, you speak of the good working relationship you have with the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who replaced you. Is that the diamond in the rough or is that still going on?
KB: You know, there is more of that than you would think up here. Something I've instilled in my members is to wake up every day fighting bad ideas in Washington. And there are tons of them on both sides of the aisle who work hard equally each day to find common ground. If you do these things all out, you'll have served your country. And as a conservative, Texas Republican, I share a lot of different philosophies than, than chairman Neal does, but we've always found a way to find common ground, if it was possible, on very good things like the new US Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, a ban on surprise medical billing in our work on retirement, helping people save more and longer for retirement, and big bipartisan wins over the last three years or so. And we've still got more work we can do together, but I'll tell you as a conservative, I've never felt like I've had to give up principles at all. It is in trying to find those solutions, it's a matter of working through where you have the common ground in doing it for the country.
WOL: When you were the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, one thing that hit the news was your proposed postcard-sized tax return. Is something like that just a pipe dream, or is it something that could actually see the light of day?
KB: Short answer is, it can. And in fact, in the House version of tax reform, we achieved that. We achieved a situation where about 95% of Americans could file their taxes on a postcard. As the bill worked through the Senate and finished up, you know, they added back more of those complications to it, but still at the end of the day, in America, 90% of taxpayers can file without itemizing. I would love to make it even simpler going forward. And that's a sort of a principle Ways and Means can continue to pursue.
WOL: How important is free trade in this global economy where things shift on an hourly basis?
KB: More important than ever. And I think we've seen this in COVID – as we saw empty shelves and couldn't get the basics – how important it is for goods and services to move around the world freely and very affordably. And we're seeing it now with the Russia invasion of Ukraine, we see the low food security, the low energy security as well. The first achievement I had as Ways and Means chairman was, I was asked to negotiate for speaker Paul Ryan an end to the 40-year ban on selling American crude oil around the world. I negotiated that with the White House and with Democrat leaders and Republican leaders in Congress, and it really unleashed our energy potential so that we can help countries like Germany and others wean themselves off of Russian energy and on more cleaner, reliable American energy. And so free trade to me is the greatest economic freedom we have.
It says that you can compete and win anywhere in the world with as little government interference as possible. It gives the consumers rather than Congress or special interests the power to decide what products you want on the shelves and at what price. And the freedom to trade can lift families, counties, and whole countries out of poverty. That's why I work so much on the freedom to trade in Congress, because in Texas and the Houston region, we are the best in the country at that. Texas has led our nation in selling and shipping around the world now for almost two decades in a row; a lot of jobs, a lot of freedom, and better prices. So yeah, I think the freedom to trade is, for me, one of the greatest freedoms we have.
WOL: What's our future for domestic energy production?
KB: We really need to call a kind of a pause at least to all the Green New Deal policies, because at the heart of that is their notion is to address climate change, drive up the price of energy on everyone, and kill off oil and gas jobs. I think we can address greenhouse gas emissions in a smarter way, which is to make affordable energy cleaner, and then use our technology that's cleaning the air in a remarkable way, export that tax and tariff free around the world, help the whole world address these issues. That way you get affordable energy, it's cleaner and you're adding jobs, not killing jobs. I'm a little frustrated the president continues this attack on American made energy. We can do so much more, both for our independence, but we can help regions around the world get off that addiction to Russian and other dirty oil.
WOL: Does your historical district, The Woodlands area, play any role in energy technology advancement?
KB: Yeah, a big role. You know, a lot of the technology, a lot of the companies that are bringing the most innovation in healthcare, in energy, in greenhouse gas emissions in all of this is coming out of our nine counties in the 8th Congressional District. And of course the whole Houston region, I think, is one of the most innovative and fast growing in the country. I would note our district is always one of the fastest growing in the nation. It was, in the last decade, the seventh fastest growing. We are counties both rural and suburban that people love to move into and bring their company. So we're really fortunate that way.
WOL: You're retiring at the end of this term. Can you say what's next on your plate?
KB: No, not yet. And here's why: I got hired to work through that first week of January, so that's exactly what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna run through that, take still a lot of issues here going on, as you imagine, in Congress. And then after that, we'll figure it out. I love my job. I'm not leaving because I'm discouraged or disheartened. Just the opposite. I'm really kind of optimistic about where our country can go. And at least in the Ways and Means committee and here in the House, I feel like there will likely be a change in management here. I'm pretty optimistic about the agenda I've seen. It's really kind of what the country's hungry for. I will start thinking of that new adventure come January. We will be living in the Woodlands. This is our home.
What's kind of neat is this week, on the same day, we're playing the congressional game and we will do my official unveiling of my chairman's portrait in the Ways and Means committee. So it is a special day for me. We've got friends and family and, and old folks who used to work on our staff and other lawmakers here to sort of share that event with me tomorrow. So yeah, it's really gonna be a special day.
WOL: If memory serves, you're one of the few Texans to chair the committee?
KB: Yeah, the third Texan in history to lead. Oh wow. And then overall the 66th chairman in our nation's history. So that's a big honor for me to have my portrait hanging with mentors and friends, like Bill Archer, the chairman from Ways from Houston, and Dave Camp from Michigan, and Paul Ryan, all of whom were close friends and, and mentors to me, in that historical committee hearing room. You know, I'm still pinching myself a little about that.
WOL: Typically when a politician has a few months left in their term, the phrase ‘lame duck’ is thrown around. What do you hope or expect to see in these last six months or so of your term?
KB: Yeah, so, you know, I was worried about that too, but thankfully I think because the role of leading Ways and Means for the Republicans, in leading the economic efforts, you know, the economy's front and center on everything. We're still fighting this idea of higher taxes on families and small businesses, family owned farms would be crushed right now. We are working in Ways and Means on a second retirement bill that would help workers who right now don't save at all for their whole life. We know who they are. They don't make a lot of money. They work for small businesses. Chairman Neal and I have worked together with our members on a way to really help them sort of take control of their future in their retirement. I'm excited about that. Chairman Neal and I are also both trying to find a solution for our teachers, police, and firefighters, who in Texas got some of their Social Security docked as much as $500 a month because they simply were in a substitute for Social Security. It's really unfair. The way they're treated is something I've worked on for many, many years. And I'm still hopeful chairman Neal and I can get it across the line before I leave.
WOL: We’ve observed how passionate you are about our service men and women.
KB: I was really proud to help President Trump with the first rebuilding of the military in 15 years, it was so needed. I've been really impressed too, that we've managed to increase the budget for defense here last year and this year. The whole country – the whole world – understands you need a strong military for when bad things happen. Ukraine certainly, you know, drives that point home. And so, yeah, I'm very pleased at the progress made from rebuilding and keeping a strong military. It's what keeps us safe.
WOL: It often feels that the public at large is barraged by headlines every day about the schisms that are just dividing everyone and everything. You have the inside track. Is there some hope for the state of things that you can relay to us here in the trenches?
KB: Yeah, absolutely. Look, uh, my advice to everyone is turn off the TV, put down your tablet or your phone for a minute, and just look at who and what is around you, because you'll hear really the true heartbeat of America. We're told each day we're a hateful, racist divided nation. I don't see that. In fact, I see just the opposite. We're the most charitable nation on the planet. And you can't see second place from where we're at. We're a country so valued that a million military men and women have given their lives for this country. And I think, too, you look around our community, you see people joining together in churches and civic clubs and chambers of commerce, and these are neighbors who are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, helping veterans coming back from war who raced to help each other in natural disasters.
And we do all that. No one cares what the color of your skin, your politics, your religion, no one cares. We just help our neighbors. And that's really who America is. Look, are we a work in progress? Yes. But I think that's what makes us special. We know we are, and we know we have a lot of work to do together. So actually I am leaving very optimistic about our future. We are not nearly as divided. So in Congress, as what's being made out each day, they sort of promote fights, when the truth of the matter is there's a middle class in Congress who work very hard, try to do the right thing. I wish I could introduce you to them. I think you'd have more confidence, frankly, in this institution.
WOL: The district that will be covering The Woodlands after the election is currently held by Dan Crenshaw. Have you been able to talk to him about what to expect for the Woodlands should he be victorious in November?
KB: Yeah, I have. In fact, I'm really pleased. So my district was really fast growing. We had too many people and we knew that the two new seats added to Texas were the only ones. Every district was going change a lot. I'm so impressed with Dan Crenshaw and am very excited to see him represent Montgomery county and specifically the Woodlands. He's spending a lot of time there. I'm just really impressed with him. Morgan Lutrell will now likely represent most of the 8th Congressional District. Again, it's someone I really deeply respect and admire. I'm really pleased about that. And then part of my district also went to the new congressional district in Harris County that is heavily favored Republican has Wesley Hunt, another military veteran and that's kind of neat. He's so impressive too. Last year, Texas sent six military veterans to Congress. This next year, we will probably add four or five more at a time where there are fewer veterans, you know, in the halls of Congress. Texas is going the other direction. And I can tell you, you know, if you fought for freedom with your life, you understand exactly what's at stake up here. So I'm very, very pleased with those who are succeeding me or having parts of our district.
WOL: The day after you retire, what are you going to do in the Woodlands?
KB: That's a great question. So, you know, we love barbecuing. We love biking. We love driving around just because it's so beautiful. And of course if I could drag my family to the movies every day, I would do it every day. So yeah, we'll be just doing our thing around the community and then looking for the next new adventure. I don't know what that is, but my guess is it'll be a doozy.
[Photo credit: CQ Roll Call]