Rep. Tim Huelskamp: Family man, farmer, congressman

Tina Korbe
Rep. Tim Huelskamp exudes a sense of urgency. It stems from something deeper than the daily demands of life as a freshman Republican congressman with a wife, four kids and a family farm back in Kansas.

Huelskamp's heightened awareness of time proceeds from a keen appreciation of the challenges facing the nation. He knows the clock has run out.

He listened intently recently as economists from across the ideological spectrum told the House Budget Committee that government must change its fiscal habits now -- to prevent the national debt from creating a crushing crisis later. He took the message to heart.

"I think the American people get it much better than the politicians," he said. "Our debt curve, our debt crisis is upon us. We've been spending and growing and over-regulating, and I think the future of our republic really is in jeopardy."

Huelskamp, 42, is interested in action, not accusations or excuses. He knows both parties have at times swelled the size of government. But he also knows that what matters now is whether this Congress will act to solve the problem.

"We have to put us on a path to fiscal sanity," he said. "We've got to do that soon. We've got no time to waste. There's no time to wait for a new president. I get very frustrated with my colleagues when they say, 'We'll get this stuff done in two years.' Well, according to the folks in the credit markets, we don't have two years to wait."

Fortunately for Huelskamp, he's in a prime position to affect the nation's fiscal fate. Not only is he a member of an unprecedentedly active freshman class, but he's also a member of the House Budget Committee, which, under the leadership of Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has become, with its fiscal 2012 budget proposal adopted by the full House, a key player in the spending battle.

"When you're sent to take on a task and then placed on the committee that's at the point of the spear to take it on, that's very exciting and also very sobering," Huelskamp said. "At least our mission is clear -- to rein in this debt crisis here in America."

Huelskamp has a grounded understanding of the legislative slog ahead. Three-and-a-half terms as a Kansas state senator taught him how to work within the unique constraints of the political world. "I understand the frustrations of working through a legislative process that is amazingly slow," he said.

Remarkably, frustrations seem to energize rather than drain Huelskamp. He tempers his sober assessment of America's present situation and the political process with an irrepressible optimism. To him, a hopeful outlook is a quintessential part of what it means to be an American.

That's why it worries him, when, at town hall meetings, his constituents reflect the increasingly common fear that the upcoming generation will fail to achieve a higher standard of living than his generation.

"The American optimism, the entrepreneurship -- that is in jeopardy when Americans think the future is lost," Huelskamp said. "I think it's the job of this Republican Congress to restore that integrity, to restore that optimism -- and we do this by showing a plan by which we start chopping Washington back down."

Huelskamp honed his own perspective as a youngster growing up on his family's wheat, corn and livestock farm near Fowler, Kan. "Farming is a pretty risky business, and you're at risk of the elements all the time," he explained. "A hailstorm might come up within 30 minutes and destroy your entire crop."

Huelskamp learned to rely on himself, his family and his Catholic faith -- and, thanks to President Carter's grain embargo, he also came to realize free markets are more effective than government control.

Huelskamp soon supplemented his experiential knowledge with academic credentials, earning a doctoral degree in political science from American University and specializing in agriculture policy.

His dissertation -- "Congressional Change: Committees on Agriculture in the United States Congress" -- in some ways still informs his policy approach.

"It is very helpful to have a working knowledge of how the committees have worked and how the congressional system has worked," he said. "I didn't know where the bathrooms were when I arrived, but I know generally how this place is supposed to work from an academic perspective and from a political perspective, as well."

But, while Huelskamp's committee assignments on budget and agriculture reflect two of his top priorities, they don't reveal the whole picture. He's equally strong on social issues -- and lives out his family-oriented philosophy.

He and his wife, Angela, have adopted four children, including two daughters from Haiti -- and he cites Catholicism as a driving force in his life.

"I'm a Roman Catholic and I'm a firm believer in a number of things, in the value of life and the value of family," he says. "It starts with my faith."

Clearly, when his congressional career is over, Huelskamp will still be the family man and farmer that he was when he arrived in the nation's capital.

Tina Korbe is a reporter for the Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy.

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