The Corner

No More French Sweet Nothings During Testimony for Me

Last night, Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, lost. His seat will go to a Republican for the first time since 1947, which is a big deal for the GOP, but for me his loss means never again hearing a lawmaker recite poetry to me — in perfect French — before a committee hearing. Nor am I likely to ever again hear a congressman tell me how the oysters in Normandy are the best in the world. From the Washington Post:

The whole temperature of the room seemed to change when George Mason University economist Veronique de Rugy was introduced Friday at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s hearing on the economic stimulus. Watch how the chairman, Rep. Jim Oberstar, reacted. The Minnesota Democrat — who did graduate work in Quebec and Belgium and taught language in Haiti — busted out a perfect Gallic accent to ask de Rugy, in her native tongue, about her French origins.

She replied, in French, that she was raised in Paris but her parents were from Normandy — and commended the congressman’s accent.

“The oysters of Normandy are the most delicious in the world,” he sighed, in French.

Oberstar congratulated de Rugy on her perfect English and asked how long she’s been in the U.S. Ten years, she said.

“You’ve been here ten years? Oh. If only I had been able to spend ten years in Paris.”

For the record, the oysters in Normandy are the best in the world.

The pleasant part of the hearing was over as soon as I started reading my testimony, which was about the pattern of stimulus awards. Specifically, I talked about how there seemed to be no correlation in where the money was spent and unemployment but did seem to be a party-specific pattern in stimulus spending. There were seven other witnesses on my panel, and all of them came to praise the stimulus; I was the only voice against it. Maybe that explains why the chairman was surprised when I started reading. Or maybe, because I am French, he assumed that I would be ideologically the same as other French people he had met. Big mistake.

I think his liking for me really ended when I suggested that his idea to raise the gasoline tax to pay for more stuff was a terrible one:

There follows a bunch of fawning DC lobbyists sharing Oberstar’s interest in funneling every dollar through DC and having elaborate federal controls on everything to do with highways. They flatter chairman Oberstar by telling him how brilliant and innovative was his idea that federal programs be funded by $130 billion of new borrowing!

The only interesting “witness” was Veronique de Rugy a George Mason University economist of French extraction. Oberstar had fun flirting with her in French. She was the only one skeptical about massive borrowing, and government directed spending:de Rugy: “The government doesn’t have any money… each time the government spends money you need to take it from somewhere in the economy. And (this) makes it very hard to measure the return, the true return on investment on the dollars invested by the government.”15c (extra fuel tax) might not seem a lot to you, (or) to me, but if it is on top of a dramatic increase in gasoline prices we have seen in the last ten years so sure it is a marginal increase but more importantly I really think that you are not measuring the return on the investment we (get)…”Measuring the performance of government by how much is spent is the wrong measure… it often very arbitrary… when government spends money you have to tax it, borrow it or print it and all these things have consequences for us.”

I wish him well.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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