WASHINGTON Capital insiders know well the partisan themes of House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling's speeches. But what is less well known is his sense of humor.
Retired lawmaker Barney Frank, who formerly led the financial services panel, set the standard for witticisms by committee chairmen. Yet on Wednesday, Hensarling showed he's no slouch. Addressing a lunch meeting group of banking and regulatory officials, the Exchequer Club, the lawmaker poked fun at his height, teased audience members trying to ask questions and made references to McDonald's hamburgers and Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel.
He opened by thanking the speaker who had introduced him for being brief. "I like introductions that are short like me." Explaining that he had come to the speaking engagement from a committee markup, Hensarling said one of the perks of being chairman is he can call a recess to go to a lunch. The problem was he had arrived at the Exchequer meeting too late to eat before he began his remarks. When people "ask me back home, 'How do you keep trim?'" the lawmaker said he responds that, "In this job, you eat really well or not at all. Today it apparently is going to be 'not at all.'"
The speech focused on Hensarling's oft-mentioned support for the government getting out of the housing finance system, and he touted his bill to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a purely private-market alternative. When asked his view about the government's now profit from the Fannie and Freddie takeovers of 2008, Hensarling said, "If you gave me a monopoly and a printing press, I could probably make a profit as well." And that wouldn't be limited to mortgages. "My guess is if Uncle Sam decided to create a monopoly of hamburgers, they could probably give McDonald's a pretty good run for their money."
He even seemed to mock the partisan nature of his views, saying at the close of his prepared speech that he would take questions "now that I have addressed a totally non-controversial subject in a totally bipartisan manner."
Where there was confusion between two audience members over whose turn it was to ask a question, Hensarling quipped, "If you guys need to step out and work this out...."
At one point, while highlighting the value of economic history for lawmakers trying to craft housing reform, Hensarling gave a shout-out to his former Texas A&M University economics professor, who later went on to lead the Senate Banking Committee. Though his Alma matter now may be "better known for Johnny Football," Hensarling said, "Texas A&M at one time boasted an economics professor by the name of Phil Gramm."