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U.S. Sen. Rick Scott wants to beat back inflation, he says, but it's hard in a Washington culture that he likens to a "shirts and skins" game.
"There's a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, that won't even talk to me," Scott said in a brief phone interview Wednesday with the USA TODAY Network's Florida Capital Bureau.
The multi-millionaire grew up poor with a single mom, lived in public housing and "always struggled for money."
His considerable fortune — last estimated at north of $200 million — was built leading the for-profit Columbia/HCA hospital chain and subsequent business ventures and investments. This month, Business Insider reported that Scott sits on top of the list of the 25 wealthiest members of congress.
The Naples Republican, Florida's governor 2011-19, narrowly beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. He spent almost $64 million of his own money in doing so – what USA TODAY called “a staggering self-funding record for a congressional campaign.”
Scott now has championed the inflation issue, blaming President Joe Biden and "excessive government spending."
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Many economists, however, attribute the latest spike in inflation to a variety of factors, particularly the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But to Scott, it's as simple as "being careful how you spend your money," namely how the feds spend tax dollars.
What follows are questions and answers from the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: In a nutshell, explain what you think should be done to fight the current surge of inflation.
Scott: No. 1 is trying to get our federal government to live within its means ... One of the bills I have is (requiring all spending proposals to get) a two-thirds vote to pass. That way, you start creating some fiscal responsibility up here.
Also, we have to quit paying banks not to lend money, which is basically what we're doing. We're telling them, 'Oh, here, if you'll hold treasuries instead of lending money, we'll give you some money.'
On every committee I'm on, I focus on fiscal responsibility and getting a return for every dollar that we have. I've tried to get the Federal Reserve to think about reducing the balance sheet.
Official website: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott on America's Debt and Inflation
Q: You were a Republican governor with a Republican-majority Legislature. You went to Washington and now you find yourself in the minority in Congress with a Democratic president. How do you win people over?
Scott: You have to do the same thing in business. You've got to be able to convince people of your way of thinking about things or the right way of doing things. And that's what I do up here every day. I try to build relationships on the other side of the aisle and ... bring people along.
It's no different than my business life. I started out with no money and I had to convince banks to give me money. I had to convince shareholders to invest with me. So it's no different than anything else I've done with my life.
Q: How's it going with the convincing?
Scott: It's a lot of work ... There's a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, that won't even talk to me. Look, this place is shirts and skins. I mean, people don't want to talk to each other up here. So, you know, you just try to find where you have common ground. But I'm optimistic. Everything in life takes time.
... I like working with (fellow U.S. Sen.) Jacky Rosen. She's from Nevada; she came up here the same time I did. And I sort of tend to talk to a lot of people that have been in business before, because that's where I came from.
It was easier, of course, with the Trump administration than it has been with Biden to get things accomplished. But you figure out where you can move things down a path. Nothing up here is a straight path, right? So you have to be very focused on what your goals are.
Q: What would change Washington into a place that "works," in your view?
Scott: OK, here's my theory about that. When I was governor, I talked to everybody, Republicans, Democrats, and I got things done with Republicans and Democrats. I think it really takes a president that wants to put a lot of effort into building relationships.
We've got to fix Medicare, we've got to fix Social Security. I mean, people depend on those things. We've got to balance the budget. You're not going to be able to do that with just one party doing it. You have to get everybody involved. But I think it really comes down to getting a president that will put in the time to say, "How do I create a win-win for people?" And that's how I'll get something done.
How I think about my life is like when Grant (first) tried to take Vicksburg. I think, "OK, that didn't work. What should I try now?"
But I just try to get stuff done. I am open to having any conversation you want. You can try to talk me into anything you want, but you can't tell me that I've got to vote a certain way. I got elected to represent the state of Florida and, you know, the millions of people that live there. That's who I represent.
USA TODAY contributed. Reach Jim Rosica at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JimRosicaFL.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Sen. Rick Scott on beating inflation, managing relationships