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Barney Frank: How Smart Is Congress?

In an exit interview that aired on PBS NewsHour Dec. 26, economic correspondent Paul Solman spoke with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who plans to retire from Congress at the end of his term in January 2013.

Watch this outtake in which Solman asks Rep. Frank about the intelligence of Congress members.

Full Transcript:

Paul Solman: How intelligent are House members in general? I hear some people say very intelligent, other people say, nah, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Barney Frank: No. I think they do. Remember, if you’re in the House, you are required to talk about a whole range of things…I have found, when I’m asked by a journalist what my opinion is on something, and I say I don’t know enough to have an opinion, they seem frustrated and press me to have an opinion. And I say, “why do you try to get me to tell you something when I said I don’t really know enough?”

Paul Solman: I have not heard you say that very often, at least to me over the course of time.

Barney Frank: That’s because you ask very specialized questions. You have a special beat in business and about which I know something. But I get the general press asking, “do you want to comment on this and comment on that?” when I haven’t read about it and don’t know about it. And what I have found is that, on the whole, the members of Congress are smarter than average.

Now, here’s the deal. It’s not been the case with people elected in 2010 and this is important. Ordinarily, to get elected to Congress, it takes a certain amount of energy and creativity. When you get one of those elections where one party wins overwhelmingly, it tends to sweep in some flotsam and jetsam. And that’s been true of the Democrats and the Republicans.

Normally, though, I think very highly of the intelligence of my colleagues. I will say this: when I was in the state legislature in the ’70s, I would sometimes have to stop to say, all right, I’ve got to explain it. Let me think about how I explain it, how do I break it down. I have never felt the need to do that in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Paul Solman answers questions from the NewsHour audience on business and economic news on his Making Sen$e page.

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