New representative has list of issues to tackle as he heads to DC
KINDERHOOK–Congressman-elect Chris Gibson (R-20th) has engaged in a whirlwind of activity since he won his seat in the 112th Congress. But recently he took time to speak with The Columbia Paper about his preparations for assuming office, including the orientation in Washington he attended in November for freshmen congressmen, arrangements for his Capitol Hill office, his plan to provide services to the 10-county district, and his goals for the coming legislative year.
Never far from his mind are key issues he spoke about during his campaign: the economy and the effect of recent tax cuts on it, healthcare, energy, agriculture and military affairs.
He appears to be taking it all in stride, looking trim and well rested ahead of the January 3 opening of Congress, when he will formally take the oath of office in a mass swearing in that will see control of the House of Representatives pass from Democrats to a new Republican majority. His goals include: “get the private sector economy going again, begin to balance our federal budget, reduce federal spending, and protect our freedom.”
He said that while those are the “core issues I’ll be working on in terms of legislative priorities,” he also expects to emphasize constituent services. And while GOP members of the House will have a 51-seat advantage, Congressman-elect Gibson says he’ll be looking for allies on both sides of the aisle.
On December 17, the Congressman-elect received the committee appointments he sought: Agricultural and Armed Services. His predecessor and the man candidate he defeated in the November election, Democrat Scott Murphy, also had seats on those committees.
At the freshman orientation he participated in a lottery for congressional office space, and although he ended up 70th out of the 85 members participating, he got office space he likes on the fifth floor of the venerable Cannon Office Building on Independence Avenue. Built in 1908, it’s the oldest congressional office building on Capitol Hill. He’s familiar with the territory, having worked in the House of Representatives as a congressional fellow while in the military.
Staying in contact with constituents, traveling annually to every one of the 137 towns spread out over 7,000 square miles in the 20th Congressional District “to hear firsthand what’s going on,” will be a challenge and a high priority for the new congressman. Since the election, he has traveled to every county in the district and held town hall meetings in Hudson and in Dutchess County. District offices will be located in Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, and Kinderhook, his hometown. Those, and satellite offices open one day a week in Dutchess and Delaware counties will allow constituents to keep in touch and access services. During orientation, he met with Congressman Murphy to seek advice and to discuss ongoing case work for constituents.
He has not changed his opinion on the new federal healthcare bill since the campaign. “We need to repeal and replace it. I’m as convinced as ever that not only do we have the wrong approach in regard to healthcare, but it’s going to be so onerous on small business, that it will significantly hamper our ability to recover.”
He says he expects opposition from the Senate, but, he warns, “There’ll be some funding strategies to really put pressure on the bill,” including “opposition in the House to hiring more IRS workers to oversee this major expansion of the government’s reach.”
“The House is going to approach the healthcare issue from several perspectives: repeal and replace, funding, since the house is charged by the Constitution for raising revenue bills, and through oversight hearings to explain to the American people why it is that the replacement bill is better than the original bill.
“I can’t make a full prediction on what the final form will look like, but I do believe the House will pass a measure that will replace the [law] with one with free market forces. He said a House healthcare bill would allow consumers to shop for insurance across state lines and address tort reform.
Mr. Gibson and other GOP opponents of the new law are also monitoring legal challenges that contend the mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance coverage is unconstitutional. If, as expected, one or more of those cases reaches the Supreme Court, the high court’s decision may affect the drive to repeal the law.
Despite his opposition to the law, Mr. Gibson, 46, praised President and Mrs. Obama for setting a good example in fitness and diet. “When our leaders talk about the importance of staying fit, and when they lead by example, they can have an impact,” said the congressman-elect. A former colonel in the Army, he runs every morning, does pushups and sit ups, plans to use the congressional gym and eats a moderate diet.
During the campaign, Mr. Gibson presented his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which encourages a mix of natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, water and geothermal, to make energy more abundant and less expensive for residents and businesses and to decrease American dependence on fossil fuels. Now he is proposing the formation of a New York-based advisory committee to look at the nuclear energy permitting process.
On nuclear power plants, he said, “We have to demonstrate its profitability. If it’s not able to be done in a profitable way, it won’t get done. It has to be safe; there has to be local involvement. The committee will then work collaboratively with the state and with local officials as we do studies to determine the best siting for nuclear power in New York 20.”
Part of his district juts westward into the Catskills, where a controversy continues over hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas often referred to as “hydro-fracking.” The state is currently studying the procedure to see whether it threatens drinking water supplies with chemicals introduced by the gas drilling companies. “We should use this time wisely if we decide to put moratorium on until the next year and we should be working collaboratively at the federal, state and at the local level with the private sector to develop a permitting process that we can all trust. I take a very balanced and pragmatic approach…. My answer is not drilling everywhere, and my answer not no drilling. We can get access to natural gas in a way that does not harm the water supply,” Mr. Gibson said.
He’s optimistic about the district’s economic future, citing medical device production by many companies in the district and nano-technology. On a recent visit to the new semi-conductor manufacturing plant Global Foundries north of Albany, he was told the plant may soon generate as many as 1,600 new jobs.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee, he plans to carry on initiatives started by his predecessor, remaining the only representative from the Northeast on that committee. He plans to meet with local farmers in early 2011 to learn their concerns, and he said he wants a level playing field with foreign agricultural producers who are not burdened by the same regulations. He will also seek improvements in dairy pricing. The next multi-year agricultural bill is scheduled for debate and adoption in 2012.
On foreign policy, Mr. Gibson, who served four combat tours of duty in Iraq, believes we’re on track there. The country won’t become a Jeffersonian democracy, but he expects it will be an ally in the future. He called Afghanistan a tougher situation.
“We’ve got the right leadership. General Petraeus understands what needs to be done. President Obama has provided the resources. He certainly didn’t get any points from his base to do this, but he surged forces over there.”
On the continuation of the tax cuts for people at all income levels, he says worse consequences might occur if taxes were raised and job growth further hampered. Higher unemployment costs, in his view, would erase any gains from higher taxes. He doesn’t mince words about the country’s overall economic situation. “We’re recessing. Any time you’re close to 10% unemployment,” he said, “that’s a recession. I’ve argued, after listening to small business owners, that the reason is the hostility and uncertainty in the business environment. It’s hostile because of taxes, regulations and healthcare costs.”
He emphasized the need to remove impediments to business that include New York’s compound corporate tax, which, at 39.6%, is second only to Japan’s. That and the onerous paperwork required of small businesses add to overhead and detracts from our ability to be competitive, he said.
In his victory speech last November he urged, “Let’s learn from the lessons of history. The last time we had a Democratic president and a Republican congress we got a lot done. We not only balanced the budget, we had surpluses; we also had meaningful welfare reform. So we need to reach out and work together.”