By Al Hackle Statesboro Herald
Rep. Rick Allen talked about the surprising fast pace of his first quarter representing Georgia’s 12th District in Congress and the Republican answered “Yes” when asked if the relationship between Congress and the White House is as dysfunctional as it looks.
After his November defeat of Rep. John Barrow, the Democrat who held the seat for 10 years, Allen became part of a freshman class of 43 Republicans and 15 Democrats when the U.S. House of Representatives convened Jan. 6. Statesboro and Bulloch County are part of Allen’s congressional district.
The orientation by the nonpartisan Congressional Institute prepared him well, and the staff proved excellent, he said.
“Then I found that the pace is vicious,” Allen said. “We have sent over 40 bills to the Senate.”
He came to the Statesboro Herald offices for an interview before delivering the keynote address at Tuesday night’s Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Awards banquet. “Another surprise … was the communication issues, particularly when we’re trying to accomplish something in the House and then how it’s spun over in the Senate and then how it’s spun at the White House,” Allen said.
“We’ve got a messaging problem up there that we need to correct so that folks get the truth, and we’re working on that,” he said.
By mentioning the 40 bills, Allen emphasized that the new Congress is busy, even if much of its work doesn’t become law.
His first example was legislation to clear the way for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The House actually passed such a bill twice, first in early January and again in February to match the Senate-approved version.
President Barack Obama, the Democrat who heads the executive branch while Republicans now control both chambers of Congress, promised to veto the bill, and did so Feb. 24.
“Give us a reason. I mean, the Keystone Pipeline creates 43,000 jobs, it spurs economic growth immediately,” Allen said. “It makes this country more energy independent. These are all important goals for this country, and he vetoes the thing just because he said he was going to veto it.
The Keystone XL, an addition to the Keystone Pipeline system, would channel crude oil from western Canada to U.S. refineries as far away as Texas and Louisiana. As an international proposal, it has been under review by the State Department since 2011, and Congress first attempted to force a decision in 2012.
A March 4 Senate effort to override the veto drew some Democratic support, for a 62-37 vote in favor. But still fell short of the required two-thirds majority.
Allen said the White House does not work well with the Republican leadership in Congress.
“Yes. The answer to that question is yes, it is dysfunctional, and again, it would be nice if we could sit down together and talk about it,” Allen said.
Allen, from Augusta, founded the commercial construction company R.W. Allen.
He has not served in government before. But he had talked with a friend, former Rep. Jack Edwards, R-Alabama, who served in Congress during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Reagan regularly had the leadership of both parties over for Wednesday breakfasts “to talk about the needs of the American people,” Allen said.
Now, he said, “You hear about it in the media when our folks are invited to the White House, but it’s certainly not on a regular basis and it usually isn’t a very pleasant experience.”
Allen added that there is “a lot of common ground” on ends but not on means.
“We have got to get this economy growing, and we have got to create jobs,” he said. “Now, we just have a little bit of a difference in how that should be done. I believe that the private sector creates jobs, and the president believes that the public sector creates jobs.”
Allen talks about deregulation and smaller government as means to stimulate the economy.
He recently issued a press release trumpeting his vote for the House Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Resolution, aimed at producing a balanced budget in less than 10 years.
Critics and some media reports say that it would boost defense spending while cutting social support spending. It would turn programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program into block grants to the states.
But the House budget only increases defense spending above what Obama requested, not in absolute terms, Allen said.
“The president’s budget actually reduced it to pre-World War II levels, and we think we have a dangerous world out there today and we certainly need to support and fund our military,” Allen said.
The claim of pre-World War II levels involves an adjustment for inflation over 70-plus years.
On social spending, the programs wouldn’t be cut by the House budget, only handed over to state control, according to Allen.
“Those social spending programs can only be reduced by law….The mandates have to be funded,” he said.
Cuts to EPA
But he acknowledges and supports the House budget’s cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
“We’ve got elements in this budget to grow this economy,” Allen said. “We’re reducing the budget for EPA and other regulatory agencies hoping that there will be less regulation in the business and the economy will grow.”
The House and Senate have approved two different budgets. To produce a final budget, the two will have to go through a reconciliation process, with the two chambers agreeing on changes.
But this is the first time in six years the House has passed a budget, he said. Previously, with Republicans in control of the House but Democrats holding the Senate majority, the government has operated under spending resolutions, with no annual budget.
Now, with the Republicans holding 54 of the 100 Senate seats, Congress is closer to passing a formal budget than it has been in many years.
“We’re going to get that done, and that will be the first time that has happened under this administration. That is quite an accomplishment,” Allen said, “and then the president, that’s what he’s going to get appropriated, so that’s what he’s got to live with.”
Allen is serving on the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Agriculture Committee.
Not surprisingly, he does not support Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college free to high school graduates at state and federal expense.
“OK, we’re $18 trillion in debt, and kind of the murmured thing that I heard around me is, where are you going to get the money to do that, and how is that going to pay for itself?” Allen said.
Instead, he supports House Resolution 5, proposed as the Student Success Act. It would turn federal education programs into block grants to the states, instead of targeting the money to specific programs.
“The states then become accountable to the parents for compliance, which is where that should be,” Allen said.
HR5 would also abandon attempts to create national standards for schools. It has not passed either the House or Senate yet, but the president has threatened a veto.