It has been only about a month since Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, has taken his seat in the United States House of Representatives, but now the adjustment period is over and he said it's time to get to work on the issues at hand.
Benishek took time to offer insight to several key political issues in Washington and promised to be a regular visitor in the 1st Congressional District to update his constituents and address any concerns.
On Monday, Benishek offered his thoughts on the protests and possible government change in Egypt. Benishek said the current situation is unfortunate, but America needs to be wary of who would step into the shoes of current President Hosni Mubarak's position, should he choose to surrender it.
"The situation over there is rapidly changing. I think everyone wants to see a change where there is improved access to democracy, but I think there is fear about a religious radical takeover similar to the one who did in Iran after the Shah," Benishek said. "As far as what is going to happen in the future as far as sending the $1.3 billion of aid over there, I think we are going to have to see what plays out. We'll have to see what happens and then decide."
Perhaps the largest issue facing the federal government is the high amount of debt the country has amassed. President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to approve tax breaks but also wants to implement a five-year spending freeze. Benishek said Congress already has taken steps to save money, including passing a measure that will reduce the government's spending to 2008 levels.
"We need to get serious about what is happening and get real about fixing the deficit, because we can't go on with a trillion dollar deficit" Benishek said. "I think the number one issue is to be sure we get the budget balanced and create fiscal responsibility because I think the unemployment rate and our future economy hinge on that. We just can't afford to spend money we don't have anymore."
During Obama's State of the Union Address last week, the president indicated his desire to construct a high-speed rail system which he claims would produce thousands of jobs and make commuting easier for citizens of the United States. Benishek said the opinion in Washington is the plan will never become a reality.
"I think Mr. Obama's speech contained things he thought would please everybody," Benishek said. "We're not going to have high-speed trains for 80 percent of America's people. For one, nobody likes riding in the trains, and they are ungodly expensive. We're not going to do that, and everyone knows we're not going to do that. The high-speed system in the northeast corridor of the county loses $13 billion a year. We just can't be doing things like that. It wouldn't be fiscally responsible."
In order to get the budget under control, Benishek said all avenues need to be explored.
"The funding cuts are going to come from everywhere, as far as I'm concerned," Benishek said. "Nothing is sacred. We want to preserve the best of what we can afford, but let's face it, they can't control their spending and I'm not in favor of raising taxes so that the government can keep spending."
The House already has voted to repeal the new health care law. He said even though it might not pass in the Senate, it is important it at least gets voted on, and then the people can decide if the right thing was done during the next round of elections. Benishek said the members of the House also could deny cash aimed at the law.
"We are going to have to see if it can come to a vote. There are several parliamentary maneuvers that Republicans can still do to force a vote so that the Senate doesn't weasel out of it by leaving it in committee and not having a vote," Benishek said. "Let's see how each senator sits on the issue so during the coming election they can rest on what they voted for. The president will probably veto it anyway; then we will just have to defund the critical portions of the bill that everyone objects to."
Locally, Benishek decided to close former Congressman Bart Stupak's office in Alpena and will not have another opened for himself. He said he did it to reduce cost but assured everyone he would still be easily available.
"I closed it to save money," Benishek said. "Bart had seven offices, and I was going to try to get by with two but will end up having four. We are going to have a mobile office, and I think it is actually going to be easier for people to see someone from my office than what it was before. Everyone will still have access. You can just call the Gaylord office and we can get started on the phone, and if we need a face-to-face we'll send somebody over. I can hire one more person by getting rid of those three other offices. I would rather put somebody to work than having those offices sitting there."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.