On the breakfast menu: budget, immigration and healthcare with a side of Cemex.
Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon stopped to break bread with several constituents Thursday and Friday to give them an update on Washington and find out what issues are important to them. While 90 people turned out in the Antelope Valley on Thursday morning, a turnaway crowd of 150 greeted McKeon on Friday morning, eager to exchange ideas with their representative.
Along with breakfast, McKeon got quite the earful on a universal issue that has everyone fed up: the budget.
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“We heard that people are tired of us spending more than we have,” McKeon said. “They’re just really fed up. I’ve heard it all over the country. Enough is enough and we’ve got to stop.”
McKeon outlined the difficulties he and his colleagues have had discussing and voting on amendments to try and stop the fiscal hemmorage.
“We voted on more amendments last week than we did all last year. At the end of the week, we voted to cut spending by $61 billion. The Senate has rejected that, really without looking at it, but now we’re up against a hard date of March 4, when the Continuing Resolution runs out.”
If that date comes and goes without a vote, there is the possibility of a shutdown of government services. McKeon said that there is the possibility of a two-week extension with limited cuts ($4 billion) that remains to be voted upon.
“So we either continue on at last year’s spending or having $4 billion dollars of cuts to run for two more weeks,” he said.
While the budget, immigration and healthcare were universal, the question of Cemex only came up in Santa Clarita.
McKeon has introduced legislation several times to protect the Soledad Canyon from the mining proposed by Cemex, working out an elaborate compromise that has failed to reach a vote.
The sticking point seems to be the perception that the limited benefit (to the SCV and Victorville areas) of the Cemex compromise is an “earmark,” something that the House, Senate and Executive branches have all vowed to ignore or veto. He seemed to feel that the bill would only stand a chance if “earmark” was redefined.
“We’re trying to work it out where all parties would be satisfied,” he explained. “While I can’t actively work for it, I’m supportive of the city and their efforts to resolve this.”
As the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, McKeon praised the approval of a contract to replace the Air Force’s fleet of aging aerial tankers, despite a controversial awarding of the $35 billion job to Boeing.
“We have a lot of people in our district who work in the defense industry,” he said. “I just want to see the process followed through and see us get a plane built to replace these 50-year-old planes.”
The issue of illegal immigration was a hot button at both locations.
“They are concerned about the border, about all the violence and what’s happening in Mexico,” he said. “Its not just on the boarder anymore, it’s down inland. Even cruise ships aren’t landing there anymore.”
McKeon has spoken with Border Patrol officials and explained that the problem has escalated into a turf war.
“The cartels or drug gangs on the other side of the border have divided up the border and when one encroaches on another’s territory, they get pretty violent. It’s put our Border Patrol in danger. They are highly sophisticated, very well armed and get lots of money from the drug trade and from transporting people. It’s a major problem all along the border.”
McKeon also said that a major corridor, Smuggler’s Gulch, on the coast between San Diego and Tijuana, was recently closed after blockades put up not by criminals, but by environmentalists.
Even that hasn’t stopped the problem.
“Now people are coming in boats, or coming in further inland, digging tunnels,” he said. “As you come up with one way to stop them, they come up with another way to get around it.”
Concerns about Obamacare, the national health program that goes into effect in 2014, were voiced and McKeon said that his colleagues have been attempting to address the problem. Aside from constitutional challenges, the national health care proposal has been the subject of “de-funding” amendments in the budget discussion.
“Most of the law doesn’t take effect until 2014,” he said. “What we have done in the new Congress is brought up a bill to eliminate the law. It passed in the House, but the Senate and President don’t like it. In a bill we brought up last week, there were several amendments to de-fund Obamacare, but for that to become law, the Senate would have to pass it and President would have to sign it. That’s not going to happen.”