Fresh from his resounding win in New York’s 19th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) talked this week about unfinished business from the 113th Congress, legislative priorities for the 114th and the new landscape in Washington, where Republicans now control both the House and the Senate.
When Gibson returns to Washington later this month, he will face a lame-duck Congress where Democrats are preparing to assume minority status come January. But, Gibson said, he believes a number of bills — authored by members of both parties — which have passed the house but stalled in the Senate could be headed for President Obama’s desk. Gibson said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had held up legislation to avoid forcing vulnerable Democrats into politically risky votes ahead of Election Day. With the election over, and the GOP about to take control, Gibson said he expected Reid to move a number of bills to the Senate floor over the next few weeks.
“Even Democrats were getting frustrated,” said Gibson of the glacial pace of legislation in the Senate. “[Reid] was going to such lengths to protect his vulnerable Senators that in the end they lost for not doing enough.”
Among the bills that have passed the house and are awaiting action in the Senate is an amendment to the budget bill, authored by Gibson and fellow Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring), that would reverse a new “capacity zone” imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this year. The new zone leaves Hudson Valley residents paying higher electric rates while downstate residents enjoy a price break. Gibson said that the amendment is likely to survive the Senate and pass with the rest of the 2015 federal budget later this year. If it does, he said, Hudson Valley residents would see an immediate decline of 6 to 10 percent in their electric bills.
Also awaiting action in the Senate are new Lyme disease treatment guidelines for use by the Department of Health and Human Services. The new guidelines, Gibson said, would expand the range of treatment protocols for chromic Lyme that doctors could use, and insurance companies pay for. Gibson said that the new guidelines reflected a diverse range of scientific viewpoints and had been developed in conjunction with Lyme advocates.
Gibson is also hopeful that one of two bills he’s pushed for to help Vietnam War-era victims of Agent Orange claim benefits will clear the Senate in the last weeks of the 113th Congress. The bill would create a registry of Navy supply ships which were exposed to the highly toxic defoliant while operating close in shore at ports in Vietnam. Currently veterans of ground units and Navy riverine forces who served in Vietnam are automatically entitled to compensation if they are stricken with one of nine maladies linked to Agent Orange exposure. Sailors who served on the supply ships are not. Creating a registry of the supply ships would help speed their claims through the Veterans Administration, Gibson said. The ship registry is included as an amendment to a vital defense appropriations bill, meaning that it will almost certainly pass before the year is out. Gibson, a retired U.S. Army colonel, also authored a bill that would give the supply ship vets the same status as ground troops. Gibson said he hoped that bill would be taken up by the House sometime next year.
Gibson is also co-sponsor of a bill to fund 14 new advanced manufacturing support centers. The centers would include cutting edge equipment like 3D printers that could be shared by manufacturers. The goal, he said, is to create hubs to attract well-paying high-tech manufacturing jobs. The bill has passed the House and is now awaiting action in the Senate. Gibson said that he plans to lobby to have one of the centers located in the Hudson Valley.
“I think that we can make a strong case,” said Gibson.