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.
Focus on economics, accountability
Looking ahead to next year, when Republicans will hold leadership posts in both houses, Gibson predicts the focus will remain on economic issues, rather than hot-button social issues, like a bill he supports which would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Gibson also said he believes GOP dominance of Congress won’t leave Democrats cut out of the process. The way he sees it, Republican leaders will be under pressure to demonstrate their ability to govern and pass legislation. To do that, they will have to work with their Democratic counterparts to craft bills that President Obama will actually sign.
“I think there’s going to be more accountability in the system in every direction,” said Gibson. “We will need to shape reasonable legislation that puts the president in a position where he needs to support it. Putting Democratic ideas into bills into the bills, it makes it harder for the president to veto them.”
Gibson said he believes the next Congress will finally take up immigration reform. The question of how reform would deal with the more than 11 million people currently in the country illegally has led to gridlock on the issue in recent years. Conservatives have resisted any measure that would include “amnesty” or a path to legal citizenship for illegal immigrants. They’ve also opposed legislation that would put undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children on a path to legal status.
But Gibson said he believes the new House majority will be able to work out what he called a pragmatic solution. The reform would consist of mandatory use of “E-Verify” systems by employers and government agencies to track the legal status of prospective employees to recipients of benefits, beefed-up border security and a guest worker program. Current undocumented immigrants, he said, could obtain legal status, but only after coming forward, pleading guilty to entering the country illegally, paying a fine and passing a background check. Gibson said this solution would avoid the “amnesty” label while allowing hard-working, otherwise law-abiding immigrants to remain in the country.
“We’re not going to send them back,” said Gibson of undocumented immigrants. “We have to reconcile the fact that we are a nation of laws with the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.”
Gibson also predicted that the 114th Congress would take on the first major reform of the nation’s tax code since 1986. Gibson said that he believed a bipartisan compromise would likely include tax relief for working families and small businesses. As for large corporations, Gibson said, a bipartisan bill would likely close some tax loopholes while providing “sweeteners” to encourage big business to take money currently invested overseas and put it back into the American economy. The resulting bill, however, would have to incorporate ideas from both the left and the right.
“I think the tax reform proposal will be more center-right than right because I think that’s where the nation is,” said Gibson. “But for something as big as tax reform to pass, it has to be bipartisan.”
Gibson also said a new infrastructure bill, with money for bridge and highway improvements nationwide, would likely find bipartisan support in the next Congress.
Gibson honed his negotiating skills during three combat tours in Iraq. There he was frequently called upon to mediate disputes and forge alliances in a complex landscape of competing sects, factions, ethnic groups and militias. While he sees some parallels to the partisan political landscape in Washington, his message to constituents is, “We’ve got it pretty good here.”
“As Americans, we’re lucky,” said Gibson. “The fact is that we have a lot more in common than we have differences.”