2006-02-17 / Columnists

Meeks’ Message From Capitol Hill

By Congressman Gregory Meeks

My thanks to The Wave and its editor, Howard Schwach, for choosing to publish a monthly column of mine.  This ongoing series of articles is part of my effort to communicate more consistently and thoroughly with the constituents that I am so proud to represent in Congress.

So, beginning this week and continuing once each month, I look forward to sharing my thoughts with Wave readers about a wide range of topics. Our conversations will range from issues unique to the Rockaways, to the inside story on some difficult congressional vote, to perhaps an international event affecting the country of origin of a large number of district residents.

Regardless of topic, I want to give you a bird’s eyes view of the things I try to take into account as your Member of Congress. You’ll see what I see in the Rockaways, in the Sixth Congressional District as a whole, on Capitol Hill, across the nation, and around the world. And, whenever possible and to whatever extent possible, I will also try to help you understand congressional rules, process and procedure.

Of course, I will also look forward to hearing from you. There may be times when your questions or concerns will be the starting point of a particular column. Let’s make this a two-way conversation. In fact, why not a group discussion? We have so many common issues that unite us across the peninsula.

Congress reconvened in early January. The first few weeks were devoted to leadership elections, committee assignment, and setting the agenda for the coming year. Committees and subcommittees have organizational meetings. House Democrats get together to figure out their legislative strategy. House Republicans do the same. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate do the same thing. Then we returned home for two weeks to touch base with constituents.

With the exception of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, the business of the Second Session of the 109th Congress really didn’t get under way until early February, when the President gave the State of the Union Address and proposed a new budget. Presidents use the State of the Union to lay out their agenda for the coming year. This February marks the start of my eighth year in Congress. I’ve attended seven State of the Union addresses. And in each one, no matter who was in office or whatever was going on in the country, the President always said, “the state of our union is strong.” This year’s was no exception, even though opinion polls tell us that is not how a majority of Americans see things.

The release of the President’s annual budget doesn’t get nearly as much play as his State of the Union speech, but to me it’s far more important because the budget is a true reflection of an administration’s priorities. The proposed budget and the budget adopted by Congress will tell you whether the administration or the congressional majority really have your interests in mind.

You know from your own experience that family or personal budgets express your priorities: meeting mortgage payments or paying the rent and utility bills; saving to buy a home or to take a family vacation; saving for college or putting something away to help a parent or grandparent; purchasing a new appliance. 

Well, it’s similar for the federal budget.  That’s why the battle of the budget is the most important thing Congress does regularly. It’s really a struggle of the priorities of the federal government.

President Bush proposed a $2.7 trillion budget for fiscal year 2007.  That’s a lot of cash. One would think that should be enough to take care of everybody and everything. It isn’t.  Not in a country with more than 293 million people and lots of competing interests and obligations.

I know it’s hard to appreciate the relevance of federal budget to day-to-day life in the Rockaways. But it’s very relevant. Although I could list dozens of examples, let me cite just one:

President Bush has called for making his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. I’m for tax cuts. Now that those of us lucky enough to have a job have gotten our W-2 forms and with April 15 just around the corner, I’m sure most of you would like your taxes cut, too.  But, when I analyze the President’s proposal I find that his tax cuts overwhelmingly benefit the top one percent of income-earners. The Rockaways consist of middle class and working class communities. It also has its share of poor New Yorkers. People here are not in the top one percent. The same is true of the Sixth Congressional District as a whole. The President’s tax cuts won’t benefit the constituents I represent. I would support tax cuts geared overwhelmingly to benefiting the middle class and the working poor.

Remember that old saying, “All that glitters isn’t gold”? How about “the devil is in the details”? The State of the Union was the glitter; the budget is the details. As I study it, I don’t see enough that supports my goal of revitalizing the Rockaways, which requires improving public education, increasing business opportunities, modernizing transportation, rebuilding the infrastructure, expanding health care services, building and restoring housing, providing job training, and above all, generating job creation. We are going to do these things, but it sure would help if the federal government were more of a partner with the hard-working taxpayers of the Rockaways. I’ll be fighting for these priorities in the coming battle of the budget.

(To keep up with what Congressman Meeks is doing on Capitol Hill please visit his website at www.house.gov\ meeks)

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