2011-12-16 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Turner On Congress, The Deficit And Rockaway
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

Since winning a seat in Congress, via special election this past September, Breezy Point businessman – and now Congressman – Bob Turner’s been a busy guy. I know because I’ve been trying to catch up with him since he tentatively agreed to an interview for this column in October. But going to Washington these days isn’t like it was when Mr. Smith went to Washington!

With Congress wrestling the budget deficit/debt ceiling hydra to near exhaustion and the two sides of the political spectrum further apart than ever, the more leisurely pace Hollywood’s Mr. Smith encountered must seem like a pipe dream to Bob Turner. He and I were to touch base at a local meeting of the Rockaway Republicans this past Monday evening but the latest ongoing dispute in Washington intervened and he was called back to the capital.

They’re haggling now over ways to extend unemployment insurance benefits and payroll tax reductions for workers which would add to the current fiscal burden while doing little to nurture job producing economic activity. Democrats want to pay for the temporary extension by permanent tax increases and Republicans can’t very well stand athwart that effort without being maligned for lacking sympathy for workers – a familiar political trap.

Seeking a compromise, Republicans have pushed to include restoration of the XL Pipeline (carrying oil from Canada’s tar sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast). That project was recently stopped by President Obama when he deferred to his environmentalist base and put it on hold until after the coming presidential election. Convinced the pipeline project will benefit a job-hungry economy while reducing our dependence on foreign oil – and concerned Canadian oil will just go overseas to China instead – Republicans have sought to include the project’s restoration in the pending legislation.

So Congressman Turner had to head back to D.C. Not so great for me though because I was counting on the interview. Fortunately, he’d already provided some preliminary responses to my questions so I thought I’d share them anyway:

Congressman, now that you’ve had a chance to step into your new shoes, has it been what you expected?

Coming into office mid-session has meant a steep learning curve on Congressional procedure but I’m sorry to say things really are as broken in Washington as many of us feared. From the failure of the “Super Committee” to settle on ways to cut the budget to the recently failed balanced budget amendment, we’ve got a major challenge just trying to put our finances in order and get this country back on track. The partisanship that’s driven a wedge between our two major parties is making it increasingly hard to come together and compromise. However, we cannot allow what is happening in Europe to happen here.

What are the greatest challenges facing

Congress at this time and what do you hope to add in the effort to deal with them?

There’s a new challenge every day! But the greatest is just being able to get things done. Right now, it’s the House of Representatives against the Senate and the White House. There’s so much back and forth and the American people are suffering for it. We’ve passed over twenty-five bipartisan jobs bills in the House but the Senate has yet to vote on them. Meanwhile unemployment’s still stuck at over 8% and the national debt keeps growing!

How has the Republican leadership in the House received you; are they sensitive to the local needs of our communities?

Everyone’s been helpful. They understand how hard it is to build an office in the middle of a term. My staff and I have been focused and we’ve come a long way thanks to the supportive House leadership. I’ve already gotten some useful assignments including appointments to the Committees on Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs – all important issues to my constituents. I think everyone’s sensitive to New Yorkers’ needs since 9/11 and it’s my job to get out there, talk to my constituents and bring their concerns to Washington.

What do you think are some of the most important needs in the 9th District and how do you plan to use your new clout as our representative to get them addressed?

Since taking office in mid September, I’ve already had multiple conversations with FEMA representatives about the importance of securing funding to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Irene along Rockaway Beach. I also met with the Army Corps of Engineers last Friday to discuss what’s needed to repair beach erosion and explore solu- tions. I’ll be continuing to work closely with both departments, as well as with New York State and City officials, until we find satisfactory resolutions.

The bridge toll over Jamaica Bay between Rockaway and Broad Channel is another issue weighing on all of us. For twelve years the toll was waived for residents using EZ-pass and was only reinstated in 2010 to close the MTA’s budget deficit. Like other parts of government, the MTA can’t seem to operate in the black despite being funded by taxpayers through the State, City and drivers on the roads. But residents of Queens shouldn’t have to pay a toll to support such bureaucratic profligacy when they’re traveling from one part of their community to another to shop, go to school, use government offices, pay their bills, or see their doctors. I’ve already sent a letter about this to Governor Cuomo and have personally spoken with the new MTA Executive Director Joe Lhota and hopefully we’ll have some good news soon.

What are the greatest problems facing the country and what specific actions or policies do you plan to push for?

Jobs and the economy, first and foremost. Ensuring our allies are protected from a nuclear Iran and making sure our citizens are safe right here at home are very important as well. There are around 26 bills sitting in the Senate right now awaiting votes geared toward lowering taxes, reducing job-killing regulations, and creating new ways for businesses to get capital. Each bill focuses on a specific area to help business men and women start or grow their businesses because that’s where jobs come from, not from government programs. The Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act (HR 2930), for instance, would open up a new avenue for businesses to raise capital by allowing them to collect investments of up to $5 million through a mechanism known as crowd funding.

We’ve had some successes by the way. We were able to get the 3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act through. It waives the 3% withholding imposed on government contractors to free up more capital for business owners. There was also the VOW to Hire Heroes act which focuses on expanding education and training, improving transition assistance programs, facilitating seamless transition, translating military skills through training, and providing tax credits to those hiring Veterans. One thing that really troubles me, by the way, was the failure to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment. You always hear about people having to balance their checkbooks and live within their means but government gets away without doing that all the time. It borrows money from one country and gives it to another and American taxpayers pick up the bill on the debt.

Internationally, there’s no bigger threat to us and our allies right now than a nuclear Iran. We just can’t afford to let them get the capability to produce even one bomb. No other country’s been more vocal in its hatred of the United States and Israel. It’s not an easy problem but we have to keep everything on the table now because the penalty for letting the nuclear genie out of the Iranian bottle will be especially dire, given the track record and statements of that regime. That’s why I’m already co-sponsoring the Iran Threat Reduction Act to expand the list of sanctions available to our government and make it harder for Iran to access capital and sell oil.

You had made it a point during your campaign to say you’re not a career politician. Do you think you can do everything in a single year or will you need to run again, for a full term?

I’d like to stay until I feel I’ve done my part to help create jobs for New Yorkers and improve our kids’ futures, so I plan to run for at least another term. After that we’ll see. I’ve got a big family and lots of grandkids and I miss them more than I like to admit.

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