Peter Welch was in Rutland today to speak with the editorial board of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. We asked him what the highlights of this congress have been for him.
He spoke about the effort in the last year working on federal waivers for FEMA funding after Irene, and said that several Republicans and their floor staffs ended up being very helpful in this regard, including Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, and Chip Gibson of New York.
Welch was part of a “Group of 10″, a bipartisan effort to come to some agreement on the budget and debt.
“I was asked, because I’m seen as somebody who does good work, that’s what it boils down to,” he said. “It’s just my way of operating. And I spend a fair amount of time on the floor on the other side.”As to what has to happen for there to be a critical mass to create a different atmosphere in Congress, Welch said, “The biggest impediment is the debt.”
Issues surrounding money, he said, get the backs of the Republican majority up so much that it becomes extremely difficult to find common ground.
“I think that having a grand bargain on the debt would be of critical importance in addressing the debt, and of critical importance in …an institution working on problem solving rather than partisan warfare,” he said. “What I can control is what I can do. I can try to do it by the way I operate….it’s not complicated. It’s the way you do things in Vermont.”
He contrasted the gotcha-style theater of committee hearings in Washington (Welch is on the Government Oversight Committee, chaired by Republican Darryl Issa, which has held repeated, controversial hearings on Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department) with the more constructive work done in Vermont, where what happens in the committee rooms is actually productive, he said.
“We don’t really have serious debate on the floor….” he said. “One of the challenges I had was to deal with that structural impediment.”
However, he said there was some ‘open-mindedness’ on the Farm Bill, which did not make it out of the Senate. Where does the farm bill stall leave Vermonters?
Ironically, Welch said it’s Eric Cantor who is holding up the bill, in part due to worries over having sufficient votes. It’s “internal Republican politics,” Welch said. He believes there may be an effort to push more food stamp cuts through if the bill makes the floor, and Cantor does not want to risk it.
“It’s his decision…The spending issue for the Republicans is the point they’re always trying to make.”
Welch would like the House to let the process on the farm bill run its course. “This is the first time in the history of the House that the Ag committee passed the farm bill and the House has not taken it up on the floor,” he said. “We should be doing our job.”
What’s critical to his job?
“Maintaining close contact with Vermonters who are scratching their heads at what’s going on in the federal government,” he said. “…Our on the ground availability I regard as an extremely important part of my job.”
He has a more positive view of the Dems’ chances in the House races Nov. 6 than most pundits seem to have.
“There’s a chance we could win the House… most people think that to win the house we have to pick up 35 seats, not 25, because we have some [members] …who are pretty vulnerable,” he said. “I think we will make gains.”
What has he heard is on Vermonters’ minds?
“For a lot of people it meant a lot to them that they could keep their kids on their health care till they’re 26,” he said. “…The debt. Vermonters, we pay our bills….It’s an important issue, I certainly agree with my opponent on that.”
Campaign financing – would he say outright that he does not want any super-PAC spending on his behalf?
“I much prefer the pre-superPAC days altogether,” he said. The new rules mean “…the candidates are not as accountable.”
If you’ve got a superPAC coming in and buying all these ads, he said, the candidate does not have to take responsibility for any negativity.
The issue of climate change has been nonexistent in Congress this term, Welch said. And, the gridlock has been historic in proportion.
“I went in Congress from being one that got the most done since LBJ to one that got the least done,” he said, referring to the first half of President Obama’s term and the second half. “That was a verty productive congrees. A lot of argument, but we got things done.”
The current Congress?
“We passed 150 bills. The ‘Do-Nothing’ congress in the Truman years passed something like 900.”
Welch places the blame for that squarely on the Republicans.
“That was not Obama. That was the Senate leader (Mitch McConnell). Then we had a leadership in the house that was pretty radical…. They repealed health care 33 times…. There was no progress on the budget whatsoever.”