SALEM - Sixth District U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson said his main focus remains jobs and the economy, but he'll be working on both through his new assignment on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Johnson visited the Salem News on a trip through the area Friday, discussing his new committee, the fiscal cliff, the need for spending cuts and the need for the Senate to pass a budget.
His three subcommittees under Energy and Commerce include: Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; Environment and Economy; and Oversight and Investigations.
With oil and gas so much in the news in the area related to the shale industry, he said "lots of opportunities are coming our way."
Much of his congressional area is heavy into oil and natural gas right now and there's a need for affordable energy. He said we live in the manufacturing belt and many businesses have left for various reasons, whether tax burdens or overregulation, and some now can't afford skyrocketing energy costs. He said there are lots of energy issues.
Health care also falls under Energy and Commerce. His plan is to start holding seminars and roundtable events to help businesses understand the implications of the Affordable Care Act and how they can navigate its many requirements. One of the big issues he said they'll be working to repeal from the Affordable Care Act is creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member panel of what Johnson called bureaucrats who would be making decisions about medical care.
Johnson will no longer be on the Veterans Affairs committee, but said he'll still remain involved in issues facing veterans. A quarterly newsletter is being put together to send to veterans in the district.
The Republican congressman just started his second term and said the message he's been hearing from his constituents is "stop the government spending disease." He said the way to do that is to pass legislation. He recently voted in favor of HR 325, the No Budget No Pay Act which requires both the House and the Senate to pass a budget or not get paid.
The House has passed budgets, but he said it's been almost four years since the Senate passed one. He said if they could get the Senate to pass a budget, they could conference and "come up with a spending plan that will be accountable to the American people," one that has cuts in it.
When asked how things can change when it's the same president and the same Congress, he said it's not the same Congress, noting there are 83 new members in the House. He said some of the same gridlock ideas exist in Washington, such as higher taxes and more government spending, but he said "that's not the formula we believe is right for America."
When it came to the fiscal cliff, he said the legislation was far from perfect and didn't include spending cuts, but did keep tax rates low for 99 percent of the American people. He said it kept the estate tax at a $5 million cap, made incentives for small businesses permanent, tied the alternative minimum tax to the inflation rate and prevented the skyrocketing of milk prices.
"I didn't vote for it because I liked it. I voted yes because most of the things in it affected people in our district," he said. "It was the better of the bad alternatives."
When asked what kind of spending cuts he wanted to see, he said there's all kinds of waste in the federal government with duplication from agencies doing the same work. He talked about concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency and what it's doing to businesses and communities who are suffering under mandates. When it comes to education, he said who knows better than local educators what children need, saying money in the Department of Education should be given back to the states.
He said as a father and a grandfather, his heart breaks for the families and victims and those involved in the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., noting there's a culture of violence in America and it's everybody's responsibility to make sure children are safe.
He said he supports efforts to identify the mentally challenged and make sure they're diagnosed and treated. He said local authorities know best how to protect their schools.
What he said he does not support is those who use First Amendment rights such as Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press to advocate restricting law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights.
He criticized President Obama's use of executive orders, saying it's a way to circumvent Congress.
"America is a republic based on rule of law, not on the law of rules," he said.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org