Press-Republican

August 23, 2013

Congressman eyes agency reform

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Congressman Bill Owens says the National Security Agency and Internal Revenue Service both need drastic improvements in their operations to avoid problems like those recently uncovered.

“They didn’t know, which tells you that their audit controls were inadequate,” he said in reference to the case involving Edward Snowden, a former NSA contract worker who leaked details of top-secret U.S. and British government mass-surveillance programs.

Owens was speaking to a crowd of about 75 people who attended a “town hall” meeting at Clinton Community College earlier this week.

The Democrat from Plattsburgh took questions for about an hour on topics including the Farm Bill, oil pipelines, the Affordable Health-Care Act and national security.

‘IRS SCREWED UP’

Owens said the NSA situation has raised red flags in Washington, and he is hopeful that stricter controls will be installed.

“There is now a broader scope of people saying we need to check things,” he said.

When the matter of the IRS appearing to target conservative groups for audits over progressive groups came up, Owens said the organization needs to clean up its act and treat both sides fairly.

“Clearly, the IRS screwed up. There is no doubt about that,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen under any circumstance.”

HEALTH-CARE ACT

Owens said he voted in favor of the Affordable Health-Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, because it was the most reasonable approach available to solving the health-care crisis.

The bill is not perfect, he said, but he did read all 2,500 pages of it before voting on it, and he believes it will lead to better health-care outcomes for patients and savings for consumers and health-insurance companies.

As far as repealing Obamacare, Owens said he is not in favor of that because there is no alternative ready.

“Repeal and replace does not exist,” he said.

He said the topic is still at the center of many heated debates in Washington.

“Republicans don’t want to make changes to it because that would be acknowledging that it even exists, and Democrats don’t want to make changes because they don’t want to go down that slippery slope.”

ENERGY SOURCE

Owens also said he supports the Keystone Pipeline as a way of securing an oil supply for the future.

The pipeline transports oil from northern Alberta in Canada to the United States, particularly the Gulf Coast of Texas. The first two phases of the pipeline are in operation, the third is under construction, and the fourth awaits U.S. approval.

With demand for oil rising in China and India, the United States will need more sources for oil, and the pipeline offers a safe way of delivering it to U.S. markets.

“That oil is going to move, no matter what,” he said.

“While no way of transporting it is 100 percent safe, this is a safer way to move it.”

CAMPAIGN REFORM

Owens also said he doubts there will be any serious campaign finance reform because there are only about 75 swing seats in the House, and both sides want to be able to spend as much money as necessary to win them.

He also doubts a new Farm Bill will be passed this year or that sequestration will be ended.

“It’s a bad way to govern,” he said.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com