Press-Republican

January 9, 2013

Owens discusses Congressional priorities

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The “fiscal cliff” has only been shoved back for a time.

In Plattsburgh Tuesday, Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) said resolution of the delayed sequestration cuts and debt-ceiling negotiations are the immediate priority as Congress moves into the new year.

The agreement passed at the start of 2013 to delay sequestration — nearly across-the-board cuts of $1 trillion over 10 years — only added two months to the process.

Those cuts would have broad impacts on local communities as well as the nation, Owens said, including areas such as education and border fluidity. There would be an impact on local services but also employee reductions that would result in less income to be spent in the region.

Owens sees a number of ways to reduce spending. He said allowing Medicare to negotiate its own prescription drug purchases could save $40 billion to $60 billion over that time. A focus on preventive health care, as provided for in the Affordable Health Care Act, could bring another $10 billion in savings. 

HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS MEMBER

The congressman said he hopes to work with other members of Congress to push more issues toward bipartisan solutions, but he sees that as a difficult process.

“I think there are more ways to cut federal spending and make government more efficient,” Owens said.

As examples, he said, the U.S. General Accountability Office has studies that show there are 84 programs that evaluate teachers and more than 50 that deal with veterans’ job training.

Owens, who was recently sworn in to serve what is now the 21st Congressional District, said he is in the process of visiting people and businesses in the district, particularly the new areas. 

He is excited to have been named to the 50-member House Appropriations Committee. That body has a hand in providing funding for departments such as agriculture, education, Homeland Security, Armed Forces and others that receive federal funds.

While members are not allowed to serve on other committees, Owens said, he hopes to be named to the House Appropriation subcommittees that address the issues of those he had to give up: the Armed Forces and agricultural committees. 

“Those have real impacts on our district,” he said.

GUN CONTROL

The Newtown school shooting and other recent tragedies prompted President Barack Obama to appoint a commission to study gun control and proposals to prevent future mass-casualty incidents. 

Owens said he wants to see what results come from that effort before he takes a position on the issue. Input from people on both sides of the issue should be included in any proposed legislation, he said.

Any proposed bills should also include a thorough study of their potential effectiveness, the congressman said. Are there should be discussion of the impact of mental-health issues on the problem, as that seems to be an underlying cause of many such shootings.

“We have to be careful we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction,” Owens said.

With the House still under Republican control, he doesn’t expect legislation to make it to the floor for consideration, he said.

POOR FARM BILL

Owens said the Farm Bill extension from late last year was poorly crafted and passed for purely political reasons. 

“It was not in the best interest of farmers or consumers in the long term,” he said.

He hopes Congress will look at a new Farm Bill within the next one to two months, but it is more likely the issue will again wait until the current extension expires at the end of 2013.

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com