WASHINGTON — Jason Smith, Missouri’s newest member of Congress, enjoyed his first legislative success this week when the House adopted his amendment giving Congress veto power over any new regulation under the Affordable Care Act.
By BILL LAMBRECHT
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Never mind that the amendment and a slew of proposals in the same vein have no hope of passing the Senate, let alone being signed by the president.
Smith, R-Salem, entered Congress during a season in which the GOP-run House displays little interest in forging bipartisan coalitions. (Smith’s amendment got six Democratic votes.)
Political stands are the currency of the realm and sending political messages is today’s method of operation. In the case of the new health care law, the message from Smith and many others is that their constituents don’t want “Obamacare,” even with preparations well underway.
“There wasn’t a bigger issue in my campaign than Obamacare. Everyone I talk to, every business, a lot of family farmers, are concerned about how this will affect them,” Smith says
Smith won a special election in June to replace Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican who resigned her seat to head the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. After reapportionment, Smith’s vast 8th District, which takes in all or parts of 30 counties, has crept northward to within 22 miles of St. Louis County.
As an avid conservative, Smith brings a different approach than Emerson, a moderate who headed an alliance of lawmakers working to advance bipartisanship.
Before heading east, Smith was a majority whip in the Missouri General Assembly. At 33, Missouri’s newest member of Congress also is among the youngest; just one Republican and four Democrats in the House are younger.
He is part of a new generation of Republicans taking Congress in a different direction as Washington lurches once again toward a government shutdown this fall amid seemingly intractable differences.
In one of Smith’s early initiatives, he was a leader in a fight that forced the Interior Department to rescind a designation of the White River in Arkansas and Missouri as part of the National Blueways System promoting tourism and economic development.
This week, Smith talked about his first weeks in the House and his priorities in the months — and years — ahead during an interview in his Washington office.
Q: Do you have an overriding impression or two of Congress?
A: It can be disappointing to see how slow things work. But it can also be scary about how fast things go. Here, a bill can be filed and on the floor virtually in 24 hours. In Missouri, it takes several days.
Q: You’re trying hard to get to know other members. Not everybody around here does that.
A: In order to be effective up here, it’s about relationships. And I can’t work with the other 434 members if I don’t know who they are and what our common interests are. So we’ve been going around and meeting members of both parties. I ask them all the same question: What’s the advice you can give the newest guy on the block?
Q: Has anything surprised you?
A: There haven’t been any big surprises. One of the biggest frustrations is how out of control the agencies are. Rogue would be a good word. Because at the state level, there’s a lot of accountability the agencies have to the General Assembly.
Q: You seem to be charting a more conservative course than Jo Ann Emerson.
A: I’m definitely more conservative; that’s just what’s in my core. That said, I strongly believe in cooperating. You can cooperate and not compromise your core values. But I’m a realist with the philosophy that sometimes you’ve got to take bites out of the apple instead of the whole apple.
Q: You were the only Missouri Republican who voted recently for an amendment to outlaw the National Security Agency’s data-mining. (It failed.) What did that vote tell us about Jason Smith?
A: The best thing it tells you is that if I believe that an amendment is right, I’ll support it regardless of whether my colleagues are with me or not. I’ve had more response on that vote than any vote I’ve taken so far up here, people calling and saying thank you. I felt we needed to send a message to the NSA that we don’t want them invading our privacy.
Q: A lot of what the House does these days is send messages with a lot of legislation that has no possibility of reaching the president’s desk. Is that time well spent?
A: Let me give you an example of a bill I voted on yesterday, on student interest loans. People thought the House position would never pass the Senate, that it would be dead on arrival. Now it is on the president’s desk. So a lot of times, people may perceive certain bills as messages because people think they may not pass, but they may.
Q: Are you among those who think we shouldn’t fund the government after Sept. 30 if it includes money to implement the Affordable Care Act?
A: Hopefully, Congress will do its job and pass their appropriations bills before the end of September; that’s what we’re sent up here to do. I don’t think anyone in this building wants to shut down the government. But I think we need to do everything we can to make sure that Obamacare is not funded. But shutting down government is not the answer.
Q: The Interior Department insists that the Blueways designations have nothing to do with property rights. You obviously see it much differently.
A: I totally disagree. The devil is in the details … When you look at the plan, trying to create a 180-foot buffer zone along the river drastically affects property rights. That would affect livestock. That would affect water and crops. It’s more regulations, without a doubt. And one of the big concerns is the federal government purchasing more of the land.
Q: You’re quite young in the political game. Where do you expect to be in 10 years? A 10-year veteran of Congress?
A: I want to be very effective up here. In order to best serve your constituents, everything is longevity. I have to build these relationships and I’m hoping to do some good things for our district.
Q: It’s not like the old days when Jo Ann Emerson would have her list of earmarks. It’s much harder to have an impact these days.
A: There are two things I would like to see done. One is true regulation reform. There are over 170,000 pages of regulations in Washington, D.C. I want to streamline the rules in the federal government to basically allow businesses to grow without fear of burdensome federal regulations. That’s a passion to me, regulatory reform. Secondly, we need to get our fiscal house in order, balance the budget and reduce spending.