Kansas delegation preparing for showdown in Congress over budget, debt ceiling

08/19/2013 2:06 PM

08/20/2013 12:31 PM

A showdown is looming in Washington, D.C., this fall over the debt, health care and tax reform, say members of Kansas’ all-Republican congressional delegation.

They participated in a panel discussion at the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association annual meeting Monday in Wichita. Members of Congress at the event included Reps. Mike Pompeo of Wichita, Tim Huelskamp of Fowler, Lynn Jenkins of Topeka and Kevin Yoder of Overland Park. Sen. Pat Roberts also was part of the panel.

Two coming key votes – passing a federal budget before it expires Oct. 1, and raising the federal debt ceiling sometime in October – give Republicans leverage to force changes, Jenkins told a room packed with members of the oil and gas industry.

“Republicans are not going to fold like a cheap suit, like we have on a couple of occasions,” Jenkins said. “We are going to try to fix the problem, and the only way to fix the problem is to fix the tax code and some of our autopilot spending programs like Medicare and Obamacare.”

She also warned those in the room that the oil and gas industry, as well as corporate jet-makers, face a potential loss of tax breaks from a push for legislation to simplify the tax code, lower tax rates, eliminate loopholes and raise revenue.

But what’s keeping the Republicans from being more unified on the debt and the Affordable Care Act, she said, is that each of the 218 House Republicans has his or her own opinion on the best tactics. Some worry that the public will blame them for a government shutdown, while others are willing to allow a shutdown if it’s only for a few days, and still others are willing to shut government down until they win their point.

That means a splintered Republican front.

Huelskamp said that he, for one, was willing to do what it takes to force change.

“I don’t believe in shutting down the government, but I do believe in shutting down Obamacare,” he said.

Jenkins said the stakes are high. If the Affordable Care Act goes into effect and gains political support in the population, she said, it will become difficult to change or kill.

“Once this thing is out of the chute, the only place it’s going to go is toward single payer,” Jenkins said. “There is no way you unwind it.”

Roberts agreed. It’s already changing the medical sector, he said. The number of hospital mergers is up, and many doctors have switched to becoming hospital employees. That, he said, is an HMO.

“This is one step removed from national health insurance,” Roberts said “We have to stop this.”

In response to a business owner in the audience who said he was told his health insurance would cost 40 percent more after January, Roberts was sympathetic.

“That’s just nightmarish,” he said. “That’s terrible. That’s what we’re facing.”

Pompeo said the reality of the Affordable Care Act is already beginning to help Republicans make their case.

“Americans are starting to see the true facts of the Affordable Care Act … and it’s not what the president told them it would be,” he said.

On other points, the Republicans had this to say:

• Roberts said Republicans could win enough races in 2014 to gain a majority in the Senate, but that might not be enough to drive their agenda consistently.

“It’s possible that we could gain six seats,” he said. “To make a difference we really need 10. If we get a majority, we’ll get three or four who hold out and want something.”

• Roberts said he supports Janet Yellen to replace Ben Bernanke when his term as chairman of the Federal Reserve expires at the end of January.

Yellen, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, is widely considered to be vying with former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers for that key job.

Roberts said Yellen has more support in the Senate, which must approve the appointment.

“I wouldn’t want Larry Summers to mow my yard,” Roberts said. “He’s terribly controversial and brusque and I don’t think he works well with either side of the aisle, quite frankly.”

But he expressed reservations about Yellen, as well.

“She’s very solid in how she approaches fiscal matters, the economy and the Fed, but you need a very strong leader and I’m not sure she has that capability,” he said.

• Earlier in the day, KIOGA members heard from Art Horn, a former television meteorologist and former staff member of Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn., who now speaks to groups nationwide about climate change.

Horn slammed the conventional view that the sharp rise in carbon dioxide in recent decades is leading to changes in the climate. He contended that what passes as a warming climate and more extreme weather is really only natural variability, rather than man-made phenomena.

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