GREENVILLE — Three committees, 30+ bills, 130+ votes … and the hope for a budget that balances in 10 years.
Those are just a few numbers that represent John Moolenaar’s first 10 weeks in office as representative for Michigan’s 4th District, which covers multiple counties in the state’s northern and central region, including Gratiot, Isabella, Mecosta and Montcalm counties.
The Republican Congressman from Midland sat down with The Daily News editorial board earlier this week to discuss his thoughts about the past few months and his hopes for the future.
Moolenaar has been appointed to three House committees — agriculture, budget and science, space and technology. He is vice chairman of a subcommittee on research and technology for science, space and technology, which has jurisdiction over scientific research and federal policy. He’s also on two subcommittees (nutrition and biotechnology, horticulture and research).
“They all fit the district really well,” Moolenaar said of his appointments.
The Agriculture Committee may be one of the most appropriate, as the 4th District is Michigan’s No. 1 agriculture producing district with more than 10,000 farms and 15,000 farm operators.
However, “the budget committee right now is the front and center priority,” Moolenaar noted.
Balancing the budget
The United States currently faces $18 trillion in debt. On Thursday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of Obama’s proposed $4 trillion annual budget. Moolenaar said the analysis shows the President’s budget adds trillions more in crushing new debt during the next 10 years and raises taxes by more than $1 trillion.
“It never balances,” he pointed out.
On Tuesday, Moolenaar and his fellow House Republicans will present a budget which they say prioritizes government spending and balances within 10 years without raising taxes. Moolenaar said the proposed budget would put the nation on a sustainable path and boost the slow-growing economy.
“The process has been quite dysfunctional these past few years,” he said. “We need a budget process that puts up guardrails and sets targets for spending. We need to work on reforms that are sustainable in the long term, but also work on current spending. I think if we can get a budget that balances over time and regular appropriations bills that are passed, we can make improvements. We’re trying to get back to at least a functioning system, which will improve accountability.”
Checks and balances
Speaking of accountability, Moolenaar believes Congress is charged with the crucial responsibility of keeping Obama answerable on multiple contentious questions of late, from the budget to immigration to healthcare reform.
“I think Congress has an important role of oversight and we need to do a better job of that,” Moolenaar said. “When the President takes actions unilaterally, I think Congress has a role to do a shared balance of power and checks and balances. We believe in Congress the President’s unilateral actions are not Constitutional, they’re illegal.”
Democrats were outspoken in their displeasure at Republican House Speaker John Boehner inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress last week.
However, Moolenaar viewed the prime minister’s message as “a clear and stirring reminder” of the threat Israel faces in the Middle East. Moolenaar believes the United States must be resolute in supporting Israel and opposing Iran’s bid for nuclear weapons.
“There is a bipartisan concern about whatever deal the President would negotiate with Iran,” he said. “The speaker got some criticism for inviting Netanyahu … but at the end of the day, the President is interested in negotiating a deal. Most of us are concerned about what kind of a deal he would negotiate. The concern raised by the prime minister and many in Congress is no deal is better than a bad deal. We ought to have a way to communicate that and we ought to have Israel, who’s been a steadfast ally in that region, we ought to hear their message, we shouldn’t keep them out of the decision. They have a lot at stake when another country says their goal is complete annihilation and they’re developing major weapons.”
Moolenaar said increased sanctions are preferential to military action, but more extreme measures may be necessary if the situation continues to escalate into a nuclear race.
“I think on an issue like this, there is an urgency,” he said. “We’ve all seen a nuclear Korea and the risk that poses. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that’s going to encourage all these other countries in that region to get nuclear weapons. It’s a powder keg, literally.”
“I think it’s better to have a public debate,” he summarized. “The prime minister has an important message that people need to hear.”
Meeting a true American
On a positive note, Moolenaar said one of the highlights of his first months in office came last week when he walked from the Capitol building to his office with Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia.
Lewis was one of the civil rights leaders who was severely beaten by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965 … what would later come to be known as Bloody Sunday.
Despite sustaining a skull fracture in the incident, Lewis appeared on television calling on President Lyndon Johnson to intervene, before Lewis was taken to a hospital. Lewis went on to be elected to the Atlanta City Council and then to Congress.
“What a privilege to be able to serve with him,” Moolenaar said. “He’s one of the most gracious, humble people I’ve met. You just couldn’t have a better example of an American than John Lewis.”
To contact Moolenaar’s office, call (989) 631-2552 in Midland or visit moolenar.house.gov online.
Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, took the oath of office on Jan. 6. Since then, he’s stayed busy representing Michigan’s 4th District. Here’s a few highlights:
• He is vice chairman of the subcommittee on research and technology as part of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and he serves on two subcommittees (Nutrition and Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research) of the House Committee on Agriculture.
• He voted to block funding for Obama’s executive actions on immigration, while providing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. A federal judge has delayed the implementation of Obama’s immigration actions for the time being.
• He spoke out against Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline legislation, which previously passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support. Moolenaar believes the legislation would have supported good-paying jobs and improved the nation’s energy security and he called on Congress to override Obama’s veto.
• He voted in favor of America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act, which reduces the tax burden for farms and small businesses. Moolenaar said the legislation will help ensure small businesses are able to plan with certainty and fairly value their assets on their tax returns.
• He voiced opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s new rules for regulating the Internet, calling them “wholly unwarranted” and “heavy-handed,” saying they will have a “chilling effect on American innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit that makes our nation great.”
• He teamed up with Sen. Gary Peters and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, to send a joint letter to the Environmental Protection Agency expressing their concern about a five-acre burn pit in St. Louis, Mich., formerly used by chemical companies to burn and dispute of industrial waste, including DDT. The site is eligible for federal cleanup funding and the senators and representative expressed their concern that the EPA’s proposed clean-up plan fell short.
• He became a member of the I-69 Caucus, a bipartisan group in support of the completion of Interstate 69 which, when finished, would stretch from Port Huron to the U.S.-Mexico border. Moolenaar believes continued development of the interstate would specifically benefit Clinton and Shiawassee counties, as well as the entire region.
• He questioned Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan regarding funding to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp. Moolenaar believes Obama’s budget spends too much money on new, untested programs, while cutting funding that would protect the Great Lakes.