Herrera Beutler talks deficit, bridge at first town hall

New congresswoman recaps first 3 weeks in office at Battle Ground

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Transportation panel chief to visit Vancouver

The chairman of the U.S. House Committee that will write the next six-year federal transportation budget will hold a “listening session” in Vancouver on Feb. 21, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler announced this week. The time and the place have not yet been announced.

U.S. Rep. John L. Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will lead the session, one of several to be held around the nation as the committee begins work on a new transportation reauthorization bill. Supporters of the Columbia River Crossing, led by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have been working for years to make sure the project is included on the project funding list.

Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, is a member of the transportation committee. She said she asked Mica to schedule the Vancouver session. While not mentioning the Columbia River Crossing specifically, she said in a statement, “This meeting offers our region a tremendous chance to tell Congress about our region’s transportation and infrastructure challenges, and advance our solutions. Chairman Mica deserves credit for acting on the belief that the best ideas originate in local communities — not in D.C. agencies with federal bureaucrats. Having a well-maintained, efficient transportation system will be a boon to Southwest Washington’s economic recovery.”

— Kathie Durbin

BATTLE GROUND — U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler found favor with her conservative base Thursday evening at her first Clark County town hall meeting since taking office one month ago.

A friendly crowd of nearly 300 filled the Battle Ground Community Center auditorium to hear the 32-year-old Republican congresswoman describe her first three weeks on the job and her determination to “reverse America’s march to bankruptcy.”

Herrera Beutler displayed a chart showing the projected growth in the federal deficit and said she has already voted to reduce federal spending to pre-2008 levels and co-sponsored a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

“It’s going to require sacrifice,” she said. “We’re going to have to have the stomach for it.”

She didn’t identify what specific cuts she would favor but did say, “We’re not talking about the safety net.”

Asked her view on the funding and construction of a new Columbia River Crossing, likely the most significant federal issue she will face over the next two years, Herrera said she supports a new bridge but will take her direction from her constituents.

“I agree that this issue is huge,” she said. “We can’t afford to get this wrong. I believe we need a safe bridge that moves people and freight efficiently. Beyond that, I have not had enough answers about what it looks like and how it will be funded.”

Herrera Beutler, a member of the House Transportation Committee, noted that the committee’s chairman will be in Vancouver on Feb. 21 to listen to the views of residents of the 3rd Congressional District about the project.

“The whole purpose for this listening session is for you to tell us what you want,” she said. “I want the chairman of the committee to hear from you. I believe we need something, but we don’t need it at any price.”

She drew applause for her vote in favor of repealing the health reform bill, which she asserted will drive up the deficit by $2 trillion over time. “It’s an entitlement,” she said. “It goes on and on.”

She acknowledged that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted the sweeping reform bill would be revenue-neutral, but said Democrats gave the CBO incomplete information that produced a flawed result.

Most members of Congress in both parties want to make sure the nation’s most vulnerable people have access to health care, she asserted. “Where you find a difference in Congress is how we get there.”

She said she has not yet made up her mind whether to vote in favor of raising the nation’s debt ceiling and suggested that she might support it only if it required the nation to “cut up its credit card.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congressional Republicans on Thursday not to “play around with” a coming vote to raise the government’s legal borrowing limit or use it as a bargaining chip for spending cuts. Siding with the Obama administration in the fight over the debt ceiling, which the government is on course to hit in April or May, he said the limit should be raised without conditions. Some Republicans have insisted on immediate spending cuts in exchange for raising the limit.

Herrera Beutler said she is excited to be part of the huge freshman class in the 112th Congress, which includes 87 Republican House members and nine Democrats. About half the new Republicans have never before held elective office.

“I really sense that people left their jobs and families to come deal with the worst financial situation we’ve ever seen,” she said. “They expect to be judged.”

But she hinted that the early relationship between the newcomers and the entrenched leadership has not always been smooth.

Asked what her biggest surprise has been, she said it’s the realization that some of her biggest challenges will be with the old guard of her own party.

“I represent just as many people, if not more,“ than some House leaders, she said. “I came in on a strong Republican wave.”

She said that at a recent retreat, she told the leadership, “The reason I ran, the reason I won, was because I talked about fiscal responsibility.” She said she got up her courage and asked House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders whether the nation will get real reform or just more Republican promises.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.