Rising Star, Varied Stripes
Now that Jaime Herrera Beutler will have more say over federal spending, particularly in the area of transportation, she said she'll advocate for a redesign of the Columbia River Crossing project that excludes light rail.
The CRC project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, extending a light rail line from Portland into Vancouver, and rebuild five miles of freeway surrounding the bridge. Supporters of the project said redesigning it would set the project back years.
"I'm pushing for a transit option that people here want, and they've said it's not light rail," she said recently. "We can get federal money for transit and federal money for highways. But, you know what? People are going to have to change their mind a little bit on what they thought they were going to get."
There will be plenty of other policy fights for Herrera Beutler to face as the 113th Congress takes off this month. The nation's leaders are expected to grapple with policies regarding the debt ceiling, government spending and gun control.
That last topic brings Herrera Beutler back to an unnerving moment in her life. When the congresswoman was in her early 20s, she and her housemates fell victim to an attempted burglary. She recalled huddling in the kitchen with the young women she lived with, listening to a man try to open numerous doors and windows on their house.
The women had called for help, but "we were miles from anybody coming," Herrera Beutler said. With no firearms in the house, she remembered thinking: "We have no way of protecting ourselves."
The man eventually left on his own.
It was one of several times he tried to get into Herrera Beutler's house. On one occasion, he did get inside, but nobody was home.
Following that incident, the first peaceful night's sleep she had came after her brother taught her how to use a gun. These days, Herrera Beutler and her husband, Daniel Beutler, own multiple guns, including one with an extended ammunition clip.
"It's a home-protection device," she said.
Herrera Beutler said she leans more toward trying to fix the nation's mental health system rather than placing additional regulations on gun ownership. In many cases, people who kill en masse don't even own the guns they used in the shooting, she said.
Instead, the common denominator in mass shootings is that the perpetrators "have had mental health problems or have had major, significant family dysfunction," she said.
Herrera Beutler also said she plans to dig in her heels during round two of the fiscal cliff debates. Across-the-board automatic spending cuts are expected to kick in about a month from now unless Congress comes up with a better spending-reduction plan.
Herrera Beutler said Congress should be focused on reducing spending rather than increasing revenue, and she won't support increasing the nation's debt ceiling unless Congress makes a serious commitment to spending reductions. The country's $16 trillion debt is one of the reasons she wanted to be on the Appropriations Committee.