Herrera Beutler optimistic about money for I-5 Bridge

Federal funds likely to be available when project set, she says

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

Published:

 

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said when the time comes to move forward on replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge, she believes federal funding will be available to help pay for it.

In an interview with The Columbian’s editorial board on Tuesday, Herrera Beutler touched on a variety of topics, including Clark County’s most noteworthy piece of aging infrastructure and the federal dollars that would pay for a chunk of its replacement.

“There’s no reason it won’t be there in the future, because there was nothing special about (the funds). It was an ongoing grant program that we’re going to continue,” Herrera Beutler said. “You’re even hearing a Republican president talk about the needs for infrastructure, so all the signs point to the same amount that there was.”

The canceled Columbia River Crossing project was slated to cost about $3 billion, with $850 million coming through the federal New Starts grant program. Tolls and contributions from Washington and Oregon were also major parts of the funding plan.

Here are some of the other topics the Camas Republican discussed:

Town halls

A group of people have rented Foster Auditorium at Clark College on Thursday and invited Herrera Beutler to attend a town hall meeting they have organized.

She won’t be there.

She said one reason is the meeting sounds like a campaign event — she’s heard other potential congressional candidates will attend and speak — and she cannot mix her public duties with campaigning.

However, Herrera Beutler has faced ongoing criticism for not holding more traditional in-person town halls. Her last one in Clark County was Jan. 16.

She said she meets with plenty of Democrats and liberal groups individually and in small groups, and added that people thank her for finding different ways to connect with the public, such as telephone town halls. She held one of those this week.

Thousands participate in the telephone town halls, she said, and people are not screened before they ask their questions. She said anyone is invited to participate in the call.

In fact, people have said, ” ‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity to not be shouted down,’ ” she said. She’s also been holding video conferences from Washington, D.C.

She did say she expects to hold more in-person public meetings in the future.

“In-person meetings are going to be a mainstay of our system,” she said, adding later, “Some Republicans made great political theater of it in 2010 and I think Dems are returning the favor, but I don’t think that’s new to the republic.”

After the editorial board meeting, Herrera Beutler added the majority of feedback she receives about her town halls is positive.

“I know some people disagree and want it done differently (but) the majority of people I serve approve of the way I do it,” she said.

Herrera Beutler secured her fourth term in November by capturing 62 percent of the vote in her seven-county district, including 59 percent in Clark County.

Health care

Herrera Beutler was one of the Republicans who wouldn’t support the House GOP’s proposed Affordable Care Act replacement bill, saying it left too many vulnerable citizens behind. When it became apparent the bill lacked enough votes to pass the House, it was pulled from consideration.

“We have to get it right,” she said. “We have to come back and do it again.”

One of the first votes the congresswoman took was to repeal Obamacare, and Herrera Beutler said she’s continuing to work to replace the law. She believes the current system puts too much pressure on Medicaid, has driven up costs and has limited access for patients. She’s pushing for a measure that would allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines, similar to auto insurance, a more free-market approach to offer several options. She also wants to give small businesses the ability to join forces and negotiate better rates with health plans.

“The notion that you get to just walk away from this … It’s central to every family in America, it means we are going to have to come back and try another route,” she said.

She has voted previously to defund Planned Parenthood.

“It’s down to whether people want to see federal funds used for abortions,” she said, something that federal law doesn’t currently permit. However, she opposes all funding for Planned Parenthood because, shes said, it doesn’t offer well-rounded health care. For example, all their clinics aren’t treating women for breast cancer or heart disease.

The border wall

“I don’t have a problem with a wall,” Herrera Beutler said when asked about immigration and President Donald Trump’s proposal to wall off Mexico. “It’s not radical to want to know who is coming in or out of our country.”

But as a member of the Appropriations Committee, Herrera Beutler is interested in who would pay for Trump’s proposal.

“I’m waiting for that check from Mexico,” she said.

President Trump

Herrera Beutler previously announced she didn’t vote for Trump. On Tuesday, she said she’s appreciated his efforts pull back regulations she sees as problematic to job growth. She’s also been pleased to hear he’s emphasized the need for investing in infrastructure.

It’s unclear where Trump will land on the issue of dealing with recreational marijuana. But she was personally opposed to its legalization.

She’s looking forward to seeing a more long-term strategy when it comes to Syria and overall, she doesn’t mind Trump’s unorthodox approach.

“People just want to see results,” she said after the meeting.

And she does believe Trump should release his tax returns.

“It’s a good tradition,” she said.