'Recognize The Things We All Care About'

Published 4:05 pm Thursday, January 20, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Heading into this week's vote, freshman Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt was confident the House of Representatives would repeal President Obama's health care reform legislation.

Wednesday night's 245-189 vote confirmed his confidence.

But what about the Senate?

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“A lot of pundits,” the 41-year old said during a telephone interview last week seven days after being sworn in, “say there's no way it will pass the Senate. And maybe it won't. But my position is that the senators are bound to have heard what I felt was a relatively clear message November 2 and they should not disregard the will of the people.

“In my humble opinion,” the Republican continued, “that is a large part of why there was such turnover in congress-because the people felt they were not being listened to. I am hopeful that the Senate will consider all of that and send it down to the White House.”

The Senate has no current plans to take the matter up, however.

As a candidate, Hurt said he would represent all of the people in the Fifth District if elected. How, then, is repealing the health care reform legislation representing those who support President Obama's health care reform?

“I think that, first, I believe the majority of people in the Fifth District do not want the health care law…But that's not to say every issue is poll-driven or a referendum in any way,” he said, adding, “we have a representative democracy.”

Rep. Hurt explained that he believes it is the responsibility of members of Congress to “take the judgment we have and the experience we have and use that” (to vote) in the “best interests” of their constituents.

In his judgment, the election results in November supported the health care reform repeal action begun in the House of Representatives.

Everyone, Rep. Hurt said, wants lower health care costs and greater access to health care and he doesn't believe President Obama's health care reform will achieve those goals.

“I believe it will make it harder, not easier, to get insurance and will blow a ghastly hole in our budget and that's the answer I would give to those who say, 'I wanted it (President Obama's health care reform).”

The goal of the Republican repeal legislation is to “come up with a bill that lives up to the principles…of expanding access to health care while lowering the costs using market-based principles.”

The Chatham resident quickly got his feet wet in Washington, D.C. given the speed with which health care reform repeal was pursued, along with other legislation, such as a balanced budget amendment.

Seeking Bipartisanship

The shooting of fellow house member, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, also dominated the first days of his congressional experience.

With so much national soul searching underway about the tone of political rhetoric, can the shooting become a springboard to a more bipartisan atmosphere in congress?

“I hope so…I think so,” Rep. Hurt said. “It does seem like it's so partisan up here…It seems extremely divided and I think it's incumbent on us to act like adults and be civilized.”

But he is not one to blame any politician's, party's or commentator's political rhetoric for the shootings in Arizona, saying the suspect has “serious problems.”

Without blaming anyone, and without saying there was a political connection at all, however, isn't this a moment for both parties to look their rhetoric in the mirror and create a less partisan atmosphere?

“Absolutely. We should, Lord have mercy, not wait for something like this to take that opportunity,” Rep. Hurt said. “I look forward to looking for ways to work with people. You should recognize those things we all care about.”

Whether a Republican or a Democrat, he said, “I think we all should recognize we're working toward the same goal-a better America.”

Yes, Rep. Hurt continued, policy issues about making a better America may be “hotly contested and there are competing views on how we get there-and that's fine; there should be…But by the same token we must always realize that the people here love their country very much.”

The willingness to be in congress and represent their constituents proves that, he believes.

Learning Curve

New members of Congress have a learning curve and even his experience as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate left him unprepared for some of the procedural differences in Congress.

“Every bill has its own set of rules,” Rep. Hurt said, labeling that “completely foreign” to the General Assembly.

Furthermore, in the House of Delegates anybody can offer an amendment to a piece of legislation and speak on the House floor. Not so in Washington, D.C.

“Here, it is so restricted. You need permission from the party floor managers to speak on a bill…or add an amendment,” said the former Chatham Town Council member.

But he's settling in.

“I feel like it's going very well, but it's sort of chaotic,” he said, apologizing for a delay in the interview because he was looking for an apartment.

“The expense of living is outrageous,” Rep. Hurt said of Washington, D.C.

Balance The Budget

Speaking of expenditures, as a co-sponsor of a balanced budget amendment, where would he make cuts in the federal budget?

“I think we've already started on the right path, but it's not going to happen overnight. We banned earmarks and that's a good place to start,” Rep. Hurt said.

The congressman said he is opposed to earmarks because they are “outside the legislative process” and there is no “public transparency.”

To effectively cut spending, he believes Congress must look at the entire bureaucracy to find savings.

Noting that the executive branch controls federal agencies-and he doesn't expect much budget-cutting cooperation from the Obama administration-Rep. Hurt said Congress must “exercise oversight over the executive branch” to determine spending priorities.

“There is no question we have got to get entitlement spending under control,” he continued, naming Medicare and Medicaid as two budget items he believes must be “taken in hand,” though it will “not be easy.”

Suppose the Congressional earmark process could be reformed, would he reconsider his opposition to a process that has been an effective means of bringing federal funds back to the Fifth District?

“The way I look at it-I will always fight for those priorities in the District that require federal funding if they are, in my judgment, a federal responsibility and it's something that is a wise expenditure,” the congressman replied.

“But I will only do it in the context of a balanced budget,” he continued, saying he was going to “focus like a laser on that problem…but I will always fight for funding in a balanced budget for the Fifth District.”

Rep. Hurt said he “strongly, very strongly believes” expenditures must go through the legislative process, starting as a budget amendment and proceeding through committees.

“That's the only way to assure it's voted on in a transparent manner,” the congressman said.

He described earmarks as a competition for federal funding that means everybody gets what they want instead of priorities being applied to fund some, not all, budget requests from congressional districts.

Repeal health care reform.

Balance the budget.

Find an apartment.

Take the oath of office.

Recite the Constitution on the House floor with other members of Congress, and he recalls Rep. Giffords recited the First Amendment, while his was the 20th amendment.

Find out-though not yet-where the House cafeteria is located (not a priority).

Finalize district office plans.

There is much to learn and much to do. So, yes, it has been a busy first two weeks in the House of Representatives for the Hampden-Sydney College graduate who will travel home to Chatham and his wife, Kathryn and their three sons on weekends.

And there's nothing like taking the oath of office and then gazing around the historic chamber from your own seat in Congress.

“It's an awesome place to stand,” he said of the House floor, “thinking of all the history that has been made in that space and in the Capitol…There are some big shoes to fill.”