For representative, top priority is wrangling debt, passing budget
As a lawmaker in Congress, new U.S. Rep. Scott Perry said it's his job to worry about all of the things that can help or hurt his constituents and the nation.
Perry, a Republican who replaced six-term U.S. Rep. Todd Platts of York County, serves a redrawn district that includes the city of Harrisburg as well as Adams and York counties and parts of Cumberland.
He rattles off a list of worries: jobs and opportunity, climate change, America's position in the world, the fate of military service personnel — of which he is one.
Perry was called to active duty and served overseas during his time as Pennsylvania state representative for the Dillsburg area before deciding to run for higher office.
But every conversation about what needs to happen in the first part of his term comes back to a deficit that is more than $16 trillion and rising.
And the House needs cooperation from the U.S. Senate to get a federal budget passed, Perry said. It's the first step to prioritizing spending and establishing appropriate levels of taxation.
"That is one of the functions of your job as a United States senator — produce a budget," said Perry, who supports cutting off legislators' pay if it doesn't happen.
Perry recently talked about how his first weeks have gone and what his expectations are for the rest of his first term.
Q: Please tell me a little bit of what you've been doing during your first weeks on the job.
A: I kind of liken it to finding yourself plopped into a running dragster if you're a person who's never had a driver's license while the Christmas tree lights, as they call them, are coming down to green.
It goes from zero to very fast very quickly, and it's not the most optimal circumstance, for sure, but it is what it is, and you just have to wrap your brain around it and accept it and do the best you can. … and then we moved right into bills on Hurricane Sandy relief without the benefit of months and months of rhetoric and discussion and consideration, financially and otherwise, on those things.
And so you need to be prepared to read fast and decide fast and hope to make well-informed decisions based on principle and common sense.
You mentioned your vote on Sandy relief. I know a lot of people raised an eyebrow at that. Do you still think that was the right choice?
Absolutely, and I truly believe it was the right choice for me and for people in the district. We're not uncompassionate. I've been a flood victim myself on numerous occasions, having shoveled mud out of the house that we lived in. … We grew up right along the Yellow Breeches Creek, which is fairly flood prone.
From my standpoint, there were a couple of things I was fairly concerned about. First of all, there was no plan and no consideration for how to pay any of this money back.
Another consideration was … it was characterized as emergency relief, and none of this money was going to reach the victims for a year, year and a half.
And then, finally, that the money was going to projects, a certain amount of it, that were completely unrelated. And we're calling this emergency hurricane relief. Let's be genuine, let's be sincere with the American people and tell them what they're getting into when they want to help their neighbor.
What's the sense that the debt ceiling, sequestration and related debates are going to dominate very much of the first part of the session?
The folks that I came in with, these new ladies and gentlemen that I'm meeting and establishing relationships with … many of them on both sides of the aisle, are businesspeople who are very concerned about the fiscal policy of the United States and our continually rising debt and deficits and want to see something done with it.
That being said, we all know that the first 90 days, maybe the first 120 days, we've got some of the big issues: the debt limit, we just moved that about three months down the line; sequestration and continuing resolution (instead of a long-term budget), which every American is concerned about, and every business is particularly concerned about, because they see that affecting the business climate.
What I expect is going to happen, to a certain extent, is that the president is going to keep us off guard or off balance here in the Congress by throwing some other issues in there, including gun control, including immigration.
I don't see him, just based on his actions over the past four years, being too interested in fixing the problems fiscally that this nation has.
If you do get past that, please tell me about what some of your ideas would be to help kick start the economy.
We just saw an uptick, a tenth of a point (in the unemployment rate), 7.9 percent now, and meanwhile GDP just shrank … so while the president is going around touting what a great economy we have, I'm very concerned that this is the new normal. It's unacceptable. This should not be the new normal.
Let's turn to sequestration. It looks like we are headed to a showdown on sequestration. I don't know why we ever agreed to this as a nation.
When the president put this panel (on the issue) together, he said the big things are off the table: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.
We want to save those program(s) … they are running on a collision course with disaster. We want to see those things are made solvent.
All our businesses, small and large, are loath to reinvest, they are scared to invest in an economy where they're not sure where it's going, but the math that they see is not working correctly. So we need to tackle those three big auto-spending programs, and including the fourth one now, which is the president's health care plan.
Right here in Central Pennsylvania and the 4th District particularly, we have a burgeoning medical device industry. How is it going to help those employers employ more people … by increasing the taxes on those people who are trying to create jobs in that sector?
So you'll see the Congress try to roll back some of these things, some of these taxes, (and) try to roll back or hold the line on some of the regulation we see coming.
What are constituents telling you they want to see done on business issues?
Not much has changed in that regard from the campaign. Businesses continue to be concerned about our national debt driven by runaway spending, and they see that as the single biggest threat to our nation's economic (future) and their own personal economic future.
Generally speaking, the private sector wants us to get our fiscal house in order. … They need that long-term stability so they can invest and reinvest in their own businesses.
What worries you going forward?
Certainly the debt worries me, because I do see another (credit rating) downgrade coming if we don't get our fiscal house in order. I do see a lack of opportunity for current workers, current businesses and future ones.
Certainly the climate worries me. I've talked with climate change experts, and I don't know what the answer is. The earth is warming up slightly, but I don't know if it's manmade or not, but the doomsday people say the shores are going to flood and islands are going to be underwater … I'm worried about my kids' future and my own. I don't want to live in on a dirty, inhospitable planet.
What also worries me is our position economically and strategically internationally. I worry about what happened in Benghazi. I worry about the president's policy for our service members overseas.
I worry about some of the societal changes that the president has been pushing for and wonder if it's for political needs or if it's to make us more successful … Those things all concern me, because they affect me, and I think they touch and affect a lot of people's lives right here in Pennsylvania and the 4th District and across the nation.