Feb. 22--RICHMOND -- Newly elected Congressman Andy Barr, R-Sixth District, on Friday told the Richmond Chamber of Commerce that Congress is more dysfunctional than he imagined. However, he is encouraged by finding other newcomers from both parties who seemed more interested in problem-solving than bickering.
The first measure Congress voted on this year after members took the oath of office was a bill to raise the National Flood Insurance program's debt limit by $10 billion.
The program already had a $20 billion debt from when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast nearly eight years ago. The additional $10 billion was to help pay for claims from Hurricane Sandy which struck the Northeast in October.
"Congress never pays for anything," Barr said. "It just runs up more debt."
Although it may have made him seem heartless, Barr said he joined 66 others in the 435-member Congress in voting against increasing the debt.
His vote was a way of saying, "Don't just go and add to the debt," Barr said. "Fix the problem so we don't have to borrow more when the next disaster strikes."
The National Flood Insurance program should charge premiums high enough to pay the claims of flood victims, the congressman said, instead of borrowing to pay them.
In just seven days, Congress had spent all but $1 billion of the $62 billion in new tax revenue it had agreed to in the "fiscal cliff" bargain with President Obama, Barr said.
"Congress just doesn't operate the way Kentucky households do, by living within its means, he said.
In his conversations with Kentuckians over the past four years, Barr said many believed Congress should be as fiscally responsible as they are. Barr ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010.
The national debt has risen about $5 trillion in the past 4.5 years, he said, a rate that is unsustainable.
Even with interest rates near zero, servicing the national debt still costs $224 billion annually, Barr added.
"If we don't make changes, by 2025, just the cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest payments would consume all federal revenue," he said.
Changes must be made in those popular social programs or the federal government will not be able to keep the promises made to younger generations, Barr said.
In just three weeks, Congress and the president will face another fiscal confrontation, he continued. Unless Congress acts to cut spending, a series of automatic across-the-board spending cuts will take effect.
"Sequestration," as the automatic cuts are called, "was a bad idea when it was enacted and is a bad idea today," he said.
Although many groups of first-term Congress members in the past disproportionately represented one party, Barr said his "freshman class" is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
He joined a bipartisan group of 30 other newly elected members that supports a series of spending cuts as an alternative to sequestration, he said.
The proposed cuts, outlined at a joint news conference and in a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are based on "an intelligent ordering of priorities," Barr said.
Members of the bipartisan group are more interested in pragmatic problem-solving than in following an ideology, he said.
That is a hopeful development after years of partisan bickering in Washington, Barr said. Another promising sign is that the U.S. Senate has passed a budget bill for the first time in four years.
Bill Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or at 634-6690.
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