Stewart tells attendees at Snow College meeting that nation’s fiscal problems are getting worse
By Suzanne Dean
EPHRAIM—Rep. Chris Stewart told a town meeting at Snow College last week that the nation’s fiscal problems, the issue that motivated him to run for Congress in 2012, are getting worse.
He also blamed the Senate filibuster rule for legislation passed in the House failing to reach the president’s desk. He called the rule and its consequences “undemocratic,” but said there is sentiment in the Senate to change it.
The meeting at the Noyes Building, which had below-average attendance for a town meeting, undoubtedly because it coincided with a snowstorm, was the last of eight town halls Stewart held in Southern Utah on Tuesday Feb. 19 and Wednesday Feb. 20. He was scheduled to hold three more the next day on the Wasatch Front.
“We started in Dixie and will end in Davis,” the congressman said.
Stewart, a Republican, represents the 2nd District, which takes in Sanpete County from Pigeon Hollow Junction south as well as nine counties in central and southern Utah.
The congressman, who was just elected to his fourth term, said when he ran for office, the budget deficit (shortfall for a single year) was $1.4 trillion.
Through “sequestration,” automatic budget cuts, the deficit came down to $470 billion, he said. But the cuts were “done almost entirely on the backs of defense and discretionary spending.”
He passed out a handout showing that the projected 2019 budget deficit is $897 billion. And if trends continue, the deficit will be $1.4 trillion in 2029.
Currently, interest on the debt is $383 billion, but by 2029, it will reach $1 trillion, he said.
Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, said mandatory spending for social security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt has cut into military readiness.
He said the Air Force had gone from more than 150 fighter squadrons to 57. He said other countries sometimes complain about U.S. dominance, and the United States sometimes complains about the cost of defending our allies.
“But if we don’t lead,” he said, “Vladimir Putin will.”
Stewart, who is on the House Appropriations Committee, said the committee held 72 hearings last session on spending bills. The full House passed many of those bills.
But in recent years, when appropriation bills originating the House get to the Senate, they die, presumably because they couldn’t garner the two-third votes required to stop a filibuster if a senator mounted one.
So at the end of the fiscal year, Stewart said, with agencies about to run out of money, both houses pass continuing resolutions to authorize spending at the level of the previous fiscal year.
Likewise, numerous non-spending bills, including bipartisan measures the House passed overwhelmingly, often get no action in the Senate, he said.
“Until we fix the filibuster,” he said, the pattern will continue and there will be more government shutdowns.
“We’ve never accomplished anything on a policy basis by a shutdown,” he said. During the last shutdown, “my day was an unending conversation with people affected by the shutdown.”
However, he said he was proud of two legislative accomplishments. One was passage by both houses of a bill permitting permanent sterilization of wild horses.
“I grew up farming and ranching,” he said. “I love these animals.”
Yet because of overpopulation and the resulting overgrazing on the west desert of Utah, wild horses and other wildlife were staving.
It took “four years of hand-to-hand combat,” but ultimately the humane society and a horse advocacy group came on board.
“It’s a humane solution. It’s a permanent solution,” he said of the sterilization bill.
The other measure was a comprehensive bill, incorporating dozens of other bills that had previously passed the House to address suicide prevention and opioids. President Trump signed the measure in Oct. 2018.
Stewart said the measure would set up a national crisis hotline with an easy-to-remember number such as 611.
“We will save thousands of lives,” he said.
Stewart said “even people who are pro-choice are taken aback” by a new law in New York that permits abortion up to the time of birth. The law permits abortions after six months if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s health or if the baby would not be able to survive outside the womb.
Stewart said he is supporting an effort to bring legislation to the House floor requiring providers to give medical care to any baby who survives an abortion.
He also called the Green New Deal proposed by some liberal Democrats socialistic and criticized Democrats for cutting what started out as more than $20 billion for border security down to $1.3 billion.
“Socialism and the border will be the issues” in the next presidential campaign, he predicted.