And while her geographic neighbor, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, has madeheadlines for occasionally defying Speakerof the House John Boehner, McMorris Rodgers has been a strong ally of Republicanleadership.
Want to gauge where the mainstream Republican party is? Talk to Cathy.
I sat down with her in her office yesterday for a brief but sprawlingconversation on the topics of the day. I’ve made some very small edits to myquestions for clarity, and changed the order of questions slightly to keep alogical flow. But most of it remains word for word.
INLANDER: I want to get a sense of some of your priorities: If you had thepower to pass or repeal any one law in Congress, what would it be?
McMORRIS RODGERS: It would be to pass a balanced budgetamendment. Because I believe it’s so important no matter which government isin power, that the federal government is living within its means. The only way Isee that happening is for there to be a law that forces Congress to make thetough decisions and set the priorities.
Would your ideal balanced budget amendment force the budget tobe balanced immediately, or one that would, say, end the deficit within 10years?
We could — that could be determined. I’m open tosuggestions on that.
Let’s talk about balancing the budget a little bit. There’s beena lot of debate about how to control federal spending and raise enough money topay the bills. I know that, at least rhetorically, Obama has said he’s willingto cut spending and put things like “ChainedCPI” on the table. Do you see anything House Republicans are willing to doto compromise in the other direction, such as raising revenue?
On January 1st, President Obama got $600 billion inrevenue.
OK, and that was something that, obviously, House Republicansfought against.
But it ultimately passed. And it was missed opportunity forus to get a more comprehensive approach to reducing deficits and cuttingspending within the federal government.
What’s the status on the sequester? Are you closerto coming to an agreement on the sequester? I know you addressed the airportdelay situation recently.
Well, the reason we have the sequester is because the Congress and the president failed to agree on to as to how we would cut $1.2trillion dollars out of the budget over a 10-year period. That was part ofraising the debt ceiling in 2011.
That’s why we have the sequester….
And that’s why we have the sequester. I believe that weneed to reduce federal government spending. The sequester is forcing some cutsthat nobody — nobody believes that this is the best way to cut spending in thefederal government.
I believe that we need to agree on replacing spending cuts or other reformsthat will bring down the spending in exchange for removing the sequester.
It sounds like you want the spending cut come from other areasthan the current sequester? Where would you like to see the spending cut insteadof the sequester?
One in my mind would be repealing some of the president’s health care law.Even if we didn’t repeal all of it, [we could repeal] some of the costdrivers that law is going to have, the additional costs that the law is goingto have, not just within the federal government but on the American people.
Let’s talk health care. Republicans have been outspoken abouttheir opposition to Obamacare, but have struggled to introduce their ownreforms. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently attemptedto pass a bill to shift money into “high-risk pools” to help those withpre-existing conditions. But that bill was pulled thanks to oppositionfrom conservatives like Idaho’s Raul Labrador. Did you find yourselfagreeing more with Labrador or Cantor?
I was in favor of the legislation. I still believe we’ll beable to get the votes for that legislation. We had a number of members out oftown for the George W. Bush library dedication.
I think there’s a recognition that part of the health-care solutions thatRepublicans have put on the table for addressing health-care costs, and meetingthe needs of those that found themselves without health insurance, was throughthe high-risk pools. And in our health-care proposal, which we did put on thetable, it actually included state high-risk pools as the way to address thosewith pre-existing conditions.
The president, one of the key arguments that he has made for his health carelaws is that those with pre-existing conditions are going to have access tohealth insurance. And right now, at this very time, they don’t. Because he isnot putting the money into funding the high-risk pools.
I believe that this is an area that everyone recognizes: We need to make surethat those who do not have health insurance and have pre-existing conditions,that they have a means by which they can get health insurance. And that’sthrough the high-risk pools. I think this legislation makes sense, and I dosupport it.
Well, we’ll get there. I think the timing was unfortunate,in that so many members were out of town.
So you think we shouldn’t write that legislation off yet?
Well, if Cantor’s bill passes give me a call.
You’re skeptical [laughs].
There’s a lot of disagreement within the Republican party.
There’s a big debate on where to go from here on healthcare. There are those who want to continue to focus on repeal. There are thosewho are quite concerned for the president’s health care law and the impactthat’s going to have on those that already have health insurance, and cost andrates, and potentially losing their health care insurance, and areadvocating for a delay. Then there are those that think we should start takingsome steps to at least fix some areas for an agreement.
We repealed the 1099 form — we did that last Congress — which would haverequired any transaction over $600 to be reported to the IRS.
There’s a lot of support for repealing the medical-device tax and I thinkthere’s a good chance that might pass.
You have a sonwith Down Syndrome. What, if anything, should the government do to helpchildren with special needs, and their parents?
I’m grateful for the laws that have been put in place,through those that have, through the years, fought for those with disabilities tohave access to education opportunities and to early intervention. I’ve seen thefirst-hand impact of those opportunities for my son, Cole.
I’m involved now in bipartisan efforts to address employment barriers forthose with disabilities, and to provide more opportunities for those inindependent living. You look at the high number of people with disabilities whoare unemployed. The numbers are pretty staggering. Sixty or 70 percent areunemployed, who like to work. Many of them would like to work.
Many of them find themselves on SSDI [Social Security DisabilityInsurance] and they are limited [to] $2,000 dollars of income a month orthey lose their benefits. The system is such that it keeps so many withdisabilities in poverty and dependent.
Through early intervention and education, we have more and more who want tolive independently and want to work. That’s the next frontier for those withdisabilities — for the government to make that possible.
Juggling being a parent and being a congresswoman is hardenough. If you have a son with special needs as well — how do you make thatwork?
I don’t think it’s that different than millions of otherworking moms in this country.
I have certainly responsibilities in my job, but I have the tremendous supportof my family that makes that possible. I have great a staff. My husband isfortunate that he’s retired for the Navy, he’s flexible, and carries a lot ofthe load at home. I think the fact that Cole has special needs, it makes me abetter legislator. I’ve learned a lot because of Cole.
Another big area, where I’ve learned, is the potential for research and theimpact that that can have for new breakthroughs and curing diseases andimproving people’s live. I’ve become a strong advocate for research —unlockingthe mysteries, whether it’s chromosomes or the brain, so we can help millions ofpeople.
You were one of Mitt Romney’s surrogates during his campaign.There’s a lot of debate, among both conservativesand liberals,as to why Mitt Romney lost. Whatare your thoughts as to why he wasn’t successful?
I think there’s a long list of things that went wrong inthat campaign. But I think there’s some important lessons for the Republicans tolearn. Part of it is the importance of connecting with voters, in helping peopleto understand who we are as Republicans and what our vision and our goals arefor this country.
And talking not just from the head, from the mind uttering facts and figures,but speaking from the heart. I think we’ve allowed our opponents to define usone way, as being rich and old-fashioned and out-of-touch.
Yet, when you look at Republicans we’re very diverse — people from alldifferent backgrounds, experiences. Right now in the House we’re younger thanDemocrats on average. I think the Republicans have to do a better job ofcommunicating our message, and taking our message to every corner of thiscountry and every demographic group.
So is it just rhetoric and marketing? Or are there policies thatneed to be changed within the Republican platform as well to be more effective?
I think it’s both. I don’t believe that we need tomoderate. But I do believe that we need to modernize. Modernize our message, andthe way we that we need to communicate, and using the tools in which people wecommunicate in our daily lives. But I also think we need to look at how we’retalking about — we need to look at our agenda, to make sure it’s one in whichpeople can see clearly, in how it impacts people and their families and theiropportunities within this country.
What sort of policy changes would you like to see happen?
I think it is important that we are focusing on solutions,and not just talking about what we are against but what we are for.
Do you have any specifics? It’s great to talk about solutions,and that kind of thing, but is there anything in particular? When I talk to RaulLabrador, he’s focusingon immigration. Is there anything that Republicans need to change?
Well, he wasn’t changing his position on immigration,though.
No, but he’s pursuing policies within that area.
Well, an initiative that I’m involved in is an anti-povertyinitiative, for example. One where we are focusing both on policy as well asaction that we can be taking that is addressing the most vulnerable and needy inthis country.
During the campaign you were one of the key people attempting torebut the idea that the GOP is waging a so-called “Waron Women.” What do Republicans need to do? Is it just messaging? Or do yousee policies Republicans need to change to be more successful with femalevoters?
I think it’s mostly how we talk about issues. You look at2010, and we won the women’s vote in 2010. It is important that we are talkingabout, when women are concerned with financial security, they’re concerned abouthow they’re going to makes ends meet, and how they’re going to pay the bills.They’re concerned about retirement security.
I think a lot of it is making sure that they understand how our policies will improve their lives and their families and help make it easier forthem to take care of their parents and their children.
You had voted against the Lilly Ledbetter [FairPay Act of 2009, which made it easier for women to file equal pay lawsuits].And I’m wondering about why.
It has been the law of the land — equal pay, for equal work— for decades. And Lily Ledbetter was really about opening up a treasure chestfor trial attorneys. It was written for trial attorneys. I don’t believe thatit’s going to benefit women.
What specific legislation do you think the House can pass thatwill benefit women?
We’re working on some legislation right now, WorkingFamilies Flexibility Act, that we’re bringing to the floor sometimes in May.This is allowing comp-time for overtime. This is for hourly employees, so thatif they work overtime they can take it in time off, rather than just incompensation. So it’s flexibility over your work schedule.
Public employees have had this option since the ’80s. We’re working on that inMay.
You, like many Republicans, voted against the DREAM Act. Do youfind yourself supporting the Senate’s “Gangof 8” immigration reform or are you a little more skeptical?
The reason I voted against the DREAM Act was because Ididn’t think that was the right place to start with immigration reform, that weneed to secure our border. We need to have a workable ag-guest worker program inplace. We need to address visas. I didn’t believe [the DREAM Act] was the rightplace to start.
As far as the Senate’s immigration proposal, when you look at what the Senateis putting together, and the house is putting together, I think you’re going tosee some similarities in the broad outline. In the House, Speaker Boehner threeyears ago put a group together. It doesn’t get as much media coverage as what theSenate is putting together, but we have, you know, Raul Labrador is part of thatgroup.
In early May, the Chairman of the Judiciary committee, Bob Goodlatte, isgoing to start working on different pieces of immigration reform. He’s gettingready to move the ag-guest worker program, and then E-verify, and visa reform. Ithink that the House may approach immigration reform in a little differentfashion than the Senate. But it is our goal to get these pieces — that are largelyagreed upon as far as the priorities that need to be addressed — out of theHouse, so we can get to a conference committee and get something on the president’s desk by the end of the year.
How do you believe the House and Senate will differ?
I’m not sure the House is ready to pass a comprehensiveeducation reform bill. That’s why I think you’re going to see the house do it instages.
You’ve been involved in trying to fight to protect Fairchild inprevious rounds of base closure. Do you believe building a Spokanetribal casino near the base will genuinely imperil it in futureprocesses?
I do have concerns about the location. I certainly applaudthe Spokane tribe for looking for those economic opportunities, forthose tribal members. I have met with the tribe and Fairchild and the militaryleaders. I’ve looked at the flight patterns, and where the proposed development is.
I do believe the development is a clear threat both to current and futuremissions at Fairchild.
You’ve been pretty supportive of developing more hydroelectricpower. I spent some time out at the Kalispel reservation — there’s a lot offrustration over the way that building dams has impacted the salmon populationand water quality. What would you do to balance the development of hydroelectricpower with the needs of tribal populations?
The legislation I’ve introduced has bipartisan support,broad support, and passed unanimously.
I’m focused, not on building new dams, but using existing infrastructure andnew technology to expand hydropower.
Because of new technology, improved fish ladders, we are seeing record salmonreturns. We are seeing fish come up the rivers where we haven’t seen them formany many years. And the legislation I’ve introduce has the support of theAmerican Rivers Association, for example.
Their CEO called me after it passed the House and said they want to continueto work with me on where we can expand hydropower, recognizing how hydropowerhas huge potential. We can double hydropower without building a new dam. Only 3percent of the dams produce electricity. With new turbines and new technology,there’s a lot of potential for hydropower.
It’s clean. It’s renewable, it’s reliable, it’s affordable. We have thelowest electricity rates in the country.
What’s ahead for you in the next year?
I’m hoping to do some more on energy policy, and especiallywith the potential of hydropower. Looking at health care, and the implementationof the president’s bill, and then also, you know — what are those next steps forhealth care?
I am concerned about people who are losing their health insurance, andpremiums going up 50 percent on average. So I want to see if we can’t get thaton the right track.