Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., says that he holds only limited hope that Congress will accomplish much in an election year - and that if nothing gets done, the American people may make incumbents pay.
"I don't think there will be any major piece of legislation that will put Americans back to work, and that's all we should be concentrating on," he said in an interview Wednesday in Carson City.
Heller said Americans want solutions, not partisan gridlock.
And if they don't get it?
"We may see a change in the presidency, a change in the majority in the Senate and a change in the majority of the House," the Carson City Republican said. "Solutions: that's what Nevadans want. That's what Americans want. We need to quit playing games and solve the problems."
The problem with that, he said, is that "Not a lot gets done in a presidential election year."
"Nobody wants to take a tough vote. Everybody thinks every vote is going to determine the makeup of the Senate.
"It won't," he said. "We have 1,500 votes a year. Maybe 10 of them will determine the makeup of the Senate. The other 1,490 won't."
He said some bipartisan support for extending the payroll tax reduction is a good sign that he hopes will lead to more cooperation between the parties.
"One of the things that needs to change is if both sides get 80 percent of what they want, they should be happy. That's what Ronald Reagan said," Heller said. "We spend more time worrying about the 20 percent. We should be working on the 80."
He said Congress' goal should be to come up with a budget.
"We haven't had a budget in a couple of years," he said. "Every three months we have a continuing resolution and we have a fight about shutting down the government."
Heller said that leaves businesses without the stability they need "to begin hiring, spending and growing again."
"The federal budget is basically for 10 years. If we don't pass a budget, as the owner of a small business, you don't know what your tax rate is going to be," he said.
Businesses, he said, must look five to 10 years into the future.
"When we don't pass a budget, we create so much uncertainty they won't hire," he said. "Businesses need confidence, need certainty."
Heller, who was appointed in May to fill out John Ensign's term, must run for the seat himself in 2012. His leading opponent is Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, who is trying to paint Heller as a right-wing, tea party supporter.
She says that since his election to the House, he has moved to the far right. While that works in Congressional District 2 - most of northern and rural Nevada - observers say it may leave him a rough time attracting more liberal and Democratic Las Vegas voters in a statewide race.
Heller said he doesn't think so, because his positions really haven't changed on the important issues.
"I'm right on the issues - low taxes, small government, reasonable regulation and free-market capitalism," he said. "She's wrong on the issues. She's supported every big-government program that put us $15 trillion in debt."
In preparation for that race, Heller is already raising the $10 million to $12 million he estimates he'll need to run against Berkley.
"I've probably raised more money than in my previous three races," he said.
His toughest challenge was in the 2006 primary against Sharron Angle. The 2008 and 2010 races were much less difficult.
He said the move to the Senate has been hectic but interesting because the rules are different. In the Senate, despite being 51 years old, he is one of the younger guys.
"When I moved over to the Senate, I said it's like spending all your time with grandma and grandpa," he said. "Well, now I am a grandpa."
His first grandchild, Brielle Joy, was born 10 weeks ago.
While home for the holidays, Heller also got a reminder that, while he may be "Senator" in Washington, he's no different from anyone else in Carson City, where he grew up. When he returned to his truck after Wednesday's interview, there was the ticket from parking enforcement on the windshield. It was far from the first time: he used to get the same treatment when he was Nevada secretary of state.
Article Topics: LegislatureLegislature