Despite the widely criticized gridlock in Congress, Sen. Dean Heller says he’s making progress on issues important to Nevada.
He cited his legislation to restore solar energy tax credits and the FAST transportation funding bill as examples. In an interview with the Appeal last week, Heller, R-Nv., said the five-year transportation bill recognizes Interstate 11 that will first connect Phoenix and Las Vegas but, eventually, extend a freeway all the way north to Reno.
“It’s the first time in years we passed a five year transportation plan,” he said. “All across the country it’s so important we build infrastructure.”
He said he and Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, have also “put the heat on” the Veterans Administration to reduce wait times for hospital and other medical service.
“We’ve cut the wait time in half,” he said.
He said a key factor in the progress is the appointment of new regional director Shelia Jackson. He said she’s a great improvement for the estimated 300,000 veterans who live in Nevada.
Restoring the solar tax credits, Heller said was critical.
“If that legislation hadn’t passed, it would be the end of the solar industry.”
Now, he said, he’s working on legislation that would provide the same kind of credits to the geothermal industry.
On the ongoing battle over solar net metering in Nevada, Heller said the Public Utilities Commission “should have grandfathered in those who already have rooftop solar.”
But there are some issues he said he isn’t pleased about including the push by Illinois Rep. John Shimkus to resurrect the Yucca Mountain project. In a letter to Shimkus last week, he said the nation needs a solution to the nuclear waste problem but added, “that solution is not forcing the burden on Nevada.” He urged Shimkus to expand on the Department of Energy’s plan to seek communities willing to host the nuclear waste repository rather than just Nevada.
“Yucca Mountain is one of the few things Harry and I agree on,” he said referring to the retiring Senator Reid. “We’re going to have to push back any appearance we’re softening.”
That was a reference to fellow delegation member Mark Amodei who has said several times Nevada should get something if Congress is going to force Yucca Mountain on the state — something like the right of way for Interstate 11 all the way from Las Vegas to Reno.
Another frustration, Heller said, is the failure of Congress to pass a budget this cycle.
“We have a $19 trillion debt and we’re not passing a budget,” he said.
That goal among others, he said, will be much easier to accomplish if the Republicans keep control of the Senate. He said the key to that is electing Rep. Joe Heck to the seat long held by retiring Sen. Harry Reid.
“I’ve taken all my attention away form the presidential race and put it on the Senate Race.”
In fact he was in town this past week campaigning for Heck.
“I don’t think there’s a better candidate for the Senate than Joe Heck.”
Heller has taken heat for that focus because he has thus far refused to endorse Donald Trump.
“Trump puts me in an uncomfortable position,” he said. “I want to support the Republican nominee but it’s getting more and more difficult.”
He told the Carson Republican Women’s Club this past week he would never vote for Hillary Clinton but Trump “denigrates human beings” including women, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled and even veterans.
He said he will continue to fight to “strengthen not weaken” Social Security. Asked if Congress should somehow pay back the more than $2.6 trillion it has taken from the Social Security Trust Fund, Heller said, “absolutely.”
“Those are your dollars,” he said.
Congress has basically emptied that trust fund, borrowing from it to pay for a laundry list of programs.
He said he enjoys serving in the U.S. Senate and believes he’s on exactly the committees he needs to serve on: finance, banking and the commerce committee.
“Eighty percent of the economy bills go through those committees,” said Heller whose degree is in business administration.