Frustrated Amodei sees hopeful signs for Congress
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., says working in Congress is frustrating but that there are a few hopeful signs.
In an interview with the Nevada Appeal, Amodei said he has some optimism even though he doesn’t see much congressional progress on the extension of unemployment benefits or issues such as Internet gaming in the near future. The core problem with Congress, he said, is the lack of will to deal with the elephant in the room: the $17 trillion debt.
“Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt are off the table,” he said.
Amodei said that along with the Defense Department, those programs make up two-thirds of the federal budget.
“Until the political will is shown to deal with these issues, this is a zero-sum game,” he said. “There’s just not enough in one-third of the pot. In 15 years, it grows to consume the cash flow of the federal government.”
The budget deal between Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state was a positive sign, Amodei said.
“Paul Ryan didn’t get everything he wanted. Patty Murray didn’t get everything she wanted, but I like where we’re at. You’ve got to walk before you can run because, until the people of the country deliver über-majorities to whatever party, you’re going to have to interact with each other.”
He expressed frustration that some members don’t seem to be learning from the past.
“I supported the shutdown because the Senate wouldn’t talk to us,” he said. “Guess what? It didn’t work. So in terms of getting somebody to the table, with all due respect, I don’t think that’s a tool in the box anymore.”
The extended unemployment benefits that expired this month leave nearly 18,000 Nevadans and more than 1 million nationwide without weekly checks to cover their basic needs. Republicans in Congress have demanded Democrats find a way to pay for those benefits within the existing budget before agreeing to extend them.
“It’s about half-substance and half-political,” Amodei said.
He said most Republican members rejected the Democratic plan to pay for it because “it was basically to pay for it with an IOU come due 10 years down the road.”
There also is a lot of resentment in the House because of many of the bills that were sent never received a hearing, Amodei said.
“The other part is, if we want to help people out of work, we need jobs,” he said, citing the Yerington land deal that would open the way to a large mining project. “At no cost to the government, you’re going to get hundreds of jobs. That’s an example. The Keystone Pipeline is an example.”
The Yerington bill still is working its way through the Senate.
“There are times when the pace is absolutely frustrating — times when I go, ‘What am I missing here? Nobody’s against this thing,” he said.
The poster child for that problem, Amodei said, is the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, which has been trying to get federal lands released to it. When tribal officials told Amodei a bill was introduced before, he said, he asked if they had a copy of it. What they gave him was a 1972 bill introduced by then-U.S. Sens. Alan Bible and Howard Cannon of Nevada that never went anywhere despite the lack of opposition.
“So we took the 1972 bill and introduced it,” Amodei said. “These are not controversial. Let’s get them through.”
Amodei said he thinks the Payments In Lieu of Taxes program that provides about $22 million a year to Nevada’s federally landlocked counties “will be OK.”
Some Nevada counties are more than 90 percent non-taxable federal land and rely heavily on PILT money to make up the property-tax revenue they would otherwise have.
For 2014, Amodei might have more say in the budget process than in the past, given that he is now a member of the Appropriations Committee that builds the budget. He will find out which three subcommittees he is on in a couple of weeks.
“Sage hen needs to be done and immigration needs to be done,” he said.
Amodei said he and his staff are preparing by reading a lot of history of the Forest Service, BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service to better handle the sage grouse, wild horse and wildfire-fuel-suppression issues.
Another goal this year, he said, “is getting rid of the mindset that says federal gatherings can’t be in resort towns like Reno and Las Vegas. If my town is providing you the best value, that’s where you should go.”
A classic example is the National Judicial College based in Reno, he said. The annual gathering was scheduled for Reno, but Amodei said that was canceled 20 days before the meeting.
“Everybody’s airline ticket tripled and they moved it to Washington, D.C., where a lousy hotel room costs $300,” he said.
Jackson Hole, Wyo., Aspen, Colo., and Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, and other resort areas also are suffering from that attitude, Amodei said.
Also on his list is moving the Interstate 11 project from Phoenix to Las Vegas forward. Designating the corridor from Las Vegas north, he said, will be good because “having that done allows for things to happen in the private sector.”
The corridor chosen, he said, should bring I-11 through Reno.
Amodei said making progress in the Congress requires patience, but that he and his staff will stay focused on the issues “and do what’s right.”
“Sometimes it just boils down to being hard-headed,” he said. “I want to get this system to do things and I ain’t doing this for the rest of my life.”