Only a month into his freshman term, U.S. Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents Nevada County as part of the redrawn 1st District for the House of Representatives, has already wrangled with some of Washington’s thorniest issues.
He has voted to raise the debt ceiling, wrestled with the ramifications of the fiscal cliff compromise and weighed in on gun control and immigration reform.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t have to go in totally wet behind the ears,” said the eight-year veteran of California’s legislature. “California’s playing field here is one that I say has you battle-tested for Washington.”
Some issues, such as gun control and immigration, have been getting a lot more air time in national news coverage than they garner inside Congress’ walls in Washington, LaMalfa said.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of two California representatives to the nation’s upper house, has introduced a bill to ban numerous assault-style weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines
LaMalfa wondered if there is even a single vote among House Republicans for Feinstein’s gun control proposal.
“I just don’t see it moving very far,” he said. “If it should make it to the House, I think it is going to go down hard there.”
Limiting law-abiding gun owners won’t prohibit the actions of criminals, LaMalfa said at The Union’s office Thursday.
LaMalfa expressed interest in further sanctions on gun ownership by people with criminal records or mental health issues.
“People exercising their own Second Amendment rights can be responsibly part of a solution too,” he said.
LaMalfa is not in favor of arming every teacher, but he expressed interest in supporting a policy of allowing appropriate and willing people to arm themselves.
“A lot of folks are seeing (gun control debates) as a distraction from a lot of stuff we need to get going on,” he said. “It’s really been the (fiscal negotiation) that has been on the front burner.”
In addition to reluctantly swallowing $600 billion in higher taxes as part of a fiscal cliff compromise late last year, congressional Republicans also signed off on legislation to raise the debt ceiling, which the Senate confirmed Thursday.
While the decision permits the Treasury to borrow above the current $16.4 trillion debt limit through May 18, averting a government default, it also delays the next tax-and-spending clash between the White House and Republicans until later in the year.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor that “government spending is completely out of control — and it’s projected to get much worse in years to come.”
McConnell’s office issued a statement shortly after the vote, saying he had opposed the legislation after Democrats torpedoed several GOP attempts to rein in spending before final passage.
“It wasn’t great,” LaMalfa said. “It didn’t have on the table things that were on the table a few months earlier.”
The debt limit measure came with only one string attached by House Republicans, a provision that would temporarily withhold the pay of lawmakers in either house that failed to produce a budget this year.
That was designed as a prod to the Senate, where majority Democrats have failed to bring a budget to a vote in any of the past three years. This year, they say they will. Republicans say they are eager for a comparison of plans rather than a long year spent defending one of their own.
“With that moved aside for the next 120 days, we’re back to focusing on the sequestration … and some of the left-over fiscal cliff issues that were just pushed off a couple of months,” LaMalfa said. “We have a lot happening in a short amount of time.”
The legislation reflects a switch in strategy by Republicans, whose insistence on deep spending cuts as a trade-off for a higher debt limit more than a year ago pushed the government to the brink of an unprecedented default. With polls showing their public support lagging, they now look ahead to a new season of potential showdowns with a reshuffled batting order that moves the threat of a default to the back of a line that includes March 1 across-the-board spending cuts and the March 27 expiration of funding for most federal agencies.
Already, the next conflict over budget priorities is taking shape, in an environment that includes a fresh report that the economy unexpectedly declined in the last quarter, and the emergence of a warning from the Pentagon’s top uniformed officers that pending defense cuts could lead to a “hollow force.”
Obama and Democrats say they are prepared for further deficit reduction compromise, although they stress they want increased tax revenue as part of any deal.
“What we are going to do (is) to talk about reforming the budget, reforming entitlements and the whole budget, when you talk about Social Security and Medicaid,” LaMalfa said. “How do you have those work long-term because they don’t now and they won’t be solvent.
“The sooner you make a course correction, the less painful it is going be a lot further on,” he said.
As for immigration, LaMalfa said he is hopeful that a meaningful solution is in the works.
“I want to be optimistic about it,” he said. “Let’s see what the brass tacks are once they get something down on paper, but there is a good (bipartisan) spirit they are trying to do it in. It seems like the country is more ready for it.”
Despite his prior political experience, LaMalfa said he has much to learn about the ways of Washington and is taken aback at being part of something that people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln worked within.
“Don’t think for a minute that I’m not in awe of being part of that tradition that goes back to the founders and the early days,” LaMalfa said. “To be a part of that institution is a pretty amazing thing.”
LaMalfa said he enjoyed the presidential swearing-in ceremony he attended, which garnered much media coverage.
“That is an interesting American tradition no matter what your political views might be,” he said.
However, the new House member shook his head at the attention given to whether famed pop singer Beyonce Knowles, known colloquially by her first name only, lip-synced a recorded national anthem at the president’s swearing-in ceremony.
“At the end of it, she either recorded it with her voice, which was good, or she sang it with her voice, which is good,” LaMalfa said. “If there is some reason logistically why live wouldn’t work there or whatever, then why worry about it?”
The Associated Press’ David Espo and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org.