Editors of Patch sites in Bucks County sat down with 8th District Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick Monday to discuss jobs, the economy and his vision for the future of the district.
Here's a summary of the topics discussed:
Patch: For several months, the focus in Washington has been on the budget. What other key items are you focused on getting to the floor?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: The issue of the budget, national debt, and spending is dominating discussion right now and to a certain extent, it needs to. So many people during the 2010 election cycle spoke out against wasteful spending. I believe I was sent to Washington to rein in wasteful spending and get the government under control. The federal budget has a direct impact on the No. 1 issue in this district, which is a lack of jobs. The No. 1 issue for me is getting people back to work and creating an atmosphere where small business job creators can invest and create jobs. I see the budget intertwined with the job issue.
Patch: In what way do you plan to reduce the national debt and federal spending?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: By reducing spending in programs that don’t work, for example the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) refinance program, which was created to help individuals who were behind on their mortgages. That’s a big issue in Bucks County, so it’s therefore a big issue for me. But the expense of this program was not worth the results. We’re a year into the FHA refinance program and we’ve spent a lot of money that has not yielded the necessary results -- $50 million has been spent on the program but nationwide, it has helped just 44 homeowners. That is what I would call a wasteful program. The FHA refinance program is one of four programs in the Making Home Affordable initiative. All of these programs are spending federal dollars without achieving the promised results.
Patch: How big of an issue is foreclosure in Bucks County?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: It’s a big issue. There are an awful lot of folks out there who are struggling. There was a promise of federal assistance and expectations were raised that there would be help. I’ve been here two and a half months and have not been successful in getting one resident through the federal program.
Patch: Since the economic downturn, the federal government has had to bail out a number of banks and corporations. Now, it’s being reported that the CEOs of many of these very companies are taking home huge bonuses and earnings. What is your view on this?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: As a member of the Financial Services Committee, we called a hearing to take Fannie Mae to task for excessive bonuses. I say no more bailouts. In the end, these bailouts provided very little help for the homeowner. I believe there should be no more bailouts of organizations that are deemed "too big to fail," like Fannie Mae and GM. The promise of the $787 billion stimulus bill was that jobs would be saved, something we have not seen.
Patch: Speaking of jobs, it’s the top issue in the area and around the country. What do you plan to do to bring jobs back to the 8th District?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: Between the uncertainty in tax rates and the uncertainty of the cost of health care, many small businesses have not been proactive in creating jobs. I believe we need to do three things to spur job creation; Get the federal budget under control, provide certainty on tax rates, and repeal the Health Care Act passed last year. I believe that the federal government ought to be less involved than more involved in health care.
Patch: You have been clear on your opposition to the health care legislation that Congress passed last year. What do you believe needs to be done to keep health care costs down and medical insurance affordable?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: First, I believe premiums for people purchasing individual plans must be tax deductible. We should also permit individuals to purchase health plans across state boundaries. We need to enact tort reform, which would reduce the price of insurance for providers. Hopefully, doctors would pass that savings on to their patients. Tort reform would also reduce or eliminate the practice of defensive medicine.
Patch: The roads in Bucks County are in poor shape. Much of the funding for those types of infrastructure projects comes from Washington. What happened to the shovel-ready jobs that were expected to come out of the stimulus funds?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: One of the tragedies of the stimulus program was that there were no shovel-ready projects. For the amount of money spent, I would have expected that every road in Bucks County would have been rebuilt, but it has not. I am a proponent of mass transit and have been an advocate for rail transportation. After September 11, it was the rail system that kept commerce going in the Northeast when planes were grounded. For national security reasons, we have to have a national passenger rail system. We need to do better. Road projects that are important to the economic development of our region are underway, including the Turnpike interchange on Interstate 95 and the expansion of other local roads to handle the increased capacity.
Patch: You’ve served as Congressman for the 8th District in the past and have reclaimed the seat from Patrick Murphy. How is the political climate in Washington different this time around?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: There are a couple of changes. First and foremost, I’m part of the freshman class and there are a lot of new faces. It’s the largest freshman class in decades. Secondly, it’s a much more open and transparent process. Legislation on the floor has not been designed and written in the back room. The third difference is that the Pelosi-led Congress doubled the national debt and unemployment.
Patch: Throughout the last few election cycles, both political parties have promised to work in a bi-partisan fashion to achieve progress. Have you noticed a more bi-partisan political climate in Washington?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: I’d like to say yes. Maybe it’s because I came back to Congress with a much more balanced perspective. I find it easier, even as we’re debating difficult issues, to talk in real terms with people representing both sides of the aisle. One example of the increased bi-partisanship occurred during the last State of the Union address by President Obama. Typically, when the president gives his State of the Union address, Republicans and Democrats sit on opposite sides. That night, I was on my way in to the Chamber and the word was out that people were sitting with someone from the other party. They called it "date night" in Congress. I sat with Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D- PA). There was a call for a new civility in the United States Congress after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot. That call for civility worked that night and my goal is to make sure it works every night.
Patch: Do you have any plans to increase security in light of the incident in Arizona?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: No. If anything, we missed an important opportunity to have a real discussion on mental health in America. I’ve never felt threatened in my district and have no plans to increase security.
Patch: You support Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania. How will you ensure the safety of your constituents’ drinking water if and when natural gas drilling occurs?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: I’m in favor of the responsible exploration of our natural resources. We have the opportunity in Pennsylvania to achieve energy independence and create jobs. I am an advocate of environmental protections and have a long record that supports that. If we are to obtain natural gas, it has to be done in a way that protects the environment and that is responsible. I would like to see an increased resolve by the state DEP guaranteeing that the waters in the Commonwealth are protected, including the underground aquifers and drinking water supply. Technology is improving so quickly; I think it would be a mistake not to explore the possibility to use the resources we have here.
Patch: Many local school districts are facing serious budget deficits this year. What do you think is the solution to this?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: A healthy mix of residential and businesses is needed in our communities to balance out the tax base. We need to be increasing the tax base in these towns by bringing in businesses so more revenue can come into the school districts. In Bristol, 82 percent of the tax base is residential. A healthy mix is a town like Bensalem. By bringing in businesses, it lessens the burden on the residential taxpayer who is in the least position to pay for the school. I plan to focus on building an economic climate that will attract businesses to Bucks County.
Patch: Any closing remarks you’d like to share?
Rep Fitzpatrick: It’s all about job creation and getting people back to work. All of these issues relate to the lack of jobs. We need to get more people back to work in the private sector.
Patch: Specifically, in what industries? What do you foresee as the top three job-generating industries in the next five years?
Rep. Fitzpatrick: Technology, pharmaceutical and manufacturing.
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