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I think my colleagues on the other side will have to interact with one another to reach a consensus for where they’re going.

Owens predicts vigorous discussion of GOP agenda

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The 112th Congress was sworn in this week. Republican John Boehner was elected speaker of the new Republican majority, taking the gavel from Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Tops on the GOP agenda is repeal of health care reform passed last year, and targeted spending cuts as the budget process ramps up.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens was among the Democrats who survived November's election. He defeated Alexandria Bay Republican Matt Doheny to win his first full-term representing New York's 23rd Congressional District. Owens says the attempt to repeal health care is a mistake, though changes are needed. He expects vigorous discussion of the GOP's other priorities as well, but he sees hope for more bipartisanship in the House. Martha Foley has more.

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The House opens a largely symbolic debate today on whether to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark health care overhaul. A procedural vote around midday will set the rules for formal debate and final action next Wednesday. It’s the culmination of the first week with Republicans back in charge.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens is among the Democrats still standing as Republicans take over.

He says the attempt at health reform repeal is a mistake. “I’ve got 27 years of experience representing hospitals,” he said. “I’ve talked to, literally, every hospital CEO in this district. Obviously, they’re not 100 percent happy with this legislation, but they understand some change needed to be made.”

So far, Owens says, Republicans have only been pushing tort reform and legislation to allow citizens to purchase health insurance across state lines. “Neither of those will make a significant impact on health care reform in terms of reducing costs,” he said.

Owens expects vigorous discussion about another GOP priority item: targeted spending cuts to be ready before the continuing resolution to fund the government expires March 4. “There’s going to be a couple of very, very significant issues which will be coming forward in the next couple of weeks,” Owens said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of tough rhetoric from my colleagues on the other side. And I think my colleagues on the other side will have to interact with one another to reach a consensus for where they’re going.”

Owens says some newly-elected representatives have been griping about legislation passed in December – including a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a full-on extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

But for Owens, who considers himself a centrist Democrat, sees hope in signs of bipartisanship that came as the 2010 session closed. “We saw, I think, Republicans and Democrats compromising during the lame duck session, and now the folks that did that compromising are being criticized by some of the new people coming in,” he said. “It’s going to make for a very interesting first couple of months.”

Owens says his personal focus is job creation.  He says he’ll work hard at the Congressional and local levels to invigorate a struggling private sector in northern New York.

Late last year, Laurentian Aerospace announced plans to go forward with a project in Plattsburgh expected to create 900 high-paying jobs in Clinton County. The $175 million venture aims to refurbish commercial jetliners at the site of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. “I’d like to see a Laurentian-type operation come to every one of the communities in the district,” Owens said. “That’s what I’m going to be working toward – trying to find what each community has that can be offered to a potential employer and get that employer into the community so they can employ people at the highest possible level.”

Moments after the swearing-in of the 112th Congress on Wednesday, Owens introduced his first bill of the year: The War on Debt Act of 2011.

His spokesman, Sean Magers, says the legislation would draw down foreign debt and place spending limits on the federal government.

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