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 Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) NCPR file photo
Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) NCPR file photo

Owens hopes for normalcy after budget vote

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As we've been hearing, Congress voted last night to reopen the Federal government and to extend the nation's debt limit. North Country congressman Bill Owens - a Democrat from Plattsburgh - voted in favor of the last-minute deal.

Owens noted that the bill includes funding for the LIHEAP heating assistance program, but he says the spending plan still doesn't bring the government back to full funding.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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"So what we're really talking about is the 2013 sequestration level of funding, which in and of itself represents a substantial amount of cuts in many, many programs including DOD and Medicare," he said.

The measure that passed last night angered many conservatives, but it also won strong support from New York's Republican delegation.  

Peter King from Long Island, Richard Hanna from Utica and former North Country congressman Chris Gibson from the Hudson Valley all voted in support of the spending plan.

Just before the vote, Brian Mann spoke in-depth with Congressman Owens, as part of a conference call with reporters.  Owens says he hopes last night's breakthrough leads to some kind of new dialogue in Washington.

Congressman Bill Owens: I am delighted that this process is over, at least temporarily. I think it should have happened sixteen to twenty days ago rather than getting us here, because the country needs stability, and we can't continue to do this kind of activity.

Brian Mann: You know, this comes after a long period where the Tea Party’s influence over the Republican party has been very strong, and that’s complicated the efforts to negotiate things like the sequester, things like the Farm Bill. Does the dynamic here give you any optimism that your counterparts across the aisle - that there will be more of an opening now to begin negotiating real budgets, real changes to the healthcare act, real farm bills, that kind of thing?

BO: Well, as you know, Brian,  at least in terms of the Farm Bill, the House finally appointed conferees this week. I think that’s a real good sign. Many senators are saying we can’t let this happen again. In truth, I have not heard that from my Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle. So I’m hoping I’m going to hear that kind of commentary, because that’s what it’s going to take to break this, if you will. So we get people really having conversations about a lot of legitimate issues.

The vast majority of my Republican colleagues are reasonable people who want to get things done. They want to get them done for their own constituents, they want to get them done for the country. So I’m hopeful. But I tend to be a little optimistic, that this in fact will be a breakthrough, and we will in fact see a Farm Bill resolved by the end of the year,  which I think is critically important. 

We may get some action on immigration reform, but the primary focus from my perspective is making sure we do not have this kind of an issue on either January 15th, or February 7th again. And the only way we can get there is by having a deal that addresses a lot of legitimate concerns about how we get the deficit under control and then ultimately the debt.

BM: One of the sticking points there is that the Republican conference continued to insist that any compromise that would go forward on the budget would include cuts, but so far they’ve said no revenue enhancements of any kind. If they do stick to that argument, the lack of tax increases or some kind of change to the tax code that would increase revenue, do you think that your Democratic side would agree to any kind of package that was built around simply cuts alone?

BO: I think the answer to that would be no, but I do think there are some pathways. Interestingly enough, I went to a meeting today by a group called Fix the Debt. They’ve done some extensive polling. There is above 60%, in some cases close to 65%, of all groups – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – that will support cuts to entitlements and revenue increases. If those numbers are in fact accurate, then I think we can call upon our Republican colleagues to look at that, and accept that reality that the American public is willing to do that, because they understand that you need both things, both reduction in expenditures and revenue.

BM: I know that it’s still early but I think there’s no one who doesn’t see this last week as part of the buildup to the 2014 campaign season. Do you expect this whole episode to be part of a dialogue around the congressional midterm campaign, including your own race?

BO: I think it may, but I think a lot depends upon what happens between now and January 15th and February 7th. I think if we have a serious conversation and can get to a deal that accomplishes deficit reduction, I think that that will become the discussion. And that’s what the discussion should be about. If we don’t, then I think this will become a serious – an unfortunately serious part of the conversation in 2014.

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