Lawton Constitution: Cole says budget legislation one of Congress’ successes
Lawton Constitution - Kim McConnell
Fourth District U.S. Rep. Tom Cole disagrees with constituents who say the most recent legislative session didn’t yield any results.
Cole was in Lawton late last week to meet with constituents, and the Republican congressman said while he agrees that more should have been accomplished, there were successes.
For example, Cole said, it was the first time since 2001 that budget legislation passed both the House and Senate and the first time since 2006 that all appropriation bills were voted through each committee in both sides of the nation’s Capitol.
“This was the year we stopped the bleeding,” he said of the budget process, adding that while the House was close to reaching its budgetary goal, “we’re still not where we need to be.”
Legislators completed major education reform, the first since No Child Left Behind, he said, noting that change gives more control to states and local entities. The session also yielded the first multi-year highway bill since 2005, he said.
Budget agreements have whittled away the effects of sequestration, he said, adding that when people complain about the omnibus bill, he explains that 60 percent of the funding is targeted toward the military and veterans. And Congress actually increased the amount of funding above what President Obama requested, Cole said, adding there also was agreement on a human trafficking bill and a veterans suicide bill (passed on the first day of the session).
Cole agreed that major tasks were not accomplished, but he wasn’t willing to blame Congress. He said the repeal of ObamaCare and plans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood were vetoed by Obama and while attempts will be made to override that veto, “I don’t expect it to succeed.”
But the new speaker has said the House will tackle legislation to take funding away from the Affordable Health Care Act, Cole said, noting that he likes the new speaker. He said while Paul Ryan isn’t an Okie, “he’s married to one,” adding that it also “doesn’t hurt” that Ryan has two hunting dogs named Boomer and Sooner.
“Oklahoma’s got a favorite son-in-law,” Cole said with a grin.
Among the actions the congressman will continue to pursue are plans to increase spending for biomedical research, which could benefit Oklahoma. The House also gave Obama more funding as he requested, Cole said, noting that the budget included the largestever increase in biomedical research, something that could mean more funding available for the OU Health Sciences Foundation and more money for Alzheimer’s research.
While the total federal budget stayed flat this fiscal year, Cole said House members will continue planning and looking at ways to restore what sequestration took away.
In the coming year, he wants to more carefully consider what Washington wants to do to the military budget, in terms of making cuts for efficiency. Cole agreed the nation has a smaller military force, but said some consequences have been avoided. He noted that two years ago Obama wanted to cut seven AWACS, surveillance aircraft when there are only 31 in the nation’s fleet (and 27 are stationed at Tinker Air Force Base).
“We were able to stop that,” Cole said, noting successful arguments that the AWACS were deployed “all the time” gained attention.
He said the House was able to identify funding elsewhere and the plan to cut AWACS was avoided. He added that Oklahoma has ammunition in the fight for additional changes in the military, saying that two members of the Oklahoma delegation (Jim Bridenstine and Steve Russell) are on the House Armed Services Committee, while he is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and serves on its defense subcommittee.
Cole said his priorities for 2016 will include completing as much as the appropriations process as House members can, noting the speaker’s stated goal is getting all 12 appropriations bills across the House floor. Cole also has goals of funding the military and the National Institute of Health, something he said can be achieved if voters “get a new president.”
Trump, Cruz prediction
While Cole — a former political science professor and chair of the Republican National Committee — won’t endorse any candidate, he said he believes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will remain in the presidential race to the end, while the the traditional field will narrow. He said voters who want to select the best candidate for Oklahoma need to ask who will be the best on the military, energy, agriculture and regulatory issues, adding that the Republican field this year reflects “every shade of opinion.”
“I expect it to be a very close presidential election,” he said.
Cole said Trump is a phenomenon of the 2016 race, one that no one predicted or expected.
“He’s a wild card,” he said, noting Trump clearly is reaching and exciting people who haven’t been involved in the political process before and that Bernie Sanders is doing the same on the Democratic side.
Online: Lawton Constitution