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Norman Transcript: Connecting with Rep. Tom Cole

January 3, 2016
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Norman Transcript - Joy Hampton

Congressman Tom Cole stopped by The Transcript offices last week. Cole has been enjoying being back in Oklahoma, especially his hometown of Moore, over the holidays. He saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the Moore Warren Theatre on Christmas Day. Cole said he’s been pleased with the growth in his district and particularly in Moore as it has emerged stronger than ever in the years following the 2013 tornado. 

Cole said he voted in the historic Moore School bond election that will add needed facilities, including storm shelters in schools that don’t already have them.

“I sign up for the absentee ballot in January every year,” Cole said.

Cole receives ballots and is able to vote and mail them in for elections, even when he’s in Washington, D.C., but you don’t have to be a congressman or be out of town to vote by absentee ballot in Oklahoma. No excuse is required and election officials urge voters who have difficulty making it to the polls to sign up to vote absentee.

The Republican from Moore serves as the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, as well as serving on the Health and Human Services and Education and Related Agencies committees.

He was pleased with the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016 that the House passed earlier this month. The omnibus legislation funds the government through the end of the fiscal year at levels previously agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act, he said.

The legislation deals with discretionary spending and includes several provisions recommended by Cole’s subcommittee. While he believes the bills should have been passed individually and the House had several passed individually, the Senate didn’t. The omnibus will keep the government running and serving the people, he said.

“In a 2,000-page bill you’re certainly going to find some things you don’t like, but there’s a lot of good things in there,” Cole said. “More than 60 percent of total spending in the bill is for the U.S. military and veterans.”

While consumers won’t see a dramatic increase in oil and gas prices, lifting the ban on oil exports means America can put more oil on the market, he said, allowing for sale of some of the oil that was stored at Cushing. Cole said the U.S. does not have sufficient refineries for all of the oil we’re producing and being able to export it is key.

“We can legally export petroleum now for the first time in 40 years,” Cole said. “Producers were getting less than the world price within the United States because you could only sell it here, so that gave the buyers an artificial advantage.”

He said the omnibus bill also includes tax cuts for small businesses and research and development fund tax credits that will help private businesses develop new products.

“These are pretty important for innovation,” Cole said. “American corporate taxes are some of the highest taxes in the world. Some of these are important to keep American companies competitive.”

The omnibus bill also provides increases for research at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. The $2 billion NIH increase will allow for more funding for Alzheimer’s disease research and the $300 million CDC increase focuses on disease prevention and bio-defense research, he said.

“They’re researching into ways to slow down or cure the disease,” Cole said, adding that the amount geared toward Alzheimer’s is the largest increase ever. “As people live longer and with the cost of caregiving, it’s a pretty awful disease. We think we’re fairly close to some major breakthroughs.”

Cole said he wants more money going to find cures, which will save on social services in the long run. He said research for ebola and HIV have made a big difference.

“They’ve made life better for tens of millions of people,” Cole said.

Because of modern transportation, we have a mobile population these days, which he said allows disease to move more easily.

The omnibus also provides a $570 million increase for the Head Start education program that benefits low-income children and their families.

“There was also extra money for early childhood eduction,” Cole said. “I think that was money well spent.”

Additionally, the bill gave money back to local schools for children with special needs, he said.

“That was the largest increase in many years,” Cole said.

He said the omnibus affects the discretionary spending and is less than in 2008.

“The thing that gets lost in all this is the deficit is still too high, but we’ve lowered it every year. We’ve dramatically lowered spending in those (discretionary) areas,” he said. “We haven’t really reformed Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Those three programs alone account for over 60 percent of all federal spending, so if you don’t reform them, you’re never going to balance the budget.”

While Congress continues to look for fraud, Cole believes those areas are up because the average life expectancy has increased dramatically.

“People are just living a lot longer, and that’s a good problem to have,” he said. “Now that I’m 66, I think this (living longer) is a very good thing. You’ve got to adapt the system. We’ve made these adjustments before and we’re going to have to do it again.”

He said it’s time to make adjustments now because the longer we wait, the harder it will be.

“Congress ought to focus on this now,” he said. “The president ought to focus on this now.”

On the presidential front, Cole said he believes the Republicans have some good candidates now and in the long-term future, but he won’t be one of them.

“I admire all of them that want to do it (run for President),” he said. “I don’t see how you can run and hold office at the same time.”

Cole said while there’s no up-and-coming Oklahoma candidates in this race, there is emerging talent for the future. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, is married to an Oklahoman.

“His hunting dogs are named Boomer and Sooner. He may not be Oklahoma’s favorite son, but he’s Oklahoma’s favorite son-in-law,” he said.

He named Sen. James Lankford, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and former Speaker of the Oklahoma House T.W. Shannon as some of Oklahoma’s up-and-coming figures.

“There’s certainly plenty of political talent in the Sooner State. I don’t know if any of those people have the presidential bug,” he said. “You really gotta want this thing.”

Online: Norman Transcript (also published on Moore American)