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January 19, 2011

Graves talks about Appropriations mandate

When Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, was named to the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee in December, he says he got a few phone calls from people back in his district asking how certain spending projects could be put into the budget.

That’s understandable, he says.

“Traditionally, members would go on the committee to be spenders, to direct funds in certain manners,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

But with the federal government facing a $1.4 trillion deficit, and with angry voters turning control of the House of Representatives over to Republicans in November, Graves said the traditional ways of doing business have been over turned.

“We (Republicans) have taken a no-earmark pledge, and there’s an earmark moratorium in the House. So our answer is that it is simply not an option,” he said.

Asked specifically about federal funding for high-speed rail between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Graves said that in the current fiscal climate he did not think the government would be allocating more money to that.

In fact, Graves says his presence on the powerful Appropriations Committee may be a sign that Washington is changing. Normally, seats on the committee go to the most senior and influential members.

But Graves is one of four freshmen on the 50-member committee this year.

“This is probably the first time this has been done in modern history. It’s really because of the size  of the effort that’s coming up and the size of the freshman class,” he said.

There are 97 Republican freshmen in the House this year. But while they may be new to Congress, most aren’t new to government. Two thirds of them have held elected office before coming to Washington, according to the National Journal.

“We come from states and general assemblies that have to operate with a balanced budget. That’s very foreign to the federal government. So we come in having dealt with the declining economies in our states and having had to deal with those declining revenues and having had to cut spending,” Graves said.

Graves said the major focus of Congress thus year will be “getting our fiscal house in order.”

“You’ll see a push over the coming weeks and months to pare back the federal government, removing regulations from businesses so that they can begin creating jobs once again,” he said.

Graves’ seat on the Appropriations Committee will put him in the middle of that push. Graves also serves on three subcommittees of Appropriations: Agriculture, Financial Services and Commerce, Justice and Science.

“These three committees have jurisdiction over a a lot of different of departments, and I will be primarily be working within those subcommittees.,” Graves said.

Graves declined to say what agencies or budget items he would push to cut.

“I think you will see all across the board cuts to each and every department and agency. In some cases, they will be merged together,” he said. “The main thrust of the Appropriations Committee is to ask those tough questions. And the first question is ‘Is this agency and the role it performs something that is the responsibility of the federal government?’ and if so “Are you doing it in an efficient manner?’”

But Graves said the House has already started cutting some items.

“We have voted to cut our congressional budgets by 5 percent, and we (Tuesday) voted on the STOP Act, which reduced the multiple paper copies of legislation and moves to an electronic format,” he said. “You’ll be seeing gradual reductions like that all over. In some cases, we will ask agencies to take, say, a 20 percent reduction. And in others we will be very specific about how they should make those cuts.”

The House voted Wednesday to repeal the health care bill that Congress passed in 2010.

“We do not know what the Senate will or will not do, but we are carrying forward the message that the American people sent us here with last November and that is stop the government mandates from Washington and to empower the private sector,” he said.

Graves has also filed a bill that would withhold funds to implement the health care law.

President Barack Obama earlier this week ordered every federal agency to review their regulations and “remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

That call found a receptive audience in Congress, said Graves.

“We are very glad that he is starting to see that the reason job creation is so weak right now and unemployment continues to remain high is because of the overburdensome regulations on businesses. I hope it is an indication he will remain open to signing legislation that will reduce regulation on those businesses,” he said.

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