I had a nice visit with District 3 U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, on Tuesday.
The Congressman was in Warsaw to speak at a Kosciusko Chamber/Builders Association event. He visited Ivy Tech’s manufacturing training site and Medtronic, and also spoke with OrthoWorx representatives before stopping by the Times-Union.
I started the conversation by asking him about the seeming inability of Congress to work together to get anything done. As an example, I mentioned Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Congress in the mid 1990s. While they were ardent political foes, they still worked together to pass legislation from the right and the left.
I also asked about the primary process in which small numbers of voters come out to support ideologically pure candidates and the notion that the partisan divide is widening.
“I agree. It’s much worse now. There are no more Blue Dog Democrats. Maybe two or three. They’ve all been wiped out. I’m good friends with several of them.
“See, that’s why primaries matter. People say you gotta crush the other side. No. You have to work with the other side.”
(That’s a positive sentiment and I agree with his assessment of Blue Dog Democrats. But I would suggest the same has happened to moderate Republicans, too.)
He sees the partisan divide widening now and he doesn’t support impeachment because “it would tear the country further apart.” He said Obama’s performance should show the nation that “Elections have consequences. This country elected him twice.”
He said he is pessimistic in the short term, but optimistic in the long term that things can improve. “Are we going to get back to free markets and free enterprise? Are we going to get back to liberty?”
He said many current issues resonate with young voters, such as the intrusion of privacy of the National Security Agency’s data mining programs.
“We need government to be held in check, to be less involved in our daily lives. We need to find other ways to protect us.”
He sees a process with regard to immigration.
“You have to start with the border. You have to know who’s going in and who’s going out. You can’t have a functioning immigration system without controlling the border. If you don’t control the border, you’ll be right back in the same situation in the future.”
Next, he said the process for immigrants to obtain legal status has to change. “Right now there are too many hoops. It takes too long. We have a broken visa system. Companies can’t even get talented people in from Canada to work here.”
He said there’s a lot of talent around the world and the U.S. needs to have a workable system in place for those people to come here to live and work. Many immigrants come here to get a college degree and then have to leave because they can’t obtain status.
Finally, he said, there needs to be a system to address those already here illegally.
“It’s not practical or realistic to send them back. The federal government failed them and the American people with a broken system,” he said.
“We need a system where illegals are penalized, pay a fine and head to the back of the line,” he said, adding that they should be incentivized to follow the rules.
Stutzman has spoken to many veterans and he says they are frustrated.
They are frustrated with waiting for appointments and with the way services are spread out. One medical test may be scheduled one day and a second a day or two – or a week – later. Veterans – and Stutzman – believe situations like this should be avoided by consolidating appointments and saving trips the V.A.
“Folks at the local level are trying very hard,” he said. “But their hands are being tied by mid-level and upper administrators.”
Stutzman said the fix that was passed last month by Congress was exceedingly expensive – $25 billion. “It’s very frustrating. It never should have gotten to this point.”
I asked if he would concur with the sentiment that the current state of affairs at the V.A. is the face of government-run health care. He said he would.
He favors a system where veterans would be given the option to go to private health care facilities if they were not receiving suitable care at the V.A.
I asked him to characterize, generally, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
“A lot of rhetoric and a little action,” he said.
“When he says it wasn’t his decision to remove troops from Iraq, that’s a little disingenuous because he campaigned on it,” Stutzman said.
“There are three things that everyone in Congress will support. That’s veterans, Israel and our troops,” he said. “If the president would put forth a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish, he would have the support of Congress.”
Stutzman said Congress would support the use of troops if they were deployed in a meaningful way, allowed to do their job and then brought back home. But he doesn’t believe the president is fully committed to doing that.
He said the Middle East is complicated, but “If we’re not going to bring our allies together to keep dictators from killing their own people, I don’t know who else will.”
Stutzman noted there is a financial component as well because it’s difficult to fund military operations when the government is running such large deficits.
“Basically, he’s cut the budget on the back of the  military. I’m not opposed to military spending cuts, but everything else has to be on the table as well.”
Finally, Stutzman said he and others in Congress will continue to work to repeal or replace the medical device tax that is part of the Affordable Care Act.
“That is crippling to the orthopedic industry. That’s sending a lot of money to D.C. that could stay right here and make a difference in Warsaw.”
Stutzman didn’t say anything surprising. He fits well as a representative of the 3rd District because, after all, he is a reliable small-government conservative.