U.S. Rep. Denny Heck said his 26 days on the job in Washington, D.C., has been like “drinking from a fire hose,” but he’s built a foundation for getting to work in earnest. He found a residence, opened a Capitol office, hired staff and received his committee assignments. And in his first month, he voted in favor of two controversial bills that turned into much more partisan fights than he’d liked.
“I in candor have to admit I’m a little discouraged by how polarized it is back there. But I don’t think I have a big enough sample size to come to any hard and fast conclusions,” Heck said.
Heck, a Democrat in the minority, said his view was colored by the votes on emergency aid for East Coast victims of Hurricane Sandy and to raise the debt limit for a few months. Both were “high profile, tough issues” that brought out even more partisanship than he’d expected – which, given Heck’s campaign ads that called on Congress to end the partisanship of Congress, may be saying a lot.
On a more hopeful note, Heck said: “Again it’s too early for me to come to (conclusions). We haven’t started committee work. Committee work is where you can start working across the aisle and get down to substance.”
For the record, Heck cast his votes in favor of Hurricane Sandy disaster aid and for the federal debt limit, which lets the government pay bills already incurred. Heck noted that half the no votes on the aid bill were from lawmakers whose districts had received significant disaster aid in the previous decade. The debt bill came to be known as “no budget, no pay,” and six of the state’s 10 House members voted in favor.
Heck’s open house (we ran a photo of it in The Olympian today) drew about 100 people and gun control was among the questions he took. Heck says he favors some lawmaking responses to gun violence in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, including closure of what some call the gun-show loophole that lets some purchasers avoid back-ground checks.
I missed Heck’s interaction on this issue with the public. But for a fuller look at his views on gun violence and solutions, take a look at Heck’s letter to continuents about gun violence, which also talks about respecting the constitutional right to own and use guns. The letter, which Heck said his staff has sent to 1,600 to 1,800 constituents that inquired, has details about his support for mental health funding and his wish to remove barriers to research that might shed light on the reasons for gun violence.
Looking ahead, the House must deal with the so-called “sequester,” a package of across the board budget cuts that take effect in March if lawmakers do not come up with a budget alternative. The cuts were part of the 2011 compromise that averted a government shutdown, and Heck worries that Department of Defense cuts may harm the 10th district’s Joint Base Lewis McChord.
But what spending for the military is at risk in Washington state is unclear. Heck explained that the Department of Defense held off itemizing the risks last year and is only now developing plans. But he expects the 10th district – which runs from Olympia to Shelton, University Place and Puyallup and includes the Joint Base Lewis McChord – to feel it.
“Of course that will affect Joint Base Lewis McChord,” Heck said. Although details are as yet unknown, he said, “most people believe that we have to do something to at least mitigate what will happen in that regard.’’
So where is the path to agreement on the next round of budget cuts, which President Obama wants to balance out with revenue hikes?
“I think the next 90 to 120 days are going to be pretty tough back there,” Heck said. “The optimist in me believes we are going to come out OK. But the realist in me believes that we are going to go through some pretty ugly times getting there.’’