Rep. Hurt: ‘Legislative process is broken’

On his brief stop this week in the least-populous of the 18 counties that comprise Virginia’s largest congressional district, Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5th) repeatedly expressed a view shared by many — in Virginia and across the country — who worry that an impasse between the Obama administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will lead to a another government shutdown in a month.

Presented with evidence of Americans’ ever-dropping esteem of their men and women in Washington, Hurt tends to come over and stand with his critics, at least metaphorically, and point — over there, across the Potomac — at the real problem.

The complete interview audio

Readers can also check out the complete audio of our interview with Rep. Hurt by clicking here.

“I do think that our legislative process is broken,” he says. “We have got to get back to the days where . . . the House and Senate together, each do our jobs as it relates to spending bills. when those of us in the House and the Senate just do our jobs . . . This whole idea of waiting until the last minute — the President and the Speaker can work this all out, while the rest of us, the 434 rest of us, you guys will just have to take it or leave it. That’s not the legislative process; that sounds a whole lot more like an oligarchy than it does a democracy.”

Firmly among the House Republican majority that has voted 40 times to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” Hurt deflects accusations of deliberate obstructionism with a trademark, doing-my-job earnestness. “Yeah, [these votes] are just symbolism — I get that a lot. But an act of the House of Representatives isn’t just symbolism. It’s an expression of views of the people I represent. I try to do what’s in their best interests and reflect their views. I don’t apologize for it.”

The Affordable Care Act, Hurt says, is “well-intentioned, I don’t disagree with that. But it’s bad policy. It’s the law of the land, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be repealed. It doesn’t mean it won’t work seamlessly and ensure quality health care for everyone. That’s a possibility, but based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think that’s the case.”

Asked why Congress doesn’t just work toward making the health-care law better, Hurt says, “I really think it’s something unworkable, not something we should proceed with, and that’s based on what I hear from the people I represent.”

In a brief Q&A session with the Rappahannock News editorial staff, Hurt often returned to the issues most agree helped elect him to a first term in 2010, and a second last November, namely:

— that politics in Washington need to work more like they do in Virginia, where, in a decade, he went from being a town council member in his Southside Virginia hometown of Danville to a member of Virginia’s General Assembly and the 5th District’s man in Washington, Virginia being a place where “we were guided by a common sense of purpose.”

— that making it easier for businesses, especially smaller ones, to grow and create jobs is better than making it easier for government, especially the largest one, to grow and create more fees and forms to fill out.

“There are things that are just so urgent in this country,” Hurt says, citing the national debt approaching $17 trillion and a debt ceiling to be reached again by October. “It’s not just about what it means today, but what it will mean for our kids, and grandkids. And the second issue, jobs — there’s still double-digit unemployment in many areas of the 5th District. And to me, the path is to reduce debt and eliminate deficit spending.”

Asked if he agreed with some who think it’d be worse to pass on to future generations the cost of maintenance — of the country’s much-in-need infrastructure of roads, bridges and utilities — Hurt says:

“I would not have voted for the President’s stimulus package if I’d have been in Congress [in 2008]. But wow, what a difference it might have made if the money had been dedicated to rebuilding infrastructure.

Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5th) and his communications director Caroline Califf during Hurt’s interview with the Rappahannock News on Tuesday. Photo by Amy Fewell.
Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5th) and his communications director Caroline Califf during Hurt’s interview with the Rappahannock News on Tuesday. Photo by Amy Fewell.

“I understand there are huge capital costs facing municipalities and states,” he says. “But that said, we’ve got to get our spending under control. We’ve seen what the sequester has done — it’s not as bad as everyone said it’d be. But we’ll continue to have that same pressure on that side of the ledger until we deal with the things that drive spending in this country, and that’s the mandatory spending that makes up two-thirds of spending: Medicare and Social Security.”

Asked about measures that would increase tourism, a rising industry across Virginia’s largely agricultural 5th District, Hurt says: “The things that drive tourism — good roads, a friendly business environment — a lot of that is state-driven, and it should be. But if you look at small businesses, they have to comply with all of the things that all businesses have to comply with, and lots of it doesn’t make much sense.

“The [Copper Fox] Distillery in Sperryville is a great example, people doing what they want to do, when they have the resources to do it. Things [the federal government] can do to help? A coherent, pro-growth tax policy. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world! That’s not competitive, if you’re trying to sell scotch across the ocean and around the world.

“We have a profound obligation to protect the environment,” he adds, “but the question is, are there things we do that go over the top, without considering the consequences? One of them is the farm-pond issue,” he says, referring to HR 2581, legislation he introduced earlier this year that’s meant to make it less costly for farmers to build crop-irrigation ponds. The Preserving Rural Resources Act would “ensure that unelected bureaucrats are not misinterpreting the Clean Water Act and harming family farmers and their ability to create jobs,” Hurt says.

Another bill he points to, the Commonsense Permitting for Job Creation Act that Hurt co-sponsored earlier this month with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th) and Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, would restrict regulators — in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers — from denying a permit for an economic development site until the site’s tenants are on board. “The Corps has gotten itself into the position of not issuing permits without knowing who’s coming,” Hurt said. “It’s a catch-22.”

Hurt was also asked about the Farm Bill — another impasse in the making, with the House pushing a version without the farm-subsidies longtime companion program, commonly known as food stamps, and the Democrat-controlled Senate likely to stonewall such a version.

“In Virginia,” Hurt says, “no bill may have more than one purpose. And so every bill gets a vote, but every one has only one purpose. In Washington, we’re going to make people vote for something by attaching something to it. That’s a backwards way to go. You can’t get farmers and urban people to care about each other, so let’s put food stamps and farm support in one bill? I don’t buy that. I care about both. But they’re two standalone issues.

“Is there a food stamps bill I can support? Absolutely. But people deserve a policy that doesn’t encourage people not to work — we need a safety net, yes, for people who can’t work, but not, as [economist and former senator] Phil Gramm famously said, a ‘hammock.’

“I voted against the farm bill because, in part, it didn’t address the spending side of agriculture. Direct payments are a problem we have to deal with. The dairy program was Soviet-style control — if you produce too much milk, you have to stop. What do you do, take the cows out and shoot them?”

And making more federal farm support available specifically to smaller farms? “Everyone should be treated fairly,” Hurt says. “Small farmers are often victims, and small business in general — look across the spectrum. They can’t compete against the big guys who have the lobbyists in Washington. I am the lobbyist for the small guys on Main Street.”

Hurt had to leave Main Street in Little Washington before the staff could ask all its questions, many of which were contributed by readers, but not before he defended his voting record so far in Washington. “When you look at my record, you’ll see someone who’s always been willing to work with the other side. I haven’t changed since I went from [the Virginia legislature] to Washington. I say I don’t represent the Republican Party — I represent the 5th District, which is comprised of people with different views on things. I try to be a voice for those views, as diverse as they may be.”

And voting with the Republican Party, Hurt says, is something “I do because I have philosophical views consistent with them.

“It’s easy for one party to demonize another,” Hurt says. “I try to refrain from that at all costs, because I don’t think it’s helpful, or useful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have strong opinions on certain issues, like the President’s health-care law, for instance.”

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.