“Let me start with what the Congress is doing or better yet, not doing. We’re not very productive,” Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) told Shelter Island students in teacher Brian Doelger’s government class Tuesday morning.The congressman pointed to anger that has built up in the country the last few years and said the result was the election in 2010 of a lot of angry Tea Party candidates “who have had a very prominent role” in blocking legislation through much of President Barack Obama’s terms in office.
There are “normal, healthy” differences people have with one another, Mr. Bishop said. But what were once differences of opinion that could be worked out have become “deeply emotionalized,” he said. Unlike past Congresses whose members moved to Washington with their families and socialized with one another, today’s congressional members tend to leave families behind and head home on weekends.
What was once legislative compromise has today become an inability to find common ground, he said.
Still, he described most congressional members as “smart, hardworking, dedicated people who want to do the right thing. We all do want the same result — the lives of people we represent to be improved,” he said.
Students peppered Mr. Bishop with questions, starting with his reaction to the delays in getting treatment at Veterans hospitals.
“It is simply unacceptable that people who served their country with distinction are denied timely care,” he said.
But the resignation of General Eric Shenseki won’t solve the problems, he said. The general has demonstrated leadership skills in the military that would have enabled him to solve the existing problems, yet he had become a “distraction” because news of delayed care happened on his watch, Mr. Bishop said.
“Perhaps it was better that he stepped down, but I don’t believe he was the problem,” the congressman said.
On the issue of the Common Core educational standards that have been criticized in many quarters, Mr. Bishop said he thinks it’s too early to judge their effectiveness. The problem was with the rollout of the program, not the program itself, he said, likening it to the Affordable Care Act.
But he also pointed out that Common Core wasn’t a federal program, but rather an offshoot from the National Governors Association.
As for the Affordable Care Act, he said 16 million people who didn’t have health insurance before are now covered. And he predicted that years from now, Americans will see the act as a success because it keeps insurance companies from cancelling policies after a person becomes ill and blocks companies from refusing to cover families who have an ill member. The requirement mandating individuals to get health insurance, roundly criticized by Tea Party members, actually was first introduced by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mr. Bishop said.
“Have there been problems — absolutely,” Mr. Bishop said. But that’s true of all big government program rollouts, he said.
The Affordable Care Act is part of the social contract Americans have with one another, not socialism, he said. The military is another part of that social contract where a few serve the interests of the many, he sid.
Is it fair that Long Islanders send more money to Washington than they get back in services? That’s not the case, Mr. Bishop said, although it is true of the East End. But solving that situation might cause more problems than already exist, he said.
Mr. Bishop doesn’t favor the Keystone Pipeline, pointing out that it doesn’t pass muster with energy requirements.
America is no longer as dependent on foreign oil sources as it was and new energy must be sustainable and affordable. Neither would be true of the oil from the pipeline, he said.
As for the pipeline being a job creator, that would only be true temporarily while the pipeline was built. Operating it wouldn’t be labor intensive, he said.
Responding to another question, the congressman said he doesn’t favor legalizing recreational marijuana, but would like to lift restrictions on its medicinal use.
He ended the session asking students how many were 18 and registered to vote — they were since they registered through the class. He encouraged them not to suppress the vote by failing to cast ballots, whether in person or as absentees.