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Hill says Dem House ‘off to a pretty good start’

Indiana Ninth District Rep. Baron Hill told Harrison County Chamber of Commerce and civic leaders Saturday that the first six months of the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress have been productive, despite the body’s low approval rating.
Hill, speaking at a luncheon at Magdalena’s Restaurant in Corydon, said Congress’ approval rating, which is about 23 percent, lower than that of President Bush, is likely a result of the public’s high expectations after giving control of both the House and Senate to his party last fall.
Unfortunately, he said, the legislative process takes time, and while the House has passed several items, the Senate still must act on them before they can be sent to the President.
He said he expects Congress’ approval rating to go up this fall or winter after the legislation is passed out of the Senate and the public becomes more aware of what has been done.
First elected in 1998, Hill, who never until this year was a member of the House majority, said that unlike the GOP-led 109th Congress, this Congress is working five days a week, if not more. Hill, who was defeated by Republican Mike Sodrel in 2004, but recaptured the seat in 2006, said that was also the case during his last term, when the House was typically in session only Tuesday through Thursday.
‘So, we weren’t getting much accomplished,’ he said.
Pointing to a chart entitled ‘New Directions for America: Six Month Progress Report,’ Hill then detailed various actions taken by the House regarding six key areas: the military, accountability, energy independence, the economy, and children and families.
One column on the chart listed what the House has done, with a check mark, while the other noted President Bush’s opposition, in most cases, with an ‘X’.
Regarding the military, Hill said Congress enacted the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations, but the President opposes the legislation in its current form. He also pointed out that the House originally called for benchmarks in its Iraq supplemental funding bill, but relented after Bush vetoed the initial legislation.
‘I’ve always taken the position that even though I’m opposed to this war and we need to bring our men and woman home, I think we should support the troops,’ Hill said, explaining why he voted for the second funding bill without benchmarks.
He said it will be interesting to see if the President begins to change his stance on Iraq now that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican, has began questioning the Administra-tion’s policy.
Noting the public’s concerns with ethics regarding the last Congress, Hill said this Congress passed a Congressional Ethics Reform package that includes banning gifts and travel from lobbyists. He added that no presidential signature was required for the reforms to go into effect.
Hill added that he is hopeful that a bill he has authored to establish an independent ethics commission made up of former members of Congress will be brought to the floor. The bill so far, he said, has been signed by 70 other House members.
‘I just think this bill I’ve got in the hopper is a good idea,’ he said.
Hill also praised the Fiscal Honesty and Accountability Act, which has introduced instituting ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ rules, which would require the federal government to state how it will fund new programs or what programs will be cut when there are tax cuts instead of simply borrowing money to pay for them. Currently, he said, interest payments are the second largest expenditure in the federal budget.
‘So, I think we’ve got to get honest in how we’re doing on budgets,’ he said.
Hill said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances, noting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week told him she favors it.
Regarding energy independence, Hill said the House voted to repeal subsidies to oil companies, as well as to invest in renewable fuels, and to prevent price-fixing by OPEC and major oil companies, but the President has threatened to veto both measures. He also talked about a bill he has proposed to enhance the tax cuts for manufacturers of hybrid cars.
Gordon Pendleton, a Democrat member of the Harrison County Council, asked Hill about his proposal, noting that most hybrids are produced by foreign manufacturers and, therefore, the tax cuts would be directed to overseas automakers.
Hill said that is true, but he hopes the tax cut would encourage domestic automobile manufacturers to produce more hybrid vehicles.
Hill also talked about Congress’ attempts to help small businesses and to provide assistance to children and families. Efforts regarding the former, he said, include expanding tax credits and a measure that would provide grants to persons to become science and math teachers, measures that the President has either vetoed or opposes in its current form, while those regarding the latter include allowing Medicare price negotiation, cutting interest rates on student loans and raising the minimum wage. The President has only shown support for increasing the minimum wage, having signed it into law last spring.
‘So, we have, in fact, been doing things in Congress,’ Hill said, adding that he believes ‘we’re off to a pretty good start.’
State Rep. Paul Robertson, a Democrat serving his 29th year in the Indiana State House, told Hill that he believes the public is unaware of what Congress has been doing because Iraq still remains the number one issue.
‘I think you’re right, Paul,’ Hill said. ‘Iraq is still kind of the elephant in the room.’
Hill said he believes that while the President opposed benchmarks earlier this year, he may change his mind when another supplemental funding bill is considered in September.
‘Some of that (proposal of benchmarks) will happen again … and I think he’ll be under enormous pressure to sign that,’ Hill said, explaining if the President doesn’t, it may have political consequences for Republicans in 2008.
Hill was also asked about the recent immigration bill that failed in the Senate, saying immigration is probably the number two issue about which his office receives calls, with constituents voicing disapproval towards amnesty, and his opinion on whether Congress should conduct a no-confidence vote of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Hill said he believes such a vote should be held.