Congress is on a five-week recess, but U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-4th, isn’t on vacation.
“It’s one of the hardest-working periods for us,” said Massie, who visited Ashland on Tuesday to meet with editorial staff at The Independent, speak to the Ashland Lions Club and tour Marathon’s Catlettsburg Refinery and Marine Services Terminal.
An engineer- and entrepreneur-turned politician, Massie took office in November. He describes the atmosphere he found in Washington, D.C., as even worse than he expected.
“I think we need different leadership in Congress,” said Massie, who was one of a handful of Republican legislators who voted against House Speaker John Boehner. “Being on the inside, I sort of realize how things are broken, but I’m not quite sure how to fix them.”
He has one idea: simplify. “The only way to reform Washington is to get people to vote on single individual issues instead of putting them into one big giant bill and passing them,” Massie said. “You are never quite sure what your congressman is for or against if it is one big conglomeration.”
Despite the hyperpartisan atmosphere of Washington, Massie told the Lions Club he believes there are “opportunities for bipartisanship.” Shutting down the massive National Security Agency’s domestic telephone surveillance program and immigration reform are among them.
Before the recess, Massie co-sponsored a bill to cut funds to the surveillance program, but it failed by seven votes in the House. When Congress reconvenes in three weeks, he believes it will pass, based on calls he is getting from colleagues getting an angry earful from constituents.
Massie is one of the few members of Congress who have described Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the classified surveillance program to the media, as having “done our country a favor.” He believes reforms are needed to whistleblower laws to add more protections for individuals like Snowden.
Massie said he “absolutely” believes constituents can affect Congress’ view on issues, especially while members are in their home districts during breaks.
“There are a lot of forces in Washington, D.C., inside that beltway, but none of those forces are pushing them (Congress) to do the right thing. At best they do random things, at worst they are doing things that are not in the interest of their constituents. But they do respond to outside forces, outside the beltway,” Massie said.
“They do listen in Washington, D.C., and 10 phone calls in one day can change their vote,” he said.
On Tuesday, Massie compared Congress to a children’s T-ball game. When a batter hits the ball into the outfield, he asked, “Where do they all go? They all go to the outfield, the pitcher, the first baseman the catcher, they are all going after that ball.
“That happens a lot of times in Congress. If you see something on the news, that is where all the congressmen go. It is somewhat frustrating to me. We have had a lot of scandals to investigate this summer. I’m on the oversight committee, so this is actually my job. I play outfield. I’m actually supposed to be there when these things come up, like Benghazi hearings, like the IRS hearings.
“It seems to me like the guys who are doing tax reform, they want to run to the outfield whenever there is a Benghazi hearing. They will show up and talk about it on the news. I wish people would sort of play their positions more in Congress. It would make it easier to get things done — and if we had a longer attention span,” Massie said.
Lions Club members said they were grateful for the opportunity to hear from Massie without a national media filter or frame.
“I’m glad to learn something about him and hear it from his perspective,” Thomas Allemang said. “I’d really just like to see, and he touched on this, less animosity and more cooperation.”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him or listened to him talk,” Earl Twinam said. “I thought he had some good ideas and thoughts. He seems more down to earth than some that I have seen on television.”
Twinam has concerns about Obamacare and was interested to hear Massie’s “defunding strategy” for the health-care plan. Massie proposes having separate votes to fund the continuing operation of the government in September — one covering all the appropriation bills and a second specifically on spending associated with the Affordable Care Act. Such a vote would not repeal Obamacare or shut down the federal government, Massie said.
When Congress reconvenes, Massie said another legislative priority is the Water Resources Development Act, which will fund existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. There are three locks and dams along the Ohio River in the Fourth Congressional District, including the Greenup Locks and Dam. The corps is in the middle of re-examining a Congress-approved plan to extend the Greenup auxiliary lock.
Massie said he also believes the tax code needs to be “radically simplified.” He and his wife, Rhonda, are Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates with extensive math training, he said, “and we still can’t do our taxes.”