Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla) has represented Northwest Florida since 2001. With the Republicans assuming control of the House of Representatives, Miller has been appointed chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The IN caught up with Rep. Miller to get his takes on the Arizona shooting, his chairmanship and the biggest issues facing the 112th Congress: balanced federal budget, deficit, debt ceiling, healthcare reform and immigration reform.
ARIZONA SHOOTING FALLOUT
IN: What are your thoughts on the Arizona shooting?
Miller: Vicki and I were shocked and saddened by the news of the attack Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and her constituents. Violence and threats of violence against citizens are reprehensible and have no place in society. We have been praying for the Giffords family, the friends and family of Judge John Roll, and for all of the victims of this attack.
IN: Do you know Congresswoman Giffords? Have you ever worked with her directly on any legislation or committees?
Miller: Yes, Gabby and I have served together on the House Armed Services Committee since 2007. She is a hard working public servant and an emerging leader in her party.
IN: Have you been forced to change your own security practices at all in light of the shooting?
Miller: We don’t intend to cancel or restrict the amount of public events I normally do. Listening to constituents face to face is critical to being able to represent them. Gabby understands this and I think most effective leaders do as well. You can’t put every public official in a protective bubble and expect representative democracy to work. Elected officials need that interaction to do the job well.
IN: What do you think of the debate surrounding our current political climate and its influence on the Arizona shooting?
Miller: It’s unfortunate that some are using the attack for political gain. Some politicians and some in the media, on both sides of the spectrum, are blaming their political enemies for the attacks. One Senator is even trying to fundraise on the tragedy. Right now is the time for praying for the deceased, the injured and their families, and bringing the guilty to justice. Once all of the facts are known, there will be plenty of time for political debate.
IN: How do you think the transition from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner in the House will go?
Miller: It’s already underway. Speaker Boehner and his team have hit the ground running. We’ve begun organizing committees and prioritizing legislation for the coming year. So far the transition has gone well, but the real tests will come quickly as we starting taking up the budget.
IN: What are the biggest changes we can expect from a GOP-controlled House?
Miller: Less spending. The American people were tired of the way things were run in the past, so they voted the Democrats out of control in the House. The Republican-led House has to keep its promise to control spending and fix the country’s fiscal health. If we go back to the haphazard spending habits of the last few years that the Republicans were in control, then we will be voted out of the majority just like 2006.
IN: Several of the freshmen Congressmen are tied closely to the Tea Party. How will they influence the direction of the Republican leadership in the House?
Miller: We have a historic number of freshmen in the House this year. Some have already been given leadership roles on committees and in the Republican Conference. They have diverse backgrounds and will focus on a variety of issues, but I think you will see them all unified with the rest of the GOP Conference on issues like the economy and the budget.
HOUSE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
IN: What will be your priorities as the chairman of this committee?
Miller: Our first priority is to begin an aggressive oversight over VA and how they deliver benefits and services to veterans and their dependents. The VA budget has increased by 184 percent in the last ten years, and it will be my top priority to review how this money is being spent. We need to ensure that VA is being good stewards of the taxpayer’s hard earned money.
IN: We read that one of your goals as Chairman is to bring “efficiency and a streamlined approach to the Department of Veterans Affairs.” How can this be done?
Miller: As the second largest Department in the Federal government, VA requires close oversight to ensure that its size is not impeding its mission–to provide benefits and care to our nation’s veterans. We need to reform the growing bureaucracy by modernizing and simplifying the disability claims system, fixing VA’s antiquated procurement process, and building on our successes co-sharing resources with the Department of Defense. For example, right here in Pensacola we have seen great efficiency when VA and DOD work together, and I want to build on those experiences.
IN: You voted against repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Why?
Miller: The current operational tempo and demand on our military has never been higher. The challenge of implementing a policy change of this magnitude while forces are deployed in operational missions is not only difficult, but potentially dangerous. There are potential impacts to logistical requirements that haven’t been fully considered. Rushing through repeal is in direct conflict with the grave concerns of three of our nation’s four service chiefs.
IN: FEDERAL BALANCED BUDGET: Florida voters passed a non-binding referendum supporting a constitutional requirement that the federal government balance its budget without raising taxes. Do believe Congress will address such constitutional amendment this session?
Miller: Absolutely! We should have a balanced budget requirement. Washington has failed time and again to balance the budget under both Republicans and Democrats. American families don’t have the option of not balancing their budget, and neither should Washington.
IN: DEBT CEILING: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner believes the country will hit its debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion sometime between March 31 and May 16. Meanwhile the continuing to fund the government expires March 4. It looks the perfect recipe for a political battle. What do you expect to happen?
Miller: The budget is a mess. The previous leadership failed to pass the appropriations bills necessary to fund the government for all of Fiscal Year 2011. I think you will see some agreement on passing the funding bills, but not without severe limitations on spending.
IN: FEDERAL DEFICIT: President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform made last year several recommendations for reducing the deficit, but Congress has yet to act on them. What are some of the deficit reduction plans being discussed behind the scenes?
Miller: The first thing we have to do is stop additional spending. We can’t begin to address the problem until the hemorrhaging of money is curtailed. Next we need a full review of the full federal government. Every department, program, and acquisition needs to be reviewed. Everything must be on the table; there can be no sacred cows.
IN: HEALTH CARE: Many of this year’s incoming GOP freshmen, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, ran on platforms to have the new health care law stricken down. What are some of the approaches being considered by the Republican leadership, to undo the law’s controversial provision mandating all Americans to purchase health coverage?
Miller: There will be a vote this week for a full repeal of the Health Care bill. If that doesn’t become law, I expect we will see a series of votes throughout the year to repeal portions of the bill. There are a lot of problems with the bill that many Republicans and Democrats agree on. I think we will start with those provisions.
IN: IMMIGRATION REFORM: Congress rejected the DREAM act. However, immigration reform is predicted to still be an issue in 2011. How will the Republican-controlled Congress deal with the issue?
Miller: I don’t believe the House will bring up the Dream Act this year. I remain committed to supporting meaningful legislation aimed at enforcement of immigration policy, and will continue to strongly oppose legislation providing any sort of amnesty to illegal aliens. Providing illegal aliens an easy path to citizenship, as some have proposed, is a disservice to those who come through our legal immigration channels and work hard to contribute to our society. By breaking our laws, good faith is destroyed, and rewarding that action through amnesty is unconscionable.
IN: 2012 PRESIDENTIAL RACE: Are you ready to make any predictions for the 2012 elections yet? Who do you think are the front runners for your party’s Presidential nomination?
Miller: I think the eventual nominee of the Republicans has not yet emerged. I don’t believe he or she will be one of the currently mentioned frontrunners.