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Griffith: Glory days of federal grants are over

Kingsport Times News, Aug 17 -

KINGSPORT — U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith nods in agreement when he’s reminded that his predecessor, Democrat Rick Boucher, was prolific at getting   federal grants for everything from broadband to water lines over a period of three decades.

   That time, Griffith said, is o v e r.

   It’s because the times are very different, and the federal government has a spending problem, the Virginia 9th Congressional District Republican said during a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board.  

   “We’re not in a position to shake the money tree, one because it’s all spent, and two we banned earmarks, ...” Griffith said. “Now there are some things. ... I voted to put more money into water programs. ... Getting water piped in is actually under EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), so I voted to put more money over there. That’s something long term that can help. USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has some programs that help the district. I voted to help put that money in the big pot.

   “If we were running a 40 cent on every dollar surplus, I’m like any other politician. I’d say ‘Let’s get some money to this or that locality.’ ... (But) I’m convinced the 9th District will do OK. When we’re in this deep financial situation, I cannot tell you I’m going to get as much money as Rick Boucher over the last 20 years.”

   Griffith, the former Virginia House Majority leader, narrowly defeated Boucher in the 2010 election cycle and said he’s now “looking at everything you’re spending money on.”

   He voted against two of the three major bills involving trillions of dollars in federal spending cuts and raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.  

   Concerning his “no” vote on the Budget Control Act, also known as the debt ceiling deal that passed the House by more than 100 votes, Griffith said: “I think we needed to put down a marker. ... This was not a good deal. However, it was probably the best deal that leadership could craft. ... I felt comfortable voting no in the end ... (but) I probably would have voted for it if they needed the votes.”

   Griffith, who described himself as “a rules guy,” indicated he will bone up on knowing House rules to change federal mandatory spending habits.

   He cited one bill passed last month that authorized $2.9 million to be spent on an advisory agency helping the federal government in the regulatory process.  

   “There are things in military construction I would have voted against,” said Griffith, who added he has proposed a bill to cut congressional salaries by 10 percent.

   The debt ceiling deal passed by Congress called for a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but Griffith did not believe the Democratcontrolled Senate will pass it.

   “It works very well in Virginia,” he said of the fiscal tool. “It’s in our constitution. That means we make the tough choices. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight over what those tough choices are, but in my 17 years in the legislature ... the process works better when everyone knows there isn’t any other choice but balancing   the budget. It’s not a question of can we print more money or delay the inevitable for another year or two years. It’s a matter of you’ve got to get it balanced. I think the United States government needs to go in that direction.”

   The debt ceiling deal also called for a bipartisan “super committee” of lawmakers to find more than $1 trillion in additional cuts to be voted on by Congress by the end of the year or automatic cuts kick in.

   Griffith said Congress needs a “Plan C” outside of that committee.

   “There’s a real fear that with the philosophical divide that we have between the controlling party in the Senate (Democrats) and the controlling party in the House (Republicans), that it’s going to be harder to walk that tightrope,” Griffith said of the committee. “I hope they understand no matter what they say publicly that they get on that tightrope and that means sometimes everybody has to feel a little bit uncomfortable.   The fear is they will come up with something more conservative than the Senate will accept or more liberal than the House will accept.”

   Military spending, said Griffith, might be one easy target for cuts. He said he voted on bringing home 10,000 of the 40,000 troops the United States has in Europe.

   “I still think we need to keep an eye on Russia, but most of the eastern bloc (countries) are now NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies,” Griffith said. “We have made our European allies weak because we are covering so much of their defense expenditures with our tax dollars. ... The British and French can’t unseat (Libyan dictator) Moammar Gadhafi all by themselves. ... They’re relying on us exclusivel y. ”

   And the United States, said Griffith, has spent a “huge amount of money” in Afghanistan over a 10-year period.  

   “I am hesitant to say ‘Pull out’ and leave that investment by our young people without something positive to show for it,” he said of the military presence in Afghanistan. “We may have to settle for something less than we originally wanted, which is a Democratic-Jeffersonian style of government. That ain’t gonna happen.”  

   Back at home, Griffith said he would continue to advocate for less federal regulations.

   “We’ve tied one hand behind our back and our legs together in an economic fight. Most of it comes from regulations and not   being able to use our abundance of energy,” said Griffith. “EPA is going for perfect and driving all our businesses out. ... Every month there has been some kind of hit from some agency that affects jobs in the 9th District.”