McCollum calls on new constituents

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum learned first-hand Thursday how what does — and doesn’t — happen in Congress affects Main Street.

During McCollum’s visit to Valley Outreach in Stillwater, she was told that congressional inaction on a farm bill hit the social service agency by affecting availability of dairy products at the food shelf.

“They don’t have milk most of the time. They don’t have cheese,” McCollum said.

Valley Outreach was among several stops McCollum made Thursday in Stillwater. The veteran representative also visited Lift Bridge Brewery and joined Stillwater Mayor Ken Harykci to speak to eighth-graders in Bob Bonnie’s Stillwater Junior High School class.

McCollum also announced an agreement with the city of Stillwater to hold constituent service hours from 9 to 11 a.m. on the second Tuesday of each month starting Feb. 12 at Stillwater City Hall. McCollum’s staff will also offer constituent service hours from 9 to 11 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month at Woodbury City Hall.

“We’re really excited about doing it. Without the cities stepping up and working as a team, I don’t think we would have been able to do this,” she said. “Without them this wouldn’t be possible.”

McCollum spent almost an hour at Valley Outreach with Stillwater Councilman and agency board member Ted Kozlowski and agency staff learning about Valley Outreach’s various programs. She said she was impressed by Valley Outreach’s cooking program which shows clients how to prepare food they receive from the food shelf.

McCollum acknowledged that Valley Outreach staff said the need for the agency’s services continues despite an improving economy.

“People who used to volunteer at these food shelves are finding themselves using these facilities,” she said. “People are still struggling without having enough hours at their work. People are still underemployed.”

But McCollum said she believes people are feeling more confident about the economy.

“People are feeling more hopeful. Housing prices are rising. Companies are hiring and adding hours,” she said.

But the Democrat said confidence in the nation’s economy could be short-lived if Congress continues delaying tough decisions on spending and taxes.

“I’m very concerned that if Congress keeps kicking the can down the road, it will start having an impact in stalling out improvements in economy,” she said.

Regarding the new Congress, McCollum said there are examples of bipartisan cooperation among members on some issues. One bill McCollum and a Republican House colleague are working on is a measure directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey lead a multi-agency effort to slow the spread of Asian carp in the upper Mississippi and Ohio river basins.

“Somebody has to be in charge of this and coordinate the effort. We know its a problem. They’re at our door. They’re here,” she said.

McCollum said other measures with bipartisan support include the stalled farm bill and immigration reform legislation in the U.S. Senate. But the flip side, according to McCollum, are some House Republicans unwilling to compromise on issues.

“There is a substantial part of the Republican (House) membership holding out for their way and their way only,” she said.

One example McCollum cites is House Speaker John Boehner’s narrow re-election to the post last month. She said Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Marcia Blackburn of Tennessee were escorted to the House floor to cast the two votes Boehner needed to win re-election as speaker.

McCollum attributed the farm bill delay to House Republican leaders not bringing the measure up for a vote.

“It appears to me that the House Agriculture Committee had a bipartisan bill to bring to the House. Republican leaders would not bring it to the floor,” she said. “It passed out of the agriculture committee. The Senate was able to move substantially on a farm bill.”

McCollum said she hopes the House will join the Senate to address immigration reform, although a House measure might be tougher than the Senate’s version.

“The House might have a more punitive, less inclusive bill,” she said. “I’m hopeful, I really am. The National Republican Party wants to move on this.”

But McCollum believes Congress faces a harder time passing any changes in the nation’s gun laws in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Some of the senators wanting to make tougher gun laws, close the gun show loophole, even they think it’s an uphill battle,” she said.