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With his first open meeting in Shelby County since winning the November election, 4th Congressional District Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Vanceburg) said he treated his talk Friday with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce similar to the town hall meeting he had held the day before in Carroll County.
Massie discussed his brief stint in Congress before the past election – he had taken over for Republican Geoff Davis, who resigned last summer – and described his “freshmore” year, a combination of freshman and sophomore, as a learning experience.
“My job is to come back and be as transparent as possible,” he said. “Part of the reason to be transparent is because I feel like that’s an obligation, but also its such a mental burden to carry these things around.”
He described many instances that took him by surprise, including how votes are taken and how things are handled in back channels, especially on his first amendment.
“I had a speech ready for that one, and was about five minutes from going in front of Congress when I was told that the amendment would be passed by voice vote if I toned down my speech,” he said. “Now, I had a dilemma because this was a really good speech, and if I did tone it down, how could they be sure it would pass? It only takes one voice vote to stop a voice vote. But I toned it down, and it passed.”
Massie said that many congressional members would pass an amendment with a voice vote because there is no individual record for that.
“That’s another thing you don’t really see when you watch it on TV,” he said. “When you’re watching on C-SPAN, all you see is totals on the screen, but when you’re on the floor, there’s a big board with everyone’s vote on it. A lot of times members won’t even read the bills, which can be difficult because we might only get a copy about four hours before a vote on it. But they’ll just look up at the board and find two or three members that they trust and vote with them.
“I don’t do that. We go through every bill and see how it’s going to fit in with our ideals. That’s why a good staff is so important.”
He also noted his work to get a separate vote on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which includes food stamps) away from the Farm Bill vote.
“When that was brought to a vote, they had been promised fifty votes from the Democrats, so it would pass,” he said. “But someone got cold feet, and it didn’t pass. There were about sixty of us Republicans that had not voted for it, and we said if we could get SNAP, which represents about eighty percent of the spending in the bill, separate from the Farm Bill, we’d approve it.
“Once they did that, fifty of the sixty, including me, voted for it. There’s good and bad in it, but I voted for it because we were heading in the right direction.”
Massie played a “Mythbuster” game with the group, picking a few topics that some see as myths and explaining how they are true or false.
“Social Security, that’s one that was a big myth in my head,” he said. “I kind of thought there was this big lock box with all the Social Security money in it, but that’s not at all true. The first people that retired into Social Security were paid by those workers paying into it. Now, that was a viable option before the Baby Boomers generation, but not now when more people are retiring and people are living longer than they ever have before.”
Massie said he believes the system can still work, but it will have to be changed.
“We have to tweak the equation a little,” he said. “We’ll have to raise the age – not of those in it or close to going in it – but it is fixable.”
One true myth he noted is “everything happens at the last minute. That’s very true.”
And one final odd story from his first sessions in Congress – “After the asteroid hit in Russia, we had two meetings of the Science Committee about how to stop an asteroid that would coming toward the United States,” he said.
“If there is one time that I would advise you to pray, that’s it. I mean, the federal government can’t even stop the sequestration, how are we going to stop an asteroid?”
Looking forward, Massie said he’s gearing up for another fight.
“Our next battle is going to be on Obamacare [Affordable Care Act],” he said. “The president of the Teamsters said it will ruin the forty-hour work week. Most people in my district don’t want it, and I think it’s a bad idea.
“What I’m proposing is when we go back in September, we fully fund everything from the continuing resolution – which was passed in March to avoid a government shutdown and caused the sequestration – even the things I don’t like, except Obamacare.
“I think it needs to be torn down and started over.”