Norman, Oklahoma — The country’s political and financial systems face huge problems, but may not be as hopelessly messed up as they seem.
It was an underlying, if unspoken, theme to U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s opening comments and answers to questions at a town hall meeting Thursday at the National Weather Center.
Cole said Congress, often criticized for partisanship that paralyzes policy-making, has managed to strike three major, last-minute deals over the past few months.
It extended the Bush tax cuts while extending unemployment benefits, passed the 2011 budget and agreed last week to raise the debt ceiling while cutting at least $2.1 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years.
“It has not worked well,” Cole said, “but it worked fitfully.”
He said Congress is likely to find easier agreements on three upcoming matters: Approving trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that could create 750,000 U.S. jobs, passing a highway bill and approving job-creating incentives for companies to bring foreign-earned revenue back into the country.
Earlier in the day, Cole visited three Norman businesses owned by women — OMS Technologes, Fancy Cakes Etc. and the Pink Elephant Cafe — with Norman State Reps. Scott Martin, Aaron Stiles and Emily Virgin.
At the town hall meeting, Cole also discussed the U.S. government’s credit downgrade by Standard & Poor and military losses in Afghanistan, and he answered questions on entitlements, tax breaks, energy production and other topics.
Some audience members asked the congressman why he isn’t doing more to cut spending; others questioned the wisdom of a balanced budget Constitutional amendment.
Cole said he favors a balanced budget amendment, but reminded the audience that doing so requires two-thirds approval by both the House and Senate, followed passage in three-fourths of state legislatures.
“Even if it didn’t happen, I think the (national) debate would be worth it,” he said. “It forces people to stop and think about what to do.”