There’s been some ups and downs in Congress in recent times as the local rep in the U.S. House says some good work is still getting done despite a deeply divided political scene in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, whose District 4 includes Garvin County, offered some of his thoughts on many of today’s issues facing the country when he stopped in Pauls Valley for a luncheon last week.
“How would I describe the last few months in D.C. – the best of times, the worst of times,” Cole said as one of his opening statements to the dozens gathered inside the local Reynolds Recreation Center.
Cole said the positives start with the relatively fast development of the vaccines to combat the COVID-19 virus, especially with it coming much quicker than the normal process.
“COVID-19 is not over but almost; we’re starting to get back to normal,” he said.
“Vaccines work. Most people haven’t stopped and looked at what a miracle it is. We had three vaccines in just a few months. We just did something faster, more successfully than anything else in history.”
As for the American economy, Cole cites the low unemployment and high consumer confidence before the pandemic arrived. Now on the other side, he says the economy is making a comeback.
“The economy has reasserted itself. There have been some rough patches but the economy is coming back,” Cole said, adding the U.S. economy is still the largest in the world.
When it comes to the worst of times, he points to the divided politics in the nation’s capital with little or no bipartisan efforts to come up with policies that include some compromise and input from both side of the political aisle.
Cole says President Biden has made some controversial moves since taking office in January – things like stopping construction on the Keystone gas pipeline and the border balls at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In fact, Cole calls it an “unmitigated” disaster at the border with the record numbers of migrants crossing unchecked into America.
He also expects a disaster to come from the full military pull-out in Afghanistan.
Despite the political divisions Cole believes Congress is still getting some things done.
An example – five COVID relief bills adding up to about $4 trillion being passed during some “contentious” times.
“They were done in a bipartisan way – an amazing achievement. Congress actually got a lot of big things done this year,” he said, adding that came despite the divided political climate.
Then came what Cole describes as a more partisan COVID relief bill that included a whole lot more, such as a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“A minimum wage like that in San Francisco may make sense but it may not make sense in Wewoka.”
There’s also a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that Cole says got no Republican support.
“(President Biden) calls it human infrastructure. I call it social welfare support,” Cole said, adding he's unsure if the president would accept a compromised bill or if such a bill would even get to a House vote.
“I anticipate a big showdown in the fall over spending,” he said, referring to the “regular” budget.
Cole says the Republican conditions for that budget include an increase in military spending, lower domestic spending and the reinstatement of the Hyde Amendment related to barring the use of federal funds to pay for some abortions.
“The national debt is pretty serious on the Republican side and pretty unserious on the Democratic side.”
He also calls China an “extraordinarily dangerous country.”
“I have no doubt that the coronavirus came out of the Wuhan lab. It probably happened in October or November (2019) and they didn’t tell anyone until December and they allowed people to travel and spread it.
“They’re expanding their military rapidly. They make no bones about it, they intend to pass the U.S. They’re aim is to push us out, but we have a lot of friends around the world.”
Cole believes American elections will remain secure and predicts the Republicans will retake the House majority during the mid-term elections in 2022.
Of a more local concern is the impact of the pandemic on towns like Pauls Valley as they're forced to expand some services beyond available resources.
That concern comes from PV’s Vice Mayor Bonnie Meisel, who is also a volunteer with the local Samaritans food pantry, which during the last year has served residents in need throughout the county.
Meisel said she has questions about “quality of life” issues not being funded, including here in PV with what she describes as a record number of homeless people, namely seniors, coming into this area since the pandemic began.
“It’s putting a strain on our cities and funding to support these programs is just not there,” Meisel said.
“People are coming into towns like Pauls Valley because of problems somewhere else, and it creates more homeless and more people in need of things like food.”