TRAVERSE CITY — Automatic federal spending cuts loom if the nation’s political leaders don’t broker a budget deal by March 1, a deadline that prompted U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek to voice frustration with a fractured Republican party and a Democratic-controlled Senate.
“It’s probably my biggest frustration about what’s going on in Washington,” Benishek said of the latest budget standoff, a repeat of the fiscal cliff stalemate ramped up in December and carried into the New Year. If lawmakers can’t reach a deal federal agencies will have to absorb $85 billion in federal cuts in less than a week.
“We don’t have a budget,” Benishek, an Iron River Republican whose 1st Congressional District includes the Grand Traverse region and all of the Upper Peninsula. “The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in like four years. The way I thought it worked is we do something in the House, they do something in the Senate and we have a … bit of compromise and we move forward with a plan.
“(But) with the Senate not having a budget for the last four years, there is no way to come together with a compromise because we don’t know what their position is. So we end up having these short-term things because they won’t do a budget. Then there’s another crisis in three months, and another short-term thing, then another crisis in three months. It drives me nuts.”
Benishek met last week with Record-Eagle editors and said he’s discouraged by what he termed a fragmented Republican party, as well as his party’s leadership in the House of Representatives.
“I’m sort of disappointed with the leadership in the House to tell you the truth,” Benishek said. “We can’t bring a majority together for some things and get a unified position. Without a unified position, we don’t have much strength. It’s been a learning experience.”
Benishek grew up in Iron River and made his living as a surgeon before he veered into politics and won a seat vacated when longtime Rep. Bart Stupak retired in 2010. He said he ran for office to do something about the massive federal debt. He said he supports cuts to the military – perhaps a 1 percent annual cut to the military budget -- as well as every other federal agency -- for consecutive years. Benishek said the key to making cuts is to give the military time to figure out what can be cut and what can’t, as opposed to across-the-board cuts mandated by sequestration and the fiscal cliff crisis.
“You think a 1 percent cut to the military this year would really do a lot of harm?” Benishek said. “A 1 percent cut? A 1 percent cut that they had time to figure out in their budget. You think they couldn’t accommodate and do their same mission with a 1 percent cut in their budget?”
Benishek said the government is wasting money fighting in Afghanistan and spending foolishly on unneeded military bases.
“ I don’t think we should be in Afghanistan at all,” he said. “We should be out of there yesterday. I think it’s a waste of money and men and women power. I don’t think we should have troops on the ground somewhere else without a declaration of war. I’m very adamant about that.”
Benishek added the Traverse City area to his district thanks to redistricting after 2010. He said he’s meeting with constituents and is advocating on issues of agriculture and veterans affairs. Regarding the national debate about gun control and a possible assault weapons ban, Benishek said he wants to have a thorough public discussion on the matter. He’s received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from National Rifle Association coffers, but refused to state whether he supports or opposes a ban on assault weapons and background checks on all purchases.
“I don’t even like that word assault rifle,” Benishek said. “It sounds scary ... I don’t want to make a blanket statement like that without having a real discussion.
“(Sheriffs in the district) tell me, ‘When I have to fill out the paperwork for a concealed weapons permit on somebody, there’s really no way of knowing if they are mentally ill or a danger to themselves or others,’” Benishek said. “That is a problem.
“That has to be thoroughly looked at to see who and how these people are getting weapons,” Benishek said.