Watertown Daily Times
October 18, 2018


WATERTOWN — If re-elected, U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik has three key things she wants to accomplish in 2019: securing the future of farmers, addressing health care and protecting Fort Drum.

In a wide-ranging editorial board meeting with the Times on Wednesday, Ms. Stefanik outlined how she hoped to address these issues and others in an increasingly unpredictable Washington.

“I’m hearing people who are frustrated about the noise” from the capital, Ms. Stefanik said. “But people are feeling better about the economy.”

Ms. Stefanik is running for re-election against Democrat Tedra L. Cobb and Green Party candidate Lynn S. Kahn.

One recent economic victory, according to Ms. Stefanik, was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“That was a big win for our area,” Ms. Stefanik said, pointing to the lowering of trade barriers for American milk being sold in Canada.

But there are still significant issues for local farmers, like the supply of labor. Ms. Stefanik voted last year for a comprehensive immigration bill that would have provided for year-round guest worker visas, as much of the work on dairy farms now is done by immigrants, as well as making Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals permanent, ending family separation, and increasing funding for border security. She hopes that these reforms can be implemented next session.

On health care, Ms. Stefanik says she thinks the Affordable Care Act needs to end.

“I support repeal and replace,” she said. “I was very clear, I don’t like the direction of the Affordable Care Act.”

She is also not supportive of efforts to create a single payer system, or Medicare for All.

“It’s a government run solution and I fundamentally disagree,” she said.

Instead, she supports keeping some of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act along with a number of other pricing reforms. Among these are a repeal of a tax on medical devices and the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence Act that provides funding to community health centers. She also wants to make it easier for new drugs to get approved, move more quickly from brand name drugs to generics, and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

As for protecting Fort Drum, Ms. Stefanik said they were working on a solution to the wind turbines that could interfere with Fort Drum’s radar installations.

“We have tried to fix the process,” she said. “I think we’ve come out with a really balanced approach, I think the state stepping up is important as well.”

Ms. Stefanik said that the fort is among her top priorities.

“The fact I’ve been the leading voice on Fort Drum has been very clear to all my colleagues,” she said. “I’m very focused on the long-term capabilities of Drum.”

Ms. Stefanik also spoke about some of the other economic issues facing the district, including a shortage of trained labor.

“We have a huge dearth of welders, we need truck drivers,” she said.

Introducing the idea of a career in trades, she thinks, will encourage more children to look at pursuing these jobs instead of all assuming they need four-year degrees.

“We do have a huge crises looming in terms of student debt,” Ms. Stefanik said.

Her suggestion is providing tax incentives for employers to pay down student debt as a benefit, much like employers do with 401k retirement plans.

She also thinks the district needs more infrastructure investment.

“I think in the next Congress … we can get an infrastructure project done,” she said.

President Donald J. Trump promised a major infrastructure package during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Ms. Stefanik thinks now will be the time to implement it.

“He obviously likes building things,” she said.

She also wants to expand the Northern Border Regional Commission, which provides federal funding to development along the Canadian border, and touted the increased funding for broadband expansion she included in the Farm Bill.

Asked about the Ogdensburg Bridge, which will likely need hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to keep updated, Ms. Stefanik said she was aware of the problem.

“I do think it’s an incredibly important bridge on a federal level,” she said. “I delivered a TIGER Grant” for $3 million.

She acknowledged, however, the problem went well beyond that.

“I think the feds need to continue to invest,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik also wants a serious review of the federal budget, which is currently projecting severe deficits,

“I didn’t support decimating the (Department of Defense),” she said. “I think we need to look at every program … I think it needs to be a top to bottom assessment.”

One notable area where Ms. Stefanik continues to distance herself from her Republican colleagues is a focus on climate change and renewable energy.

“The climate change legislation I introduced has more cosponsors than it did in the last Congress,” she said.

She hopes to get renewable energy like hydroelectric and biomass, which are prevalent or have potential in the north country, to receive the same incentives as wind and solar.

“I’ve been trying to make sure all renewables are being treated equally,” she said.

To get all these proposals through, Ms. Stefanik is signing on to a package of reforms designed to cut through gridlock and give priority to bills with broad bipartisan support, as well as requiring more consensus on speaker votes.

Ms. Stefanik said the reforms had been brought to both Republican House members running for speaker, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, but neither had signed on yet.

Besides the broad range of policy proposals, Ms. Stefanik also criticized her opponent, Ms. Cobb, for what she said was a lack of transparency on her past as a St. Lawrence County legislator and clarity on her positions. Asked about some controversial advertisements that both the Glens Falls Post Star and North Country Public Radio found to be inaccurate, Ms. Stefanik stood by them.

“You should stand up as a congressional candidate,” she said. “There is a fundamental lack of transparency.”