Tonawanda News — AMHERST — The day after Congress voted to end the government shutdown, Rep. Brian Higgins addressed the Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce and called the past three weeks “highly discouraging” for the country.
“We as a country have more potential than what we are seeing in D.C.,” he said. “To shut down the government ... to try to deflect blame ... is a disgrace.”
After 16 days of shutdown, President Barack Obama signed a bill to reopen the federal government and lift the debt ceiling in the early hours of Thursday. The deal, which sent 800,000 furloughed employees back to work, made no changes in the president’s health care law, which Republicans previously demanded.
The bill extends government funding through Jan. 15 and raises the debt limit until Feb. 7.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, said Friday that the issue centered around a continuing resolution that would have instated current funding levels until a new bill was passed.
“We had plenty of votes in both houses to approve that,” he said. “But John Boehner allowed 30 or 40 extremist Republicans to dictate the situation.”
One luncheon attendee asked Higgins how the two parties can work together — specifically, in three months when the issue is likely to come up again.
“There seems to be a more reasonable way to resolve this,” the questioner said, likely echoing the thoughts of many Americans who dealt with the effects of the shutdown.
“I’m hoping that rationality will prevail in the coming weeks, and that in the end, common sense will prevail,” Higgins responded.
Much of the discussion in the recent weeks centered on raising the debt limit, a move some Republicans opposed in an effort to limit spending. Failure to do so would have resulted in a first-ever defaulting on U.S. debt and likely would have triggered a significant economic downturn.
“Paul Ryan, who is rising in the Republican ranks, is a good guy. I work out with him in the gym,” Higgins said. “But he wants to hold the economy hostage to control spending. Eight months ago, Republicans approved a budget that was ... more than our revenue. The logical response to that is to raise the debt ceiling.”
Higgins also defended the Affordable Care Act, a central point of contention during the shutdown negotiations. He argued that it makes economic sense to provide insurance to those who would otherwise go to an emergency room for expensive care.
He noted that the Heritage Foundation, a Republican organization, first created the individual mandate, which requires U.S. residents to purchase health insurance.
“The economics make sense,” he said. “That’s what they promoted. And now, they’re against it.”
The shutdown further hampered the economy, which, Higgins said, is not projected to grow enough to sustain the current employment levels.
Although he noted that investment in research and American products is necessary, he stressed that the government must improve the country’s infrastructure.
“Last year, Congress invested $536 million in American infrastructure,” he said, adding that the United States is projected to lose $336 billion over the next five years due to inadequate infrastructure. “And we invested $89 billion into roads and bridges in Afghanistan, a country that has the population of 26 million.”
Despite the long road the country has ahead, Higgins proudly noted progress at home. More than 1.2 million visitors went to Canal Side in Buffalo over the past year, up from zero five years ago. Further development is coming, too, with the creation of the new medical center and the reconstruction of the Webster block in front of First Niagara Center.
“The Buffalo waterfront was 75 years of nothing,” he said. “We developed quality public access at the water’s edge ... it’s not Bass Pro that attracts people to the waterfront. What attracts people to the waterfront is the water.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.