The chances of Congress heading off sequestration — across the board budget cuts for federal departments and programs — are slim at this point, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said during a Kona visit Tuesday.
Gabbard, a Democrat who represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional district, said while she appreciated the chance to visit Hawaii and meet with constituents, she called the Congressional break nonsense.
“Why are we not working around the clock to make sure sequestration does not occur,” Gabbard said, after a brief meeting with the Hawaii County Council at the West Hawaii Civic Center. “Hawaii is one of the top 10 states in which sequestration will have a drastic, negative impact.”
Gabbard also met Tuesday morning with Environet employees. The Waimea company could lose up to 70 jobs as reductions to the military’s budget trickle down to cuts in military contracts, she said. Environet is contracted by the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up unexploded ordnance in West Hawaii.
The freshman representative can cast one of 435 House votes, but she said she also can drum up support from constituents and engage the public in matters such as opposing sequestration or building support for Congress to close tax regulations Gabbard and other Democrats describe as loopholes. Those subsidies for oil companies, Gabbard said, save those businesses lots of money.
Gabbard isn’t the first elected official to tout cutting off those subsidies, but she said she sees a few things that might make it happen this legislative session, as opposed to previous ones.
“The makeup (of this Congress) is different than the last Congress,” Gabbard said. “There are folks who are interested in finding a middle ground about putting politics aside.”
Getting a consensus from Americans could also help, she said, adding she encourages people with strong opinions on the subject to contact Congress and provide input.
The Veterans Affairs Department received an exemption from the sequestration cuts, Gabbard said, and last week the chairman and the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs committee came to Hawaii to review the situation regarding veterans’ services in Hawaii.
Gabbard said both representatives acknowledged Hawaii has some unique challenges for veterans, particularly in terms of providing access to services for veterans on the neighbor islands.
Gabbard said Hawaii’s congressional delegation is also looking into the possibility of changing the level of reimbursement for Medicare services in Hawaii. Insurance companies use those reimbursement rates in figuring reimbursement to doctors for other services, and Congress several years ago increased those reimbursement rates for Alaska, noting higher costs of living and doing business there.
Previous Hawaii delegations did not seek a similar increase for Hawaii, but Gabbard said this delegation is investigating that possibility.
“We are really looking at what has worked in Alaska and how we can make that happen here,” she said.