The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC’s Fly-In to Washington, D.C. Sept. 11-13 provided, among other opportunities, a chance for participants to travel to Capitol Hill to hear from the state’s elected officials.
Those who spoke include senators Michael Bennett (D) and Cory Gardner (R), as well as representatives Doug Lamborn (R), Michael Coffman (R), Jared Polis (D) and Scott Tipton (R).
The annual trip to D.C. provided elected officials and business leaders from the Pikes Peak region a chance to discuss important issues at the national level.
Rep. Michael Coffman
“It is truly a challenging time here,” said Coffman, who represents the state’s 6th Congressional District. “So much has to get done in a limited time, and we hope we can come together in a bipartisan way.”
Coffman explained that he is part of a new group of representatives called the Problem Solvers, which was formed “to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.” There are about 20 Republican and 20 Democratic representatives, and the group is addressing topics such as health care and immigration, Coffman said.
Coffman also addressed the military presence in Colorado Springs within the context of base relocations and closures.
“I think it’s so important for Colorado to work together with my office and your community in terms of what we can do to BRAC-proof our bases,” he said. “One thing I will try hard to interject in the whole BRAC debate, is that installations outside the U.S. are not part of this process and they should be. We should look at our overseas installations as well as those inside the United States.
“Do we need these fixed assets overseas and the three-year assignments or should we use rotational forces?” Coffman said.
Health care was also part of the discussion.
“I think the [most recent] bill [to repeal the Affordable Care Act] that came out of the House was a lesson in overreach,” he said. “In a sense, it took on a lot of issues that weren’t in the Affordable Care Act.”
Coffman also addressed transportation and infrastructure issues.
“I think we need to move to vehicle-miles-traveled tax,” he said. “When we look at projections for electrical vehicles on the road, I think they will capture a good part of the market and that wouldn’t be covered by a fuel tax. [A vehicle-miles-traveled tax is] more equitable. Clearly we don’t have the funding now to address infrastructure at the state or federal level, so we do need a different tax structure.”
That would allow “starting over” at a rate that would reflect demand for maintaining infrastructure, he said.
Sen. Michael Bennett
Bennett began by addressing tainted water issues happening in Fountain as a result of Air Force firefighting foam seeping into the water supply.
“We need the Air Force to take responsibility for what happened,” Bennet said. “This is a big issue. This is not just at Peterson, but all over the country.”
Bennett also addressed infrastructure spending.
“If I were advising Donald Trump when he became president, I would have told him to write a huge infrastructure bill consistent with the promises [he] made when [he] ran.
“And [he] should accept or relish the idea that [he wouldn’t] get a single vote from the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives for the bill, but [he would] get a lot of Democrat and Republican support in the House.
“Pass the house and get a huge vote in the Senate on that bill,” he said. “He failed in that. He didn’t do it. I think he’s been torn up by health care and other things, which make it hard to do. It’s now mid-September and this was one of his No. 1 priorities.
Bennett said his hope is that the Senate can write and pass an infrastructure bill on its own.
“At these interest rates, it’s criminal we haven’t addressed infrastructure over the last nine years,” he said. “It’s only going to get more expensive.”
And, regarding a budget, Bennett said don’t hold your breath.
“If I were mayor of Colorado Springs and I were suggesting to the good people of the Springs that this is now the ninth year of a freaking continued resolution, you’d ride them out on a rail … you would fire them for not having a budget,” he said. “And we’re not going to have a budget. We’re not going to have a budget or appropriations bills passed as they should be passed. We’ve accepted complete mediocrity. I don’t know why we accept it from the federal government when we wouldn’t accept it from Colorado Springs municipal government.”
Rep. Scott Tipton
Tipton, who represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, said while Colorado has one of the most robust economies and lowest unemployment rates in the nation, “the true fact is we have a tale of two economies in the state right now.”
Tipton said metropolitan areas are doing well, but rural Colorado continues to be challenged.
“I’m incredibly mindful that, for the first time since we began keeping stats, more businesses are shutting down than there are business startups in this country,” he said. “And college education costs are higher, health care is higher, the cost to own a home is higher.”
Tipton said rules and regulations are driving up the costs for every American.
“Right now we’re paying $2 trillion in regulatory costs,” he said. “… We pay that. Those costs are passed on to the consumer.”
Rep. Jared Polis
“It’s an interesting time here in Washington,” said Polis, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District. “It’s been challenging in this political environment even on the most basic must-do items.”
As various budgets are debated, Polis said “certainly defense is in a strong position,” which bodes well for defense contractors in the state.
Polis also addressed infrastructure challenges, stating there is ”no real movement on an infrastructure bill here,” despite rumors to the contrary.
“There’s no appetite in Congress to spend money on it,” he said.
According to Polis, plans to address the repeal and potential replacement of the ACA is in disarray.
“I wasn’t a fan of the particular proposals put forth [by the House] to replace it,” he said. “I’m hopeful more thoughtful work can begin.”
Polis also said he was pessimistic regarding progress on tax reform.
“I don’t see a lot of movement on that either,” he said. “I see tax reform on corporations as more likely than individual tax reform because it’s more discreet and easier to get your arms around.”
Bringing corporate rates from 30 percent to within 20 to 25 percent (despite the president proposing cutting the rate in half) may be realistic.
“The individual side is much harder because the most meaningful big-three tax deductions are popular. If you’re doing anything substantial to bring down rates, the other side of that is eliminating deductions. On the individual side, that’s charitable contributions, mortgage interest deductions and state and local tax deductions.”
Polis also addressed the issue of legal marijuana in the state.
“I’m solidly on side of state’s rights and allowing them to proceed as they choose,” he said. “We actually have a working majority in Congress, meaning when we get things to the floor we pass them 60-40. The challenge is the legislative bottleneck.”
Polis said language was introduced to a bill that would have blocked the federal government from interfering in states with legal marijuana industries, but it was blocked on the floor by Congressman and Chairman of the Rules Committee Pete Sessions (R-TX).
Despite the blockage, Polis said the acceptance of legalized marijuana only continues to grow nationally.
“It’s a matter of time,” he said regarding federal legalization. “… I think the writing is on the wall. It’s the way states are headed. The majority have either medicinal or recreational marijuana and over 90 percent of Americans live near legal cannabinoids.”
Sen. Cory Gardner
Among Gardner’s talking points was a breakdown of his efforts in the cybersecurity realm.
Through his work on the Foreign Relations Committee, Gardner said he was “focusing on getting cyber policies right from an international standpoint.”
That included putting pressure on North Korea and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights.
Gardner helped introduce a bill regarding the Internet of Things, explaining the federal government invests $60 billion in IoT devices a year.
“The bill establishes guidelines when going through the procurement process of IoT developments,” he said.
It addresses some basic safeguards:
- Assuring IoT devises are patchable.
- Assuring devices don’t have hard coded passwords from the manufacturer.
- Making sure the IoT device can be firewalled.
- If the device has a known vulnerability, it must be made known by the manufacturer prior to contracting with the government.
Gardner also said the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs is a prime example of how the private sector can work with the” federal government to test products for vulnerabilities.
“That’s a great role for Springs,” he said.