Kentucky Congressman James Comer offered up his usual ‘Washington Update’ at a Chamber breakfast in Murray on Wednesday. He touched on a number of topics, ranging from tax cuts and border security to hemp regulations and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Afterwards, he spoke with WKMS News about his recent comments about Gov. Matt Bevin, the pension relief veto and more on the topics discussed during his presentation.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Comer said the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as an example of one of the successes in Washington in recent years, under the Trump administration. Those changes affected filers this year. Comer said 81 percent of the people in his district take the standard deduction on their taxes. “And we doubled the standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000,” Comer said. “That’s a significant tax cut for 81 percent of the people in the district. And that story doesn’t get out there.” NPR reports, the bill lowered taxes for most people, but not for everyone. Some saw their taxes go up.
Comer credited the tax cuts and rollbacks of “unnecessary and burdensome regulations” as the reason for the strong economy. The rolled back regulations he mentioned as examples are the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
On Bevin and the Pension Veto
Comer has been a critic of Bevin, in the past, citing his ‘bad numbers’ (WKYT) and calling on him to ditch his arrogance (Courier Journal). He recently said on Hey Kentucky! that he did not think Bevin would go down in history as “the greatest governor” and would probably lose if the election was today because “he has no form of a campaign.” Comer lost to Bevin in the 2015 Republican Primary by a close 83 votes. He said he was encouraged by others to consider a gubernatorial bid earlier this year.
Despite this criticism, Comer also said on Hey Kentucky! that he believes a Republican incumbent has an advantage in the commonwealth, said Bevin is “a smart guy” and still has time to get his campaign together. “He’s got a tough reelection,” Comer told WKMS News. “But at the end of the day I feel he’s going to be the favorite to win reelection.”
When asked if he had any future plans to run for governor, Comer said, “No, I’m blessed to be in the United States House and I appreciate the people of the First District giving me this opportunity.”
Of Bevin’s leadership on this issue of pension reform and the recent pension relief veto, Comer said, “There’s a lot of frustration among the legislators. You think Kentucky has a supermajority in the House and the Senate along with a Republican governor, it shouldn’t be that hard to do because everyone agrees there needs to be pension reform. The problem is, his leadership on the issue has created a lot of anxiety among all the stakeholders, not just the teachers and state employees, but also the legislators.” He added that the pension crisis an unfortunate situation and problem that he hopes gets resolved. “Hopefully, the governor will try to bring people to the table and have a transparent conversation about how to move forward.” Comer criticized Bevin for not putting forth a proposal during the General Session and for vetoing a proposal lawmakers came up with in good faith under some indication that he would support it and instead said he’d call a special session. This has angered some of Bevin's political allies in Frankfort.
On AOC, ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Medicare For All’
Comer said he disagrees with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “on everything” but cautioned Republicans from “picking on her too much” because of her large following on Instagram and her “credible following of Millennials.” He said he appreciates that she has big ideas, but feels she’s wrong on policy issues and wants to make sure she’s not “indoctrinating the next generation to believe in socialism.” Despite this, he said he has respect for her in that she “is very well-spoken” and “very prepared when she comes to committee meetings.” They both serve on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Republican Representative Andy Barr recently invited Ocasio-Cortez to come to Kentucky and tour a coal mine. She accepted the invitation. The Courier-Journal reports, Barr then told her to first apologize to Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw. A spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez said she doesn’t need Barr to come to Kentucky and meet with coal miners, but would welcome his participation.
When Comer was asked what he sees as alternatives or whether there should be any alternatives to Ocasio-Cortez’ signature Green New Deal (which would reshape the economy in an effort to reduce carbon emissions), he said, on environmental issues, progress is being made in the area of agriculture through carbon footprint reductions and said the coal industry has made investments in clean coal technology. He said he wants to continue to make environmental progress without disrupting the country’s economy. “Most conservatives view the environment the way I do. I’m a conservationist. I’m a farmer. I want to preserve and protect the environment and the farmland for the next generation. But I don’t think we need government bureaucrats that reside in New York City saying we’re going to have this radical social agenda and environmental agenda to improve the environment.”
On another progressive policy, Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All proposal, Comer said everyone can’t be on Medicare and Medicaid. He said hospitals in west Kentucky tell him they lose money on Medicaid, break even on Medicare and make money on the small percentage of people with health insurance. “If everybody’s on Medicare, there will be no hospitals in Kentucky. So what we have to do is protect Medicare while at the same time create an environment where healthcare can be more affordable for individuals and for businesses.”
On struggling rural hospitals, Comer said healthcare is changing drastically and many rural hospitals are doing a good job adapting, but their problem is that so many people are on Medicaid that the state continues to cut their reimbursements. “And I have 28 hospitals in my district and they’re about 85 percent Medicare/Medicaid.” More people on these systems, he said, mean fewer reimbursements.
Border Wall and Security
On the border wall proposed by President Trump, Comer said he doesn’t believe a wall is needed coast-to-coast, but rather barriers in certain areas to prevent drug trafficking. He described a meeting with a drug task force in Russellville, Kentucky, in which they told him every drug seized in a 30-day period in Logan County could be traced back to Mexico. “I’m going to continue to support the efforts to better secure the border, if for no other reason because we have a free-flow of illegal drugs that are coming from the other side of the border,” he said.
Comer said he has sympathy for the migrant families and has had migrant farmers work on his farm. “Most of the people that are coming to the United States are good people that are just trying to have a better life for their families. But there’s a legal process to become a citizen. There’s a legal process to become migrant workers and we need to follow the law.” He said border security needs to be “beefed up” while at the same time ensuring there is a legal process for people to become citizens.
On sending migrants to sanctuary cities, Comer said the problem President Trump’s administration is facing is that the law restricts how long people can be detained. “And the time’s running out. So I think it’s amusing that he’s now saying ‘well, we’re going to send them to sanctuary cities’ and all of a sudden the leaders in those cities are saying, ‘wait, wait, you can’t do that. There’s going to be a safety issue! And how are we going to pay for it?’ Well, they’re the ones that have been fighting the president’s border security efforts from day one so I think it’s pretty amusing that the president’s kind of throwing it back on them. Hopefully now we can have a serious discussion on border security.” Reuters has compiled responses from several mayors of sanctuary cities.
NPR reports more than 103,000 migrants were taken into custody in March. A former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection told NPR this month more than 90 percent of illicit drugs coming across the southern border are through legal ports of entry.
Comer said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recognizes the “huge demand” for hemp, but is “not really excited” about it. He said there’s a lot of regulatory language that still needs to be written. He said those regulations will take a while and won’t be ready until the 2020 growing season. Comer noted that Perdue is occupied with dealing with the trade war with China. “If we don’t get this soybean market opened up with China again, then we’re going to have a huge problem in Kentucky and other states.”