The federal budget, automatic spending cuts (known as sequestration), and the debt ceiling dominated a town hall meeting Congressman Justin Amash hosted Wednesday night in Grand Rapids.
"It's been a very eventful last month or two, "Amash started, "Even I'm sick of seeing myself in the paper."
Amash was one of twelve Republicans who voted against John Boehner for House Speaker last week. Boehner kicked Congressman Amash off the budget committee last month. People asked him about it at the town hall.
“I was removed from the budget committee, I think, because I wanted to balance the budget,” Amash explained, chuckling with the audience. “I think the real reason won’t be told. They won’t tell me,” Amash said.
Amash says he has a good working relationship with his colleagues despite some clashes.
Zac Sikkema, a 22-year old student at Hope College asked Amash how he expects to get things accomplished for his district if he’s seen as divisive.
“How can a congressman who’s flown in the face of leadership, flown in the face of Democrats, no matter what he may be saying from all the publicized things I’ve read he has relationship problems; how can he really expect to pass something?” Sikkema wondered after the event.
“I think that’s a perception driven by people who are in power who want people who are independent to be isolated,” Amash said, “And they do rely on the media to perpetuate that.”
Amash says he has been able to get some amendments through; including two recent amendments that increase transparency when lawmakers are writing bills. He’s also working to gain bi-partisan support for his plan to balance the federal budget.
Amash says military spending needs to be cut and social security needs to be reformed. But he doubts the federal government will get serious about deficit reduction unless people start calling their representatives to demand it.
“The only way it’s going to change is if the public understands the problem. And that’s why I think it’s much more important to persuade the public of the problem, to have the public understand the problem, than it is to have my colleagues understand the problem,” Amash said.
He’s known for explaining every vote on facebook. He says many of his colleagues don’t approve of that. If you vote against your caucus, Amash says party leaders expect “you’ll keep your mouth shut about it”.
Amash took more than a dozen questions from people in the audience at random. Most asked about the federal budget, others asked about immigration and the environment. One person asked if Amash worried dramatic spending cuts would cripple the U.S. economy.
“I think it’s ridiculous” to say automatic spending cuts that were delayed in a last minute deal would could major harm.
“The level of cuts that they’re talking about, while substantial compared to what congress has done typically, are really a drop in the bucket relative to the problem we have,” Amash said.
He says getting the federal budget in order will ensure the US economy is stable in the long term.
“If you can’t handle the cuts, as a country that are required in sequestration, than how will they ever resolve the much larger spending problem that we have?” Amash asked.
Amash says he’s wants to work with Speaker Boehner, despite his vote against Boehner for the top spot.
“There’s a lot of discontent. It’s not just me or a few people,” Amash said.
He says the level of debate and discussion in committees needs to improve. Before he was booted off the budget committee, Amash says he could make small changes to budgets presented by the committee chairman and his staff, but nothing dramatic.
“We as Republicans want to be unified on strategy. But we’re also going to watch carefully. Nobody should be presumed to be speaker forever. We’ll give (Boehner) another chance and we’ll see where it goes.”
“I think if there’s a change that needs to be made then there will be a large group of Republicans who come forward and make that change,” Amash added.