By Kathryn Menu
Standing in Sag Harbor's American Hotel on Tuesday afternoon in front of a group including members of the Peconic Land Trust, East Hampton business owners and the creative group behind the Bay Street Theatre, Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop shared his thoughts about current public policy in Washington D.C. declaring that this fall's election of Congressional representatives and the Presidential race will be "a clarifying election," one that charts the legislative course of the United States in the near future.
The talk was sponsored by the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, which will host Bishop's challenger, Republican Randy Altschuler, on September 20.
Bishop's talk focused mostly on the direction of public policy, education and the environment -- the latter two Bishop's main focus in his 10-year career as a United States Congressman representing the First Congressional District on Long Island.
Bishop said that righting the tenuous economy -- a main focus of Congress since the financial collapse in 2008 -- is beginning to make strides in the right direction.
"We have a long, long way to go, but we are seeing the green roots of progress that we need to see with 29 consecutive months of private sector job growth," said Bishop. "It's nowhere near as robust as where we need it to be, but adding 170,000 private sector jobs last month is a lot better than the 810,000 jobs we lost in January of 2009, the month the Obama presidency took over from the Bush presidency. So we are making progress."
One initiative Bishop said has passed that will help Long Island workers is the Surface Transportation Bill, a highway bill that will allocate $109 billion over two and a half years, which will be reinvested into infrastructure -- roads, bridges, tunnels and the like.
"The construction industry on Long Island has an unemployment rate of 30 percent, so if we put some of those people back to work, even if we knock that number back down to 20 percent that is people who maybe will take their family out to eat a little more, be able to buy some more school clothing or supplies," said Bishop. "That is the kind of thing we need to be doing."
From an environmental perspective, while Beltway insiders have debated the implications of regulation, tossing out catch phrases that regulation are "job killing" or "job crushing" measures, Bishop said that is not always the case, specifically citing the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bishop is the senior Democrat on the sub committee in Congress that is responsible for the EPA's duties under the Clean Water Act. As a representative of the East End, the benefits of that act, said Bishop, cannot be overstated.
"I represent a district where the environment is the economy and the economy is the environment so if we start backing away from environmental regulations and we start being less protective of clean water, clean air, stable beaches and open spaces, we are going to have a serious problem with our economy," said Bishop.
Bishop noted that Suffolk County is the largest agricultural producer by value in the State of New York. Prior to the Clean Water Act, he added, only 33 percent of surface waters in the United States were swimmable or fishable. That has risen to 70 percent, a marked difference, said Bishop.
"I am not here to be an apologist for regulation," Bishop stressed. "I am here to be an advocate for balance and I think the great challenge for any policy maker is to find that right balance."
Education is also at the top of Bishop's agenda as the former provost of Southampton College. He noted that Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College are two of the biggest employers in the district. More importantly, the United States is quickly falling in worldwide educational rankings, making it more difficult for students to compete in the worldwide marketplace after graduation.
Bishop touted the need for a nationwide focus on early childhood education, which studies have shown lead to higher graduation rates in high school and college. Bishop also noted that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's chosen vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, presented a budget to the House of Representatives, which passed without Bishop's support, that cut Pell Grants, the basic federal student aid, by $104 billion over 10 years and returns student loan interest rates from its current 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. It also eliminated the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a tax credit that gives families who make less than $170,000 a credit against the tuition they pay for their children to go to college.
"I think that is the exact wrong direction," said Bishop.
"I believe the Congress needs more pragmatics and less ideologues and at the risk of sounding self serving one of the things I think I am is a pragmatist," said Bishop. "I am a fact oriented, solution oriented guy who wants to get things done and doesn't think compromise is a four letter word. I think compromise is a good thing and we need more than that and less of the rigid, ideologue approach to policy that believes that compromise is an abandonment of principal and is therefore wrong and that is one of the choices we have before us in this election, locally and nationally."