By Luke Groskopf
Scott Tipton rode the 2010 Republican wave into Congress, ousting three-term incumbent Democrat John Salazar. He followed it up by coasting to re-election in November over Democratic challenger Sal Pace.
Now, Tipton returns to Washington, D.C. for the start of his second term representing Colorado's sprawling 3rd Congressional District.
His freshman term ended late last month in nail-biting fashion. After multiple impasses and negotiation breakdowns between the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner was able to rally enough Republican votes to join Democrats in passing a bill averting the "fiscal cliff." Most economists warned the combination of abrupt spending cuts - or sequestration - and tax increases could have tipped the country back into recession.
Tipton was not among Boehner's coalition. He joined 150 House Republican colleagues in voting against the deal. In an interview Friday, Tipton said his opposition stemmed from concern about the national debt, which stands at $16.4 trillion.
"In a few years, we'll be paying more than $1 trillion in interest alone. It's an unsustainable path," Tipton said. "The focus needs to be on reducing expenditures from the federal government, and none of that was done in this legislation."
According to Kiplinger, a publisher of business forecasts, the U.S. government paid out $220 billion in fiscal year 2012 to domestic and foreign holders of Treasury bonds.
"For the past few years, low interest rates have helped keep a lid on this category. But interest rates won't remain at historic lows forever. Meanwhile, the debt accumulates," the firm wrote in a September report.
Besides Tipton, three other Colorado Republicans voted against the bill. Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet also opposed it.
Congress elected to punt on issues of spending until a later date. Instead, the deal focused heavily on tax questions.
It effectively made permanent the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for all except income over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples filing jointly. Rates for that top bracket - home to less than 1 percent of the population - rise from 35 to 39.6 percent.
KICKING THE CAN
Tipton voiced frustration with the crisis-to-crisis governing style now typical of Washington. Looming in February are two more chances for political brinkmanship: raising the debt ceiling and the reappearance of spending cuts delayed temporarily by the New Year's bargain.
"The deal struck basically meant forgetting sequestration for a short time and dealing with it again two months from now," he said. "The American people understand the severity of the (debt) problem. They don't want to keep putting it off until 'next time'."
Tipton believes trimming the debt must come solely from spending cuts and boosting economic growth - no new tax revenues. Like most House Republicans, he has signed lobbyist Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The document is not legally binding, but signatories promise to oppose any income tax increases or closing of loopholes unless offset by lower rates.
"My avenue out of debt is getting people back to work. The government needs revenue to perform vital functions, I understand that. By putting people back to work, we take in more revenue and lessen the burden on our safety net programs," he said.
Fiscal policy aside, Tipton says his priorities for the 2013 session include job creation, domestic energy exploration and development, eliminating "regulatory requirements and paperwork that inhibit small business", and reintroducing a forestry bill that gives states more flexibility to combat wildfires.
One thing Tipton won't miss is the learning curve that came with being a new Congressman. He recalled many hours spent networking, making sense of conflicting committee hearings - "you can have three hearings all starting at 10 a.m. on the same day" - and adjusting to the broader purview of national politics. Tipton called the Colorado Legislature, where he spent two years, "intimate" by comparison.
"In Denver, there was more commonality. We might have some urban-rural divisions, but here, it's not only urban-rural but also distinct regions of the country. It creates a different dimension," he said. "One legislator is worried about building levees along the Mississippi River Delta. We are worried about preserving our water. We aren't concerned about the excess of it, but the lack. So you have the chance to learn about issues facing other parts of the country."
Or other parts of the world. Tipton said he will join an upcoming delegation to Israel to discuss a new missile defense system called "David's Sling" with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tipton said he has few regrets from term number one. While the last Congress drew much scorn from pundits for being the least productive in 65 years, Tipton maintains his chamber held up its end of the bargain.
"The House did its work. We passed budgets. We moved legislation. But we can't constitutionally do it ourselves. Much of what we passed didn't get to the Senate floor," he said. "The Senate's view of lawmaking is by design more deliberative and slow. But slow doesn't mean grinding to an absolute halt."
Tipton was pleased Katie's Law - a measure that expands DNA collection for use in prosecuting violent criminals - was on the verge of going national. Passed by both chambers of Congress, it awaits President Obama's signature.
Twenty-six states already have variations of Katie's Law. In Colorado, where Tipton championed its passage in 2009, DNA samples are now taken from anybody arrested for a felony offense. The sample is expunged from state records if the suspect is acquitted.
"DNA is the equivalent of a 21st century fingerprint. The federal bill helps states get those databases up and going," Tipton said.