By Jimmy Vielkind
Even in an afternoon chat on his front porch, Rep. Chris Gibson is kinetic.
The freshman Republican leaned forward on a wicker chair, never pausing in an 80-minute discussion of the federal budget, what he sees as problems with the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and his re-election campaign -- which he will formally kick off at a Monday evening event in Kingston.
Like every candidate this year, his prime focus is creating jobs. He places this goal on several pillars, including support for a federal budget proposal that includes re-writing the tax code, replacing the ACA, rolling back regulations and votes for funding bills covering farms and transportation.
"We'll get America back to work," he said. "When we get America back to work, we'll go beyond where we were with our budget."
Gibson's Democratic opponent is Julian Schreibman, a Kingston attorney. Gibson is generous with his words but did not once refer to Schreibman during the interview, an effort that appears as calculated as the way he mentioned endorsements by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and several trade unions no fewer than three times.
Schreibman is trying to make the campaign about Gibson, and has criticized the incumbent's "Tea Party" votes to de-fund Planned Parenthood and support a GOP budget resolution that would have replaced the Medicare program, where services are covered by federal reimbursement, to one that would have given future generations of enrollees money to purchase private insurance. Gibson has pointed to other votes that buttressed Medicare funding, and noted the system would go bankrupt if some changes are not made.
National Democrats are closely watching Schreibman, and feel new political boundaries adopted in the once-a-decade process of redistricting give them a shot at picking off Gibson. He now represents a 10-county swath of the Hudson Valley from Poughkeepsie to Lake Placid that snakes around the core of the Capital Region, but includes Saratoga County and most of Rensselaer County. It was drawn to favor Republicans, who have an enrollment advantage.
The new district covers 11 counties, but is more centered on the Catskills. It includes the lower half of the old district as well as areas previously represented by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, an Ulster County Democrat who is retiring after this term. The enrollment is more favorable to Democrats, and Gibson has tailored himself to be more moderate in recent months, posing for and then trumpeting a picture with liberal actor Alec Baldwin.
New district or not, the shift in Gibson's rhetoric is noticeable. In 2010, when Gibson was a political neophyte who had just retired from a 24-year career in the Army, he spoke of reducing federal spending and eliminating the federal departments of education and homeland security.
Now he rests on his incumbency, touting the provisions he pushed into the agriculture bill to help young farmers and the Lyme disease conference he organized, both of which were "constituent driven," he said.
And he rejects the tea party label, noting he has support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
He spoke most about Obamacare, which he voted to repeal last week in a largely symbolic -- and politically tinged -- ballot that set the stage for election-season attacks by both Democrats and Republicans. The law would mandate individuals buy health insurance, and makes it easier for them to do so by expanding eligibility for the state-run Medicaid program as well as setting up insurance exchanges.
Early estimates showed the act would reduce federal deficits by $132 billion over 10 years, according to a nonpartisan estimate, but new cost figures are pending after parts of the bill were rejected by the Supreme Court.
Gibson said many young people who work for small employers -- a 19-year-old working as a roofer, say -- would find it cheaper to pay a tax penalty than to purchase coverage. He also said the exchanges would increase transaction costs for all consumers, and predicted employers would drop coverage and pay a penalty. The core provisions of the law take effect in 2014.
"The bill's not going to deliver on controlling costs, and I'm dubious on the claims of increasing access," he said, proposing reform to liability laws and other requirements that would allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.
After an hour, Gibson looked at his notes -- a single hand-written page from a day planner -- and sipped a summertime cocktail of Sprite and orange juice prepared by his wife, Mary Jo.
The former colonel said President Barack Obama had found the right balance on withdrawing troops from Iraq, and now Afghanistan. He said the national security establishment could be significantly pared, as long as there was effective coordination between intelligence and elite special forces making surgical strikes. If that means reducing troop bases overseas, so be it.
"We should be leading with our ideas, commerce, trade and diplomacy, and have that backed by the military," he said.