By Jennifer Costa
Congressman Peter Welch, D-Vermont, is pushing for two more years in Washington. But how will he survive in a stagnant Congress.
"I still really enjoy this job that I'm doing serving Vermont in Congress," said Welch.
After eight years in Washington, Welch is hungry for more. The Democrat is seeking a fifth term as Vermont's lone representative in the U.S. House.
"The reason I like it so much is that Vermont gives you a lot of wind at your back to try to bring the Vermont way to Washington, which we need," said Welch.
Welch says bickering in Washington has become a huge distraction and admits lawmakers need to pull it together to get congressional dysfunction under control.
Reporter Jennifer Costa: Do you think Congress is accomplishing enough in Washington right now?
Welch: Absolutely not. We spent time repealing health care 55 times. And that's just hitting your head against a wall.
Republican Mark Donka is challenging the congressman for his seat. The current cop says career politicians like Welch have no place in Washington.
Welch disagrees, arguing that in troubling times experience is key.
"That's proven to be helpful because even in this dysfunctional Congress I've managed to get a number of bills passed," said Welch.
He calls himself a bipartisan problem-solver who, over the years, has learned to forge relationships across the aisle.
"It's much better to listen than to speak and it's much better to cooperate than compete," said Welch.
Finding common ground with Republicans is a strategy he says sets him apart in a stagnant Congress. He points to successes like working with Eric Cantor to get Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Vermont after Tropical Storm Irene, partnering with Paul Ryan to save Vermont cheesemakers threatened by a federal ban on wooden aging boards and bailing out brewers after the Food and Drug Administration tried to ban a byproduct Welch says would have made the process too expensive.
"Our beermakers were going to be prohibited from taking spent grain and being able to save money themselves and help local farmers by giving it to them," said Welch.
The former public defender is looking to the future and has big plans for economic stability if voters say he can stay.
"I do believe it's all about the economy," said Welch.
Welch is touting a plan to improve the nation's infrastructure, calling for a long-term funding source like closing corporate loopholes or raising the federal gas tax to repair roads and bridges. He's pushing an energy policy focused on efficiency and renewables, something he says will put more Americans back to work.
And he claims college has got to be more affordable. He wants to allow students and parents to refinance their loans.
"If the government is borrowing at 2.5 percent, why are we charging parents and families 7 or 8 percent," said Welch.
The father of a large blended family says he understands college debt and dismisses Donka's dig that he's unable to identify with the man on Main Street.
"I try to keep an ear to the ground and work with Vermonters as much as I can. It's the joy of the job for me. That's what makes the job fun," said Welch.
Welch lives in Norwich with his wife, former State Rep. Margaret Cheney. He says despite his time in Washington he's a Vermonter at heart.