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January 23, 2014

Cole sees progress despite extremists’ hand-wringing

DUNCAN — The country’s two political extremes  “are really upset,” as  U.S. Rep Tom Cole described it the other day, but he believes the United States is in  better shape than most people realize.

There won’t be any more government shutdowns, he predicted, and the Affordable Care Act, though still the law of the land, is slowly being whittled down to remove some of its most egregious aspects, the Republican leader said.

“A lot of this law is disappearing,” he said.

Nevertheless, Obamacare will not disappear suddenly even though it will end up costing more money than predicted and prompt many employers to quit providing health insurance options altogether, he said.

Obamacarewill cost himself $8,000 more than he now pays for health insurance, Cole said.

“I have the ability to do that, but a lot of people don’t,” Cole said during a visit to Duncan, where he met with business leaders at the local Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re going to be wrestling with it one way or another for a very long time,” he  said of the health care law.

Republicans, he noted, made a political error by attempting to repeal the health care law instead of chipping away at it piece by piece. His party  became “fixated” on repeal of the measure, he said.

“What’s killing the law is it just doesn’t work.”

The political fallout from Obamacare will benefit the Republicans in the mid-term elections this fall, giving the GOP “a chance” to take control of the Senate, he said.

Republicans already hold a majority in the House.

On the spending front, Cole said it is noteworthy the federal government has cut $164 billion in discretionary spending, which comprises 28 percent of the federal budget and marks the fourth straight year such spending has been reduced.

The difficult task will be making cuts in entitlement spending that funds Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, he said. “That’s the biggest part of government. It’s the hardest part of change.”

Entitlement spending will have to be whittled down in “baby steps,” Cole said.

The federal deficit stands at $600 billion, but Cole believes “you’re going to see Washington work at little better” in the future.

Raising the federal debt ceiling “is going to be the next big fight,” he predicted.

President Obama wants it to be raised automatically; Republicans don’t.

“I think there’ll be a deal,” Cole said. “I don’t think the president wants to be the first president to default on a debt.”

Completion of the Keystone Pipeline may be a trading chip used in such a deal, he said.

The pipeline issue has made for some strange bedfellows, Cole noted, saying organized labor, like most Republicans, favors completion of the project.

“It’s pretty unusual for the Republicans and the Teamsters to be on the same side.”

Even though environmentalists wield more influence than labor within the Obama administration, Cole said he believes the Keystone project, designed to carry  Canadian crude oil to refineries in Texas,  eventually will be approved and completed.

On agricultural issues, Cole said a farm bill that will save taxpayer money will eventually be approved under the guidance of his Oklahoma colleague, U.S.  Rep. Frank Lucas of Cheyenne.

“That’s good cause if he doesn’t (pass a farm bill) you’re going to be paying $8 for a gallon of milk,” Cole said.

(Editor’s note: On Friday, the Banner will publish the final story in this series of reports when it shares Congressman Cole’s views on the United States’  invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.)

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