The perception may be that there is not a lot being accomplished in Washington, D.C. But local congressmen said that is not the case — at least in the House of Representatives.
"There has not been a lot done in Congress," U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, said. "But the House of Representatives has been very active. We've passed numerous bills related to job growth, reducing regulations, to repealing Obamacare.'"
U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, said he blames the national media for a lot of the negative perceptions surrounding what is happening in Washington, D.C.
"It's not the local newspapers," he said. "It's the national folks, the cable news that has to entertain people 24/7. In Congress there is a lot of good work going on that no one ever sees. Democrats and Republicans are working together to get things done."
Critz explained that the disputes between lawmakers are often the majority of what is covered by big media outlets. He said those arguments are about 5 percent of what really goes on in Washington.
"We do fight, but we work together a lot," he said. "But that doesn't sell commercials."
One of the bills that took compromise to pass was the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed and signed into law in December. Another measure was the Fallen Heroes of 9/11 Act, which was passed into law in December. The legislation instructs the U.S. Treasury to design and produce Congressional Gold Medals to honor those killed in Shanksville, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We had some differences of opinion, but we were finally able to work that out," he said. "I think it was a nice Christmas, New Year's present for the families of Flight 93, New York and Washington."
Shuster said he worked toward passage of the Pipeline Safety, Job Creation, and Regulatory Certainty Act, garnering bi-partisan support in the House and Senate. He said it was the only major legislative initiative in the transportation committee this year to be passed into law. Shuster said it is important for Pennsylvania because of the booming Marcellus Shale industry.
Critz said the House was able to pass all of their appropriations bills, which are pieces of legislation that approve government spending.
"Nobody was thrilled to death with the bill," he said. "That's a $3 trillion budget that Congress was able to pass with no disruption of services, no 11th-hour saves to keep government open. We all sort of disliked it, but we liked it enough to pass it."
Critz stressed the importance of compromise.
He said a large group of the freshmen legislators will not compromise. There are six factions of Democrats who have differences of opinions. Getting 218 of the members to agree on any one thing can be difficult.
"This is about compromise," he said. "The Constitution was a compromise. Nobody was completely happy with it. It is about members sitting down and figuring out the middle ground."
Critz would like to see a middle ground found quickly on the transportation reauthorization bill. The bill is also a top priority for Shuster. The bill in its current form includes the language to allow toll credits to be used to finish Route 219 to Meyersdale — a major project that has garnered the support of lawmakers at the local, state and national level. Without toll credits, the project is underfunded by millions of dollars. Shuster said that he expects the legislation on the House floor by February.
"We're very close," Shuster said.
Shuster, Critz defend House achievements
U.S. Reps. Mark Critz and Bill Shuster