LAKE CITY — Congressman John Moolenaar, R-Midland, gave the Cadillac News a one-on-one interview in Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6 shortly before Congress was due to reconvene. The interview took place in the Ardis-Missaukee District Library. It has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.
CADILLAC NEWS (CN): You want to talk about the (Soo) Locks?
REP. JOHN MOOLENAAR (JM): Sure. Sure.
CN: What have you got to say?
JM: Well, two weeks ago from today — Actually, David (the congressman’s spokesperson) was with me — and we toured the Soo locks along with Marcy Kaptur, who is the Democratic Chairwoman of our Energy and Water subcommittee. I serve on the Appropriations Committee. She chairs the Energy and Water subcommittee, which funding $75 million, we were able to get into the subcommittee bill toward building a new lock at the Soo Locks. And so she and I toured the locks.
UPDATE: Since the interview with the congressman, the Senate appropriated “$75.3 million in funding for the construction of a new lock at the Soo Locks in the federal government’s 2020 fiscal year budget. With both chambers of Congress putting the same amount of funding for Soo Locks construction in their respective bills, there is now clear bipartisan support for the Soo Locks request President Trump made in March,‘ the congressman’s office said in a news release.
CN: I just got a press release this week about an opioid grant. You’re feeling pretty proud of that one?
JM: Yeah ... this came out of funding that we have appropriated for the Health and Human Services area to address the opioid crisis. The goal here is to get money to states and local agencies that can help address this problem from the ground up, and not a one-size-fits-all from Washington, but rather, allowing states and communities to address this in a way that’s most effective, meeting the needs of their communities.
CN: Speaking of the unique needs of a community, what I keep hearing here is that sure, opioids are a problem, but we’re really still worried about meth ... is there going to be some sort of mechanism within this funding in order to address methamphetamine addiction?
JM: Well, that’s a good question. You know, a lot of the resources that are needed to — from a law enforcement standpoint and also from a treatment (standpoint) — enabling beds, I think would benefit people who are suffering from that problem as well.
CN: ... Since we are here (the library) today, what’s on your reading list?
JM: So I just read over the summer, two books.
JM to DAVID RUSSELL (DR): You’re impressed by this, aren’t you?
DR: I’m waiting to hear what the answer is.
JM: I gotta remember the name of the books but they were ... it’s a trilogy. And I can’t remember the author at the top of my head, but it’s about this century, the 20th century...
(Everyone — congressman, spokesman, reporter — starts Googling).
CN: Ken Follett.
JM: There were two of them I read. I haven’t read the third one. But I feel like I lived the third one because it goes from the 1960s forward and I thought, “Well, you know, I was born then.‘ One was on the World War I era, and the other was on World War II through Korea. Both of them were just interesting. What happened in Russia? What happened in different parts of the world, Europe?
(Additional conversation about reading omitted; he’s reading “The Creature from Jekyll Island,‘ about the creation of the Federal Reserve, because it was a gift from relatives).
JM: Can I talk to you about some upcoming things?
CN: Yeah, I like what’s next.
JM: One of my priorities this fall is to encourage the Speaker of the House to bring up the USMCA, which is a trade agreement. Mexico, Canada, U.S. trade agreement. And it’s something that has been negotiated. Mexico passed their version.
CN: Wait, so this is the replacement of NAFTA?
JM: Yes. Yeah. Mexico has already adopted it. We are scheduled to go next in terms of adopting it in Congress. And then Canada. Now, the challenge is, we need the Speaker of the House to bring up the USMCA for a vote in Congress to approve. And the President supports it. I believe, if the vote were held today, it would have strong support in Congress. But right now, the challenge is to get the Speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi, to bring it up for a vote.
CN: What’s your relationship like with Pelosi?
JM: Well, I think, you know, her concern is she doesn’t really want to give the president a win. And, you know, I think those of us in Michigan recognize the value for agriculture. It opens up new markets for our dairy in Canada and stabilizes markets with our two largest trading partners, Mexico and Canada. It creates a condition for a stronger position for manufacturing in the United States by requiring more to be built in automotive and manufacturing here in the US.
It’s a, in my view, positive for jobs, for agriculture, for manufacturing, and could be an example of Congress working together in a bipartisan way with the president to get something good done for the country. And so I’m hopeful.
But we’re running into somewhat of a window of opportunity, because Canada’s parliamentary elections are coming up this fall. And if they were to have a change in leadership, with a different philosophy that could require us to go back to the drawing board to renegotiate the entire trade agreement, which I think would be harmful, and may lose ground for agriculture and manufacturing.
CN: That’s obviously a huge priority. What other things are you working on?
JM: Continue our appropriations process, we need to finalize that. One of the things I’ve been fighting for is full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I had the opportunity to brief the President on that. And he actually came out for full funding back (this spring) to prevent invasive species like the Asian carp in the Great Lakes. And also a few months ago, I along with Senator Stabenow and a bipartisan delegation from Michigan, toured the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which is kind of the pinch point around Chicago to keep the Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a new plan to, through electric barriers and other means, keep the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. We were getting a briefing on that, seeing firsthand how the plan would work.
Never anything on this kind of a scale before, but I was encouraged by the creativity.
CN: One of the things I’m curious about is whether the tension between the President and Amash, with him for being pro impeachment, is that affecting the Michigan delegation as a whole?
JM: No. And you know, (Michigan Congressman) Justin Amash has become an independent. So he’s not with either party. He’s doing what he believes is best for his own district and political viewpoints. He has come out for impeachment. I don’t agree with that assessment. I don’t believe that’s warranted. But voters in a district have to choose who they want representing them. And that’s going to happen in this next election in 2020.
CN: It seems like you get along OK with the President?
JM: Well, I, try and work with the President. And I think it’s important that we get things done, I try and work with my Democratic colleagues wherever I can. You know, I support the policies that we’re working on, to improve our country. I don’t vote every time with the president. Recently, I voted against the budget agreement, because I felt that it was not fiscally responsible (note: the House passed HR 3877, the Bipartisan Budget Act, in July).
There are times when, you know, I feel that, as a representative, I need to weigh all the options, and just, both what I think is in the best interests of our district and our country. And so it doesn’t always line up every time. But in general, I’ve been working on the Soo Locks, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This trade agreement, I think, is vital to our nation’s future. And I think the President has gotten things done, I think the appointments to the courts have been very positive. I think the tax reform that we worked on has encouraged job growth. Investment that was offshore — back here in the United States. Our economy is thriving as a result. So there’s a lot of positives, but, we need to keep working on making progress.
CN: Some folks think that there might be a recession coming in the next year, two years. What do you make of that? Anything Congress can do to make it not as bad?
JM: Well, when I travel around my district, what I hear more than anything is businesses, employers that say we could be hiring more people, if we just had people with the right skill sets to do the jobs we have open. And so to me, we want to make sure that our educational and training institutions are preparing people for the jobs that exist — so, close partnership with the private sector and the job creators.
CN: How much should educational institutions be doing some of the training? And to what extent and how much should be on-the-job training?
JM: Well, I think there are some areas where someone needs an apprenticeship or some kind of a certification. Part of that is a responsibility of (the) employer. And then part of it is an educational institution. And we want to make sure our educational institutions are aligned with opportunities in the marketplace. Two things (we’ve worked on are) a year-round Pell Grant grant, and a short term use of a Pell Grant where someone could train for a specific job and receive a specific certification, but to do it in a more condensed fashion. And more and more places are looking at that rather than just the traditional student. So I think those kinds of innovations, we need to encourage more of.
CN: Where are we at federally (with PFAS)?
JM: We’re still waiting for additional guidance from the EPA. You know, I want to make sure that’s based on good science, and the science is catching up. Because as you know, this has really mushroomed across the state across the country. The science hasn’t kept up with that. And so I think it’s important that we get the science but also err on the side of human health and protection.
And that’s where the EPA guidance needs to come in.
CN: Do we trust the EPA process to use the best science and make decisions based on the best science?
JM: You know, I think this is a new area, there’s 5,000 different compounds of PFAS. And so what we need to do is analyze which ones cause problems, which ones are not considered harmful? Treat them each accordingly. And that’s where we need some guidance from the EPA from the ATSDR, which is the health division at the CDC that does this kind of analysis. Because we’re going to need better science guiding us on this. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, you want to prioritize what areas are most concerned and address those. And it is pervasive around the country now.