McCarthy hosts community forum
Congressman hears community concerns, brings hope for Washington solutions
News Review Staff Writer
In the wake of the negative impacts furloughs have had to the economy and morale of the Indian Wells Valley, Rep. Kevin McCarthy brought news to the high desert of how he is working to fight those actions in Washington. He also partnered with Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason to strategize with community leaders to coordinate parallel efforts from within the valley.
Input from community leaders throughout a day packed with meetings indicated that furloughs were not the root of local economic strife, merely a tipping point. Downturning revenues have im-pacted everything from city services to education to the real estate market. The 20-percent cut to local paychecks that resulted from furloughing the majority of the local workforce threatened to sink the local economy further.
Several months ago a congressional bloc challenged the legality of applying furloughs to Working Capital Funded employees, such as those at China Lake. Since those operations are not directly funded by Congress, but rather compete in the free market for work, furloughs serve to reduce efficiency rather than save money.
McCarthy was criticized for not being a part of that initial faction. But he subsequently called for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. McCarthy said that Hagel refused to meet with him, and sent Undersecretary Robert Hale in his place.
McCarthy said Hale could not produce justification for furloughs at China Lake, but neither did he commit to eliminating them. Following that meeting McCarthy helped pass an amendment that protected WCFs from furloughs.
When McCarthy visited China Lake with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Republican Whip gave his support for command-level discretion for cuts in favor of the inefficiency of the algorithmic 10-percent cut the sequester triggered across DOD. He pointed to the fact that the Navy achieved a reduced budget without furloughs as evidence that they were unnecessary in the first place, but emphasized that they are potentially disastrous for bases like China Lake.
Even aside from legal and effectual considerations, McCarthy noted that the remote, isolated location of the Navy installation and the community that supported it made for a precarious economy. “China Lake needs the Indian Wells Valley to succeed in order to survive, and the IWV needs China Lake to succeed in order to survive,” he said.
In light of China Lake’s significant contribution to national defense, the success of the region has a much more far-reaching impact than on just the lives of IWV residents.
“We are in a struggle right now, but we are going to win this,” said McCarthy. “Not just in the short term, but in the long term.”
He noted that his actions in Washington have focused on policy over politics.
“My strategy has been to fight not only the immediate challenge before us, but to survive in the long term as well,” said McCarthy.
He said that on the local level, agencies can collaborate such as dividing up the responsibilities for recreational centers and sharing use of one facility, rather than maintaining two.
For his part, he said he will continue to find ways to craft sensible policies and hold the administration to them.
“You can do things that make you feel good politically, or you can work for changes that will improve the way we do things,” said McCarthy. “I don’t just want to rev up the crowd. I want to solve the problem. And what we are really fighting for now is even the opportunity to solve the problem.”
A question raised at the community forum sparked a discussion on the Obama Administration’s use of executive authority.
McCarthy stated that the dysfunction between the two branches of Congress made it difficult for the conservative House to overrule the actions of the president, but that the judicial system has consistently upheld a check to that balance of power. The only problem, he said, is the years-long delay before that check is implemented, and the damage caused in the interim.
One piece of legislation out of the House requires a vote of confidence before new regulation is enacted. He said that he and his colleagues are also working to ensure that those elected to represent the voice of the people maintain authority, despite efforts of the administration to grant it to agencies that have no accountability to the public.
McCarthy also addressed the impacts of Obamacare, and said that he is looking for ways to solve existing problems in health care that would not add new ones, as he believes the current healthcare implementation would.
An internal indication of a more positive environment, he said, is that the floor is now wide open for debate, “which is healthy because you have greater input.” He said that this was not the case with the previous speaker.
But a continuing challenge is the fact that Congress has still not been able to pass a budget, but is on its sixth year of continuing resolution. “The Senate has not passed a budget since before the iPad was introduced. Even if they don’t pass our bill, they need to pass something.”
This resonates with concerns expressed by local officials who say that any budget — regardless of political origin — will be easier to work with than the existing uncertainty.
McCarthy laid part of that blame on Obama’s failure to negotiate between the two houses of Congress.
“I think before you can be president, you should be a governor first. You have to be able to run agencies that you didn’t create, you have to be able to work with both sides, you have to be able to compromise in order to pass a budget. The current administration wants it 100 percent their way or not at all. That is not the way our country was created,” he said.
But he sees other positive shifts that he believes will pave the way for economic recovery. He said that fostering private-sector growth in oil production and alternate energy sources have put the U.S. on the verge of energy independence.
That would not only strengthen the economy, but also improve everything from national security to job creation.
California needs to get on that page, he said. Right now Kern County — the oil capital of the state — is sending workers to North Dakota where there are job opportunities. And by contrast that state has zero foreclosures and is seeing everyone down to fast-food employees receiving $1,000 signing bonuses.
“We can have that same thing happen here,” he said.
“I feel that Ridgecrest is my second home. I always appreciate the feedback I receive here, how we are able to work together, and especially my relationship with Mick. When he and I talk, we are not a supervisor and a congressman. It is Mick and Kevin strategizing about how to get the community together to solve our problems.”
“I think Kevin got a really good sense about what is going on in Ridgecrest,” said Gleason. He praised the local leaders who turned out to give McCarthy an accurate assessment of the factors hampering the local economy.
“I thought Kathy Vejtasa stole the show,” Gleason said of the local realtor. He said that her in-depth report “captured the economic malaise that Ridgecrest is caught in. While everyone else is seeing inventory go down and housing prices go up, we are seeing the opposite.
“We can all speculate on the causes, but what we need to do focus on solutions. The answer we came up with is job creation.”
McCarthy’s tour included a celebration of the delivery of the 100th missile from ATK, a contractor that officials praised as a shining example of partnership between the government and private sector. “At ATK we saw what kind of out-of-the-box solutions for everything from acquisition to manufacturing can come from military-industry partnerships.”
Gleason said that community leaders have identified similar potential in local efforts to create a local test center for unmanned systems, as well as the site for development of biofuels.
“This was a great day for the Indian Wells Valley. Everything from here will depend on our follow-through.”Story First Published: 2013-08-07