U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, center, speaks with, from left, PDN Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb, Sequim Gazette Editor Michael Dashiell, Publisher Terry R. Ward and PDN Executive Editor Leah Leach at the Sequim Gazette’ offices. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Kilmer talks federal budget, Paris accord in Olympic Peninsula News Group interview

SEQUIM — Democrats and Republicans in Congress should hash out their own budget rather than using President Donald Trump’s “unserious” budget as a starting point, said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

Kilmer, a Democrat living in Gig Harbor who represents the 6th Congressional District — which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — also said that Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord is a “failure of leadership.”

Meeting with journalists

Kilmer made his comments during an interview Friday with journalists from the Peninsula Daily News and the Sequim Gazette, led by Terry R. Ward, publisher of both newspapers, which, along with the Forks Forum, make up the Olympic Peninsula News Group.

The interview was live-streamed on the PDN’s Facebook page — the Olympic Peninsula News Group’s first foray into live-streaming — but the technology wasn’t up to the task.

It didn’t work well at all. Those who tuned in experienced long pauses and skipped audio. We’re working on it and hope to present future interviews that live-stream without a hitch.

In the meantime, in case you don’t want to wade through the start-and-stop of the live-stream recording on Facebook and try to piece together what was said, we’re giving you a summary of the interview.

Kilmer talked at length about the president’s proposed 2018 budget, issued in May.

It calls for the government to spend a total of $4.1 trillion next year, up about $50 billion compared with this year, according to The Washington Times, and envisions the deficit shrinking to $440 billion next year and steadily decreasing until the budget produces a surplus in 2027.

It would increase military spending while cutting non-defense spending by 2 percent each year, and predicted 3 percent economic growth — a level unseen in nearly a decade.

“My primary take-away from the president’s budget is he doesn’t know the people I represent,” Kilmer said, listing cuts in student loans and work-study programs and the elimination of the coastal zone management plan, the early warning system for earthquakes, loans for rural areas and cuts to such programs as weatherization and Meals on Wheels, among others.

Economic grant opportunities, such as the federal grant that provided some of the funding for the Composite Recycling Technology Center in Port Angeles, “are zeroed out” in the president’s proposed budget, Kilmer said.

Sequim Gazette Editor Michael Dashiell asked whether Kilmer found anything to like in the president’s proposed budget.

“The VA did OK,” Kilmer said. “I represent more veterans than any Democrat in Congress. That’s probably the only area that didn’t face a large amount of cuts.”

He took issue with cuts to the State Department, saying that diplomacy can avoid warfare at times.

“There are components of American power that isn’t just about bombs and tanks,” he said. “You have a budget that really cuts the State Department and puts us at risk.”

Kilmer said zeroed-out line items are a “really bad place to start the budget conversation. If it starts at zero, even if you save 80 percent, that’s a win, but it means cuts.

“Congress should work on and pass a real budget.”

He said some Republicans in Congress have said they won’t support cuts in such areas as opioid addiction programs and meals for the house-bound.

“One of the problems with the president’s budget is that it ostensibly gets to balance in 10 years. … It also uses literally hundreds of millions of dollars of fake math,” Kilmer said.

The budget depends upon “economic development that economists say isn’t going to happen,” Kilmer said.

“I’d rather have a tough conversation on a serious budget than to spend any time on a budget I think is entirely unserious,” he said.

At the same time, Kilmer said: “We have to get a handle on long-term fiscal challenges… We have to have tough conversations that currently Congress doesn’t have.”

Climate accord

Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, signed by 195 nations in 2015, was disappointing, Kilmer said in answer to a question after the video session ended.

“Not only has the United States gone from being one of the team captains, it’s left the game. It’s joined Nicaragua and Syria sitting on the bench,” Kilmer said.

His description of the move as a “failure of leadership” is based on “a few facts,” he said.

“In many parts of the district I represent, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Of the 11 tribes in the 6th Congressional District, four are in the process of trying to move to higher ground.

Kilmer quoted the president of the Quinault Indian Nation, Fawn Sharp, as saying “when I was a kid, the ocean was a football field away. Now it’s our front porch.”

Shellfish growing fuels some 3,200 jobs, Kilmer noted.

“They are already seeing the impacts on shellfish of [ocean] acidification,” he said.

Kilmer also felt it was short-sighted in terms of economic development.

“Good economic development is like good hockey,” Kilmer said. “You don’t go to where the puck is; you go to where the puck is going to be.

“There are economic opportunities in trying to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Reader questions

Among questions from readers was one from Sandy Goodwick about Kilmer’s view of the nation converting to a single-payer system for health care.

“Single payer has zero chance in this Congress,” Kilmer said.

“Eric Lewis [CEO of Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles] will tell you he loses money on Medicare patients. If you put everybody on Medicare, he loses money on every patient.

Also, “there are millions of people who get insurance through other means, such as the workplace, and they like their health care.

“Conceptually, the notion that we make sure people have health insurance is something I embrace. But that bill has so many issues, I can’t buy into it.”

He is in favor of allowing people to buy into Medicare in areas with insurance company market failures.

Kilmer said his focus is on improving the Affordable Care Act.

The system, which has been referred to as Obamacare, “has made progress for a number of folks,” Kilmer said, listing the provision that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance policy until the age of 26 and the coverage of pre-existing conditions.

“Millions of Americans having health insurance who didn’t before is a good thing,” the congressman said. But “it isn’t perfect. There are a number of improvements that can be made.”

For instance, Kilmer was told by Port Townsend’s Jefferson Healthcare officials that under the act, reimbursement is allowed only if a patient saw an M.D., rather than, say, a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner, and is championing a bill to change that.

However, the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House (Kilmer voted no), “would damage people I represent,” Kilmer said, adding that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated 23 million would lose insurance under the bill.

“Right now, my focus is on how do we maintain progress we’ve made and avoid taking steps back that hurt the people I represent.”

Alex Heppler wrote to ask whether the Port Angeles Border Patrol “has been at all relevant in keeping heroin out of local communities.”

Kilmer said both the Border Patrol and Coast Guard have made drug arrests.

Robyn Bacchus asked whether Kilmer “can ease the minds of Clallam County parents that our children’s education is a priority for Washington lawmakers. What steps are you taking to get our schools fully funded?”

Although school funding has been a primary concern in the state Legislature, “the federal government has a role to play as well,” Kilmer said.

Both Title I and Title II are poised for cuts in the president’s budget, he said.

He also said: “There’s real value in vocational education” and added that his office is looking into a way to help maintain the North Olympic Skills Center, which is slated to close next year.

PDN Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb asked how Kilmer would deal with maintenance backlogs in national parks, citing a $140 million backlog in Olympic National Park alone.

Kilmer said he is the lead sponsor of a bipartisan bill introduced recently to use oil and gas royalties to pay for park maintenance.

“You’ve seen roads that are out of service. You’ve seen trails that are unwalkable, visitor centers shut down,” Kilmer said.

We’ve got to deal with these sorts of issues … It’s important to us economically… I think we have a shot at getting this bill passed.”

Electromagnetic warfare

Gottlieb also asked what Kilmer has done concerning the Navy’s electromagnetic warfare training proposal.

“The way I’m engaged is to make sure the process works the way it’s supposed to,” Kilmer said.

The process is governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Kilmer said, and “that process doesn’t have a step in it that says go get approval from a member of Congress,” a provision with which he agrees.

That being said, Kilmer has sent letters noting such concerns as noise and the impact on the experience of visiting Olympic National Park.

He has heard from constituents that they “want to make sure that the men and women who serve our country get the training they need” but that they also have concerns about the effects of the training on civilians.

High-speed internet

One concern of Kilmer’s is making high-speed internet available to rural areas.

“The way to overcome geographic remoteness is through technology. Well, you have to have access to technology,” Kilmer said.

“We are working on legislation that would [provide] a tax credit to help fund build-out of infrastructure. … We’re pretty close to having a build-out” regionally.

He said that is an example of what he would like to see in a final infrastructure budget.

“I’d like to see more than mega-projects,” he said. “We don’t really have mega-projects [on the Peninsula], but we have projects that matter and they certainly matter to our economic development.”

Overall, “infrastructure is an example of something that you could see Democrats and Republicans come together and make some progress [on],” Kilmer said.

“In blue areas and red areas, we have across the country infrastructure that grades out, according to American Society of Civil Engineers, at a D-plus.”

Kilmer ended the session saying that “half of our efforts in the district are what we call case work,” helping constituents who have problems with the IRS or, in one case, never having received an earned Purple Heart.

“We can resolve issues, but we can’t solve problems we don’t know about,” he said.

Kilmer can be reached via his website at www.kilmer.house.gov. His Peninsula office is at 332 E. Fifth St. in Port Angeles. Hours are from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.

It is staffed by Mary Jane Robins, who can be contacted at maryjane.robins@mail.house.gov or 360-797-3623.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach, who also participated in the interview with Kilmer, can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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