President Barack Obama could do a better job of working with Congress and members of Congress could work better with each other, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a telephone interview reviewing his first year in office.
Tillis, R-N.C., told the Citizen-Times Tuesday he is looking for opportunities to work with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to pass legislation on areas of agreement, but Obama doesn't seem to be taking that approach.
"The president in the 12 months I've been here has never reached out to the majority for any consensus building," he said.
He said he'd be interested in looking at a record of contacts Obama has made with Republican legislators seeking agreement on major issues.
"My guess is that log is a blank sheet of paper, because the president has gone it alone," Tillis said. "That completely poisons the well."
Tillis has criticized Obama or his administration on a number of issues since he became North Carolina's junior senator in January 2015, including the Iran nuclear deal, American strategy for dealing with ISIS, problems with processing visa requests for temporary foreign workers to come to the United States and defense spending. He recently voted for another unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But Tillis has had kind words for Obama's secretary of veteran's affairs, former corporate executive Robert McDonald, and said he has had success pushing some initiatives with Democratic members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, which Tillis serves on.
The Senate passed Tillis' bill to exclude compensation given to victims of state eugenics programs when considering their eligibility for federal benefits. Tillis-backed provisions in a highway bill that became law designate two Interstate highway corridors in eastern North Carolina, and Tillis has had some luck in at least slowing plans to close an Air Force unit at Fort Bragg.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate will disagree on many issues, but not all, he said.
On the Veterans' Affairs Committee, "There's a lot of opportunity to sit down and get to know people," Tillis said. "I want to get something done here."
Tillis has pushed for more military spending, saying Tuesday threats from terrorist groups mean now is not the time to cut back.
"I think the only thing that ISIS understands is proportionate or even disproportionate response to what they do," he said. "These folks are sworn to destroy us and our way of life."
He said there is much work to be done to change the way Congress makes spending decisions, however.
Republican congressional leaders say they want to return to previous practices of moving several bills governing different parts of federal spending through Congress in 2016. That would be a switch from recent practice in which many budgetary decisions are rolled into one giant bill that passes late in the year — typically, after the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year — and showdowns between the parties create uncertainty over whether the government will continue normal operations.
"Pushing everything out for 10 or 11 months and having another November or December spending bill (is) incredibly disruptive," Tillis said.
Past legislation that has simply capped spending or imposed across-the-board cuts without identifying successful programs and those that should be done away with has caused problems for federal agencies like the departments of veterans affairs and defense, he said.
"They're wasteful because Congress is wasteful," he said.
It will be harder to move major legislation in a presidential election year, Tillis said, but he hopes some progress can be made on simplifying regulation within the Department of Defense, for example.
He said the department's recent invitation for bidders to supply new handguns for the military, called a request for proposals or RFP, is a good example of bureaucratic bloat.
"I want the Department of Defense to have the best handgun ever made. I don't think it takes a 1,000-page RFP" that in turn will result in proposals from gun makers that run 5,000 pages, Tillis said.
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