By Mark Waite
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., got off to a promising start for his first, full, six-year term when Republican leaders adopted a bill he proposed last year to withhold pay for members of Congress until they pass a budget.
Heller was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in April 2011 to fill the unexpired term of scandal-plagued John Ensign. He won approval of voters in November in a hard-fought campaign over U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., his former cohort in the House of Representatives, winning by a narrow margin of 45.87 percent to 44.7 percent.
He will be the keynote speaker at the Pahrump Valley Republican Women’s Club Lincoln Day Dinner at the Pahrump Nugget Feb. 15.
Heller is flattered he was able to change the national dialogue with a piece of legislation. He noted it came on the same day Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, announced this year the Senate was going to pass a budget. In the last four years Congress hasn’t passed a budget; the government accumulated $6 trillion in debt, Heller said.
The House passed legislation in the last few weeks postponing the debt ceiling, but declared a budget had to be passed. The Senate passed no budget, no pay Thursday as part of a debt ceiling bill. If the president signs the bill, Congress will have to approve a budget by April 15 or their pay goes into an escrow account. Heller said it’s not exactly his legislation, the House proposal would allow for retroactive pay.
Heller said he doesn’t feel it violates the 27th Amendment, which was designed to prevent members of Congress from enriching themselves, but wasn’t designed to let them lower their pay.
Otherwise, Heller’s first conference with rural reporters since the election Wednesday dealt with the current hot button issues in Washington: immigration and gun control.
On immigration he said, “the devil is in the details. But we do have that gang of eight discussing it. Immigration reform, I believe it’s something we need to put behind us as a country and try to solve that problem.”
On gun control, Heller hopes the discussion expands beyond guns to include mental health issues and violent games.
“We got through the end of the year without going over that fiscal cliff and I think at the end of the day the economy, creating jobs is what we’re trying to concentrate on here in Washington D.C.,” Heller said.
Talk of sequestration — automatic, major budget cuts — has caused defense companies to lay off people, uncertain about what will happen, Heller said. There’s a lot of questions remaining about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, he said.
Heller said, “We got a debt ceiling increase coming up in a few months. We have votes on sequestration, that will be a big battle. We have a continuing resolution that will continue the budget for the next few months.”
Heller said he’s a ranking member of subcommittees on banking and commerce and may be a ranking member on an energy committee.
“That’s going to put me in a place where I’m going to be very busy. But I tell you it’s kind of nice to get the campaign behind me and know I have a few years to get to work to start legislating, start worrying about things that are good for Nevada,” Heller said.
In the next six years, Heller said a lot of lands bills will come up, the most recent one from Lyon County. It could take a couple years for a Nye County lands bill to get through the process and see a vote in Congress, he said. He’d support lands bills if everybody is on board.
One interesting initiative, is a request by some western states to transfer management of most federal lands from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to the states. Heller said he’s aware of the movement.
“It does make some sense if you want to be able to expand the boundaries of the tax base for some of these counties. I believe it is going to be necessary, once we get the particulars. The state Legislature is going to have to take a look at this first,” Heller said.