Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chet Edwards speaks

Edwards, a fairly Blue but not purplish Blue Dog Democrat, spoke earlier today at the local chamber of commerce luncheon. Here's a summary of highlights of his talk for my newspaper article for next week.

Precis: He’s OK with his vote in favor of the second Iraq supplemental May 24; is pushing hard on conservation, on energy matters, but favors opening the Florida Gulf to drilling; and favors some sort of immigration bill, and did not mention a “return” requirement as part of that.

The serious issues on his list of topics did begin with Iraq, then. Edwards said he was glad Congress sent a new Iraq funding bill to President George W. Bush, even though it did not have timetables or benchmarks that an earlier House bill, vetoed by Bush, did have.

“I’m glad we got the bill passed to fully fund the president’s request. I think it would be a mistake to pull all our troops tomorrow,” he said.

Edwards was one of the House Democrats who voted yes May 24 on a House vote concurring with a Senate amendment, the effect of which was to approve an Iraq spending bill without timetables for troop reductions or withdrawals, and without Congressionally-binding benchmarks on the Iraqi government. The overall vote was 280-142. Edwards also voted for the original House supplemental spending bill May 10, later vetoed by Bush, that did have timetables.

“Can we guarantee stability in Iraq? No … not even with a million troops,” Edwards continued. “That’s the job of the Iraqi people. I want to send a message to Iraqi leaders: Clean up your corruption. Take more responsibility. We’re not going to write a blank check of $10 billion a month forever.”

With $3 a gallon gas, this was bound to be his second topic.

“I’m afraid we’re paying the price for having a long-term energy policy,” Edwards said.

He said a major portion of the problem was lack of new U.S. gasoline refineries.
Referring to a 2005 energy bill that made it easier to build refineries, Edwards said we needed another one. He said he wanted to make it easier to build nuclear power plants, open up more of the Gulf coast, especially the Florida portion, for oil and natural gas drilling, and get automakers to make some serious improvements in fuel economy.

“If they can’t do a better job, we may not have an American car-manufacturing industry,” he warned.

Later, during audience questioning, Edwards said he was open to the idea of the government developing a strategic reserve for refined gasoline similar to the one it already has for crude oil.

Edwards picked up the thread from the Senate committee-level action on this issue.

“My guess is more than 50-50 we’re going to have an immigration bill this year,” he said.

He then explained what he thought needed to be addressed, and how.

“It’s not practical to think we’re going to hire enough agents to round up 12 million people,” he said.

He said he thought new legislation needed stronger border security and illegal immigrants in the country being put on a path to citizenship after paying a fine and being put on a waiting list (the Senate bill as it now stands also requires them to return to their country of origin).

Grimes County Democratic Party Chairman Larry Snook asked Edwards if he didn’t think this would require more bureaucracy, namely, things such as monitoring immigrants to make sure they did not have criminal backgrounds before putting them on a citizenship path, than would a “roundup” policy.