Fresh out of the California State Legislature, U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who was sworn in as a new member of the 113th Congress on Jan. 3, has moved from one budget conundrum to another.
After facing tough choices as a state senator during a financial crisis that led to axing redevelopment agencies to stave off cuts to public education, Lowenthal is now weighing options that impact the entire nation. In the federal arena, however, much of the same balancing act applies, said the freshman congressman in his new Long Beach office downtown during an interview with the Signal Tribune last Friday, Feb. 1.
“There’s going to be a need for some additional revenues and … additional cuts, and I think that’s not rocket science,” Lowenthal said. “We’re not just going to cut everything, and we’re not just going to cut taxes to solve it… there’s going to be a balance.”
Lowenthal, who has a 20-year political career as a Long Beach city councilmember and a state legislator, was elected last November to represent the newly drawn 47th Congressional District, which encompasses Long Beach, Signal Hill, Lakewood, Cypress, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton and Buena Park.
The former Cal State Long Beach psychology professor has already cast his first vote, which was approving a billion-dollar relief package for states affected by Superstorm Sandy. Lowenthal has also been appointed to the House Committee on Natural Resources in addition to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, dealing with terrorism and national security– topics that are fairly new ones for the Congressmember to handle.
In addition to discussing the nation’s budget woes during the interview, Lowenthal touched on top priorities for the country, including immigration reform, health care and gun control. On the local level, he discussed promoting education and creating green jobs. But, what takes the most precedence now is averting another recession, Lowenthal said.
So far, he said the economies of both California and the nation appear to be heading in the right direction, despite “prophesies of doom and gloom,” adding that the State’s budget situation has “stabilized” and its bond rating has jumped back up.
“I think the [national] economy is waking up from a deep slumber,” Lowenthal said. “It’s slowly improving and needs to be nurtured, and we need to make sure we invest wisely and watch carefully that we don’t do anything foolish… Growth is not as fast as we would like, and unemployment is still high, but there are very encouraging signs out there. Businesses are hiring more people, and job growth is increasing.”
Lowenthal said, as a “moderate,” he voted in favor of a bill that President Barack Obama recently signed that suspends putting limits on federal borrowing until mid-March, even though the move went against his party’s leadership.
Democratic leaders decried the bill for continuing to put off the nation’s budget problems with no real solutions while Republican leaders remained critical about raising the debt ceiling at all. Still, he said, the bill’s passage at least showed the first sign of bipartisanship on the issue.
“Even though I wasn’t wild about kicking the can down the road and not truly fixing the debt ceiling, I thought it was responsible that the Republican party wanted to focus on the debt issue and did not want the country to … not meet its financial obligations,” Lowenthal said. “I felt like it was the first step in working together.”
Federal budget discussions in coming weeks, he said, must take a “responsible, balanced approach” from both Democratic and Republican parties. So far, President Obama has outlined a “balanced” package of both spending cuts and tax increases. The big question, however, is what will happen to about $1.2 trillion in federal spending for defense and other programs that, through “sequestration,” remains at risk of automatically being cut after the government’s extension expires.
“We’re going to need some serious kinds of cuts, and we’re going to seriously need to address new revenues that are appropriate, whether it’s to look at some tax credits [or] whether it’s to look at the overall tax system and reform it,” Lowenthal said.
Local governments, schools, nonprofits and even businesses are tied to what federal programs may be cut this year. Boeing, for instance, has had to make hundreds of layoffs at its C-17 production line in Long Beach in recent years due to the military spending cuts and since the United States Air Force no longer requires any new orders.
Although Lowenthal doesn’t foresee the federal government securing any new C-17s, he said the production line is expected to stay alive through international sales for the next few years, adding that Boeing’s defense and commercial aviation programs have “stabilized.” Lowenthal added that the Long Beach plant might eventually become the “maintenance capital” for the nation’s existing C-17s.
“The C-17 has become such an important part of our ability to move large equipment and to transport soldiers, medical equipment and humanitarian aid all over the globe,” he said. “I think Long Beach has a bright future.”
Reducing the federal deficit, however, may also involve investing in infrastructure and cleaner-burning technology through the American Jobs Act, Lowenthal said. Investing in zero-emissions goods movement at the ports and renewable energy sources is expected to help generate green jobs, he said.
In addition, reducing emissions on a national level, much like California’s cap-and-trade program through the state’s landmark environmental law AB 32, could be achieved through a combination of market forces, federal regulatory controls and government incentives, Lowenthal said. “I think there are ways to increase existing resources and move them around,” he said. “We can renew infrastructure, [but] with that infrastructure having to be clean.”
Lowenthal also spoke about reforming the nation’s immigration policy, which he said would help move the economy forward. Providing “law-abiding” immigrants who pay their taxes and go to school with a path toward citizenship would help replace an aging workforce of Baby Boomers who are now retiring, he said.
“I think immigration reform is going to be very helpful… because it’s going to provide us with the energy of lots of younger new Americans, who are going to be the entrepreneurs of this century,” Lowenthal said. “… Just as it has always been immigrants [who] have driven this economy in the United States.”
He added that “meaningful” immigration reform that provides immigrants with a path toward citizenship is becoming more of a bipartisan issue due to “changing demographics” in cities and states across the country. “You’re now seeing that this is no longer just a Democratic issue,” Lowenthal said. “There’s a large voice on the Republican side also saying, ‘We want to participate in this’… It’s taken a while to get to the table, but I think we’re going to be partners in this.”
As a supporter of President Obama’s new healthcare law, Lowenthal brought up the political discussion on universal health care, which he said now focuses on how to contain costs and whether to change certain government incentives. Even though health care is “occupying a larger and larger portion of our national budget,” Lowenthal said, “I don’t think you walk away from your obligation to provide adequate health care for Americans.”
In terms of spurring job growth, he said the driving force behind a prosperous economy is an educational system that is affordable, accessible and effective, one that “turns out qualified students who become qualified workers.” Lowenthal added, “the more you invest in education, the more you create entrepreneurs… [And] once they graduate they will create the new jobs and new technology.”