If Congress had a "Most Controversial Freshman Award," Rep. Bill Posey would be a leading contender -- if not a shoo-in.
The Republican lawmaker from Florida's Space Coast irritated House leadership by proposing a 72-hour "cooling-off" period before floor votes after Democrats rammed through the 1,200-page stimulus bill in the wee hours. He was a vocal opponent of federal health-care legislation and has called out the Obama administration on what he sees as an "eternal gap" in U.S. space capabilities.
Most notoriously, the Brevard County resident has been branded a "birther" for his bill that would require all incoming presidents to furnish a bona fide copy of their birth certificate.
A Florida state senator for eight years, Posey was elected to represent the 15th Congressional District in 2008 after Republican Rep. Dave Weldon retired.
Prior to his two terms in the state Senate, Posey was in the Florida House of Representatives and served for 10 years on the Rockledge City Council.
Posey, now 62, worked at the Kennedy Space Center until he was laid off at the end of the Apollo program. He then founded Posey & Co. Realtors and later became a director of the Florida Association of Realtors and president of the Space Coast Association of Realtors.
In an interview with Sunshine State News, the congressman discusses the upcoming elections, pending issues on Capitol Hill, and what's at stake for Florida.
Q. Now that health care has passed, what's the No. 1 issue in Congress right now?
A. The No. 1 issue is still the same: jobs and the economy. Unfortunately, for all of 2009 and the first part of 2010, the leadership in Washington has failed to focus on the No. 1 concern. Instead, they focused on health-care reform; all the while our economy continued to flounder and another 4 million Americans joined the unemployment rolls. The majority of Americans said they wanted Washington to focus on our economy and not health care but Washington did what it wanted instead. I think this was a big mistake.
First and foremost, Washington should do now what it should have been doing all last year: focus on creating the right kind of economic environment so that businesses, both small and large, can grow and create jobs. I happen to think that the folks in charge have been living in a fantasy world when it comes to job creation. Not only has the current leadership in Congress added to the tax and regulatory burdens of businesses everywhere, making it more expensive to start and expand a business, they are spending taxpayer dollars at an unsustainable rate while making promises that they know they cannot keep.
Washington needs to focus on two things: creating a regulatory and tax environment where businesses are encouraged to create jobs, and equally as important is cutting government spending, which is threatening the long-term health of our economy. The national debt has increased from $8.7 trillion to more than $14 trillion in just three years. Not only in this unsustainable, but it is immoral to saddle our children and grandchildren with such a costly burden.
Q. What's the biggest issue that Floridians should be concerned about on Capitol Hill?
A. I believe it is the failure of Washington to understand the cumulative effect of their policies on our economy. The health care bill contains over $500 billion in new taxes on businesses and individuals and additional expensive mandates. The Cap and Trade/National Energy Tax that congressional Democrats and the president continue to push would add another $1 trillion in taxes on American businesses.
Additionally, the small business tax relief that will be allowed to expire at the end of this year will further raise the tax burden. These will cost Americans jobs. Estimates are that the health care bill and national energy tax will result in the loss of six million American jobs.
I am committed to fighting against these bills so that American businesses are not put at a competitive disadvantage. Another action we should consider is lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate, which is already the second highest in the world at 35 percent.
For Florida specifically, we have several challenges. Extending the space shuttle program beyond 2010 remains a priority with me. We must keep the U.S. first in space, not simply for the jobs, but also because it helps us maintain our industrial base and economic competitiveness.
When I talk of the adverse consequences of the cumulative effect of Washingtons policies, I am very concerned that no one seems to be focused on all of these actions and the effects they will have.
Not only does Florida face the costs of the new health-care bill and the prospects of a new $1 trillion energy tax, but also the loss of over 9,000 direct space jobs and thousands more indirect jobs. Additionally, Washingtons actions to shut down fisheries will impact thousands of marine-related jobs. The Environmental Protection Agencys nutrient standards will impose costly mandates on towns, counties, and Florida agricultural. The cumulative effect is one that is devastating to job creation and will prolong our recession.
Q. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, you've been an outspoken critic of the SEC. What progress, if any, are you seeing in the area of financial regulation and enforcement?
A. Unfortunately, not very much progress at all. There seems to be a real drive to point the finger at Wall Street greed when things go wrong, but no willingness to hold the government regulators accountable for their lack of enforcement of the rules and laws we already have in place.
Ive been pretty outspoken on the SECs major blunder in handling the Bernie Madoff case. The SEC was given all of the evidence on Madoff on numerous occasions going back more than 10 years. Barrons Magazine even wrote about what Madoff was doing. The SEC ignored the information and failed to act until the $65 billion Pozni scheme came crashing down.
And whats Congress response? More agencies to oversee the failed agency. No effort to find out what went wrong and actually hold the folks at the SEC accountable for years of failures. And rather than finding out what happened, the SEC decides to make climate change disclosure requirements.
I teamed up with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and introduced a bill, the "Maintaining Agency Direction on Financial Fraud (MADOFF) Act," to block the SECs climate change requirements which are almost impossible to measure, will create confusion and waste financial resources defending lawsuits when those funds could be used to create jobs. Eighteen of my colleagues signed onto the measure and Im still pursuing more cosponsors.
Q. What's your take on the Crist-Rubio Senate contest, philosophically and politically? Is it a plus or minus for the Republican Party of Florida?
A. Ive always believed in transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to government officials and our elected representatives. So I think its a plus for Republicans and all Floridians to have this spirited debate on the issues currently before Congress. Im certainly hoping we send a conservative to the U.S. Senate next year. I trust that Florida voters will make the right decision in the coming months.
Q. Per your bill to require all incoming presidents to furnish a bona fide copy of their birth certificate: How many sponsors do you have? Any Democrats? Where does that legislation stand?
A. The bill I introduced last year, H.R. 1503, simply implements through legislation the presidential qualifying standards which are listed in the U.S. Constitution. Currently there are no statutes to require that candidates running for president actually display that they have met these three qualifications, which are 1. that the president be a natural born citizen, 2. a resident of 14 years, and 3. at least 35 years old.
My bill simply says future candidates for president must file documentation demonstrating that they meet these qualifications when they file their papers to run for president with the Federal Election Commission.
Presidential qualification questions have been raised seven times in the past and Congress has failed to codify these requirements into law. In 2008, numerous news agencies and advocacy groups called into question Sen. John McCains qualifications to serve as president despite the fact that he had been a candidate for that office in the past. This prompted the U.S. Senate, led by Democrats, to investigate Sen. McCain and pass non-binding legislation declaring him a citizen so he could run for president.
If Democrats in the Senate and liberal news organizations thought the McCain issue was important enough to address during the presidential election with a nonbinding resolution, then perhaps Congress should take this a step further and codify these requirements into law so there is no confusion in future elections.
And since introducing H.R. 1503, seven state legislatures have begun to consider similar proposals on the state level with the backing of over 60 state lawmakers. There are nearly a dozen lawmakers on my federal bill.
Q. Harkening to your days in the Florida Senate, you introduced a bill requiring a 72-hour waiting period before a floor vote in Congress. How has that idea fared?
A. I think the idea of creating a 72-hour period of public availability before legislation can be brought up for consideration by the House of Representatives has been positively received by the public and lawmakers in general.
When the $786 billion stimulus was brought up for consideration, members were given 12 hours (11 p.m. to 9a.m.) to read the 1,200-page spending bill. The administration and leaders in Congress said there was no time to read and debate its merits; and that we needed to act quickly with this legislation to hold unemployment at 8 percent.
A year later, unemployment stands at 9.7 percent nationally and much higher locally. Americans were promised that if the stimulus bill passed there would be 137 million jobs in America and instead we have seen a steady decline to only 129 million missing the mark by about 8 million jobs.
When the House considered the Cap and Trade-National Energy Tax last summer, the 1,500-page bill was significantly altered the night before the vote with a 300-page amendment. They even had to stop debate the day of the vote because a final copy of this legislation wasnt even available for members to refer back to.
The final Health Care Reform bill that was passed by Congress recently was roughly 2,700 pages long, and Im not even sure 72 hours is enough time to read and comprehend a bill of that magnitude. Its irresponsible to ask members of Congress to vote on these comprehensive reforms without allowing them the adequate time to read and understand the proposals, which are to become law.
I think responsible members like to report back to constituents that they are familiar with the details of large proposals under consideration and how that will impact their lives. But I think the larger question might be: Should Congress even consider voting on such large pieces of legislation in the first place? It doesnt seem to me to be a very responsible way to govern.
Q. After your first few months in Congress, you stated that Congress was even more dysfunctional than you had imagined. Has that assessment changed?
A. No. Congress gets more dysfunctional by the day, but I think that is by design. Look at the recent health-care vote and how many deals were made to get just barely enough votes to pass a bill that very few members could actually explain to the public. There were plans to ignore House rules and deem the bill passed without actually taking an up or down vote on it. Why have these rules if one can just change them when things dont go your way? Thats a very dangerous precedent to set.
And Congress has failed to lead by example. The American people want to see more responsible leadership. Thats why Ive taken some steps to show some personal leadership on this issue. Last year, I refused to accept the pay raise that had been previously approved by the Congress for 2009. Additionally, I turned back to the U.S. Treasury over $100,000 in unspent office funds.
Q. What's your prediction for the midterm elections nationally? Do you see any change in Florida's congressional delegation, which currently has 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats?
A. I do not think this administration has been very transparent and forthcoming with the details of any other their proposals. Certainly Congress has not been operating in the light of day and unfortunately the economy continues to lag. Given that, I think the American people have serious objections to the current leaders in Congress who seem to have been ignoring them.
I believe Republicans are in a strong position at this point and we need to continue to work to get our ideas out there, ideas that most Americans agree with: fiscal responsibility, financial security, accountability, transparency and protection of individual liberty.
Q. On space, what are your expectations for President Obama's visit to Florida on Thursday? What can Florida taxpayers and businesses do to get involved in this issue?
A. I would like to see the president keep his promise to close the gap and keep the United States first in space, but so far my office has heard nothing from the White House regarding this event. The presidents budget has disappointed many in Congress, the public, stakeholders in industry and former NASA officials because of its lack of priorities, direction and vision. The plan would retire the shuttle and terminate its currently planned successor, Constellation, with little consideration of transitioning the workforce.
If implemented, the presidents proposal would end our leadership in human space flight. We would cede our leadership in space to the Russians, Chinese and others, and just this week we learned the Russians will charge us $56 million per astronaut per launch to reach the International Space Station. The American public has every right to be outraged about this, especially considering we can keep safely and affordably flying the Shuttle for a few more years to close the gap.
In my last meeting with (NASA) Administrator (Charles) Bolden, there were hints that the administration would work with Congress to accommodate concerns about the plan. So far, however, weve continued to hear the same plan.
I would welcome the presidents commitment to completing the Shuttles remaining scheduled launches and perhaps adding an additional flight, but a serious commitment to keeping us first in space demands that we continue flying the Shuttle until commercial launches are ready or the Shuttles successor comes online. Floridians can continue to urge their Senators and Representatives to keep the pressure on.
Q. Your concluding thoughts?
A. I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my views directly with your readers. I believe thats what the American people want from their elected representatives. I try to be as transparent and direct as possible. I must also say that I am pleased that the American people are rising to the challenge.
Last summer, when Congress passed the Cap and Trade National Energy Tax bill, the public got a wakeup call to what was going on in Washington and said they didnt like it. They spoke out against the health care reform bill; unfortunately, Congress adopted a Washington knows best attitude and passed it over the objections of the clear majority of Americans. But, I think this has only strengthened the resolve of the American people and Ive committed to working with them to fix a Washington that is out of touch with everyday America.