Peters Eschews Spotlight to Roll Up Sleeves and Get Things Done
WASHINGTON – In a divisive political era, Rep. Scott Peters, a California Democrat, still manages to find a way to reach across the aisle to get things done.
Whether it’s introducing legislation to make cost-effective biosimilar drugs more accessible, leading a bipartisan effort to expand mental health services for veterans, or asking probing questions of the Federal Reserve to better assess the danger the federal debt poses for the U.S. economy, Peters is unabashedly nonpartisan in his approach.
“One of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’ is to begin with the end in mind, and I’ve been mindful of that ever since I got here,” Peters told The Well News recently.
“If you want to get anything passed on behalf of your constituents, you can’t only rely on Democrats in the House, you absolutely must be willing to work with House Republicans, and to work with Republicans in the Senate as well,” he said.
“It starts with listening,” he said. “Really listening.”
“And when somebody says something that you agree with, that’ll start a conversation, and then in many cases, you’ll start talking about policies you might develop together,” he said.
The latest example of this is H.R. 1043, the Employer Participation in Repayment Act. Peters and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., are leading a bipartisan group of 99 members of Congress to reintroduce the bill.
The bill would incentivize employers to offer student loan assistance to their employees by making employer-provided student loan payments tax-exempt up to $5,250 a year—similar to tax exemptions for tuition assistance programs.
Despite his longevity in office, Peters is less well known than many of his colleagues, largely because he foregoes profile-raising opportunities like regularly appearing on television.
“It’s not my thing,” he said before quickly adding, “I came here to work. I came here to connect what’s important to San Diego with what’s happening in Washington and to work on significant policy regarding the environment and other areas.”
All Climate Crises are Local
Just this past week, Peters was among the lawmakers chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to attend the U.N. climate change conference, also known as COP25, in Madrid, Spain.
“Perhaps the thing that struck me most was how appreciative people were that we were there, even though we were only a small delegation representing one party of one half of one branch of government,” Peters said.
“It’s critical for us to be in these rooms where people are talking about big decisions, if for no other reason than to defend our national interest,” he said. “At the same time, I had a real sense that the world needs us to be a leader on this climate issue as well as other things like NATO and global trade.”
“What I think we need to spend a lot more time talking about is how to reach the goals we need to, and there’s an international component to that,” he said. “There’s also an innovation component to that … and there are a lot of domestic policies that need to be sorted out.”
With that, Peters turned from the global to the local.
“The three major impacts of climate change in our part of the world are sea level rise, wildfires, and extended droughts that have created a water supply problem for all Californians,” he said. “This is the reason why engagement, by people like us, on Capitol Hill, is important — because our constituents want to know we’re doing something to slow this change down and finding ways for us all to adapt to it.”
On Veterans, Trade and Fiscal Responsibility
Rep. Peters is also actively involved in veterans affairs. Earlier this month, he and Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., Susan Davis, D-Calif., and Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., introduced legislation to increase veterans’ access to mental health services.
The bipartisan and bicameral Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019, directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to create an easily accessible network to provide information to veterans and their families about the availability of mental health services from the VA and state and local agencies.
“This is another example of a national need that has a real impact on my district,” Peters said. “San Diego has always been home to a strong military presence, and in fact, there are seven military facilities in my district alone. So we have a lot of veterans living in our community, which means we pay a lot of attention to making sure they can get jobs, and have access to healthcare and education services.”
One issue the congressman wants to see resolved quickly is the fate of USMCA, the new North American trade agreement which has been held up in the House since last summer.
“USMCA is very important to San Diego, and as someone who has always been pro-trade, I’d like to see it ratified this year,” Peters said.
Peters, who said he’d also like the United States to rethink walking away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, said he believes the USMCA negotiated by the Trump administration is an improvement over the NAFTA deal it will replace.
“The San Diego region does a tremendous amount of business with Mexico,” he said. “So much so that we, in a bipartisan vote, approved $500 million dollars to upgrade the border crossing near there — the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere.”
Finally, Peters asked to say a word on fiscal responsibility.
“It used to be that Democrats and Republicans kind of fought between the 30-yard lines,” he said. “Republicans wanted a little bit smaller government and lower taxes … and Democrats were worried less about taxes and wanted to do things like taking care of the poor. But both parties were on the same playing field.
“I know it’s not a popular issue, but one of our jobs as members of Congress is to be responsible and educate our constituents about vital national issues. We are all going to have to pitch in to fix this budget situation.
“Our job isn’t to pander to our constituents. A big part of our job is to educate the public when we see something wrong,” he concluded.
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