Huntsville, AL (WAFF) - It's been an exhausting week for Mo Brooks.
The 5th District Representative walked into the WAFF 48 News offices just after 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, straight off a connecting flight from Washington DC. "I've been traveling for five hours now, I'm ready to go home." Brooks said with a smile.
He began the day in the nation's capital, casting one of just 67 votes against a bill aimed at funding a national flood insurance program that was paying claims to Hurricane Sandy victims. Brooks says he stuck with his principles in casting the vote, and wishes things had been done differently. The process felt rushed to him. "Bear in mind, we just had a new Congress voted in yesterday, and today we're voting to spend 9 billion dollars we don't have, that we're gonna have to borrow to pay for. I think it's irresponsible to have a process where you don't have committee hearings, you don't sift through legislation to see that the pork is weeded out."
Public pressure was mounting after New York Republican Peter King called out his own party, and House Speaker John Boehner for ending the 112th Congressional session earlier this week without a vote on Sandy relief. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie jumped in as well, and the vote was held Friday morning.
Brooks says he wasn't opposed to helping the victims of the storm, but the process was flawed. "We may want to pay that tab, but we need to have a deliberative process where that legislation is reviewed longer than 24 hours." Brooks says that the FEMA Flood Insurance program has obvious flaws that need to be addressed. "They are not charging premiums high enough to offset the payouts."
The controversy over the Sandy funding vote is likely to die down over the next few days, but Congress is gearing up for several more difficult battles ahead. Battles that Brooks is well aware of, and ready for. The Fiscal Cliff vote earlier this week kicked the sequestration can down the road, and questions over the debt ceiling and government funding are going to be tackled in the next two months. "Right off the bat, we leave the fiscal cliff and hit the debt mountain, and all the issues related to it." Brooks said. "These issues are going to be resolved by one question : 'Is the president, is the Democrat senate willing to cut spending in an amount sufficient to minimize the risk of a federal government bankruptcy and insolvency?'"
When asked if a government shutdown was possible in the current situation, Brooks seemed optimistic it could be avoided, but remained realistic in his personal goals. "We don't want to shut down the government, but we also, in the long term, don't want an insolvency or bankruptcy that would be debilitating to the United States of America." For Brooks, spending cuts need to be addressed sooner, rather than later. "(The Democratic Party) already got the tax increases, now we have to try to balance the budget." He said. "Foreign aid is in the neighborhood of 50 billion dollars a year, that's money we don't have. We're having to borrow money - a lot of it - from foreign nations, to give to foreign nations... We'd like to help them, but we've got to help ourselves first."
One of the taxes that Brooks was referring to wasn't so much a tax increase, but rather allowing a previous tax cut on Social Security payroll taxes to expire. The cut was put in place in 2010, and took the level from 6.2% to 4.2%. As of this week, those rates went back up to 6.2%. Brooks took a practical approach to the move. "There's a balance, if you're going to have Social Security and Medicare, you have to pay for it." He said. "Right now, Social Security and Medicare are in the red, if you're going to be financially responsible then you have to pay for it, and the primary source of funding is that payroll tax."
After our ten minute chat, the Congressman headed home. But there's little rest for the weary. His assistant was quick to remind him of an interview he had set up at a local radio station later in the week.