Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) — So many hot topics are impacting our nation. United States Congressman Rick Allen of Georgia’s 12th District is no stranger to The Means Report. He took time out of his busy schedule to cover a vast array of topics from President Donald Trump, health care reform, and our chances of preventing the violence that seems to be breaking out everywhere — whether it is the effort of terrorist groups or a lone wolf.
Brad Means: Let’s start with the congressman, Rick Allen. Congressman, thank you so much for being here today. As always, we’re grateful.
Rep. Rick Allen: Good to be with you, Brad. Always good to be here.
Brad Means: I’m thankful that you’re here, first of all, because of what happened last week in DC, the shooting at the baseball practice. Were you there?
Rep. Rick Allen: No, I was not there. I’m part of a golf competition. Being from Augusta, I have to be part of that.
Brad Means: I like that.
Rep. Rick Allen: We have a Ryder Cup competition. In fact, we are getting ready to do that competition there between the Republicans and Democrats next weekend. But I was not part of the baseball team, but of course I knew everyone that was there well, very well. I’ve talked to each one of them. I have not talked to, obviously, Steve Scalise, who was probably the most critically injured. He and a former staffer were the most critically injured. Very fortunate that that thing didn’t turn into something really, really bad. Right now, Whip Scalise seems to be improving and so is the staffer, assuming they get well, and we wanna pray for them getting well soon. And assuming that they recover, I’ll tell you, we can just get on our knees and thank God that that didn’t turn into a massacre.
Brad Means: Does it make you worry about your own safety? I thought in the back of my mind when you arrived for the interview today, I thought, “I wonder if he’ll have more people around him.” You do, but it’s because you have more people working for you this time of year anyway in the summertime, internships and whatnot. Does it make you wanna surround yourself with more security to be extra careful?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, we get security when we’re traveling in the district. Each sheriff in each county, I mean, they ask us to let them know when we’re there, where we’re gonna be. They get our schedules and they typically put an officer with me. As one sheriff said, he said, “I don’t want anything to happen “to my congressman in my county.”
Brad Means: No, I guess not.
Rep. Rick Allen: And they know what’s going on. And thank goodness we haven’t had a lotta that. You know, I thought it was pretty interesting, we just had the state Republican convention here, and, wow, what a welcome this city put out for ’em. We didn’t have one demonstration.
Brad Means: Yeah, that was impressive.
Rep. Rick Allen: Yeah.
Brad Means: Can we prevent acts of violence like this? It seems that the answer would be no, these random lone gunmen.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, it’s like if you’re in a competition, any competition, whether it’s sports or, politics is a competition; you run for office. And sure, you want your candidate to win, but it’s not the end of the world, for crying out loud. I don’t know. People are really, the country is on edge.
Brad Means: And people, when you see things like this happen, call for mass reform with our gun laws. Do you see anything like that happening or do we just say, “Look, this was a crazy guy, “let’s move on and be safe”?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, I’ve heard it both ways. I mean, I’ve heard it where these things are happening in these places which have the toughest gun laws in the country. So, why allow just bad guys to have guns? So, no, I don’t, I see that, well, obviously, and we have addressed this in Congress, mental health is a big problem in our country. We have some people that are very unstable and I don’t know what pulls that trigger, particularly when these people take people out and then take their own life. Obviously, it’s a difficult situation. But Dr. Tim Murphy in Congress, a member of Congress, is a psychologist. He has actually helped us. He is also a Navy career officer, and this is what he did in the Navy is deal with trauma like this, and he had a lot to add as far as what’s going on in the country. He was the catalyst behind this mental health legislation, because we have an opiate and a heroin epidemic in the country.
Brad Means: Yeah, we do, we’ve seen that break out in Georgia. And it’s interesting, you’re right, you’re seeing the focus shift from gun legislation to mental health legislation, if you will, and focusing on the care of the individual so that they don’t get to that breaking point. Congressman, how do you feel about President Trump and the controversy that dogs that man day after day after day? Is he getting anything accomplished? Maybe behind the headlines, are you all doing work up there that he wants done?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, unfortunately it doesn’t get a lotta coverage, but, yeah, we’ve got our head down, getting our work done. Obviously, we passed health care in the House. Leader McConnell says he’s gonna pass it in the Senate or have a vote on it in the Senate by July 4th. We have, in one state, Iowa, 94 outta 99 counties that don’t have an insurer. Now, they talk about covering lives, I mean, you got 94 counties where you don’t have a carrier. So, those folks presumably aren’t insured.
Brad Means: Are you confident that this can go through, that the version of the health care plan that the Congress passed, that the House passed, can be passed in the Senate?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, I’ll tell you, if they can improve on that legislation, and when I say improve on it, what you have to do, every area of the country is very different. And so, legislation is like trying to thread a needle because you’ve gotta deal with other states, you gotta deal with states who expanded Medicaid: New York, California. There’s 14 million people on Medicaid in California. Half the people in the state of New York are on Medicaid, so you gotta deal with all those issues. And so, you have to keep working the legislation until you get the best of everything you can get. Now, is it perfect? I told folks at the convention, ’cause I was asked a lot about it, I said I’ve been in the business world, Donald Trump came from the business world. We’re just trying to turn the ship around. Are we gonna get everything we want? No. And it’s gotta be incremental.
Brad Means: I think the longer you’re in Congress, the more patient you have become. Because I remember when you first started, you felt like you were banging your head against the wall. But now, it is a process and it does take time.
Rep. Rick Allen: We worked awful hard on that health care legislation because we made the American people a promise that we were gonna repeal and replace Obamacare, we were gonna fix health care. We have started the conversation on health care. Every American needs to get involved. We need to hear from you, we need to know what’s your thoughts. And I have gotten a lot of advice on health care and I think we’re gonna come out with something not only that will help immediately. Some things we put in here, for example, Maryland, they put in the invisible risk pool. It drove down premiums 50% in the state of, I mean the state of Maine. And so, it’s just things like that that states, some states have done some wonderful things regarding health care to bring down costs and to increase competition. So, we tried to adopt those things. We get those working, we continue to improve on, this is not a one-shot deal; this is constant improvement.
Brad Means: And do you think, very quickly before we go to break, do you think that the controversy that has surrounded the president, that has followed him, will continue to through this first term in office? Do you think it’s just going to be part of his presidency and you all will just kinda try to quietly work in the background?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, I don’t know. I’ll tell you, he’s been an amazing man to work with. He’s got his head down. He came to our conference. At 5 o’clock in the morning, he called Leader McCarthy on the day we put health care on the floor and he said, “I got six members you need to talk to “to make sure we get their vote on this.” This is the president of the United States.
Brad Means: The guy rarely sleeps, it appears.
Rep. Rick Allen: I mean, really. But yeah, he’s been by far the most productive president we’ve had. I mean, he’s signed 30 bills. Half of those were regulatory reforms.
Brad Means: When we come back, folks, we’re gonna continue to talk about issues that are facing Congress. We’ll talk about the safety and the security of the United States, not only on the cyber front but on the military threat front in the wake of a shooting of a Syrian airplane over the weekend, when the Means Report continues.
Brad Means: Welcome back to the Means Report. Thanks for staying with us. Congressman Rick Allen is our special guest and we’re gonna continue to talk about issues facing Congress. And one of the issues facing our country is the constant threat to our cyber systems, bad guys getting on their computers and trying to hurt us. We’re recording this on a Monday in Augusta, a huge day in the Garden City as they broke ground on our Cyber Institute downtown, where the Golf and Gardens used to be. Cyber is a huge deal. And I used to ask you if Augusta really was on the map when it came to cyber. It’s clear that we are known as a player.
Rep. Rick Allen: Yes, the governor said today that he started out with the design of the building and he had two more partners come onboard, so they’re actually adding square footage to this building as we speak.
Brad Means: That’s incredible.
Rep. Rick Allen: We think there’ll be more. There were a lot of interested parties there today. The building is gonna be named after Jim Hull and Will McKnight, and those two went to the governor with the idea last December and this is how fast we’re moving. The governor made the comment, he said, “Now, I’ll be back next July “to cut the ribbon on this thing,” and some people doubted whether that’s gonna happen. He said, “Well, I can tell you, “if we can repair a bridge on a major interstate “in less than six weeks, I think we’ll get this thing done.”
Brad Means: That thing’s gonna fly outta the ground, isn’t it?
Rep. Rick Allen: It really is.
Brad Means: I mean, you build buildings for a living. Is it possible that thing’s gonna be up and running?
Rep. Rick Allen: Oh yeah. It’s kinda of a prototype structure, and so it’s SCIF space. And I know the contractor personally. He followed me as we worked through AGC. He was my vice president when I was president of the AGC Georgia branch, so they’re familiar with this and they got a working relationship with the architect, so I think things’ll go well.
Brad Means: What can you tell us on the jobs front in the cyber industry? You know, a lotta parents watch and they wanna get their kids employed one day.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, obviously, in higher education, we’re seeing not only Augusta University but universities all over the country and universities here in the state of Georgia really ramping up their cyber programs. But as Senator Saxby Chambliss said today, he said Augusta University is really out front leading in that cyber effort. So, we’re very proud of Dr. Brooks Keel and his staff and what they’re doing there. Also next week, our Education Workforce Committee has marked up the reauthorization of the career technical education legislation. The governor mentioned too how important career technical education is gonna be to filling all of these jobs that are gonna become available, not only in Augusta but across the nation. But I’ll tell you, General Morrison was there and he talked about everything that’s going. There was red clay mounds of dirt behind him, he says, “Get used to it, “this is what we see every day at Fort Gordon,” so it’s going on there too.
Brad Means: Well, it’s amazing to watch it and, as you mentioned, the speed at which it is transpiring. I wanna talk about the security threats that America faces very quickly, and it’s a subject that’s tough to tackle quickly, but whether it’s Russia threatening to treat our airplanes as targets in the wake of coalition forces shooting down a Syrian jet this past Sunday or whether it is North Korea launching cyber attacks on computer systems all over the world, threats are coming from everywhere. My question is, are you concerned or are you, tell me how you feel about America’s response and readiness.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, we have the finest military in the world and this is the new frontier in warfare. Now, I will tell you, we’ve had some issues funding our military. We were able to plus-up military spending just this year. Before this year, it’s been pretty much capped. And you can’t protect the homeland and run a two-front war on a small budget. And then cyber enters the picture. And so, we’re ramping up very quickly. It’s gonna be the fastest growth in the military. And again, you’re gonna see, the military of the 21st century, it’s gonna look different.
Brad Means: You know, one of the first things you told me when we started having you on the Means Report after you had been elected to Congress was that Russia doesn’t like us, Putin doesn’t like us. Should we fear Russia or is it just a lotta talk coming from over there at this point?
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, Russia’s interested in selling their oil. Particularly, I think they’re trying to sell oil to Europe, Western Europe. And so, and they’re kinda tied in with Iran and Syria now, so they wanna be, Putin wants to be a world player. He’s interested in trying to get economic advantage in his country. Oil is a resource that they have. And, of course, obviously, in this battle in Syria, I think it boils down to one of the richest regions in the world as far as oil reserves that ISIS holds currently, and so that’s why we’re saying, “You don’t fly your jets here “or we’re gonna shoot ’em outta the air.”
Brad Means: All right, I wanna cover your committees. We talked about education and workforce, the job prospects that are out there, especially when it comes to cyber. Let’s talk agriculture. President Trump’s proposed budget cuts the USDA by 20%. Your thoughts about how we’re treating our farmers and trying to help them.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, obviously the president’s budget is kind of his vision. And again, it’s just a vision. And I appreciate the president looking at ways to try to reduce the size and scope of this government. In agriculture, we have taken some big cuts. Food supply is a national security issue, so obviously I think it’s serious and we have to preserve our farmers. Our farmers are doing an incredible job.
Brad Means: Well, and you make a great point. The proposal is just that, it’s a proposal. And even though that 20% cut to the Agriculture Department made big headlines, it’s in the early stages.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, Secretary Perdue, we’ve had two hearings with Secretary Perdue, and what we’ve got to do is get commodity, we’ve gotta improve our trade agreements so that we get a fair deal for our products, ’cause we do export a lotta agricultural products. Our farmers, our yields are, I mean, it’s amazing with so few people how much we can do in agriculture. So, we continue to be more productive, it’s more high-tech. I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisement, the guy putting the probe in and he says he’s going to China. He’s checking the market in China and he starts to irrigate his crop. Well, I don’t know that we’re doing that in the 12th District, but it’s high-tech. But we do have to improve our trade, and Secretary Perdue is gonna do that. We get prices up, that’s the biggest thing that’s gonna help our farmers.
Brad Means: Well, it is a busy time indeed, Congressman, from the groundbreaking at the Cyber Institute to this to your busy schedule after. Thank you for stopping by and talking to us.
Rep. Rick Allen: Well, I wanna just say this: I wanna thank everyone in the 12th District of Georgia. There’s a reason that all this is happening, and that’s because we have the greatest resources in this district. My colleagues are so envious of my representation and that they said, “What in the world is going on “in the 12th District of Georgia?” And I said, “I’m just lucky enough to be there “at this time and experience this,” and I wanna thank everyone in the 12th District for their hard work and their vision to really make this shining city on a hill.
Brad Means: Well, it is a great time to be in the CSRA, for sure. Congressman Rick Allen, our special guest, representing Georgia’s 12th District.