Now running for the Senate, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston expressed his reservations about an extension of long-term unemployment benefits and his hope for passage of a Farm Bill.
The Republican from Savannah, representing the 1st Congressional District, is also still fielding questions about a remark he made three weeks ago about children who receive free school lunch needing to pay a small amount or work for it. Kingston answered questions from reporters Monday on his way into a Rotary Club of Statesboro meeting.
Long-term federal unemployment benefits have been extended repeatedly since the 2008 recession, but members of Congress went home for the holidays without passing another extension. Kingston said he will have to see what the possibilities are before deciding on whether to support another extension.
“The big concern is when you extend unemployment, people have a tendency not to look for work as vigorously as if it was coming to an end,” he said. “So, you know, the object is to get people back to work, not to extend unemployment.”
The so-called Farm Bill, enacted usually for a five-year period, also funds nonfarm U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. The largest portion of the budgeted money actually goes to the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as “food stamps,” and other food assistance. Congress extended the 2008 Farm Bill through last September but has so far not passed a new one.
“We think that we’re close on the Farm Bill,” Kingston said.
He noted that different versions passed the House and Senate several months ago. Negotiations to work out the differences have stopped and restarted.
“The drag on the Farm Bill is really the food stamp section, which is now almost 80 percent of the entire bill,” Kingston said. “We’ve reformed a lot of the direct, production agriculture and the commodity groups, but we haven’t really had significant reform on food stamps.”
Another recurring debate is that over extensions of the federal debt ceiling. The ceiling will be reached again this spring.
Kingston, who voted against the compromise spending bill that reopened the government after last October’s government shutdown, acknowledged that another debate is likely, but also suggested that all sides want to avoid another shutdown.
“I think that the House and Senate and White House want to get together on that and try to avoid any kind of fiscal cliff,” he said.
But again, Kingston said he will have to look very carefully at the legislation that is offered.
“What I’m concerned about is, if we don’t get spending under control, for every dollar that we spend, 42 cents is borrowed, and we have to have some long-term entitlement reform, long-term reform of spending in general,” he said. “That is something we always postpone, and we need to tie the two actions in together.”
A reporter asked Kingston about his widely publicized comments that children who eat under the federal school lunch program should pay a dime or nickel or “maybe sweep the floor in the cafeteria” to counteract the myth that there is such a thing as a free lunch. A video of Kingston making these comments at a mid-December meeting with Jackson County Republicans was published online by the Huffington Post.
“That particular discussion always was about the work ethic in America,” Kingston told Statesboro and Savannah media Monday. “It wasn’t about free lunches as much as concept of young people learning the work ethic that is so important to the economic vitality of America.”
Some critics of Kingston’s school lunch remarks have contrasted this with the workload of Congress, which was in session fewer than 160 days last year. A reporter asked about this and free benefits that members of Congress receive.
Kingston said he has always worked a 60- or 70-hour week, which he noted includes things such as meetings with constituent groups, and Rotary Clubs, back in the district. The time members of Congress spend in their districts is as valuable as that in session, he suggested.
“I would say also to the challengers, particularly to those on the left, who think Congress needs to vote more often and pass more bills and more laws, more regulations, I’m a believer that Congress not being in session is not a bad thing in itself,” Kingston said. “Having members home listening to constituents, that’s a good thing.”
Kingston also said he has always advocated “workfare over welfare.” He referred to the reaction to his remarks on the school lunch program as “I gotcha politics” he should learn to expect in a statewide race.
“Because I am seen as the Republican the Democrats would have the toughest time to beat, then anything I say is cut and spliced and manipulated for particular political advantage,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve got to get used to. It’s hard in today’s society to have a discussion where you want to challenge the status quo because of the I gotcha politics.”
Kingston is one of nine announced candidates on the GOP side alone for the seat being vacated at year-end by Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Ballotpedia.com lists five more candidates on the Democratic side.
The Republicans include two other representatives, Rep. Paul Broun of the 10th Congressional District and Rep. Phil Gingrey of the 11th. Both are known nationally in conservative circles.
A May 20 primary and potential July runoff will decide which nominees appear in the Nov. 4 general election.
Asked whether he is emphasizing different issues against Republicans, such as Broun, in the primary race than he might later against a Democratic nominee, Kingston answered only in terms of national defense and jobs.
“Well, I’m still talking about national defense, and as a member of the Defense Committee and somebody that’s represented five out of our eight (Georgia) military installations, I truly believe that our soldiers, airmen and sailors need to be well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained,” he said. “That is a priority of mine and it always has been.”
Kingston advocates job creation through the private sector.
“And that means less regulatory overreach, such as things like Obamacare or Dodd-Frank or EPA regulations that hurt investment and capital,” he said.
Dodd-Frank is a nickname for the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
Once inside the Rotary Club meeting, Kingston made brief, nonpolitical marks, praising Rotary International’s polio eradication efforts. He was not the featured speaker.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.