WASHINGTON —With the Farm Bill behind it, the U.S. House could soon turn its attention toward immigration policy, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, said last week.
Kingston was in Albany campaigning Monday evening before taking an early flight out Tuesday. That was fortuitous for the congressman since the arrival of freezing weather Tuesday resulted in flights later in the day being cancelled. During a phone interview from his Washington office Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate candidate touched on a number of issues.
Kingston was spending the day reading the 900-plus-page conference report on the Farm Bill package that the House would pass on Wednesday, with Kingston’s support, and anticipating the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Kingston said he was hoping President Obama would address job creation and energy independence, specifically approval of the Keystone oil pipeline. Talk of Obama bypassing Congress to get is agenda moving had Kingston concerned.
“We’ve seen what happens when you do something on a unilateral, one-party basis, specifically, Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote and the results are it has been a very divisive federal policy,” he said. “I think you’re always better bringing people in and building a consensus. Obamacare to this date has, I think, a 58 percent disapproval rating. I think that rather than threaten Congress and say, hey, I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, it’s better to lead by unifying people and not by dividing people.”
With the Farm Bill’s fate now in the Senate’s hands, Kingston said he expects immigration to be one of the next big items the House tackles.
“I think we’ll move in the direction of no amnesty, stronger border patrol, stronger border protection and cracking down at the point of hire where people who knowingly hire illegals,” he said.” Beyond that, the pathway to citizenship is pretty rocky and I don’t think there’s support for it.”
Asked whether a process that can have those who attempt to immigrate legally in a holding pattern for a decade or more needs improving, Kingston said the process should be examined, though not necessarily shortened.
“Becoming an American citizen should be a long process,” he said. “We want people … to contribute, we want them to be productive, we want them to buy into the American dream and assimilate. We can afford to be somewhat choosy as to who gets this great and sacred privilege.”
He blamed illegal immigrants and what he described as political decision-making on immigration by the Obama administration for clogging the system. “I do think the whole process needs to be not necessarily streamlined, but a lot clearer and a lot more predictable,” he said.
In his campaigning for the Senate, Kingston said, the No. 1 issue he is hearing from voters is jobs, the creation of which, he averred, requires a clearer tax code and less federal regulation.
“You need to have less regulations that are killing jobs, Obamacare being the No. 1 thing that forced has businesses to not hire as many people because once they get to 50 employees, they have to go under it,” he said. “So, a lot are keeping their job count under 50.
“Businesses that have over 50 employees are putting them on a part-time basis. I talked to one company that has 1,000 employees and they put 900 of them on part-time just to get around Obamacare. And that has really hurt job creation in America.”
The current tax climate has businesses worrying about matters other than production.
“Right now, so many of the decisions they are making are based on what will be the tax consequence, not how to sell their goods and services,” Kingston said. “And a lot of that involves moving their new locations offshore just to get around the tax code or the regulatory environment.”
While China may not always been the overseas mecca of manufacturing, “unless America changes its tax policy and its regulatory policies, those jobs still won’t be coming back to the United States,” he said.
Kingston said the process would be helped along by approval of the Keystone pipeline, which would introduce more supply into the market and drive down pain at the gas pump. The project would also create thousands of jobs, he said.
For the job picture in Georgia, the Savannah harbor holds a great deal of hope. For a decade and a half, an effort has been under way to deepen the harbor so that it can accommodate the giant ships that will start using the Panama Canal once its upgrade is complete next year.
“Sixty-two percent of what happens at the Port of Savannah is exporting,” Kingston said. “For Southwest Georgia having gateway to more markets to sell farm goods or any other goods is very helpful. “
With 352,000 jobs in the state related to the port, “Getting the harbor deepening is very, very important,” he said.
Gov. Nathan Deal in his State of the State address said he was committing more state money to the project, which he wants to start on immediately. Kingston said first Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must reach a partnership agreement.
“We’ve rounded third base (on the project start), not quite crossing home plate yet, but we’re moving in the right direction on it,” Kingston said. “We’ve been working on this since 1999 and the timetable on it is 2015. That’s when the Panama Canal is going to be open and expanded to bigger vessels.
“What Georgia has to do is send a signal to those shippers that we will be open for business to accommodate the big ships by then.”
Without further delays, Kingston said he believes that timetable is feasible. He said it will have statewide impact, particularly in Southwest Georgia with the planned inland port 40 miles north of Albany in Cordele.
“If that inland port gets done, it’ll be huge for Albany and all the cities and counties surrounding Cordele,” he said. “I’ve been up there and I believe it can accommodate the inland port. But the first thing we have to do is make sure it’s deepened to we can have that option.”
As for his Senate campaign, Kingston said he feels good about the support he’s getting on both ends of the state. His platform is focusing on string defense, a simpler tax code, job creation, fewer regulations and energy independence.
There are seven other Republicans vying for the seat that will be vacated by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, at the end of the year, as well as Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. Two of Kingston’s GOP opponents — Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey — are House representatives like Kingston. Asked whether he’s concerned that the state’s House delegation will lose some clout with three departures regardless of who wins, he said the stakes are worth it.
“I think what we’re seeing is we believe the battleground for America right now is in the U.S. Senate and if we’re going to reverse the direction of the country and restore the American dream, we’ve got to start with changing the U.S. Senate out of Harry Reid’s hand and putting it in a Republican’s hand,” he said. “I just think you’d have a better balance in terms of what our legislation is going to be.”
“Harry Reid has really just rubber stamped so many of the White House’s policies that I don’t think it’s been a good approach. There’s no independence from the White House under Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate.”
One Democrat who Kingston did volunteer some words of respect for was Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff “Bodine” Sinyard, who shocked many in Dougherty County last week with his surprise announcement Monday that he would not seek re-election to the office he has held for more than a decade.
“He (Sinyard) has been a state leader,” Kingston said. “He’s known all over Georgia and has been a huge advocate for the county, but also all of Southwest Georgia. When he goes to the governor’s office, the door gets opened. People know him and respect him, so his influence goes way beyond the county.
People in political circles have really gotten to know him and he’s made a differene. I hope he’s going to stay in some area of public policy.”