John Katko (NY-24) Talks Congress, Campaign, Sessions, & Trump with Luke Perry
Congressman John Katko has represented NY-24 since 2015. The district includes Onondaga, Cayuga, Wayne, and Oswego counties, including the city of Syracuse. I recently spoke with him by phone.
Katko considers bipartisanship his biggest accomplishment in Congress. He left a job he loves, being a federal prosecutor, to “work together.” Katko cited his sponsorship of 32 bills that have passed, each with Democratic co-sponsor.
When asked about how The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act fits into his accomplishments, Katko stated that as a prosecutor, he saw how “poverty begets crime.” Increased opportunity must be paired with a social safety net to address this challenge.
Generating jobs is vital to creating opportunity and “preliminary signs are good.” Local employers are expanding their infrastructure and hiring more employees.
Katko acknowledged hearing concerns about the tax cut, but believes these are “based on a false premise meant to scare people.” Statistics like 87 percent of the tax cuts benefit the top 1 percent of income earners are “completely erroneous,” according to Katko, because these long term projections incorporate the 2027 sunset of the law.
Most people won’t itemize anymore because “the rates are so good” and married couples with kids will pay little to no taxes. He wishes there was a full year of the tax cut in place for people to see the results.
When asked about the fiscal implications of large segments of the population paying little to no taxes, Katko replied that “what we were doing was not working.” He does not subscribe to outsourcing of jobs and a “paltry economic growth rate of 1 to 2 percent.”
A robust economy better enables the government to adopt a balanced budget, as we saw under the Clinton administration. For Katko, tax reform and regulatory reform are two pieces of promoting economic growth and job growth. Tariff reform is the next and final major piece.
Republican Control of Congress
“Every district is different,” Katko said, when asked about why he has proven to be more popular than neighboring GOP incumbents. Katko emphasized that he “spends an extraordinary amount of time with constituents” and believes he is “highly in tune with what my district wants.” His perspectives on healthcare and the farm bill were cited as two relevant examples.
When asked about his assessment of Republicans controlling Congress and the presidency, Katko believes “a lot of successes have been drowned out by scare tactics.” Advancement in regulatory reform, increased military funding and enhanced school safety, for instance, have been overshadowed by rhetoric and what the news media covers.
When asked about environmental deregulation, Katko considers himself among the “foremost supporters in the Republican conference for clean energy” and “a big supporter of nuclear energy.” State of the art infrastructure is needed for energy derived from fossil fuels as well as increased funding for alternative forms of energy. Katko doesn’t “ever want to see what happened to Onondaga Lake happen again.”
President Trump and Rule of Law
Representative Katko does not believe the recent indictments of Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins were politically motivated, a topic that made national news recently as a result of relevant Tweets of President Trump. Federal prosecutors have to “go where the facts dictate,” Katko stated, and the ground jury found probably cause.
One “can argue about the timing,” but Katko has respect for the grand jury process, and doesn’t doubt the underpinnings of the case. Now we should “let the process run its course.”
Katko also expressed support for Jeff Sessions who is “doing as good a job as he can under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.” President Trump recently renewed his criticism of the Attorney General.
When asked if he has any concerns about the fitness or ability of President Trump to fulfill his responsibilities, Katko replied, “No. I fully believe in checks and balances.”
Katko believes he “calls balls and strikes.” When it came to President Obama, for instance, Katko said he supported him and criticized him based on the merits and has “no blanket hate or dislike of anyone.”
Bipartisanship in a Hyper Partisan Era
When asked about dissatisfaction with the president by grassroots liberal organizations, Katko believes “there is a baked in commitment to oppose everything the president does.” He discussed his efforts to negotiate a bipartisan immigration bill, which protected DACA and ended family separation, yet received no votes from Democrats. Katko views this as an “example of scorched earth tactics” and opposition “at all costs.”
How does Katko respond to failed efforts at bipartisanship? “You pour yourself a stiff drink and move on.” You “have to put your money where your mouth is” because you “can’t just take your marbles and go home.” Katko is encouraged by efforts by groups like No Labels, which he “strongly believes in.” Even though Katko was “bitterly disappointed” by the lack of compromise on immigration, he is “ready to roll out legislation again.”
One issue that Katko doesn’t think gets enough public attention is mental health. On average, five people an hour commit suicide. Another 17 attempt to. Congress doesn’t allocate enough resources or attention to mental health, when “lots of what Congress does are spun off from mental health,” such as the opioid epidemic. In contrast, one person died of the Zika virus, which was tragic and should be addressed, but Congress funded $1.6 billion, far less than what is devoted to mental health.
Recent polling by the Siena Research Institute found John Katko up 15 points on Democratic challenger Dana Balter. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report both rate NY-24 as “likely Republican” this November.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College