Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) sees himself as “a relentless advocate for the middle class.” And he hopes voters in New York’s Third Congressional District agree and return him to Washington for another two-year term. In Congress since 2001, Israel faces Republican attorney Grant Lally.
“I work hard for the people I represent,” Israel said in an exclusive interview with Executive Producer Waldo Cabrera of FiOs 1 News, who has partnered with this newspaper in covering area candidates.
Israel cites his advocacy for veterans, and how he brought $7.6 million in federal payments to local veterans.
He also points to his ideas to improve the local economy.
“This recovery people are reading about, they’re not feeling it because we haven’t created the kind of job growth in the middle class that we should,” he said. “People are working harder, but their paychecks aren’t reflecting that.”
Israel said that Congress can help expand well-paying jobs by building and rebuilding America’s bridges, tunnels, highways and other infrastructure.
Locally, he sees the federal government partnering with the private sector to advance new technologies.
“For instance, Alzheimer’s research and cyber security. Those areas are huge,” he said. “Long island used to be the defense capital of the world. Now, I want it to be the Alzheimer’s research capital and the cyber security capital of the world.”
In terms of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Israel is quick to point out that “the rollout was horrific.” “Once we acknowledge this, there are two things we can do. One is to politicize it, and try to repeal it, which the Republicans have tried to do 50 times,” he said. “Or we can fix it. I prefer to fix it.”
One fix Israel undertook was clearing up the issue of whether volunteer fire departments would be required to provide healthcare for their members. The way the original law read, it seemed that the departments were, like traditional employers, included in the mandate.
“I spoke to the White House directly, and said this won’t stand. We have to fix it. And we fixed it,” he said. “We have to continue to fix it and make it better.”
Israel is adamant that repair — not repeal — is the best course with the Affordable Care Act.
“Repeal it? No. Because when you repeal it, number 1, you go back to the days when an insurance company could tell you, even though you paid your premium, ‘We’re not going to cover your sickness or disease.’ If you repeal it, and you are a woman who has breast cancer, your insurance company can say ‘Too bad, we’re not going to cover your breast cancer.’ And your insurance company can impose lifetime caps on the payments for your coverage. Why on earth would we want to go back to those days?”
Partisanship in Congress — and the resulting gridlock — also is on Israel’s agenda.
“I started something called the Center Aisle Caucus in the House of Representatives that brings Democrats and Republicans together to talk not about what we disagree on, but to figure out what we can agree on,” he said.
Although a prominent Democrat, Israel said he does not rubber-stamp the President’s agenda.
“When I disagree with President Obama, I fight him. Just as when I disagreed with President Bush, I fought him,” he said. “And so when President Obama wanted to terminate the Bush tax cuts for everybody making over $250,000, because, he said, that $250,000 made you rich, I said to him, literally, ‘$250,000 may make you rich in Huntington, West Virginia. But not Huntington, Long Island.’
“And you know what? I got him to compromise. And I got my colleagues to compromise. We need to stand up for our values, but understand that there’s a middle ground, always. And I constantly search for that middle ground,” Israel said.
The National Rifle Association, however, does not see Israel taking a middle ground on gun control. The gun-rights group gave him a 0 (out of 100).
“I do not believe that the government should take guns away from people,” he said. “When it comes to common-sense safety measures, we ought to do those things.”
Israel cites a bill that he and North Carolina Republican Congressman Howard Coble brought to the House that would not allow 3D printed guns to go through metal detectors at airports.
“I don’t care if you have a 0 with the NRA or a 100 with the NRA, you don’t want plastic guns on planes that can fire a bullet,” he said.
The Congressman, who recently returned from a trip to the State of Israel, stressed that both the U.S. and Israel “share common values and Democratic principles,” as well as threats from terrorism.
“Israel has to deal with terrorism every single day. We have to protect ourselves against terrorism every single day,” he said. “I feel very strongly that the world is better off when you have a strong Israel, which means a more secure America.”
Stay tuned for the full five-minute interview broadcast on “My Long Island TV on FiOS 1 News.
John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Media Group. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org