U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-District 22) updated the Palm Beach County Commission about congressional business Tuesday, saying that his main focus has been to reprioritize federal spending.
“As I see it, the roles we should have up there in Washington, D.C., come down to three levels,” West said. “It should be economic, energy security and national security for America, and sitting on those two committees I am currently a member of, the Armed Services Committee and the Small Business Committee, it gives me a great opportunity to have that clear insight.”
One of his big concerns is the national debt and deficit. “Fifteen-point-six trillion dollars, that is right now about 102 percent of our GDP,” West said, warning that continuing to spend could put the United States in a situation similar to that of Greece and other European countries crippled by their debt burdens.
“Most importantly, my true concern is now on U.S. Highway 1 and all across Palm Beach County and Broward County, the closed storefronts we see of our small businesses,” he said. “We have got to do the things that are necessary for the tax and regulatory policies for those small businesses to once again open up those closed storefronts and get South Floridians back to work.”
West said the unemployment rate in South Florida is a bit higher than in the rest of the state, which is higher than the national unemployment rate, and that Florida foreclosures still remain high. He said it is important to have policies that keep Americans in their homes, find them work and keep them at work, which he said is central to the Small Business Committee.
“I want to see us prioritize spending and get it in the right places,” West said. “The unfunded mandates that we continue to push down to the states has a trickle-down effect on our local government, our counties and also our municipalities. That’s a relationship we need to make sure we try to fix.”
West said another priority is to secure a farm bill extension. “I would like to see that farm bill extended for five years,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that, but there are certain key issues that we’ve already written letters about. The citrus canker and the greening, that’s what we want to be sure we get the research [on so we] have a good and prosperous agricultural community.”
He has also written a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about Mexico flooding the American market with tomatoes, undercutting the market for local growers.
West noted that he has been working with the Port of Palm Beach in anticipation of the opening of the widened Panama Canal.
“The next thing I think is so important here in Palm Beach County, in 2014, maybe 2015, you’re going to see the Panama Canal expand,” he said. “You’re going to get bigger and larger cargo ships, and they’re going to be coming into the Port of Miami and Port Everglades, and that’s why we’ve been working with the Port of Palm Beach so that maybe some of those small cargo ships that are being displaced from those areas can now come here to the port.”
Probably the most important thing his office accomplished last year, West said, was the coastal community issues forum held recently with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and several state agencies. “We’re going to have another coastal communities conference on May 24,” he said. “We sent out a letter to the members of the commission here as well to be there at the Florida Atlantic University campus in Jupiter. I think that is really important because we brought the priorities to the corps that this area wanted to see happen, and we were able to get a good funding amount for that.”
Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, a former Port of Palm Beach commissioner, thanked West for his work with the port. “They have only said good things about your participation and what was going on there,” Taylor said.
Commissioner Jess Santamaria asked about the Corps of Engineers’ work on the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee, which he said has been progressing slowly.
“The Corps of Engineers has lagged behind on their work and it’s really seriously negatively impacting the situation in the Glades,” Santamaria said. “I hope you do whatever you can to nudge them into working a little more expeditiously, because the Glades really needs help along those lines.”
West said he agreed that the work on the dike is important for the Everglades and the communities there and said it goes back to setting spending priorities. Santamaria said it was his understanding that the money is there but the work is not progressing.
West said some of the money is there, but the issue remains prioritization.
“I will continue to talk to Col. [Alfred] Pantano, who is responsible for that,” West said. “He will be departing and going to Afghanistan, and we will also pick up and be talking to the new district Corps of Engineers commander as well. I used to wear the same uniform as them, so that won’t be a problem.”