National Press Club

GOP policy chair Messer names terror and wage stagnation main challenges

February 16, 2016 | By Bob Weiner and Ben Lasky |

House Republican Policy Chair Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) told a National Press Club Newsmaker Feb. 17 that “the two main challenges” facing the country are the war on terror and wage stagnation.

“We are locked in battle with Islamic extremists who want to destroy us. It is the Cold War of our time,” he said.

He contended that “shrinking paychecks” and “wage stagnation” for low and middle income workers “flat lined” over the past 30 years and are “the driver causing collapse of the American dream.”

Messer, who presides over the House Republican Policy Committee and is in the congressional leadership, asserted, “This is not the most challenging time in our history” compared to “two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War.” He said that “America came together, met the challenges, and we can again....The American people figured it out. Terror is this year’s challenge.”

Messer said there is an opportunity of bipartisanship on a number of proposals, including expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)to combat rising poverty, instead of raising the minimum wage, which he contended would cost 500,000 jobs. He also said that eliminating marriage penalties in programs, according to the Brookings Institute, would reduce poverty by 25 percent.

He said that passing “big issues” is “complicated by the Presidential election,” and smaller bills can die when “folded into larger bills” that are controversial. He said some good ideas – like EITC expansion and marriage penalty elimination – get “closer” to passage when in “single subject bills.”

Messer called the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia “a brilliant jurist and a favorite of conservatives.” The congressman said he liked Scalia’s stated philosophy, “I don’t attack people, I attack ideas.”

Likewise, of the current presidential campaign, Messer took a veiled swipe at leading contender Donald Trump, asserting, “Anger is not a strategy, we need solutions.” He offered that “It’s possible a candidate will not be selected until the convention.”

Messer agreed with a questioner that the U.S. has fallen from first to fifteenth in college completion because of college costs, and millennials are raising the issue to prominence in the campaign. He said that Congress would investigate and improve the effectiveness of Pell grants “to drive completions” and recognizes that more funding may be needed.

In addition, Messer said that the infrastructure crisis as detailed in GAO reports of huge numbers of failing bridges and the U.S. not matching European 200 MPH high-speed rail is a “bipartisan issue,” and while the recently passed transportation bill helps, more funding may be needed.

Messer said entitlements needed reforms but acknowledged that the Reagan-O’Neill-Pepper deal of 1983 protecting Social Security’s funding for 75 years was still in place, though he considered the Trust Fund “Moogie-Foogie accounting.”

He said that opiate addiction is “a crippling epidemic across the country” and one that is related to AIDS outbreaks. While he is “open to funding,” the President’s new billion-dollar budget treatment proposal could be seen as “a billion here, a billion there, real money.”

He summarized the Republican election year governing strategy by saying that despite the difficulty of a “president with a different philosophy,” there is “no excuse for not proposing and pushing through the House” what the GOP believes is positive legislation. Despite the “primaries’ noise,” he said, “it is our job to make our case and persuade the American people.”