Rep. Tom Cole (OK-4) will focus on initiatives that can garner bipartisan support this legislative session as the Republican and Democrat parties buckle down for a presidential election.
Cole, of Moore, said he would work hard on issues like funding for biomedical research and civil justice reform while also focusing on stabilizing both the energy industry and the federal government in a nation that often seems to be on the brink of falling off a fiscal cliff or hitting a debt ceiling.
“Last year, for the first time in over a decade, we made a major commitment to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Alzheimer’s research,” he said. “We spend billions a year to look after Alzheimer’s patients through medicare. We added $350 million in Alzheimer’s research, and this year we need to build on that.”
Cole said that, long-term, finding ways to improve lives and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer will also lower the long-term cost of government. Reducing the national debt is another key for Cole, although he wants to make sure the U.S. military is properly funded.
“Seventy percent of our federal budget is made up of social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest payments on the national debt,” he said. “So we can’t balance the budget without making changes. They need to be thoughtful, gradual changes, but we need to discuss all of the options available to use and work on reaching a major compromise.”
Cole pointed to the fact that Americans are living longer and longer as a reason to reform social security.
“People are getting more out of Medicare than they ever put into it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you take it away, but Warren Buffett probably doesn’t need the same level of Medicare and Social Security assistance as a couple living near the poverty line.”
Cutting into the national debt is a priority, but so is a properly-funded military, according to Cole. While that funding benefits his district, whose two largest employers are Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill, it will also be necessary for maintaining national security.
“We’re going to need a robust military that can deal with more threat at once,” he said. “Radical Islamic terrorism is our most immediate threat, and that’s going to be a generational struggle. Traditional powers with serious military capabilities like Russia and China are being much more assertive. And we must be able to deter regional powers like North Korea and Iraq.”
American allies like the UK, France and Germany will also need to step up their military support, Cole said.
“It’s not like the Cold War, where you just had to take care of Russia and everything else fell into line,” he said. “Now it’s traditional states, smaller actors and terrorist movements. The American people are going to have to commit to sustaining a military as they haven’t had to do since the end of the Cold War.”
Of course, a lot of national attention will be focused on the presidential election. Cole said this year’s election is a historic one with a deep Republican field.
“I don’t know anyone who would have told you a year ago that Donald Trump would be running, or would be in first place is some national polls,” he said. “People who are trailing badly now, like Jeb Bush or John Kasich, would have been dominant candidates in 2012. Part of it is the Republican Party redefining who it is and what it stands for, and that’s one of the reasons it is such an unpredictable process right now.”
Cole added that if Americans can’t find someone they like out of this crowded field, they’re not ever going to find a politician they like.
“Pick someone you like, and get involved,” he said. “In the general election, I don’t think it is going to be a blowout for either side. These elections are usually pretty close, and I think we’ll see that again this year.”