FARMINGTON -- The debate in Congress has turned from how much can we spend to how much can we cut, but U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Thursday it will take more than a balanced budget amendment to fix the burgeoning federal deficit.
"Consider it took us seven decades to get in the mess we're in," he said of the debt crisis.
The five-term Brigham City Republican said the problem won't be completely fixed until there is a return to federalism, a phrase he used a number of times during an hour- plus town meeting in Farmington, as well as in Riverdale later in the day, to suggest the ability to make decisions be returned to the state and local levels.
Bishop expects a vote on a balanced budget amendment in late October or early November, and he favors it, but said it will not be a panacea if Washington continues to be a place where decisions are made for state and local governments.
Bishop also addressed immigration, saying no immigration measure will work until U.S. borders are secure.
He said the biggest problem facing border agents is access to public lands.
Bishop said regulations allow agents to pursue illegal aliens on private land but not on federal. He showed maps of the border between Mexico and Arizona, heavily dotted with public property.
Bishop, who chairs the House's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, supports changing rules giving access to agents on government land. "To me, it's a no-brainer."
Taking the issue of government land further, Bishop said 70 percent of land in Utah is federal property. He suggested placing a fair tax on those properties, if they are not returned to the private sector, could provide a financial boon to education.
He said Utah land -- which he referred to as "sagebrush" -- taxed at its lowest rate could potentially generate $116 million for state coffers.
Bishop fielded comments and questions during his public forum and found himself the focal point of criticism in several cases.
One resident fumed about the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling and blamed House Republicans for going along with President Barack Obama. He insisted Bishop and other legislators should let the government shut down, if need be.
Bishop describing the argument as being unfair to House Republicans and said he would have favored reducing the deficit by $4 trillion, but given the chance to reduce the debt by $1.5 trillion, he'd take it.
Asked by one resident about unemployment, Bishop, a former history teacher, went into a lecture about the conditions that led to the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early '30s. He insists measures then to tax the rich led to the environment that created that financial mess.
"It didn't work then, and it won't work now," Bishop said of measures to increase revenue by taxing the rich.
He noted almost 90 percent of the small businesses in his district would be considered rich if new tax measures are imposed on earnings above $250,000.
The congressman noted President John F. Kennedy lowered tax rates and the result was an 11 percent growth in revenue. He said the private sector will provide jobs when companies have incentives to spend money.
Bishop also addressed the conflict in Libya when one resident expressed anger that Obama didn't seek authorization from Congress as outlined in the War Powers Act.
"Yes, what he did in Libya was clearly an act of war," Bishop said, "and yes, it should have been authorized."