WHEELING - With the nation more than $17 trillion in debt and Congress' approval rating hovering around 15 percent, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said lawmakers have plenty of work to do to earn America's respect once again.
Never was the nation's disgust with Congress more apparent to Capito, R-W.Va., than in October, when she received a text message from her husband saying, "I'm leaving the 5 percent" - referring to legislators' historically low 5-percent approval rating during the 16-day shutdown crisis.
But there have been recent signs of an increased willingness to compromise - perhaps a result, in part, of backlash from constituents unhappy with the government shutdown - Capito told a lunchtime crowd Tuesday at River City Ale Works in downtown Wheeling, where she spoke as the guest of the University Economics Club, part of the BB&T Center for Economic Philosophy at West Liberty University.
"We've got to restore that trust in members of Congress. ... Now you see, ever so slightly, we passed two budgets. We passed an appropriations bill that takes us through Sept. 30. ... We passed a fix to the flood insurance bill," she said.
Capito, the likely Republican nominee this year for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said she continues to hear from constituents who oppose the Affordable Care Act, reporting higher premiums and fewer choices in health care providers.
She said she favors repealing the law - and has voted to do so dozens of times - but admitted it's probably an unrealistic goal.
More practical improvements, she said following her address, would be to look at increasing the threshold for full-time employees to 40 hours per week, allowing people to shop for insurance across state lines and holding down the cost of health care through medical liability reform.
One audience member challenged Capito to explain her statement that "everybody is very unhappy with the Affordable Care Act" when there are more than 80,000 West Virginians now covered as a result of Medicaid expansion under the law.
Capito said she hasn't heard from any of those people, and acknowledged she's glad they have access to health insurance. The problem, she said, is what will happen when the state is no longer getting a free ride on Medicaid expansion from the federal government.
"West Virginia can't pay its Medicaid budget right now, unfortunately. ... In 2018, the state's going to have to start paying a percentage of that. Where's West Virginia going to find the money for that? That's a concern," Capito said.
During her address, Capito also addressed increasing pressure on the coal industry from federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations. She favors responsible regulation through legislation, she said, but the Obama administration is intent on acting alone.
The House has attempted to assert Congress' authority over the EPA on multiple occasions, she said, but such legislation continues to hit a wall when it reaches the Senate.
"We've passed a couple bills out of the House. ... (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid will not put some of these bills up. He will not put the Keystone Pipeline up, I think, quite frankly, because he's afraid of the result. It will pass," Capito said.
The Center for Economic Philosophy speaker series is funded through a grant from BB&T. Its purpose is to engage the community in discussion of the free market.
The series will continue with columnist and author Cal Thomas on April 3; political analyst Chris Stirewalt of Fox News on May 22; Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, on June 26; and Heartland Institute research fellow Joy Pullmann on July 24.
Thomas' and Lowry's columns are featured each week in The Intelligencer.