When Congressman Mike Honda (D-Milpitas) entered in the Monday afternoon for his visit with the Milpitas Rotary Club, he greeted longtime members by name, was happy to answer questions and shake hands, and made no fuss by taking a seat at the table closest to him and joining everyone for lunch.
When he took the podium, however, he was all business, but talked with a refreshing, conversational nature that endeared him to the room, cracking a few jokes, making eye contact and keeping a warm smile on his face.
Though it appeared he had several pages of a written speech in his hand, he never once looked at them, preferring to talk frankly with the crowd about his job and about what’s been going on up in Washington lately.
“I understand you want to know what’s been happening in Congress the past few months,” he began. “My speechwriter told me to mention the many things we have accomplished. But I’m just going to say it—not much has been accomplished.”
Rep. Honda sits on two of the most powerful, high-profile committees in the House of Representatives—Budgets, and Appropriations.
He made it clear that he understands the frustrations of the American people these days over party politics, budget talks and new legislation like the health care reform bill, better known as “ObamaCare.”
In a surprising turn, though, Rep. Honda said, essentially—don’t just blame Obama for that one; it was all of our faults.
“In terms of publicity and the kinds of talks that go on, and on TV talk shows, there seems to have been a greater expectation of the President to have done something. But legislation comes from Congress, not the executive branch,” he explained.
“When they blamed Obama for ObamaCare, it was really the House that pushed it through. It was modified in the Senate to some degree and was sent to the President, and it was not exactly what he wanted,” he continued. “It’s not finished. It’s imperfect.”
"Imperfect,” Honda said, is the perfect word to explain the state of our country and its struggles today, going back hundreds of years to the writing of the Constitution itself.
In fact, one quote from the Constitution Rep. Honda said he keeps coming back to, again and again, is “in order to form a more perfect union.”
Rep. Honda said, the framers of the Constitution were imperfect, the document itself is imperfect, and our government is imperfect.
“Right there, with that phrase, you see it— the people that wrote the Constitution of our country understood the imperfections of our people and our government,” he said.
Though it’s clear Rep. Honda loves his job, he said the inner workings and bureaucratic processes of being a member of Congress can be trying at times, he said.
“My mom always taught me, you have to love your enemies as you love yourself. Well, I have to say, I’ve been tested this year,” he said with a wry smile.
The Congressman said, he can appreciate the idea behind political strategies like the filibuster, but feels what Congress really needs sometimes is just a good, old-fashioned debate.
“We don’t have debates on the floor. If you look at us closely when we’re in Congress, we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking to the Speaker Pro Tem,” he said. “More [debating] goes on in committee–but the way committees are set up, it’s really all about getting the person in power the vote they want.”
As a member of the Budgets Committee, Rep. Honda said he assisted in making sweeping cuts of about 10 percent across the board this year. Then, it was a fight with the “Tea Partiers” about keeping it that way.
“They wanted to go back, after the budget had been passed, and cut another 5 percent across the board, from the current budget,” he said, explaining that the committee and others banded together to keep that from happening.
“Cutting another five percent across the board would have been senseless,” he said, explaining that that amount would have affected everything—children, Social Security, the military, everything.
Rep. Honda said, he can see how the people of his district—which includes Milpitas and other parts of the east and south Bay areas—are “feeling the heat” from budget cuts lately.
He said, when budgets cuts are made at the federal level, it can often take five to six years for the effects to trickle down to the local level, and get to the point that local governments can really feel it.
Rep. Honda wanted that statement to stick in everyone’s minds—five to six years to “feel the heat.”
“That’s one of the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past 10 years—how much the memory of our country is changing. I’m starting to realize that, when it comes to the electorate, their short-term memory is about three months,” he said. “We find ourselves in a situation, and we can’t remember how we got there. So we look to see whose face is up there, and think, ‘well, it must be his fault.’ I think we need to remember that and be more vigilant.”
Before the Rotary Club meeting wrapped up, Congressman Honda took time to listen to a report on the progress of the club’s international relief efforts in Nicaragua—how the club has been working for years to raise money for improvements to hospitals in the area, and even collect gently used laptop computers for hospital staff and doctors to use.
Rep. Honda got tears in his eyes as he recalled his many years as a Peace Corps volunteer working in third-world countries just like Nicaragua. He relayed how much the people of those countries really need that help, and how efforts like that of the Rotary Club really make a difference.
He then, on the spot, pledged $500 from his own pocket toward the club’s project. And, he promised the next time his office upgraded their computers, that he would make sure the old ones were donated to the program.
For more information about Rep. Mike Honda and his work in Congress, visit his website at http://honda.house.gov.