It was a year of learning and experiencing a lot, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said.
In his first year as representative for the 1st Congressional District, the Pooler native got to experience Pope Francis’ address to Congress up close and went with a group of legislators to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Each event, Carter said, was an honor.
Then, there was dealing with a new schedule. In his days as a state legislator, Carter was used to 40-day sessions in Atlanta and getting to go home around the end of March or beginning of April. Being a congressman, however, is year-round and 24/7, he said. Even when he was home, he said, he was busy getting around and seeing people in a district that has 17 counties, including Bryan.
“It’s very time consuming, but it’s very, very exciting,” Carter said.
One of Carter’s major goals when going to Congress was to tackle the national debt, which was at nearly $19 trillion Dec. 24, according to TreasuryDirect.gov. This year, for the first time since 2009, Congress passed a budget that cuts the debt by $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years, Carter said.
“A budget that, granted, it’s not a balanced budget, but it does give us a roadmap to a balanced budget,” he said.
Also, Congress passed a highway bill that covers five years’ worth of spending, marking the first time in decades that a highway bill longer than two years was approved. That was key to helping relieve the debt, Carter said, because in order to economically grow out of debt, sound infrastructure has to be in place, which means transportation has be taken care of.
The federal bill will work in harmony with Georgia’s highway bill that was passed this year in Atlanta by making sure projects keep going, Carter added.
“The federal government’s got to be a reliable partner to the states in order for the states to get projects underway and completed,” he said.
Other key legislation from this year included ensuring doctors will accept Medicare from seniors, entitlement reform for the first time in two decades and the passage of an omnibus bill that included $21 million for the Savannah Harbor deepening. Also, the defense budget was increased, which was vital to the 1st District and its four military bases.
For 2016 — the House reconvenes Tuesday — Carter said the No. 1 item as far as he’s concerned is national security. Carter, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the top responsibility of the government is to protect its citizens from terrorist groups such as the highly publicized Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS.
“We’ve got to make sure this is done. We’ve got to destroy this threat known as ISIS,” Carter said.
The congressman said the House has addressed some concerns connected with that. In November, the House passed legislation that puts a hold on allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country until they are deemed safe to enter, according to CNN.com. Also, earlier this month, the House passed an overhaul of the federal visa-waiver program, which would restrict anyone traveling to or from Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan without a visa, also according to CNN.com. Both pieces of legislation are currently in the Senate.
Other aspects for the House to consider in 2016 include having regular order on voting for appropriations — basically, being able to focus on 12 different appropriations bills instead of passing one omnibus package as was done this year. Also, with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently installed as speaker of the House, Carter said comprehensive tax reform — one of Ryan’s main projects — should get looked at in the coming year.
Of course, with an even-numbered year looming, elections are imminent. Carter is used to that, as he has run for office 12 of the last 20 years, and already has his re-election campaign underway.
“We always like to get out,” he said. “… This is my home and has been my home my whole life, and I just love the 1st District.”