Kuster Wants To Keep U.S. Involvement In ISIS Conflict From Escalating

Feb 11, 2015

Credit NHPR / Michael Brindley

In the wake of President Obama's recent budget proposals and the continuing threat of ISIS in the Middle East, the U.S. Congress will have a lot of important decisions to make.

To check in with the New Hampshire's delegation, we start by talking with our 2nd Congressional District representative. Congresswoman Anne McLane Kuster joined Morning Edition. 

 Let’s start with ISIS. President Obama is set to ask Congress for formal authority to use military force against the terrorist group, but there’s continued resistance to putting boots on the ground. Are we doing enough in the fight against ISIS?

370 New Hampshire Soldiers headed over to the region to train our allies. That’s the most important part that we can do. We can’t be fighting all these different skirmishes—whether its Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Africa—on our own. We’ve stretched ourselves way too thin. There are countries in the Middle East who can engage, take on ISIS, and we’re starting to see progress and that’s the direction that I think that should go.

We’re relying on Iraqi and other ground forces in the fight, but we’ve seen the loss of life of U.S. citizens at the hands of ISIS, including New Hampshire journalist James Foley. So why shouldn’t the U.S. commit to boots on the ground?

Again, I think we’re spread too thin.  I think we have battles that we are called upon in all parts of the world. Look at Ukraine right now. We need to stand with our international allies. Bring NATO into the Ukraine, bring our middle eastern allies into ISIS. And I actually just sponsored legislation about Jim Foley, making sure that we track down those who were involved in his tragic death. And that we continue to fight against terrorism and against the seeds of hate in that region and across the world but not going it solely alone and not with tens of thousands of American troops on the ground in the region. I will be looking very, very closely at the specific language of the president’s request for authorization for use of military force, but I’m going to be a skeptic on this.

Let’s look at the president’s budget proposal. You were critical of one particular aspect—taxing 529 college savings plans. That provision since has been pulled back but were you surprised that was something the president was willing to do?

I was surprised. It seemed a bit politically tone deaf, if you will. Look, the 529 plan is a way for middle class families to save for college. I feel very, very strongly that higher education needs to be accessible and affordable to families across the spectrum. That is our future. That’s our economic future, but it’s also the future of our society and our community.

You’ve spoken out in favor of certain aspects of the budget such as free community college initiative and mandating paid sick leave for workers. But are these realistic proposals in a Republican-led congress or are they simply ways to fire up the Democratic base?

We can find common ground. Higher education is one of the areas where we can find common ground. We certainly need to have a conversation about making community college more accessible for middle class families. It’s a viable option for many, many people who cannot afford a four-year school. Get a couple of years, living at home, paying the lower tuition of the community college and then maybe make the transition to a four-year experience. So I think they’re very viable and I’m really excited about working on finding common ground with my Republican colleagues in this budget.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan recently held the first of a dozen open houses on its proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project in the southern part of the state. There’s a lot of pushback on this project and concerns about its impact. Do you support it?

Here’s what I support: and open and transparent process. Look, we do need better energy infrastructure in New Hampshire and need better, more reliable and lower cost alternative fuels. But if you come into New Hampshire with a proposal like this, you need to be prepared to go town by town, neighbor by neighbor, talk about the impact. What is the positive to our economy, to the economic benefit, to lowering energy prices? And what is your plan for the potential negative risk that you face. I have not taken an official position, nor will I until the 17 towns in my district are heard from on this issue. I plan to sit down myself with Kinder Morgan. Show us what your plan is, and show us how it benefits New Hampshire. And I will say this as a cautionary note: don’t think of just coming across New Hampshire to send the energy elsewhere. We want to see the benefit right here at home and we want to understand how you’re going to mitigate the risk.

A lot of talk recently about bringing commuter rail to New Hampshire. A recent study estimates it would cost $246 million to extend commuter rail from Boston to Manchester. How do you make the case to someone living in Berlin, who would ultimately have to pick up the tab but really wouldn’t see the benefits directly?

Rail is an issue that will impact our entire economy. I know the Berlin economy and the White Mountain economy very well. And look, people who are coming to our state for the tourism… they will come on this rail and these are options that will make a difference throughout our economy. So what I’m looking to do is make sure that New Hampshire and this rail project would benefit from the federal contribution. What could the future of New Hampshire be if we could access this economic market down in Boston? And I’m going to be working with my colleagues from the Massachusetts delegation and all over New England to get New Hampshire on the map for some of these big projects. Whether its rail, whether its roads and bridges and highways, we deserve for every dollar we send to Washington, I want to make sure that we get more than a buck back.

What are some highlights for you this session?

Well, one of the things I’m very proud of is that I have just been named by my colleagues on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee. This is a very important subcommittee. When you think about Phoenix, that’s how this was laid open, laid bare in the last session that led to very major reform legislation for our veterans all across the country. I feel proud of my role of protecting veterans, serving those who have served us. And I really want to make sure that our tax dollars are spent wisely, that we’re rooting out fraud and abuse and that we are really focused on serving the needs of those who have served us so well over the years.