The last time he hosted a legislative breakfast for community leaders and the clergy, Congressman Gregory Meeks (Queens, Nassau) represented the 6th District, the Rockaways had electricity and infrastructure, and the term “sequester” was not on the evening news on a nightly basis.
“I wanted to have this a lot sooner, but a lot of things have happened since the last time,” Meeks told a crowd of about 200 community leaders at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in St. Albans.
“First we had Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “Then we had Sandy Hook. Now we have the budget sequester.”
Meeks now represents the 5th District, with the Rockaways and parts of Nassau County, because of redistricting as a result of the 2010 U.S. Census.
And he spoke very frankly about the challenges facing the district and the city in the coming months and years.
He first castigated his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives for their delays on approving Hurricane Sandy relief.
“It used to be that when we had a disaster, we approved the aid,” he said. “Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit just Democrats or Republicans, and there are still people without electricity. Why did it take three months?”
He did single out GOP members Peter King (R-Long Island) and Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) as being part of a united front in Congress to get the funding through. Meeks said he and Grimm are working on legislation for a second bill.
“We knew when Sen. [Charles] Schumer asked for the $60 billion that it would not be enough,” Meeks said. “We’re going to need more.”
In regard to the budget sequester, which triggered nearly across-the-board spending cuts this month when Congress and the White House could not agree on a deficit reduction plan, Meeks acknowledged that he voted for the sequestration trigger.
“The idea behind the sequester is that it would never happen. It would force people into a room to talk so it wouldn’t go into effect. That’s how terrible it is.”
He said if it continues throughout the year the city and state stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for education, social programs and law enforcement.
He is encouraged that the Senate, for the first time in four years, has floated a budget proposal, one he supports and says is the polar opposite of the House GOP-approved budget written largely by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis).
“Now both sides can come to the table,” he said.
While Meeks is pleased that the Senate seems set to vote on gun control legislation that includes stricter background checks, he is disappointed that the Senate is unlikely to support an assault weapon ban in the wake of December’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that resulted in 20 children and six adults being killed.
The measure was not expected to get much more than 40 votes in a body where Democrats have 54 seats with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) caucusing with them.