WELLSBURG - Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, held a roundtable discussion with Brooke High School students Wednesday.
Thirteen students from the school's academic team, debate team and judicial scholars program took part in the talk, which covered topics ranging from McKinley's position on the Committee of Energy and Commerce to handling threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
McKinley introduced himself as an engineer from Wheeling who has been in business nearly 50 years. He's one of only two members of Congress who are licensed engineers. He noted that he has never been a "career politician," despite being distantly related to William McKinley, America's 25th president. He said he only returned to politics because he felt the country was heading in the wrong direction.
VISIT?TO?BROOKE — Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, conversed with students at Brooke High School in Wellsburg on Wednesday about a wide range of topics including immigration, the economic climate and foreign policy. -- Shae Dalrymple
"What I've found out is that this Congress is so big with 435 members. About 10,000 pieces of legislation will be introduced in a year's time. They can't possibly get to 10,000 bills. I have to convince them why my bill is more important than all those others. I think being pushy sometimes is effective, because I've been able to pass seven bills," McKinley said. "Amendments are easier to pass than bills, and we've passed 31 amendments on legislation."
McKinley said that turmoil around the globe could "take our eye off the ball" when it comes to improving the nation's economy. He mentioned the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, including the recently publicized beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
"If our focus in Congress is to try and get our economy up and get people jobs and you have these things going on around the world, it means you have to take whatever resources you were going to apply and apply them somewhere else to address those hot spots. We've got some nasty things going on," McKinley observed. "We have to be very vigilant and solid on where we want to go as a nation."
McKinley said that he thinks the best way to handle the Islamic State is to "follow the money" and cut off their funding.
"Freeze their assets and shut off their money. We know where their assets are. We know where the money is. I can't speak for the president. I don't know why he hasn't done that yet," he said.
One student asked how McKinley plans to improve the job market if he is re-elected in November.
He answered that a high corporate tax rate and increased regulation are the biggest problems stifling the business climate. He cited the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations on the coal industry as an example.
"There are consequences when you pass a regulation. You have to understand the impact and be careful about it ... Just because they can doesn't mean they should," he said. "Coal ash is an unavoidable by-product of burning coal. Some environmentalists have said that coal is a poisonous product, and they want us to stop using it.
"So they've decided to treat that by-product of burning coal as a hazardous material, like asbestos. If coal ash was treated as a carcinogen, the cost of dealing with that would cause people to just stop using coal altogether.
"We started researching, and we found out that the EPA itself has said that coal ash is not actually a hazardous material in two studies in 1993 and in 2000. For 32 years they tried to stop the use of coal in America, because they say the fly ash is a carcinogen.
"In my first year in office I drafted a bill saying it's not. The House-passed bill went to the Senate, and the Senate didn't take it up. But we kept at it. The EPA, this past spring, backed off. I'm pretty proud of that."
He noted that without that legislation, 316,000 people would have lost their jobs recycling fly ash.
A student asked McKinley about his stance on immigration. He answered that America needs to have a cohesive immigration policy, and he feels that at this point we do not.
"I'd like to have a work permit program, where people can come from Mexico or Canada and work for a day at a time and return home. But there are people in Washington saying we need to give them full citizenship," he said. "I also think that if anyone hires them for less than minimum wage, they ought to be fined. Those companies are taking advantage of these people who are just trying to take care of their families, and that needs to be punished. We need to find a way to embrace the immigrants."
Another student asked if McKinley enjoys being a Congressman.
"I like helping people and making a difference. I don't like politics, but I don't see any way to change anything without getting in there and getting your hands dirty. I don't like the process, but I don't know how else to play it," McKinley said. "The first three presidents - Washington, Jefferson and Adams - do you know what they had in common? They said that political parties are going to be the death of this country.
"We've got to remember that our job in America is to pledge our allegiance to the country, not to a political party. There's too much political patronage going on right now. I can play partisanship with the best of 'em, but I know it's not in our best interest. We've got to stop this nonsense."