Republicans will push legislation to make President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign priorities become reality when Congress convenes Tuesday, but education reforms and regulatory changes also will be at the forefront, said the congressman who represents Bartholomew County.
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, who in November was elected to a third term as Indiana’s 6th District representative, said Republicans want to follow through on Trump’s desire to repeal most of Obamacare, strengthen the nation’s borders, stimulate the economy and foster job creation.
However, as a member of the House committees on Education and the Workforce, and Financial Services, Messer expects to see a lot of legislation coming his way.
Some of it should be with the common ground he shares with Trump.
Both are supporters of school choice. Messer’s legislative aid for education, Rob Goad, became Trump’s lead policy adviser for education and Messer is friends with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who preceded Messer as the 6th District congressman, worked with him as governor and is leading Trump’s transition team.
Messer was president and CEO of School Choice Indiana, a group that lobbied for the state’s private school voucher law. He was among those considered for the secretary of education cabinet position, although Trump ultimately tabbed Betsy DeVos — a charter school supporter — for the post.
“In today’s world, access to education is the gateway to opportunity,” Messer said Friday during a phone interview with The Republic.
However, that gateway doesn’t need to be only to two- and four-year colleges. Financial aid needs to be broadened beyond such institutions to include the certifications, licensing and technical training some people need to get ahead in their jobs, Messer said.
The congressman also is taking over as lead author of legislation that would ensure it’s OK for students to enter into a contract with a private investor who will finance the student’s education in return for a portion of the student’s income during the first 10 years of their career.
Purdue University has experimented with this on a small scale but the issue is a gray area that has some possible investors waiting to see what happens because they want to be sure they are protected, Messer said.
Messer also is lead author of a bill that would expand a successful program used by Indiana University. The school at the beginning of the year informs students of their current debt and their projected debt load. As a result, student borrowing has decreased 20 percent, he said. Requiring schools to do this would be beneficial, he said.
“We want to take this nationally,” Messer said.
He also expects to see legislation that would encourage employers to help pay off an employee’s student loan debt in a manner similar to a 401K contribution.
Tax, regulatory changes
While some of the proposed education changes can have a positive impact on a more educated and skilled workforce, Messer said changes to the country’s tax code can help spur job creation.
Changes need to be designed to make it more attractive for businesses to operate and invest in the United States rather than moving operations abroad and keeping profits overseas, he said.
“We need to make America the best place in the world (for business),” Messer said.
In addition to tax code changes, regulatory changes are high on the to-do list, the congressman said.
“The first week you’re likely to see efforts to roll back excessive regulation from the last eight years,” the 1987 Greensburg High School graduate said.
Specifically, he said changes to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, are being planned. The legislation increased financial regulations in response to the Great Recession.
While certain regulations are needed to maintain a healthy banking industry, the law has a problem, Messer said.
“Dodd-Frank treats all banks the same. The risks with multinational giant banks are higher than the risks associated with small community banks,” Messer said.
Legislation to decrease the regulatory burdens on small community banks is needed, Messer said.
Making changes that improve the lives of Americans is important, Messer said, because one of the chief concerns he hears from constituents when he’s in the district is that they don’t have much faith in the political system.
“People see the system as rigged and that Washington is not looking out for them,” he said.
Job creation and improving the economy, and national security are the other primary concerns he’s heard district-wide.
Locally in the Columbus area, though, Messer said the chief concerns are traffic logjams related to train traffic and drug abuse.
Opioid abuse is a big problem in Bartholomew County and many of the district’s counties, Messer said. What Messer said he hopes to do is bring to each county a program modeled after one in Kentucky that gets business, schools, hospitals, law enforcement, churches and local government working as one team on a leadership board.
“It takes a holistic community approach,” Messer said.
A Louisville & Indiana Railroad lease to CSX will result in longer, heavier and faster trains traveling through Bartholomew County and Columbus beginning in 2018. Delays in particular on the west side near State Roads 46 and 11 are expected to become even more problematic for motorists.
City officials are concerned about safety issues that long delays could create.
Messer said he’s sent letters to the Indiana Department of Transportation supporting the city’s efforts in the matter, and has spoken directly with CSX and asked them to work with the city on a solution that’s good for all parties.
Education: Greensburg High School, Class of 1987; Wabash College; law degree from Vanderbilt University, 1994
Lost bid for Indiana’s 2nd congressional district, 2000 GOP primary
State representative District 57, 2003-07
U.S. House of Representatives, 6th District — elected 2012, 2014, 2016
House committee assignments — Education and the Workforce; Financial Services.
House subcommittees — Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions; Higher Education and Workforce Training; Capital markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises; Monetary Policy and Trade.
Family: Wife, Jennifer; children, Ava, Emma, Hudson