ESCANABA - While touring the Upper Peninsula, U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek stopped in Escanaba Friday to discuss the economy and projects his office is working on.
"(I'm) just heading around the U.P., giving people an idea of what's happening in Washington," he said, adding he was on his way to visit veterans and constituents at meet and greet sessions in the western end of the Upper Peninsula.
Benishek addressed the issue of the mandatory spending cuts, known as the sequester, which took effect March 1.
"In the House we voted twice last year to avoid this, alright, but it wasn't taken up by the Senate. My frustration with those guys in Washington is they don't do their job," he said.
According the Benishek, the major cause of the sequester is the lack of planning by the Senate. The Senate has failed to pass a budget since April of 2009.
"Frankly that's why we're having all these sort of manufactured crises, because nobody knows what the plan is, and if we get those guys to do their job in the Senate maybe we can get something done," he said.
To combat the lack of a budget, the House spearheaded a bill known as the "No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013." The act was signed into law last month and requires both the House and Senate agree to their own budget resolution for the 2014 fiscal year by April 15. If either chamber fails to adopt a budget the members of that chamber will have their salaries put into an escrow account until a budget is passed for that chamber or the last day of the 113th Congress.
"I don't expect the Democratic Senate to come out with a budget that's the same as the Republican House, but at least they should do their own budget. It'd probably be different than ours, but then we'd have a place to negotiate," said Benishek.
Rep. Benishek talked briefly about long-term Senator Carl Levin's retirement announced Thursday.
"I'm sure there's going to be a free-for-all for the open seat that he's leaving in the Senate. That's always exciting to see who decides to run," he said.
Benishek also discussed his work with the Veterans' Affairs Committee, where he is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health.
"We have an initiative to focus awareness on the increase in veteran suicide and how it may relate to traumatic brain injury or post traumatic stress disorder," said Benishek.
For 20 years Benishek worked as a consulting physician for the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain.
"With my experience working at the VA as a physician I think I provide some insight to improve that situation," he said.
Benishek believes the issue of veteran care is something both parties can work to improve.
"You hear so much about gridlock and that sort of stuff but this is an area that we can actually make improvement on. Its bipartisan," he said.
Benishek has also begun work on improving access to vocational education, something he feels is important for the Upper Peninsula economy.
"When I did my tour of the Upper Peninsula with the governor last year a lot of people are talking about the fact that there's a lot of vocational jobs that are available in Northern Michigan, but there aren't a sufficient number of people with the training needed to fill those jobs," he said.
Benishek's office is working with community colleges, school superintendents, and local business leaders to coordinate funding and promote exposure to vocational opportunities for students.
"Part of the problem is the fact that there's very little leeway in the high school curriculum for vocational education because of the state and federal mandates for education," said Benishek, adding many students were not being exposed to the types of vocational jobs that are available in the U.P.
The congressman is also working to change forest management practices through his work with the Agriculture Committee, with the intention of creating jobs.
"Allowing more harvesting of trees in the federal forest would be great for our economy because right now ... the federal forest is under harvested to the point that there are more trees dying in the federal forest than are being harvested," said Benishek.
"An increase in the amount of responsible harvesting (in) the forest means more jobs in Northern Michigan," he added.
In an effort to inform constituents about his work in the last year, Benishek has released a 2012 Annual Report to Northern Michigan. The report is available for download on the congressman's website at benishek.house.gov.
"It just sort of outlines ... legislation that we've sponsored and cosponsored and ... where I've been, what I've done, so that people have an idea that yes we actually do something," he said.