U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, revealed details Tuesday of his seven weeks in Congress to an Acadiana regional chamber of commerce gathering — work that ranges from the lofty, driving goal of reviving constitutional government in Washington, D.C., to the painstaking, bureaucratic task of opening district offices.
It's been a whirlwind start for the freshman congressman, who won the 3rd Congressional District seat in a Dec. 10 runoff. He still sleeps on an air mattress on his office floor on Capitol Hill, showering and working out in the basement gym in the early morning. He still returns to his desk every night, studying position papers and doing prep work that makes every vote count the next day.
He works within the congressional framework, Higgins insists, which includes meetings with Louisiana's delegation, time with party leadership and committee work — three committees, six sub-committees. The Louisiana delegation, he said, is "powerful," including both House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Cedric Richmond, who leads the Black Caucus.
The delegation, he told the One Acadiana audience in Lafayette, is largely of one mind, although it must serve many constituencies. There's deep respect and civility across the delegation, he said, even when members disagree.
"I didn't step in there to be a bomb thrower," he told the morning coffee gathering. But he's pushing for his principles, he said, which include restoring to Washington a constitutional approach to government. That means that law arises from the people's elected Congress, not from unelected, executive agency bureaucrats who impose rules without ever facing voters.
That means law doesn't come from presidential decrees. That's gone on too long, Higgins said, leaving the U.S. with burdensome, onerous regulations that President Donald Trump and Congress are sweeping away.
That's been Congress' task, he said for this session's opening weeks: Working through a 200-day plan that focuses on what the Trump administration can accomplish by resolution and what the Republican majority Congress can accomplish with its slender margin in the Senate.
Responding to a question by One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi, Higgins said Congress is focused on economic prosperity and job creation. Economic growth, he said, starts with consumer confidence, which he said is abundant. Removing burdensome regulations, he said, restores Congress to its rightful place in the federal government and frees businesses to be more entrepreneurial.
Higgins also said Congress will replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which he said is "breaking the backs of working Americans" without delivering adequate health care. What eventually replaces Obamacare, he said, will include options to keep children on their parents' insurance through college and will include safeguarding insurance consumers who have pre-existing conditions.
He also said Congress will push for the completion of Interstate 49 to New Orleans, mindful that the U.S. faces a $20 trillion debt. Completing I-49, he said, will require state government to provide needed matching funds for federal money invested in the interstate.
Staring down that debt, he said, will require robust economic growth; the target is 4 percent a year after a growth rate of about 1.5 percent during the Obama years.
Higgins also said he's progressing in establishing congressional offices in Lafayette and Lake Charles. He joked that the process is complicated by the bureaucracy, which is painstaking in how offices are taken down or established.
Higgins also visited the Veterans Administration health clinic on Ambassador Caffery Parkway on Tuesday, praising the work of his predecessor, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who struggled for years to get the federal facility funded.
"Dr. Boustany worked so hard for this," Higgins said, standing in the main foyer. "He deserves all the credit."
Higgins, an Army veteran who serves on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said he wanted to tour the facility to get better understanding of the clinic's services, needs and best practices for delivering health care to those who served in the military.
This was his first trip, a "boots-on-the-ground" tour, in an effort to serve veterans, including those in his 3rd Congressional District, which has a high concentration of veterans.