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Collins has busy first year in D.C.

Congressman reflects on his debut in Congress

POSTED: December 22, 2013 12:27 a.m.

The Christmas shopping trip turned quickly into congressional business when a man approached Doug Collins and, after recognizing him, talked with him for a few minutes about a military veterans issue.

That turned into a call by Collins to his district office.

“You’re always on wherever you’re at,” said Collins, the Republican 9th District U.S. representative from Gainesville, in an interview last week reflecting on his first year in Washington. “That’s fine. We promised accessibility, that we would communicate with the district, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Collins was elected in November 2012 after long primary and general election campaigns. He hit the ground running Jan. 1 and has stayed busy, balancing a flurry of heated issues at the Capitol and national media interviews with visits, appearances and speeches throughout his 20-county district.

“It’s been a good year, a very interesting year,” he said. “One of the things I had promised (the district) was bringing my experience, which I believe was an asset, not a liability. As a freshman, I think we’ve done that.”

Collins sponsored a resolution, the Israel Qualitative Military Edge Enhancement Act, which passed the House earlier this month. The act requires the president to assess every two years Israel’s measurable military edge over threats to its homeland.

Also, during the federal government shutdown, contract chaplains were not being allowed on base to perform services, Collins said.

“That being in my background was something very dear to me,” he said. “We passed a joint resolution that put them back to work.”

Collins served a four-month tour of duty in 2008 as a chaplain with a U.S. Air Force Reserves unit in Balad, Iraq. Collins, a lawyer, also served as senior pastor for Chicopee Baptist Church for 11 years.

He also spent six years in the Georgia legislature, including serving as House floor leader for Gov. Nathan Deal.

When he took office, the 9th District had changed due to redistricting from the 2010 census. The congressman formerly representing Hall and other area counties was U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who was re-elected to represent the newly drawn 14th District.

State legislative experience “provided a good basis but did not prepare (me) for everything in Washington,” Collins said. 

A typical day is full of “committee meetings and, depending on the day, constituent meetings and folks coming by, so there’s always something going on,” he said. “Managing that schedule was one of the biggest differences.

“Procedurally, a little bit more is done on the committee level before it gets to the House floor — as opposed to Georgia, where we did a lot of debating on the House floor and committee,” Collins said.

The congressman usually rises early and works from about 8 or 8:30 a.m. to about 8 or 8:30 p.m.

Between the government shutdown over the federal budget to fallout over health care reform, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have had a busy, and frequently contentious, year.

Collins isn’t shy about his opinions of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.

“It was a bad law. It was written on a failed premise and it will continue to hurt Americans,” he said. “No matter what the president will say ... it is a (law) that will help some at the expense of others.”

Collins also pushed for an amendment in the defense spending bill that would transfer control of Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense. The bill passed the House in June and the Senate on Thursday night.

Looking to 2014, he said, “We’re very optimistic on issues looking ahead that we have not only carried on but ... continuing to work on the things that are special to the 9th District.”

He said that with a budget deal now in Congress, “we’ll be working through the appropriations process.”

Legislators “are the appropriators, we’re the purse strings ... and that’s the only way we can take back over control of what we feel like is out-of-control spending and the deficit situation,” Collins said.

One big issue in 2014 is funding transportation.

The federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act passed in July 2012 by Congress, expires in 2014, with some worrying whether federal dollars can meet infrastructure needs nationwide.

In an April report, the Congressional Budget Office said the “current trajectory of the Highway Trust Fund is unsustainable” and that starting in fiscal year 2015, “the trust fund will have insufficient amounts to meet all of its obligations, resulting in steadily accumulating shortfalls.”

Collins said he believes a water authorization bill before a House-Senate conference committee might serve as a template for the transportation spending bill.

“I do hopefully see us getting (the water bill) taken care of (early in 2014),” he said. “That would give a picture and a blueprint of how to deal with transportation.

“We’re in a position where we need some real reforms in our transportation dollars. Those kinds of issues need to be addressed.”

As for getting back to the district, Collins comes home every weekend to be with family and take part in family events.

Congressional business doesn’t always permit that.

“During the shutdown, I missed two (high school) football games,” Collins said. “I have a senior and a freshmen who were both on the field this year.”

And of course, the work never stops. In visits throughout the district, “we’ve hit every county multiple times,” Collins said.

Between personal appearances and staff trips, the number is approaching 300.

“In our office, it’s people first,” Collins said. “People before paper.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, discusses his first year in Congress

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