WASHINGTON - Freshman Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon, 8th CD, acknowledges that he and his 88 first-term GOP colleagues haven’t slashed the federal budget deficit the way they intended when they stormed into Washington in 2011.
They have, however, changed the budget frame of reference, according to Bucshon.
“The one thing that the people I was elected with changed in the big picture was the direction or maybe the thought process about how the federal government spends its money,” Bucshon said in a recent HPI interview in his Capitol Hill office.
The conversation has now moved “away from where are we going to spend to where are we going to create efficiencies and effectiveness in the government and decrease the spending in Washington,” said Bucshon, who is a cardiothoracic surgeon.
The challenge he faces as he tries to earn a second term this year is that his opponent on the right doesn’t think he’s gone far enough in cutting Washington spending while his foe on the left asserts that he’s undermining Medicare.
Kristi Risk, a substitute teacher in the Spencer-Owen school system and Christian counselor who is running against Bucshon in the Republican primary, criticizes him for supporting extensions of the federal budget that prevented a government shutdown.
She also says he should not have voted for a measure that averted a default of the federal debt.
“He voted for every continuing resolution and the debt ceiling,” Risk said.
In doing so, he missed opportunities to whack away at what she sees as overbearing government institutions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.“The best way to curb it is to defund it,” Risk said.
Bucshon doesn’t regret his votes.“You can’t let the U.S. federal government default on its debt,” Bucshon said. “It was the right thing to do for the country.”
The Democratic candidate for the 8th CD seat this fall attacks Bucshon from the opposite direction. Former state Rep. Dave Crooks says that the Newburgh congressman’s votes in favor of a budget proposal last year by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would destroy Medicare.
Under the Ryan plan, instead of directly paying for Medicare coverage, the government would provide subsidies for participants to buy their own insurance.
Crooks said seniors “stop me on the street constantly” to express concern over Medicare vouchers.
“They don’t want their Medicare dismantled,” Crooks said. “They don’t want it privatized. He’s picking oil companies making record profits and billionaires – giving them more tax breaks – over senior citizens in this district. They’re going to punish him for his choices this November.”
Bucshon said in a statement that Crooks is playing fast and loose on Medicare.
He maintains that the health care bill approved by the previous Democratic Congress – and which he says Crooks supports – requires nearly $600 billion in Medicare cuts.
“It is a shame Dave Crooks and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] cannot campaign on the issues and instead have resorted to attempts to scare senior citizens,” Bucshon said in a statement.  “As a physician who spent 15 years caring for Medicare patients, I am disappointed, but not surprised by this.”
In his interview with HPI, Bucshon stressed that he is making a difference for the district through his work on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The five-year $260-billion highway funding measure is scheduled for a House vote this week.
Bucshon wrote a provision that would allow states to take federal dollars from bike trails or beautification initiatives or any other program and redirect them toward emergencies, such as the fissures that closed the Sherman Minton Bridge between Louisville and southeast Indiana.
“You shouldn’t have money sitting in an account and have an infrastructure problem and not be able to use federal dollars to fix it,” Bucshon said.
He also championed a provision that would allow states to proceed with multi-state projects over the objection of metropolitan planning authorities. In Indiana, this would mean that the municipal group in Bloomington would not be able to hold up the I-69 extension over environmental concerns.
“This is a common sense provision that I think is going to significantly benefit Indiana,” Bucshon said.
While the candidates argue over policy, Bucshon has taken a lead in the money race. As of Dec. 31, he has raised $537,311 and has $394,368 on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. Crooks has raised $311,824 and has $245,237 on hand. Risk has raised $23,982 and has $10,595 on hand.
“We’ve communicated well with all 18 counties,” Bucshon said. “We’ve worked hard on constituent services. I go home every weekend. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. I’m pretty optimistic.”
Crooks also exudes confidence. The Democratic Party cleared the primary field for him, and he is included in the DCCC’s second tier of races.
The district also has lost Republican-leaning areas – such as Putnam, Fountain and Warren counties – and gained Democratic territory – such as Perry, Spencer, Dubois and part of Crawford Country.
Crooks, who owns radio stations in Washington, Ind., and Vincennes, said he benefits from his tenure as the voice of the Washington High School basketball program, which has produced Indiana University star Cody Zeller and won state championships.
“That’s a unique advantage we have that’s beyond the bad votes Bucshon has taken,” Crooks said.
Risk’s operation is not as well funded as Bucshon’s and Crooks’. But she said she has grass-roots enthusiasm that goes beyond the Tea Party. She has about 75 consistent volunteers.
“We draw from all walks of life,” Risk said. “There’s political science and political art. I embrace the art of politics.”
She’s also trying to take advantage of skepticism toward Washington, D.C. “There’s a real negative tone toward Congress, but it’s real positive for us,” Risk said.
Bucshon will find out in the primary whether that attitude dominates southwest Indiana.