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John Katko

U.S. Rep. John Katko, center, and state Assemblyman Gary Finch, right, greet employees during shift change Oct. 26 at Auburn Correctional Facility.

For the past two years, U.S. Rep. John Katko has faced criticism. He's been urged to condemn President Donald Trump on multiple occasions. There have been requests for town hall meetings. His votes are scrutinized. 

On Tuesday, he hopes 24th Congressional District will look at his record — not just since 2017, but for both terms he's served in the House of Representatives — and grant him a third term. 

Katko, R-Camillus, is running on his legislative achievements. According to Congress.gov, he's introduced 53 bills. Twenty-seven have passed the House and five have been signed into law by either Trump or former President Barack Obama. Both figures increase if you count bills that are included in larger measures passed by Congress and signed by the president. 

Most of the bills he's ushered through the House focus on transportation security. He chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Protective Security, where he oversees the Transportation Security Administration. 

He has been recognized as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. When introducing new bills, he attempts (most times successfully) to persuade a Democrat to sign on as an original cosponsor. 

As he did during the 2016 campaign, his first re-election bid, he insists he wants to run on his record. But he faces a different political climate — and a more formidable opponent. 

Dana Balter, a Democrat, is an activist-turned-candidate for Congress. She has raised $2 million and has built an impressive voter mobilization effort. 

While Katko touts his record as a bipartisan representative who is unafraid to break with his party, Balter aims to dispel that notion. She has aired ads labeling Katko a "Trump yes man" and refers to a FiveThirtyEight analysis that found the GOP congressman votes with the president's position 90.2 percent of the time. 

It can be argued that Katko's most significant vote in Congress was his support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a major federal tax overhaul that reduced individual income tax rates, lowered corporate tax rates, repealed the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate penalty and doubled the standard deduction. Since that vote nearly one year ago, he has maintained that the tax law benefits a vast majority of his constituents. 

Balter disagrees. She says the tax law gives most of the benefits to the wealthy. Katko dismissed that criticism in an interview with The Citizen. 

"It's tax cuts for businesses and individuals," he said, adding: "The people that most need the break are getting it." 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in his view, led to economic growth. There is record-low unemployment, he said. (The jobless rate in October was 3.7 percent, according to a new report.) He believes the tax cuts are helping businesses compete in a global economy. 

He acknowledged, though, that more can be done. One of the flaws with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is that the income tax cuts are temporary. He would like to make them permanent. 

There are numerous policy differences between Balter and Katko. They differ on health care. Balter supports Medicare-for-all, which would expand the program to include every American. Katko pans this proposal and labels it a government takeover of health care. 

He supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 health care law, as long as there's a suitable replacement. His vision for health care legislation includes medical malpractice reform, prescription drug price reform, allowing interstate competition and funding high-risk pools. 

Properly funding medical research is another priority. He supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which allocated $4.8 billion for research to find cures for Alzheimer's disease, cancer and heart disease. 

The handful of health care reforms he supports are part of a short-term goal, with medical research and potential cures as a long-term aim. 

"Nationalizing health care is not going to get it under control," he said. "It's going to make it get out of control." 

Katko reiterated that he would not vote to cut Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security. Balter and Democratic-aligned groups have claimed he would side with the GOP and cut the social insurance programs. 

He mentioned the Medicaid expansion that's part of the Affordable Care Act as one reason why he opposed Republicans' attempts to repeal the law. And on a telephone town hall with AARP members last month, he announced his opposition to transforming Medicare into a voucher system. 

"Under no circumstances whatsoever would I sanction a decrease of cutting of Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid," he said. 

There are questions about the long-term viability of Medicare and Social Security, and Katko believes it's going to take a bipartisan effort to preserve and protect the programs. He support any plan that achieves that as long as it doesn't affect those who are already receiving benefits or paying into the system. He would be open to changes for new workers because they would "have their whole lifetime to plan for" retirement. 

On jobs, Katko wants to bolster technical training to prepare students for careers in manufacturing. He held a roundtable discussion with first daughter Ivanka Trump at a P-Tech school in Syracuse. He supports more federal funding for technical schools that will help young people learn a trade and connect them with potential employers. 

He offered mixed reviews of President Trump's trade policies. He has long criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement because he believes it contributed to manufacturing job losses in central New York. He is pleased with the Trump administration's progress in renegotiating NAFTA. But he is concerned with other trade relationships. 

China and the United States have been locked in a trade war. Both countries have imposed retaliatory tariffs on products. The tariffs impacted, among others, soybean farmers in Katko's district. 

Katko said a "scalpel is better than a sledgehammer." The longer the trade war lingers with China, he said, the more harmful it will be to the U.S. economy. 

"If that continues, we're going to have to do something to force the president's hands," he said. 

He highlighted his efforts to address infrastructure needs and improve water quality. He successfully advocated for a $600 million increase in two programs, the Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds. The additional funding could be used to combat harmful algal blooms, which have been present on Cayuga, Owasco and Skaneateles lakes in Katko's district. 

Katko is optimistic about ongoing studies examining tributaries and determining where remediation may be needed. 

"We're well on our way to having a real good handle on what's causing the algae bloom outbreaks," he said. 

To address gun violence, he wants to boost early intervention programs to prevent young people from joining gangs and getting involved in criminal activity. He was recently approached by former gang members he prosecuted as an assistant U.S. attorney. They're willing to work with him on ways to intervene. 

Katko also wants to address mass shootings. He introduced a so-called "red flag" law that would give states priority for federal grants if they adopt extreme risk protection orders that meet certain guidelines, such as preserving due process rights and establishing a "clear and convincing evidence" standard for removing guns from potentially dangerous individuals. 

The proposal, Katko said, protects Second Amendment rights while allowing law enforcement to intervene and remove guns from an individual who is determined to be a risk to themselves or others. 

If elected to a third term, he wants to continue working on poverty issues and immigration. An immigration reform agreement hasn't come to fruition yet, but he is hopeful. 

Aside from issues, he didn't have to look far for inspiration. When asked what would motivate him to continue doing the job, he shifted the focus to the people he represents.

"My constituents, always," he said. "Always and everywhere." 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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