When Congresswoman Nan Hayworth entered the political arena in 2009, throwing her hat into the 2010 congressional race for what was then John Hall’s seat in the House of Representatives, she was the ultimate Washington outsider. She’d never run for office before, she’d never worked in Washington, and the Republican’s candidacy was born of a pushback against DC and the Democrats in control of the House, as well as the Senate and White House. Though she had no political record or name recognition, her anti-incumbent message backed by private sector experience resonated, and she was elected to Congress as part of the 2010 Republican wave.
As she seeks re-election, the Bedford resident finds herself in a dramatically different situation. She’s got two years of legislative experience and is no longer a stranger to most voters, but has shed her outsider status and is now a member of the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In an interview, Hayworth, running for a second term this November, looked back over her first year and a half in Washington and what the 113th Congress will have on its plate.
“There is an awful lot that we need to accomplish for the district and as a nation and it’s been fascinating to watch the dynamic over the past year and a half,” Hayworth said.
Like many Republicans elected in 2010, Hayworth says her focus is on reining in the country’s spending and lowering taxes.
“The fundamental issue is there is no government multiplier when you send a dollar to the federal government,” she explained. “They say, ‘Well it turns into X number of dollars.’ Well it doesn’t. It does if you let it stay in the economy in citizens’ pockets, because that is energy for the economy. And when the government takes, the government is setting priorities based on the choices that politicians make.”
In a swing district covering five counties in the Hudson Valley, Hayworth two years ago staked out a position somewhere between the political center and the Tea Party. Though conservative on government spending and taxation, she’s a moderate on social issues. She supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care reform law, as well as the Dodd-Frank law regulating the financial services industry, and she voted for both of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, which would have dramatically cut taxes for high-income earners while overhauling Medicare for future generations and drastically slashing non-defense discretionary spending.
Hayworth’s Democratic opponent, Maloney, has charged that she hasn’t lived up her billing as a moderate. He’s frequently called her a “Tea Party Congresswoman” (citing a New York Magazine story and a New York Daily News editorial) and criticized her for voting for Ryan’s budget proposals.
Hayworth countered that she’s broken with the Tea Party on many occasions, especially regarding environmental issues (the League of Conservation Voters ranks her as the fifth-best Republican in the House on environmental voting). She noted that the conservative Club for Growth rated her at just 56 percent in siding with the Tea Party on key issues, putting her among the bottom quarter of freshman House Republicans. At the beginning of her term, she recalled, she joined with another newly-sworn-in Democratic congressperson to form the Common Ground Caucus to help bring the two parties together in the house to work on legislation. She acknowledged that common ground has been hard to find in the 112th Congress, faulting the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“In terms of policy, I’ve been doing all I can…to work across the aisle to get helpful laws passed. And our progress should’ve been far greater in that regard,” she said. “But because we have a Senate that opposes us, we haven’t made the progress that we would’ve liked to.”
Highlighting the need for compromise is the upcoming showdown between the House and Senate – dubbed “taxmageddon” – in which congressional inaction would trigger a large tax increase as well as deep cuts to discretionary spending. That’s because the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1, when spending cuts agreed to during the debt ceiling deal are also scheduled to kick in.
“The thought of the largest tax hike in history is very troubling for everybody in the majority and for many of our colleagues on the Democratic side of the house. President Obama said it two years ago,” Hayworth said. “He was right then. It’s just as true today.”
Republicans in the House, including Hayworth, want to extend the tax cuts for everyone, while Democrats in the Senate and President Obama support letting them expire for high-income earners.
In the longer term, Hayworth said she’d like to see broad tax reform, meaning lowering rates while eliminating tax loopholes and deductions. She wouldn’t say exactly which loopholes she’d eliminate or which she’d preserve, but she pointed to the Child Tax Credit as one she’d lean towards leaving in the code. She stressed that tax reform must be revenue neutral, not a way to raise revenues.
“I think you start with something like a visionary approach,” she said. “Let’s imagine the best kind of tax code we could have. Let’s set an ideal for ourselves, let’s see how close we can get to perfect.”
Hayworth has sponsored several pieces of legislation, though so far none have been signed into law. In June, Hayworth introduced a bill called the Commuter Savings Act that would provide mass transit users an equal tax credit now given to commuters who drive their cars to work.
“Mass transit saves on fuel. It saves our environment. It saves roads and bridges,” Hayworth said. “We have 72,000 residents in the Hudson Valley who use mass transit. So, it’s really a good way to try to help them.”
Hayworth said working to protect the environment, both in the Hudson Valley and nationwide, was one of her priorities during her freshman term, noting that she supported the Hudson Highlands Conservation Act and introduced legislation that would expand participation in a program that allows municipalities to bond for money in order to help residents pay for energy and water efficiencies in their homes.
In addition, Hayworth said she was proud of her work to honor the district’s veterans, including introducing a bill to save the VA facilities at Castle Point and Montrose from possibly being opened up to commercial entities, before the program making that a possibility expired.
Hayworth also addressed some concerns heard on the local level in and around Putnam County.
A common refrain at town board and school board meetings in Putnam County is the heavy burden of federal mandates handed down to local government that come with too little funding or none at all.
Hayworth said while the intention behind the federal mandate for localities to reduce the levels of phosphorous in drinking water may have been valid, there was not enough thought put into how much it was going to cost small, local governments to implement.
“The cost to get there can be enormous and that’s the problem. Government doesn’t think that way, bureaucracies tend not to think that way,” she said. “Things have to be fiscally sustainable, I’m an environmentally-protective Republican…but these measures have to reach that sensible balance within a real economy.”
Hayworth said she lived up to her campaign promise to be moderate on women’s issues, particularly abortion. While she said she would not support banning abortion, she strongly opposed using taxpayer money to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy was as a result of rape or incest, or it endangered the life of the mother. She also said she was opposed to any efforts to compel faith-based institutions, and other entities that receive federal funding, from performing abortions.
“Nobody should be forced to provide something that they find morally abhorrent,” she said.
Hayworth is one of only three GOP House members to join the LGBT Equality Caucus, a group of lawmakers advocating gay rights. She hedged, though, when it came to repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents same-sex couples from receiving certain federal benefits. She argued that the House shouldn’t take action on a law that is being challenged in court, which DOMA is, though Hayworth had previously voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act while it was facing a legal challenge. The LGBT Equality Caucus has made repeal of DOMA one of its legislative priorities.
With the district lines changing next year, Hayworth will be running for reelection in the state’s new 18th Congressional District and looking to win the support of voters who favored President Obama over Senator John McCain 52 to 46 percent in 2008.
“I’m doing all I can every day to make sure that I represent everybody here with honesty and integrity and I will not seek to deceive anybody about what I can or cannot do as their legislator,” Hayworth said. “I want them to feel they can trust what I am telling them and know that I am always eager to hear how I can serve them better.”
By Andrew Vitelli and Sara Dunn