Israel turns attention to home district

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It has been a busy few months for Rep. Steve Israel.

The Huntington Democrat won re-election in a reconfigured 3rd District in November, headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as his party’s gains in the House of Representatives left Republicans with a smaller but still sizable majority and staked out a position on the recently averted tax hikes and budget cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

Now, after being sworn in for a seventh term, Israel said he wants to direct attention to local issues and casework for his constituents.

“One of the things we’ll be doing is a small business solutions summit in the Great Neck area to cut through red tape, to help small business secure contract opportunities with the federal government and to help them get Small Business Administration financial assistance,” Israel said.

Nassau County still faces economic challenges stemming from the 2008 financial crisis and recession. Its 7 percent unemployment rate, as reported by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, is outperforming the national average of 7.9 percent and has dropped since its post recession peak, but is still high.

And the recession’s aftermath has had an impact on Great Neck’s business community. There were 40 empty storefronts in Great Neck – an 11 percent vacancy rate – as of Feb. 2012, according to Chamber of Commerce president Hooshang Nematzadeh.

Israel said the summit will provide information to help businesses gain financing from the federal government and guidance from the U.S. Export-Import Bank on how to market products abroad.

Caseworkers, Israel said, will also attend events in to help veteran constituents secure federal benefits.

While promoting his efforts to help local residents, Israel acknowledged Capitol Hill’s shortcomings in handling the fiscal cliff.

The House okayed a deal to delay the cliff’s heavy spending cuts on New Years Day. The compromise, reached after weeks of stop-start negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Barack Obama and last-ditch talks between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, allowed tax rates on families making over $450,000 and individuals making over $400,000 to increase.

The deal also hiked rates on capital gains and dividends while extending unemployment benefits. While initial talks had focused on a grand bargain that would have trimmed trillions in federal budget deficits, the last-minute agreement will have much more moderate effects on the federal debt.

“I voted for it because I fundamentally believe in compromise,” said Israel. “There were elements of the bill that didn’t make me happy, but falling off the cliff was simply not an option.”

Israel praised the bargain for raising the cutoff for tax increases from Obama’s initial proposal of $250,000 for households, which Israel said did not reflect economic realities on Long Island.

“That has been my singular priority for the past two years and we succeeded,” Israel said.

But he blamed the deal’s comparative lack of deficit reduction what he called the unwillingness of Republicans to compromise.

“It says something about what happens when one party constantly rejects compromise,” Israel said. “At the end of the day, people are sick and tired of process and excuses – they want solutions.”

When asked whether Democrats also contributed to the impasse, Israel was insistent that the GOP was the source of congressional dysfunction.

Democrats had put some changes to entitlement spending on the table, according to Israel, but Boehner could not rally Republican votes for a major compromise.

“The House… is overly partisan and largely dysfunctional as a result of a leadership that’s not focusing on solutions,” said Israel. “Every major challenge in America’s history has been solved with compromise.”

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