Rep. Marshall talks about health care, debt, Robins Air Force Base

Generally speaking, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall is not a wistful guy.

So it was something of moment last Friday when he looked up toward the ceiling of his Macon office, and his eyes seemed to drift away.

He’d been to an event a few days before in Washington, D.C., meant to honor former non-commissioned military officers serving in the U.S. Congress. Marshall, who served in Vietnam, paraded in review.

“The Army band was there and all these troops,” he said. “That was pretty nice.”

Of course, this was just before the Memorial Day weekend, and Georgia’s 48th Brigade is on its way to Afghanistan.

“This is a good time for Americans to appreciate the sacrifice that the soldiers and their families in the 48th Brigade are making for us,” the four-term congressman said, “and to remember the sacrifices that an awful lot of Americans have made over the years.”

Marshall, D-Ga., also discussed the ongoing defense authorization process, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relocating south Bibb residents away from Robins Air Force Base and the bedrock fiscal problem he sees in Washington: too much debt.

“Some of the projections show that the entire budget of the federal government will (eventually) be devoted to nothing but debt and Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “You can forget about even having a government. No Army, no Navy, you know, etc. We’re truly on an unsustainable course.”

An edited version of the interview follows.

TELEGRAPH: Talk to me about the defense spending authorization process, particularly as it affects Georgia.

MARSHALL: There are a number of different issues. What’s going to happen with the C-17? With retirement of the C-5s? With what’s called the C-27 now, but it’s the joint cargo aircraft? The secretary (of defense) has suggested that we’re not going to have as many brigade combat teams. That can really have quite an impact on Fort Stewart, because Fort Stewart’s preparing to receive a (team), about 10,000 more people.

TELEGRAPH: As we move ... away from preparing to fight a traditional war and toward fighting terrorism, is that the course we should continue to pursue, and how is Georgia situated to cope with that change? Are we prepared to be part of that effort?

MARSHALL: We will be part, we are part of the effort. ... We’ve got, where the Army is concerned, the two best facilities east of the Mississippi, if not the entire country, in Benning and Stewart. ... And Robins, Moody, etc., we are poised to continue contributing to the nation’s defense regardless the direction we wind up taking.

TELEGRAPH: Is the shift so important that we really need to avoid kind of a NIMBY attitude toward defense that always seems to rear its head. ... For example, protecting something like the F-22. If the Department of Defense says it doesn’t need F-22s, how appropriate is it to say, “Oh, yeah, you do”?

MARSHALL: Hey, look, the Department of Defense said it didn’t need (Mine Resistance Ambush Protected vehicles). Now the Department of Defense is saying it does need the MRAP. It needs even more. The Department of Defense would not have the MRAP but for Congress insisting.

TELEGRAPH: How do you think things are progressing in Iraq and Afghanistan?

MARSHALL: We’ve obviously made enormous progress in Iraq. And I expect that we will gradually draw down at a rate that is appropriate in light of the development of the ability of the Iraqis to handle security for their own country. And I also anticipate that we’ll wind up having a long-term security arrangement that will be good for Iraq, good for the Middle East, good for the United States. Afghanistan is a real quandary for us because Pakistan — stability in Pakistan is terribly important. For the longest time, I’ve thought that the real strategic issue in that part of the world is Pakistan. And instability in Afghanistan leads to instability in Pakistan. In order to stabilize Afghanistan we almost certainly have to do something about the safe havens in the Pakistan mountains adjacent to Afghanistan. ... And to the extent that we try and do that, we can effectively destabilize Pakistan. So it’s a real challenge.

TELEGRAPH: What did you make of the Tea Party movement last month?

MARSHALL: There are, you know, an awful lot of people who are legitimately concerned that we are on a bad fiscal course. I’m one of them. I voted against this budget just like I voted against every Democratic and every Republican budget since I’ve been in Congress, because none of them realistically attempt to address the long-term fiscal imbalances that face us. And if we don’t address that challenge, we will have lots of others. As your economy goes, so goes your military strength and your political strength. Most of the Tea Party folks were specifically concerned about taxes. And so far I’m pretty sure that Obama has been living up to his promise that he’s not going to propose any tax increases for those who make less than, what is it, $250,000 a year? Ninety-five percent, some very high percentage of Americans, should see no tax increase.

TELEGRAPH: There’s been more talk of eventually buying up residential land in south Bibb County, moving the residents out and making more room for Robins Air Force Base. What are your thoughts on the need to do that and how to fund it if it’s needed?

MARSHALL: It’s wise of us to deal with this and to do so in a way that’s fair for the folks who are out there. And the resources almost certainly will be a mixture. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be a mixture of public and private, federal, state and local.

TELEGRAPH: Where do you see Congress going on health-care reform?

MARSHALL: I expect that both the House and the Senate will pass bills before the August recess, and during the August recess there will be a conference committee working nonstop trying to turn those two bills into a final bill that can be presented to the president. So I think we’re going to do something. An awful lot of folks are at the table right now.

TELEGRAPH: What would you do?

MARSHALL: I don’t have enough expertise to say what we ought to do ... except that we’ve got a significant problem and that it needs to be addressed. ... There is a bipartisan bill out there that’s pretty attractive to me ... that would have the effect of diminishing the growth of health care (costs) pretty significantly. And, back to the reason I voted against the budget, (it’s) just not realistically addressing our long-term fiscal challenge. The projections are that in two or three decades there’s going to be ... $30, $40, $50 trillion worth of debt, I don’t have the precise figures, for the federal government. And, consequently, a huge amount of interest being paid annually on that debt. ... And if we can just diminish the growth of health-care costs 1 or 2 percent a year it has a remarkably positive impact on the long-term fiscal health of the country.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.