SALT LAKE CITY — A standing ovation greeted Rep. Chris Stewart's visit to the Utah House on Friday, during which the state's freshman congressman decried gridlock in Washington, D.C., and praised states' rights.
"I want you to know that I am a federalist, that I believe in this idea of federalism, that I believe in this concept that our problems are almost always resolved at the state or local level," the Republican representative said.
Like many in the Utah Legislature, Stewart said he looks at the federal government with suspicion. He acknowledged that some people may see him, in his position as a U.S. congressman, as part of the nation's problems, but he added that he hopes state lawmakers view him as an ally and someone they can approach for help.
Stewart also praised the work of Utah's leadership, saying the state remains on good footing despite challenges facing the country at large. He said Utah is a leader in the country for economic and job development, as well as innovation in government.
"I am, like many of you, deeply concerned for the future of our nation," Stewart said. "I am deeply concerned for the state of our union, but I am not concerned at all for the state of Utah."
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said Utah's lawmakers feel the state has the ability and heritage to excel, but they often feel their hands are tied by the action, or inaction, of the federal government.
Referring to the sequestration, a package of national spending cuts that has been tentatively delayed by Congress, threatening a large portion of state funding, Ivory asked Stewart what Utah's leaders can do to help the federal delegation in their efforts to reach funding compromises.
"Sometimes we feel like the freest horse in the glue factory," Ivory said of the Utah government. "We can't even do a budget right now."
Stewart said state lawmakers simply can't count on the federal government to be the partner they want. But he said he's hopeful that Republicans' decision to use the threat of sequestration will convince Democrats to agree to spending cuts.
On the subject of spending, Stewart said pushing for reforms of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and cuts to defense spending is the main reason he ran for Congress. He also said he's optimistic a consensus can be reached on entitlement reform, saying the people who have resisted cuts to those programs are beginning to realize that reform is preferable to bankruptcy.
"There are ways of reforming Social Security that most Americans would support. There are ways to save Medicare," Stewart said. "What is compassionate about allowing them to go bankrupt? Where is the compassion in allowing these programs to fail?"
Stewart said he and other freshman congressman are working to build relationships across the aisle. He said he has seen consensus on some issues beginning to form, but he added that certain ideological differences will always exist.
"I'm not 'Alice in Wonderland.' I know there are principles we have to stand firm on," Stewart said. "It's not like we all suddenly hold hands and agree on everything."
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