SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Monday there needs to be a better balance of power between states and Washington, D.C.
"We're still trying to push this idea of federalism. The more we can have decisions being made by you, the better off we will be," Bishop told the Utah Senate during his annual address to lawmakers, pointing to efforts that are already underway.
Those include bringing federal agencies closer to the people they serve, as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has proposed with the Bureau of Land Management, he said.
In his meeting with House Republicans, Bishop said states have to be diligent and find any way possible to fight federal encroachment, including legislatively and through the courts.
"Eventually, we're gonna win," he said.
Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, has talked about moving the Interior Department's decision-making to the West, including the BLM, as part of a reorganization.
Bishop said relocating the agencies will take action by Congress.
"It's the right path. It's the right start," he said. "What (Zinke) is attempting to do is making sure the agencies are actually communicating with people who are served, which is what it's supposed to be all about in the first place."
Bishop said he is "glad we've got someone who's finally creative enough to say, 'Let's do something different than the way that we've been doing it,' because it ain't working."
The chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Bishop also praised Zinke's efforts to streamline the permitting process for oil and gas drilling but said states have a role to play.
He said his committee will deal with speeding up the process and an energy bill coming up will "let the states actually do the paperwork. They can do it much more effectively and much more efficiently and have a greater say in what's going on."
Bishop, whose district includes Hill Air Force Base and other military installations, said he is happy Congress finally dealt with significant issues surrounding military funding.
Last week, a $300 billion, two-year bipartisan budget pact was approved that boosts defense spending by $165 billion. President Donald Trump's $4.4 trillion budget unveiled Monday includes a record $686 billion for the Pentagon.
"We've gone through the last decade, four military cuts, two manpower cuts. We truly were in a serious situation," Bishop said, citing what he has heard in classified briefings.
"I can't tell you the details, but it scares me," he said, describing the Air Force as down 2,000 pilots and 8,000 maintenance workers from the minimum needed. "For the first time we have started on a path to redirect that."
Bishop told House Republicans that the federal government would have had a "great and dire" problem maintaining the military and backing up the country's foreign policy without more money.17 comments on this story
There was a brief back-and-forth between Bishop and Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, over the growing federal deficit. Bishop said the deficit "doesn't have to look that bad" because some authorized spending may not occur.
He said federalism is the solution to concerns about the deficit, estimated to increase to more than $7 trillion in the coming years, because more money would stay in the states.
"We don't take it in the first place. You keep it. You can spend it better. You have better priorities," Bishop said. "Keep your responsibility, keep the money and do the job."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy