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Dec 11, 2014 1:37 PM

Paul Steinhauser: Kuster says veterans bill biggest achievement; talks 2016

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

WASHINGTON D.C. - Looking back at her first two years in Congress, Rep. Annie Kuster lists passing a veterans reform bill as among her biggest achievements.

"It's a major reform actually using some of the issues that we had resolved in New Hampshire working on access to health care for our veterans. It entails giving access through not just the Veterans Administration and hospitals and clinics but through private organizations and reimbursement. So I'm very proud, we did a pilot project in Concord Hospital with our veterans, and I'm very proud that this has been adapted across the country," said Kuster, a first-term Democrat who represents the Granite State's 2nd Congressional District, and who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"Obviously we've got a lot to do in the Veterans Committee on oversight, making sure that we don't have another situation like the one out in Phoenix. But I'm also very excited that at we added two new veterans' health care clinics in my district, in Colebrook and in Berlin, and I'm going to continue to work very hard for our veterans," added Kuster, in an interview in her Capitol Hill office with NH1.

Kuster lists the gridlock in the nation's capital as her biggest disappointment.

"I think this has been described as one of the worst Congress sessions every because of the gridlock. There's a lot of work that needs to be done on creating jobs and moving our economy forward. I want to work on making college more affordable for our hard working middle class families in New Hampshire and I want to continue to support our veterans and our seniors. And what I worry about is that because of the gridlock, because of the partisanship, it's very difficult to move legislation forward," Kuster said.

Kuster is part of a group called United Solutions, which she says is "a bipartisan group of freshman, now we'll be sophomore members, and we'll be inviting the new members to join us, and hope to continue to build just good will and the ability to find common ground. I'm not abandoning my principles or my values but I do think we need to come together and create relationships across the aisle and look for common ground where we can find it to move the country forward."

Less gridlock in 2015?

Kuster, who helped create the group last year, hosted a year end meeting on Thursday. She hopes that there will be more bipartisan efforts next year.

"Look, I'm an optimist. I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't. I feel very very strongly that we can find common ground," Kuster added. "I'm hoping that we will be able to find common ground on bills like infrastructure development. The business community constantly comes to me and says we need better highways, better roads, and I'm going to be working on bringing rail to Nashua, New Hampshire. These are issues that we can all agree on. They're business issues, but they're jobs. Unions want these projects to go forward. People need high paying jobs and infrastructure is a great place to start. And frankly I think it's completely bipartisan."

Kuster won re-election last month, beating GOP challenger Marilinda Garcia, a state representative, by 10 percentage points. But New Hampshire's other House member, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, narrowly lost to her Republican challenger, former congressman Frank Guinta.

Kuster says she can work with Guinta.

"I've spoken with Frank a couple of times, actually we see each other in the airport from time to time, but we've spoken on the phone. We plan to get together early in this session. Look I did great work with Congresswoman Shea-Porter, as well as Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Ayotte. One thing that I'm very proud of: our delegation works very well together across party lines, back and forth between the House and the Senate, and I anticipate that that will continue with Congressman Guinta. I want to look for common ground with him as well," Kuster said.

Laying the tracks for commuter rail

One thing Kuster hopes to push for in the new Congress is expanding commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and possibly all the way up to Concord.

"I think the important thing in my role in all of this is most of the funding comes from the federal government. And frankly New Hampshire taxpayers are sending their taxes to Washington and they're going to projects all over the country. I want to make sure that this major economic development project, frankly for the whole state, continues to move forward." Kuster said.

"I do know that this will create economic growth. That there's a lot of support for this, particularly in the southern part of my district, but all the way up through to Concord, Kuster added. "I just truly believe that anything that we can do to grow the economy, bring good jobs to New Hampshire and frankly help young people who want to live in New Hampshire but maybe work down in the Boston area, to help families with two workers who've got a lot of decisions to make, to be able to choose New Hampshire as a great place to live and raise their family."

2016 plans

Even though the 2014 elections are barely in the rear-view mirror, there's already a lot of speculation about 2016. But asked about whether she'll run for re-election in 2016, or possibly statewide office, Kuster said her job now is to do her job.

"It's a tremendous honor to serve the people of New Hampshire in Washington in the US House. I'm really proud of the work we're doing here. I've put together a strong team. I intend to stay focused on that. There's going to be a lot of time for politics, the presidential, the senate, I'm going to keep my head down, get the job done and demonstrate to the voters that I have their interest at heart and I'm willing to work very very hard, and that's my goal."

But Kuster added that "there's a lot up in the air about 2016 and I know that I just want to be a part of moving the state forward, being responsive to constituents and really fighting for their interests."

As for that other election in 2016, the race for the White House, Kuster says she hasn't backed anyone yet for the Democratic nomination. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who would be the overwhelming front runner if she launches a campaign, which seems very likely, has lots of support in New Hampshire.

But Kuster said "I haven't made a decision. I'm continuing to talk with everyone who might be interested. I see my role as sort of an ambassador to the New Hampshire primary and just truly wanting to encourage candidates to come to New Hampshire."


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