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Why federal funds for the USOEC?went away

Guest op-ed

September 30, 2012
DAN?BENISHEK , The Mining Journal

Like many in northern Michigan, I am saddened to see that speed-skating has been suspended at NMU's Olympic Center. I think NMU and all residents of the Marquette community should be proud of the athletic accomplishments as a result of this facility. The Olympic Center has not only successfully trained many of America's gifted Olympic athletes, but it has also showed the nation the type of quality education that we offer in Northern Michigan.

In response to the recent editorial regarding the US Olympic Training Center at Northern Michigan University, I want to take a moment and correct the record as to why federal funding for the program has ceased.

My goal is to always have an honest conversation with my constituents about where I stand on issues and the votes I have taken. As a lifelong Yooper, I know that people in the Upper Peninsula expect and deserve straight-talk from their elected leaders. While I believe the Olympic Center at NMU is a very worthwhile program, a ban on congressional earmarks and the massive federal debt has halted federal funding for this initiative.

The notion that I refused to fight for the training center is factually incorrect. When I learned early last year that this funding would be ending, I fought to help NMU's training center pursue raising money through other means. Given the strong local support for this program, I have been hopeful we can find a way to support these student athletes without using taxpayer funding. In fact, in March of 2011, I wrote to members of the U.S. Olympic Committee asking them whether they would allow NMU to use the iconic Olympic ring logo for fundraising efforts by NMU and the Marquette area.

While it is convenient that some "didn't see the scholarship as an earmark," the B.J. Stupak scholarship in fact was a specialized grant for a specific congressional district and fits the new definition of an earmark. I believe the scholarship has worthy goals, but unfortunately Congressional funding is no longer an option.

The new rules in Congress are clear: there are no earmarks. Period. This was an agreement reached in 2011 by the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democrat-led Senate. President Obama even stated in his first State of the Union address that he would veto any legislation containing earmarks.

Both President Bush and President Obama recommended eliminating funding for the B.J. Stupak Scholarship in their federal budgets. In his 2011 budget proposal, President Obama labeled the scholarship as not performing and noted that it "duplicates" the work of other initiatives because it provides government assistance to those eligible for vast amounts of other educational financial aid.

The situation with the Olympic Center is symptomatic of our federal government's serious financial problems. Over the past several decades, both political parties have been poor stewards of America's finances and today we have over $16 trillion in debt. Right now, the federal government borrows $.40 cents of every dollar it spends. That is unsustainable. Unless we make serious spending reductions now, our nation will continue down a path toward complete bankruptcy.

Ultimately, the debate over controlling the federal government's excessive borrowing and spending is about jobs and the economy. Record federal deficits have paralyzed the job market and are drowning out hope of realizing real private sector growth. Job providers across Northern Michigan have been telling me that they are reluctant to hire new employees because they fear these record deficits are going to lead to higher taxes. With unemployment in Northern Michigan even higher than the national average, I believe it is imperative to support policies that will create jobs and get this economy moving again.

I know my stance on earmarks may not be the politically easy position, but I still firmly believe it's the right stance. I believe a majority of northern Michigan's citizens chose me to be their voice in Congress in order to make the tough decisions to get this country back on track and give our kids a shot at the American Dream. That has been my goal since coming to office, and that will remain my focus.

Editor's note: Dan Benishek, a general surgeon from Iron Mountain, is serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives.



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