Hultgren speaks on Fermilab, health care

GENEVA – Randy Hultgren says he's a fan of the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory, but the U.S. congressman says at least some cuts probably can't be avoided.

The Republican representative of the 14th District did say that House Republicans' proposed 20 percent budget cuts to the Office of Science might be too severe.

Hultgren (R-Winfield), spoke Tuesday morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Batavia Chamber of Commerce and Batavia MainStreet at Eagle Brook Country Club in Geneva. Hultgren touched on a variety of topics, including Congress' recent 90-hour work week, the recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the health care debate.

But with the proposed budget cuts to the Office of Science coming last week, and with Fermilab Director Pier Oddone warning last week that those cuts would result in 400 layoffs – 20 percent of the staff – the subject of the Batavia laboratory came up quickly. It was the first question Hultgren faced.

"I'm such a fan of Fermilab," Hultgren said. "This is a struggle I've got. It doesn't work for me to say, 'Cut everybody else's, but don't cut mine.' It just doesn't work. So what I think we have to say is if you have to make cuts, make them as painless as possible. I think 20 percent is too much. Maybe 5 percent? That's my challenge."

Hultgren said he will fight to "make sure that Fermilab is going to be vibrant for years to come." Hultgren serves on the Space, Science and Technology Committee.

"Let's be fair about it," he said. "Let's be reasonable. Don't take an ax to something. They're doing great work at Fermilab."

Hultgren said he was feeling upbeat about the future after Congress worked through 90 hours of debate last week, seeking answers on government funding.

"We are ready to work," Hultgren said. "We put in a 90-hour week last week. I know a lot of you put in 90-hour weeks with your businesses; Congress hasn't put in many 90-hour weeks."

The first week as a U.S. congressman was busy, he said. His first words spoken on the House floor were a part of the U.S. Constitution, which he called "a great privilege." But also happening early in his term was the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. That it happened at a public appearance was something that affected many, Hultgren said. But he said it did not affect his commitment to be available to the public.

"I want to be out there meeting people as much as I possibly can," he said. "And that's not going to change."

On health care, Hultgren said it's not difficult to see that there is a problem with the health care system. The difficult part is making sure we don't "destroy a system where we have the ability to see the doctor we want to see, to be able to be seen quickly, not to have to wait in line for three, four or five months.

"The problem is how much it costs, and that affects so many other things."