In a year when all eyes are on the wild and wacky race for the White House, Congressman Daniel Webster believes — or at least hopes — changes are afoot in Congress that could be as meaningful to the future of the nation as who occupies the Oval Office next January. Webster, who made a bid to unseat John Boehner as Speaker of the House last year, said the man who beat him out, Paul Ryan, could be on the path to returning congressional power to its members and taking the nation's most important decision-making out of the hands of a handful of power brokers.
In an interview Wednesday at the Daily Commercial, Webster said he ran for Speaker because the vast majority of Congress had become voiceless in the decision-making process. It was the leaders of Congress who were calling all the shots, he said, and he wanted to instill a philosophy of "principle over power" in Washington.
Webster said important bills would be introduced in committee, where they seemed to sit neglected before suddenly and mysteriously emerging on the House floor with little debate, no amendments and little analysis. Then, House members would be forced to vote yes or no on bills with which they were largely unfamiliar.
Webster said he helped fix a similar problem when he was a member of the Florida Legislature from 1980 to 2008.
Webster was close to getting the nod for Speaker, but a vote on his selection was postponed, opening the door for another Republican faction to draft Ryan. Ryan's popularity, driven in part by his run for vice president eight years ago, carried him to the Speaker's chair.
Webster is rooting for him. "Let's say I have high hopes and low expectations. I have low expectations because I have to see something different than we've seen."
Webster, now in his sixth year in the House, covered an array of other subjects in his free-ranging interview with the paper. Among those:
- Webster, who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has become a key person in acquiring transportation dollars for Florida. The Transportation Bill passed in late 2015 by Congress included an additional $900 million in funding for the state, including money for major road projects and funding to dredge ports throughout Florida for larger cargo ships coming in from the expanded Panama Canal.
- Webster was proud of his role in securing a federal TIFIA loan to help the Florida Department of Transportation get rolling on the Wekiva Parkway project in east Lake County.
- He noted that there has been progress in fixing the wait times and bureaucratic problems that plagued Veterans Administration hospitals around the nation. He said the VA provides excellent care for veterans with traumatic or unique combat injuries but struggles with basic, primary healthcare.
- Like many political watchers, Webster was astounded that Donald Trump managed to vault to the head of a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates by defying all conventional wisdom about running a national campaign. Trump was sarcastic, picked fights, scowled at times and did other things that candidates are told don't work. In hindsight, however, Trump's popularity is not a mystery at all, he said. "I think (voters) would like to see him go in and say, 'You're fired' to the federal government," Webster said. "People are angry and they want to see things blown up and start over."