WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep.-elect Steve Palazzo, R-Biloxi, is excited to be part of the historic GOP class of 2010 -- 83 strong -- that shares a tremendous bond: “Everybody ran on jobs, the economy and out-of-control government spending,” he said.
Many ran against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. -- as Palazzo did. But now, said the National Guardsman and former Mississippi House member, a self-described “citizen-soldier,” “it’s time to put aside partisan bickering.” The Democrat he beat -- U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor -- however, hasn’t spoken to him, although their staffs are in contact.
In Washington for the week of the lame duck Congress for orientation, Palazzo and the other frosh are being toasted, feted and warmly greeted by Republicans thrilled to have gotten back the U.S. House majority. “It’s just been wonderful,” Palazzo said. “Everybody’s been hospitable.”
Orientation has been a dizzying experience, said Palazzo, who took time out to talk about learning the ropes over a cup of coffee in a U.S. Capitol coffee shop. He’s already voted on the new GOP leaders, for a moratorium on earmarks, lobbied for his committee assignments -- House Armed Services is at the top of the list -- and gone to sessions to learn how to set up an office and hire staff.
It’s a maze up there
Generally, he’s still learning his way around the maze of buildings, hallways and tunnels. “Marines don’t get lost,” he said with a grin. “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”
Friday, he’ll be in the office lottery to find out where his suite for Mississippi’s 4th District will be.
But more than where he’s going to be hanging out, Palazzo is concerned with getting his preferred committee.
“My decision was to forgo trying for class president or steering committee and focus on Armed Services,” said Palazzo, referring to new openings GOP leaders made for the huge frosh class -- 63 of whom, including Palazzo, won previously Democratic seats.
“The Armed Services Committee is extremely important for me because we have a lot of installations in South Mississippi, and military-related industries and active-duty and retired military in the district,” he said. Palazzo has spoken with the GOP leaders, the incoming chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and the regional representative for the South, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who sits on the GOP Steering Committee, which will allocate slots.
The committee assignments will be made in the coming weeks, with Palazzo also seeking a spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Trying to fix insurance
Asked about insurance, an issue that has dominated the post-Katrina recovery on the Mississippi Coast, Palazzo said, “I’m going to work extremely hard on a bill with a public/private component to solve the insurance crisis.” The goal: “Affordable and available insurance.”
Palazzo also wants to follow through on issues he campaigned on -- making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent and repealing the Obama administration’s health-care law.
Palazzo, who was accompanied on his Washington trip by his wife, Lisa, has already decided his family will stay in Biloxi and he will rent a place near the Capitol.
“I want to see my family, and my district wants to see me, too,” he said. “My family’s my anchor. I’m going to see my anchor in my district.”
Let it snow, let it snow
As for the Washington lifestyle, he said he is looking forward to the change of seasons, instead of the two in Mississippi -- “hot and hotter.”
“I am looking forward to the snow,” he said. “I am not looking forward to eating the seafood.”
There are lunches and dinners and cocktails celebrating the freshmen -- and in between meetings, little time for anything else.
All the celebrations have taken a bit of a toll, said Palazzo, who said he’s gained 10 pounds since Election Day on Nov. 2, after having lost 30 pounds during the campaign.
“The freshman 15 isn’t just for college,” said the incoming lawmaker. “It’s also for freshmen in Congress.”