He joined the House United Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of 28 freshmen that purports to focus on long-term solutions and building relationships between parties. He aligned himself with No Labels, a social-welfare advocacy organization that supports filibuster reform and making Congress work in a more business-like, responsive manner.
He said he’s been spending time getting to know his colleagues across the aisle, and even took a Republican “date” — Tim Griffin of Arkansas — to this year’s State of the Union address.
And yet, less than four months into the job, Peters has already had a low point — a moment he described as “exasperation,” to a few dozen who at-tended a Town Hall gathering April 27 at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge.
Earlier this month when the House was deliberating the six different budgets on the floor, Peters said he realized not one of the options had any bipartisan support. To send a message, he rallied his fellow freshmen to vote against all six budgets.
“We all got the message from the 2012 election that the point is to solve problems,” Peters said. “We don’t want to fight last year’s battles. We want (the congressional leadership) to sit down and come up with a budget that really makes compromises and provides a balanced approach to getting our long-term budget under control.”
The result? Thirty freshmen joined Peters in voting no — but not one was a Republican. His take-away? Fighting the good fight is the right way to go, he said, but it’s not going to be easy.
“We’re having trouble getting our Republican colleagues to pull away from their fear of the Tea Party,” Peters said. “I can deal with Republicans. I can’t deal with extremists.”
As a result, the budget process is at a standstill and, to date, Republican House Speaker John Boehner hasn’t appointed anyone to negotiate with the Senate to reach an agreement, Peters said.
“It’s been so locked up by politics. What we need is someone who’s willing to take a bipartisan approach, a problem-solving approach,” Peters said.
To that end, Peters said he refuses to take the Grayson-Takano pledge to oppose “every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits.”
He also took heat from several audience members for his position that means testing for those programs should be on the table.
“It is a priority of mine to save Social Security and Medicare for those who need it. But would I pledge never to change it? I think signing pledges is not the way to create a debate,” Peters said.
He’s also “not a big fan” of using the chained consumer price index to calculate cost-of-living increases in entitlement programs, “but President Obama bringing it up as a way to meet Republicans in the middle — I commend him for that,” Peters said.
Peters was enthusiastic about his committee assignments and expressed hope for protecting investments in basic research and fighting climate change.
He said his seat on the Science, Space and Technology Committee will help support research clusters in San Diego.
“That’s not just important for San Diego, it’s important for America,” he said.
As chairman of the Climate Task Force of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, Peters said he’ll pursue measures that can reduce short-term greenhouse gases like methane — steps that won’t provoke politically charged debates involving energy use. One example might be regulating natural gas wells and fracking to reduce methane leaks, he said.
Peters said he doesn’t dispute the reality of man-made climate change.
“Even if there were uncertainty, it pays to be prudent, like your mom told you. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said.
In response to a question, Peters described himself as “not a fan” of the Keystone pipeline, but added the debate is somewhat “overhyped on both sides.”
Other questions from the audience ran the gamut. One citizen asked Peters to defend his stand on the unsuccessful Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in which Peters split from privacy-rights advocates and joined House Republicans in supporting.
Another asked Peters about his relationship with Bob Filner, who became San Diego mayor with Peters’ endorsement.
“I would suggest he get out of his own way and let things happen. There are a lot of other people who can lead his efforts,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he admires Filner’s courage and continues to support him.
“He can be cantankerous. But one thing about Bob — you never have to guess what he’s thinking,” Peters said.