Regarding Higgins' visit to Ireland in association with the peace talks, Higgins stated on his congressional website on January 20, 2006:
- I was honored to represent the United States at this important moment in the Irish peace process. My colleagues and I went to Ireland and the United Kingdom to focus international intention on the stalled negotiations and to build momentum for the fulfillment of the Good Friday Accords. While we met with leaders from different nationalities, political parties, and religious faiths, each discussion was filled with hope and the common belief that lasting peace can finally reach all residents of Northern Ireland.
Higgins graduated from Buffalo State College with a B.A. in political science in 1984. He later received an M.A. in history from Buffalo State College in 1995, and an M.P.A. from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1996. Higgins has also instructed courses on state and local government, and the economic history of Buffalo and Western New York, in the departments of history and economics at Buffalo State College. Further, he served as the 145th District representative to the New York State Assembly from 1999 through 2004.
Jack Quinn, a moderate Republican who had represented the heavily Democratic 27th since 1993, unexpectedly announced his retirement in 2004. In April 2004, Higgins entered the race, and narrowly defeated then-Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples. Even after redistricting following the 2000 census, the district was made slightly friendlier for Quinn (in part, by adding mostly rural Chautauqua County), but was still at the time the most Democratic district in the country to be represented by a Republican. The district has since reverted to form, and Higgins has been reelected three times without serious difficulty, never dropping below 60 percent of the vote. He easily dispatched his 2008 and 2010 opponents even after they posted six-figure fundraising numbers. In both 2006 and 2008, Higgins garnered more than 70% of the vote.
While serving in the New York State Assembly from 1999 to 2004, Higgins consistently voted pro-life. Since running for Congress in 2004, Higgins identifies himself as pro-choice. In 2006, Higgins was given a rating of 9% by the NRLC, which indicates a pro-choice stance. Higgins received a score of 100% (a perfect score) from Planned Parenthood in 2012 and from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2011.
In 2006, Higgins and Congressmen James T. Walsh and Tim Murphy met with several government Leaders in Ireland in which there was a confirmation announcement of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) weapons decommissioning. Government Leaders with whom the three congressmen met included Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain, US Ambassador to Ireland James C. Kenny, US Ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert H. Tuttle, and the leadership of each of the main political parties involved in the process for peace.
In 2007, Higgins reportedly played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in saving St. Joseph's Hospital in Cheektowaga from closure as proposed by the New York State Commission on Health Facilities in the 21st Century. For 2007, Higgins received an "A+" on the 2007 Congressional Scorecard on middle-class issues from the Drum Major Institute, which describes itself as "providing the ideas that fuel the progressive movement."
In December 2008, after only two terms in the House of Representatives, Higgins secured a spot on the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, considered to be one of the most important and powerful committees in Congress due to its wide jurisdiction. Higgins was subsequently appointed to serve on the Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, as well as its subcommittee on Oversight. Since the GOP takeover of the House following the 2010 midterm election, Higgins left the Ways and Means Committee (while maintaining a right to return) and became a member of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the United States House Committee on Homeland Security. On the latter, Higgins quickly rose to the position of Ranking Member of the United States House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Higgins was named by several media outlets as one of the leading candidates to replace Hillary Clinton in the United States Senate after she became Secretary of State in an Obama Administration. He was one of six candidates on New York Governor David Paterson's "short list" for the position; a Web poll conducted by WKBW-TV showed 75% of respondents on the station's website would support Higgins being nominated. In the end, Paterson instead appointed Hudson Valley Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand. On January 31, 2009, Higgins led a delegation of Western New York elected Leaders in welcoming Gillibrand to the region, moderating an economic roundtable discussion held at the Bioinformatics Center of Excellence, located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
In 2010, Higgins, along with many other congressional members, sent a letter to President Barack Obama encouraging him to keep social security, and make it stronger, saying “We write today to express our strong support for Social Security and our view that it should be strengthened. We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part...cutting Social Security benefits beyond the already scheduled increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create even more needless hardship for millions of vulnerable Americans.” This was in response to President Obama giving the task of cutting government spending to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, on October 15, 2010. The letter also stressed that Social Security is “prohibited by law from adding to the national budget deficit.”
Higgins has received financial contributions for his campaigns from many Business executives in Western New York throughout his tenure in Congress. In 2012, Higgins' re-election committee raised more than $1,000,000, with approximately 2/3 of that amount coming from individual donors, representing major businesses in Western New York.
It was reported that Higgins was “proposing something unprecedented in this era of $1.3 trillion annual deficits: a $1.25 trillion, five-year plan to rebuild the nation's roads, bridges, railroads, ports and airports.” Higgins' congressional website states the monetary figure as $1.2 trillion for these endeavors. The bill, entitled the Nation Building Here at Home Act and based on research by the New America Foundation, would cost significantly more than President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package. Higgins said that he wants to rebuild the US "as we've rebuilt other countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – in recent years." He also stated that it is not a stimulus bill, but a "nation-building bill."
Higgins strongly believes in a national Health care program, with a “public option,” a plan in which the government provides Health care which would compete with other businesses’ plans. A letter written by a group of representatives to Senator Harry Reid, who was then the Senate Majority Leader, which Higgins signed stated, “As the Senate continues to work on health reform legislation, we strongly urge you to consider including a public option." The American Public Health Association gave Higgins a perfect rating of 100% in 2009.