By Rep. Steve Austria
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives concluded its legislative business for the year with the passage of several measures, including a funding bill for the Department of Defense and short-term extensions for the Patriot Act, as well as two major spending bills, increasing our nation’s debt limit by $290 billion to $12.39 trillion and a second stimulus bill, with new spending of over $150 billion. As I have commented on in the past, I continue to have serious concerns about the outrageous amount of government spending and will continue to oppose those irresponsible policies, which have a negative impact on our economy.
Please see below for a summary of the major policy issues considered by Congress this year.
As we began 2009 with a new administration and a new Democratic Congress, a number of spending bills were brought forward including the second half of a $700 billion “bailout” bill, a $787 billion “stimulus” or government spending bill, $410 billion omnibus bill that included over 9,000 earmarks and a $3.5 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget resolution. These massive spending bills have created historical amounts of debt and have only expanded the size and scope of government. This borrow and spend approach has hurt our economy this year and will burden future generations with an insurmountable amount of debt.
With unemployment at the highest levels in recent decades and during these difficult economic times, it is important that we devote our efforts to strategies that promote new investment opportunities, stimulate job growth and strengthen economic development. Congress must be better focused on helping small businesses create and sustain jobs to strengthen our economy. I recently appointed a new Blue Ribbon Commission to review and better understand the contracting process at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). This commission will work on ways for our region to support WPAFB and set up a “best business model” to help companies in our region secure and create more private sector jobs that can be sustained for years to come. I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead in the new year to strengthen economic growth and make our area more competitive nationally.
New Energy/ Climate Change Policies
Last summer, the House passed a climate change bill, establishing a national cap and trade system, which essentially amounts to a new energy tax. I have expressed serious concerns with the house-passed bill that amounts to a new $629 billion tax, negatively impacting Ohio businesses, including manufacturing and farming, resulting in more job losses. The mandates under the bill will essentially pick winners and losers among the states. States, like Ohio, that produce and use more carbon-based energy, such as coal, will be hit hardest with cap and trade, while states such as California and New Jersey will receive more favorable treatment under this bill.
Nearly 90 percent of Ohio’s energy comes from coal. Every Ohio household and business that uses electricity, heats their home with natural gas or fills their automobiles with gasoline will have an increase in energy costs and gas prices to pay for this climate change legislation. That is too much to ask of our families during these difficult economic times with unemployment at its highest level in years.
We all want clean air and increased use of renewable energy; however, we need to accomplish this goal in a responsible manner. There is a better way to achieve this goal than the bill that was passed by the House. I support an alternative plan that would promote new, clean and reliable sources of energy by having less reliance on foreign oil and begin using domestic alternative energy such as solar, wind and nuclear energy and continuing to expand new technologies such as clean coal. The alternative plan moves our nation forward using more clean energy without costing Ohio jobs and imposing a new energy tax on families and small businesses.
With the health care debate dominating the Senate’s schedule, they were unable to consider climate change legislation this year; however, they may address the issue in the new year.
Health Care Reform
In November, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3962, often referred to as Speaker Pelosi’s 2000 page health care reform bill, by a vote of 220 to 215. I voted “no” on this legislation because of its $1 trillion price tag with major cuts to the Medicare and Medicare Advantage program. Also, the likelihood that many Americans who are satisfied with their current health insurance could face significantly higher premiums as a result of the federal mandates included in this bill. This bill also imposes over $720 billion of taxes on families and small businesses.
We must enact policies that improve our health care by lowering costs, making health care coverage more affordable and accessible and protecting the doctor-patient relationship. I have consistently advocated for a common-sense approach that includes medical malpractice reform, allowing individuals to purchase health care coverage across state lines, allowing businesses and communities to pool insurance nationally, and expanding the use of health savings accounts (HSAs). This year, I introduced a bill, the Health Savings and Affordability (HSA) Act, which would empower more Americans to take ownership over their health care by expanding tax free Health Savings Accounts and making health insurance tax deductible for everyone.
We must work in a bipartisan manner to reduce costs, improve the quality of care and expand access. That is why this year I also formed a district-wide health care advisory committee made up of doctors, nurses, hospitals, small businesses, insurers and other leaders from our local community. My father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse. We must protect our doctor-patient relationship and allow you and your doctor to choose what treatment is best for you and your family, not the government.
On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed its health care reform bill, H.R. 3590, by a vote of 60 to 39. The House and Senate must now reach a compromise on the many differences between the two bills, and vote again on the new version. As the health care debate continues, I encourage you to contact your elected officials and express your views regarding this important issue.