Issues for Congress
In Washington, our highest priority has to be putting Americans back to work. Regrettably, the policies being pursued by the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives threaten to take us in the wrong direction. We need to build a new clean energy economy, but they have launched an assault on the science of climate change. We need investments that put Americans to work repairing our aging infrastructure and extending broadband coverage, but they propose severe cuts in programs that benefit all Americans. The new health reform law improves health coverage and lowers costs, but they are fixated on the repeal of this landmark achievement.
We face very serious and difficult issues. I want to work with the Republicans to strengthen our economy and create jobs – not engage in endless fights over old battles like the science of global warming and fixing our health care system.
These are my priorities for the next two years:
Maintaining a Commitment to Clean Energy
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that our country faced a “Sputnik moment” – a time of challenge and opportunity. The President said:
“We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”
Instead of joining with the President in this essential investment in our future, the new Republican majority in the House disputes the value of clean energy. Rep. Fred Upton, the new Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator James Inhofe have introduced legislation that would roll back the Clean Air Act and block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating dangerous carbon emissions from power plants, oil refineries, and other large polluters. The underlying premise of the Upton-Inhofe bill is that climate change is a hoax, so investments in cleaner energy are unnecessary.
There is an obvious problem with this approach. While the new Republican majority now has a lot of power to write our nation’s laws, it does not have the power to rewrite the laws of nature.
The legislation would overturn EPA’s scientific finding that carbon pollution endangers public health and welfare. That won’t stop carbon pollution from building up in the atmosphere. It won’t stop the droughts and floods that are spreading like an epidemic across the globe. It won’t protect the air quality of our cities when summer temperatures soar to record levels. And it won’t stop the strange weather patterns that have locked much of our nation in a deep freeze this winter.
The Upton-Inhofe legislation is called the “Energy Tax Prevention Act.” This title is nonsense because EPA has no authority to levy energy taxes. What this bill should be called is the “Big Polluter Protection Act.” The only beneficiaries of this legislation are the nation’s largest polluters. The biggest backer of this bill is Koch Industries, an oil company that spent millions of dollars to elect Republicans to Congress.
History will not judge this Congress kindly if we become the last bastion of the polluter and the science-denier. If carbon emissions rise to record levels and our weather system goes haywire, the American people will ask why we failed in our obligation to build a new clean energy future while there is still time.
I hope we will be able to tell them that we stood up for science and public health and rejected this extreme proposal.
Getting Our Budget and Spending Priorities Right
There is a similar disconnect over budget and spending priorities. As President Obama has said, we need to make intelligent reduction in spending and invest those savings in what we need to spur job growth and win the future. Instead, we are now facing Draconian budget cuts proposed by the Republicans in the House: $100 billion in cuts over the last 7 months of the current fiscal year that ends this October. Hundreds of programs are affected. Clean energy research and energy conservation retrofits are cut. Federal funding for public broadcasting is terminated. Homeland security programs are slashed. Medical research at the National Institutes of Health is sharply curtailed.
Yes, we need an intelligent plan for long term management of the federal deficit. But cutting into the bone of programs needed today by millions of Americans will do nothing to address the real challenges we face.
Protecting The New Health Care Reform Law
Nothing exemplifies my commitment to meeting long-term challenges than the new health reform law. I am very proud of what we did to end the abusive practices of health insurers, and to extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans.
Millions of Americans are already benefitting from this legislation: insurers have stopped discriminating against sick children; seniors are saving money on prescription drugs; and small businesses are receiving billions of dollars in tax credits to provide health care coverage.
Repeal will roll back these benefits.
The repeal bill reminds me of the story of Robin Hood – but in reverse. Repeal will take essential health benefits from millions of struggling American families and give new powers and profits to the insurance companies.
If we repeal health reform, there will be:
• No prohibition on discrimination against over 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions;
• No prohibition on insurance companies cancelling your coverage when you get sick;
• No prohibition on lifetime caps and annual limits;
• No required coverage for young adults on their parents’ policies;
• No assistance to seniors struggling to afford the cost of drugs in the donut hole;
• No free annual check-ups and preventive care in Medicare;
• No tax credits for families and small businesses to pay for health insurance.
These changes will affect everyone. In the district I represent, repeal would mean over 50,000 constituents would lose protections against rescissions. Over 100,000 residents of the 30th congressional district would be vulnerable to denials of coverage by insurance companies, including at least 6,000 children with pre-existing conditions. More than 11,700 seniors in my district now in the “donut hole” for prescription drugs would see higher costs for their medications. Up to 15,000 small businesses will lose eligibility for the health insurance policy tax credit they can receive today.
And these aren’t just statistics. Behind every number is a real person with real problems like diabetes or breast cancer or a child with special needs.
Repeal would be a boon for insurance companies, but an enormous setback for American families. If repealed, the insurance companies can raise their rates, discriminate against millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, and they can cut off coverage when someone becomes sick.
There are many reasons to oppose repeal. It will cut the deficit by curbing the growth of health care costs, saving taxpayers over a trillion dollars.
But the most important reason to oppose repeal is that repeal of health reform is repeal of the patients’ bill of rights.
Our Choices and Our Future
Political rhetoric and infighting won’t solve the real problems we face, and the courageous choices we need to make. I want to build on what we have achieved over the past two years, and continue to work toward addressing issues, like clean energy and jobs and smart budgeting, that are critical to our future. I am honored to represent the 30th Congressional District, and thank the Beverly Hills Weekly for this opportunity to present my views to your readers.
Congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) represents California’s 30th district, which includes Beverly Hills, and is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.