Thursday afternoon in an interview with the Herald, Congressman Frank Lucas addressed issues of health care, the present economy and possibility of a second stimulus package, and the controversial Waxman-Markey energy bill, which passed in the house.
“The National Health Care Proposal is the single highest priority in the Obama administration,” Lucas said. “They’re going to put a lot of effort into this.”
Senator Kennedy’s Massachusets bill is being used as a model, Lucas said.
“It appears the attitude has been to put the bill to regular order (which will take some time).”
Lucas explained that those over 65 have Medicare; those below a certain income level have Medicaid; those working for the government (national or state level) have their health insurance covered, as those who work for a large company or corporation, or are financailly able to purchase their own insurance.
“But the folks who don’t fall in any of those categories are not covered,” Lucas said. “That’s the goal of the bill.”
The proposed cost of the health care plan is right around $1.5 trillion.
“It looks like the question that’s being battled over is ‘how will the coverage be delivered,’” the congressman said.
The options discussed include a Medicaid-type coverage, where the federal government pays the state and the state decides what kind of provider gives the services, and Medicare-type coverage where essentially the government runs the program?
“Which way do we go,” Lucas said. “The more liberal members in congress seem to be demanding a public delivery option. The more conservative seem to be demanding something more along the lines of Medicaid where it’s not delivered as a public option,” he said. “That’s got to be sorted out.”
Lucas said in the town meetings he has, he notices people say they like their hospitals and their doctors, “but in the same breath they’ll tell you, depending where they’re at… it costs too much.”
He also noticed that in the more rural areas the problem is often accessibility. “We can’t get to the kind of doctors we need. We can’t get to the kind of equipment we need.”
“We do have good health care, if you have access to it, in this country,” Lucas said. “I want to make sure we don’t undo the good things we’ve done (with health care).”
He said the legislation process will most likely continue on over into the spring of 2010.
In discussing the $789.5 billion stimulus package (and a promise to provide jobs and decrease unemployment) in February of this year, Lucas said that unemployment is still on the rise. There were 467,000 jobs lost in the month of June alone resulting in a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in the United States. This brings up a question all across the country: “Where did the money go?”
“A lot of it was money spent toward good projects,” Lucas said. “The state, county and municipal road and bridge project was good money well spent. Only now are we having the question raised on accountability.
“I can tell you in the next six months to a year… there’s going to be some embarrassment over how the first round of it (stimulus) was spent,” he said.
“By the first of September, I suspect you’ll begin to see another stimulus package,” Lucas said. “If one spoonful of medicine didn’t do it, I suspect they’ll come at us with two. Don’t be surprised if it’s not at least $1 trillion.
Lucas pointed out the administration’s lack of support of cutting taxes or stimulating growth, which leaves them a limited number of tools. One of those being increase dramatically government spending. “I think that’s where they’re heading,” Lucas said.
The downfall is that by increasing government spending, it is adding to the national debt.
“When the president came into office, the national debt was $11 trillion,” Lucas said. His fear is that if things continue on the way they are, within a few months the debt will be closer to $14 trillion.
Over the past 40 years, China, Japan, South Korea, and the Middle Eastern oil countries have absorbed most of the U.S. debt.
“But they’re having a tough time too, and that’s one of the things that causes a lot of us to be more concerned above and beyond the normal concern we have about adding to the long-term debt,” the congressman said.
If other countries won’t cover future IOU’s caused by stimulus money at the present interest rate, the U.S. may be forced to pay a much higher rate of interest.
If push comes to shove, and U.S. interest rates rise, it will ultimately cause a rise in rates for homes, credit cards, banks and other daily operations that affect communities on a more personal basis, Lucas said.
“I’m an optimist and I think we can work our way through this,” he said. However, the months ahead may prove to produce many obstacles.
Recently the House passed the Waxman-Markey energy legislation by a close vote. This bill, addressing the issue of global warming, is one that Lucas voted against.
“The bill is to dramatically have an effect on global warming. They believe if they can reduce the amount of emission going up the smoke stacks at the refineries, power plants and factories, they can affect global weather,” Lucas said.
“They determine how many tons of stuff (emission) should be allowed in every industry. If they decide you are putting too much out… they cap you at a level that may be lower than what you are emitting now.
Under the bill you can either reduce what you are putting out your stack, or you can find someone who got an allocation that is bigger than what he or she needed and you can buy their unused amount of gas emissions and count that against your over use.
“Talk about creating a government bureaucracy to manage resources moving around,” Lucas said.
“The other side of the bill is an outright tax on energy,” he said. “They’ve quite correctly figured out that the biggest emitter of gas into the atmosphere is pressing energy. Whether it’s power plants, coal or natural gas, or oil and gas refineries.”
On the energy side the bill will create a tax system where there is a dramatic rise in cost of energy. This cost gets passed on to the consumer.
“They believe if you raise the cost of energy high enough you can change the way people live their lives,” Lucas said. “You can force them to lower the amount of energy they consume.”
Making people pay more so they will ultimately get less. “We’re all going to sweat more in the summer and be colder in the winter and stay closer to home. That is the net result of the energy tax,” Lucas said.
As far as Oklahoma, where agriculture is a tremendous consumer of energy, farmers and ranchers will “eat most of these costs” passing it on to the consumers.
With less oil and gas being used, the Oklahoma gas and oil industry could also be in trouble.
“It would be one thing if they would use the money from this energy tax to push more ‘green’ energy, more friendly energy. What I think is going to happen, if it generates $1 trillion, they’re going to take that $1 trillion and roll it around into their health care program,” Lucas said.
Instead of being used for wind energy or other sources available to the nation to reduce the cost of energy within our own boundaries, Lucas said his fear is that the money generated from the energy tax may very well be “stripped off and used for social purposes.”
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