Democratic Oregon Coast Congressman Kurt Schrader visited with citizens from throughout the Newport area Sunday, talking with them about everything from Obamacare to immigration reform. Schrader also apologized for Congress’ behavior over the past couple of years which has often brought governance, as we know it, to a near stand-still. He laid a great deal of blame for the intransigence on the more right-wing members of the House, aka Tea Party, who come from some of the most conservative districts in the country, and who also have House Speaker John Boehner’s ear. Schrader noted that Boehner, under immense pressure to allow a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling get through the House, eased a procedural blockage that had prevented that from happening just weeks before. At the last minute it was delivered to the White House for President Obama’s signature. A similar legislative drama is expected to re-emerge after the first of the year at the demands of Tea Party congressmen and women of the GOP.
Schrader told nearly 50 people at city hall that Obamacare is an effort to bring wider health care to millions of Americans who are either under-insured or have no insurance at all. Schrader was chastised by one obvious critic of Obamacare as being hypocritical in his own life as he did not carry medical insurance related to his business when first starting it up. Schrader ate a little bit of humble pie at the comment but quickly explained that he regrets not carrying medical insurance even though no one was really old enough to likely use it. But today, he said, he favors universal coverage because he now understands how medical insurance works. The young and the old, and everyone in between, pay for medical care. Schrader said younger citizens “pay it forward” so that today’s older generation can get the medical care they need. Then when today’s younger generation becomes older and need that same care, the younger generation behind them pays it forward – a never ending arrangement moving forward.
The national news media has pointed out that tens of millions of Americans are not only uninsured, but those lucky enough who have coverage are often under-insured and are frequently cut off when they get sick. They also suffer life-time limits on coverage, can’t get affordable drugs, and face huge co-pays and deductibles that often rival the cost of the policies themselves. And, that devastating medical bills are now the number one cause of bankruptcies which add mightily to the national deficit since the most expensive way to get medical care, in hospital emergency rooms, are heavily taxpayer subsidized.
Additionally, such high medical costs make American workers less competitive in the world economy because higher U.S. health care costs are folded into all American goods and services. It drives up prices on U.S. trade products, making them less competitive with goods and services from competing foreign countries, which of course have far lower priced single-payer health care systems.
On immigration reform Schrader said that the House doesn’t appear ready to deal with it largely due to the unyielding Tea Party wing of House Republicans. The U.S. Senate has largely embraced it. Schrader said, to his credit, Speaker John Boehner would like to get immigration reform passed, realizing that until they do, they will continue to alienate Latino Americans whose friends and extended family members are affected by the legislation. Voter analysis in the last presidential election showed Latino-Americans overwhelmingly voting for Barack Obama which provided the lions share of the margin of victory for him – Obama a staunch supporter of immigration reform.
Questions were raised about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), to streamline trade relations between the U.S. and a growing number of major foreign countries around the Pacific Rim. Schrader said he’s uncomfortable with the fact that almost all of the negotiations between the U.S. and other nations are behind closed doors in Washington as well as in corporate board rooms around the world. He said it’s understandable that negotiators, representing many international corporations, don’t want their trade secrets or strategies made public. However, Schrader added, what they’re talking about will affect all Americans as members of a more intimate international marketplace for goods and services. Critics of the TPP say Americans could learn too late that the TPP puts trade relations and regulations into the hands of foreign legal entities that overrule American courts, undermine American environmental protections and regulations, food content and labeling laws, labor protections and the right to unionize; being able to more freely re-locate jobs overseas, tighter patent protections that would substantially drive up the costs of new medical breakthroughs and medicines. Even utility costs could rise due to changes in utility investment provisions in the TPP, critics say. There is a growing cry among TPP opponents that the treaty-in-waiting reflects the accelerated growth of national and international corporations and their control over the global economy which will have huge repercussions for decades to come. Some have even called TPP “NAFTA on steroids.” It’s widely held that NAFTA allowed U.S. corporate farms to dump corn in massive quantities onto the Mexican market, driving many farmers in Mexico out of business, prompting one of the biggest illegal cross-border immigration problems in U.S. history – an issue that still haunts us today.
Schrader briefly touched on the long running heated debate on placing additional controls on gun purchasing in the U.S. Schrader said he favors tighter and more responsible background checks on prospective gun owners. He added that in light of American gun lobbies, it will take long and consistent public pressure in favor of those reforms if they are to become law.
Schrader said America must restore greater federal resources to make K-12 education more effective and more financial assistance for college bound students so they don’t graduate hugely in debt.
Schrader also acknowledged that the Veterans Administration is stifling appeals filed by military veterans who have applied for, but have been denied, medical coverage upon discharge from the military. Schrader said it’s thoroughly unacceptable what is happening to thousands of our former military men and women who served their country but who now find themselves abandoned by the very government they defended. One veteran in the audience said he’s been waiting over two and a half years to have his appeal even heard, much less ruled on.
Schrader is running again for re-election in November of next year. Thus far he has drawn only one officially announced challenger, Ben Pollock, a young owner of an auto repair business in suburban Portland. One other potential candidate has announced her interest in running against Schrader, Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith. Smith, a Tea Party style politico, says she is just “testing the waters” to see if she has enough support to make a credible run for the position. And by support she means something other than just a head start on votes.