Deficit, healthcare and regulations

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By John Barnhart

Congressman Robert Hurt stopped by Bedford, last week, to address a business roundtable hosted by the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce. His main themes were the need to reduce the federal deficit and reduce regulation.

    “We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order in Washington,” said Hurt, concerning the deficit.
    Hurt said that America’s national debt has now reached $14 trillion, nearly equal to the nation’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). He said that this equates to $40,000 for every man woman and child in the United States.
    Hurt said that President Barack Obama’s budget for the next fiscal year will only make matters worse. He said that the President’s budget, if adopted as presented, will increase the national debt from $14 trillion to $26 trillion in 10 years.
    “It is a failure in my opinion,” he said
    Along with deficit spending that is so high that the federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends, Hurt noted that the United States does not have a budget for the current fiscal year.
    “We are operating on a continuing resolution. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
    The lack of a budget for the current fiscal year greatly complicates Congress’ work. Hurt said this means that it must clean up the mess the previous Congress left behind while, at the same time, develop a budget for next year. The United States has been without a budget, running on continuing resolutions, since Oct. 1, 2010.
    Hurt said that the House of Representatives recently passed a budget for the current fiscal year and that this is awaiting action in the Senate. The House version was adopted under rules that differed dramatically from those in place during the previous Congress, in which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi allowed no amendments to the budget bill. The current speaker, John Boehner, opened the bill to amendments and 500 were made. Every congressman in the Republican controlled chamber could offer amendments, and that included Democrats.
    “There were amendments offered by Democrats that passed,” Hurt said.
    Hurt said that he commended Boehner for holding this open amendment process.
    The subject of government regulation came up during the roundtable. Abney Boxley, CEO of Boxley, which has its headquarters in Bedford County, commented on proposed EPA regulations for the cement industry. Concrete is one of Boxley’s products. Boxley said that the proposed regulations will have a devastating impact on cement plants.
    “Twenty-five percent of those plants will be out of business in the United States,” Boxley said.
    Boxley said under these regulations, it will cost $500 million to build a cement plant.
    “Put some rational thought about what regulations are going to do to business,” said Boxley. 
    Boxley added that the domestic cement capacity lost due to the new EPA regulations will end up coming from imported cement.
    Greg Wood, of Wheelabrator, brought up OSHA. Wood said that Wheelabrator has very few workplace injuries and OSHA wants to look at why their OSHA log, which reports injuries, is so thin.
    “You get punished if you do, you get punished if you don’t,” Wood commented.
    Hurt said that Congress is serious about reining in regulation and believes that the House can use funding, or actually denial of funding, to stop overregulation of the marketplace.
    “We always have those purse strings, which we ought to use,” Hurt said after the meeting.
    He added that Congress needs to conduct greater oversight over federal regulatory agencies and that the House will hold hearings on these agencies and how they affect businesses and individuals. He also called for all regulations to have a sunset provision, making sure that all regulations in effect stay current.
    Hurt believes Congress, for decades, has done a poor job when it comes to regulation. The members pass laws, but leave the job of working out the details to the various regulatory agencies. In doing this, they have abdicated their responsibility, he said.
    The president’s healthcare reform came up and Hurt noted the similarities between this and a healthcare reform carried out in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor there. Hurt termed that program “an abysmal failure.”
    Hurt said that he commended President Obama for recognizing that healthcare in the United States is a huge problem. He feels, however, that the president’s approach won’t solve it.
    One of the steps that Hurt believes needs to be taken in the healthcare arena is tort reform. He said that this will eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in medical expenses that patients incur because their doctors feel they must engage in defensive medicine to protect themselves from lawsuits. Hurt also likes medical savings accounts which, he said, create more patient responsibility for their medical services.
    Hurt applauded the people at the gathering for being job creators and urged them to stay engaged and to hold members of Congress accountable.
    “That includes me,” he said.