Health care reform shouldn’t need special deals

Photo of Rep. Joe Pitts
Rep. Joe Pitts
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      Rep. Joe Pitts

      Joe Pitts represents the 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, a diverse district stretching from the western Philadelphia suburbs further west into the Pennsylvania “Dutch” Country. Joe Pitts’ life and career have been wide-ranging as well: he has worked as a teacher, a small business owner, an Air Force officer, and a legislator. In addition to Pennsylvania, he has lived in Kentucky, the Philippines, and the various places the Air Force sent him.
      Joe brings this rich and varied background into his work as a legislator. The fact that he joined the Air Force because he couldn’t afford to raise his family on a teacher’s salary helps him understand the hardships many people are going through. His combat experience gives him an appreciation of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. His time as small business owner gives him a better understanding of how government policies can help or hurt job creation. His time living abroad gives him sensitivity and insight into how our nation is seen abroad and a strong desire to fight for human rights.

      Joe is an independent-minded conservative who knows that Republicans lost their moral authority during the last years of the Republican majority. He has a record of making up his own mind about legislation. He voted against one-third of his own party’s appropriations bills because they spent too much. He doesn’t do “earmarks.” He opposed President Bush’s signature legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, because it spent too much and did too many things that were best left to states and school districts. Once, on the floor of the House, he stared down then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Republic Whip Tom DeLay and successfully defeated a major bankruptcy reform bill because he found it discriminatory.

      Joe is a family-oriented conservative who believes strong families are the key to America’s prosperity. While others debate whether more or less regulation, this or that government program, or higher or lower taxes will make America stronger, Joe knows that the family is the fundamental building block of society. No amount of government spending can make a child succeed unless that child has the values and desire to succeed that only a strong family can instill.

      Joe is the son of an army officer who returned to the Philippines after World War II as a missionary. Joe spent much of his youth in Philippines, where some of his childhood friends had spent their earliest years in Japanese detention camps. He attended Asbury College in Kentucky, where he met his wife Ginny. Joe received a Master’s Degree in Education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

      Joe and Ginny taught school in Kentucky until the birth of their first child. Not long after, Joe volunteered for the Air Force, serving from 1963 to 1969. He rose to the rank of Captain and flew 116 combat missions on B-52s during Vietnam. He was a navigator and electronic warfare officer. It was that experience that led him to found the Electronic Warfare Working Group in Congress, advocating for critical technological investments that are currently saving lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      After leaving the Air Force, Joe returned to teaching math and science at Great Valley High School in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

      At the urging of his friends, Joe unexpectedly ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1972 and won. His candidacy was part of a reform movement within the Chester County Republican Party known as the “Independents.” His victory sent a powerful message that from then on democracy, not machine politics, was going to rule in Chester County.

      Joe served for 24 years in Harrisburg, eventually chairing the House Appropriations Committee—a position he attained specifically because of his reputation for ethics and fair dealing. In that position, he worked with governors and colleagues in both parties to balance eight state budgets in a row, even during the recession of 1990-1991—without a federal bailout.

      In 1996 Joe was elected to Congress after winning a five-way primary election and a well-funded Democrat in the general election. Before his appointment to the important Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe served on the House Budget Committee, the International Relations Committee (now known as the Foreign Affairs Committee), the Small Business Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

      As a member of the Budget Committee, he co-wrote the only four balanced budgets enacted into law since the Lyndon Johnson Administration. Each of those budgets, negotiated with President Clinton, actually paid off some of the government’s debt.

      Joe is now a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Congress. He serves on the Health Subcommittee, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, and the Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee.

      Joe is an advocate for fiscal responsibility, refusing to request earmarks and voting against Democratic and Republican legislation if he feels it is irresponsibly expensive.

      Joe is an advocate for truly bipartisan health reform, working with New York Democrat Nydia Velazquez, chairwoman of the Small Business Committee, to introduce the Small Business CHOICE Act, which would make it easier for small businesses to offer health insurance for their employees.

      Joe is an advocate for conservation, the environment, and clean energy. He convinced Congress to protect the White Clay Creek and the historically important open space surrounding the Brandywine Battlefield in Chester County. He introduced the SAFE Nuclear Act to help transition away from fossil fuels. He co-chairs the Conservation Caucus in the House.

      Two other important caucuses he chairs are the Values Action Team and the Electronic Warfare Working Group. The Values Action Team advocates for pro-family legislation in the House, while the Electronic Warfare Working Group helps preserve America’s technological edge when it comes to military technology and the electromagnetic spectrum.

      Joe is also an active member in the Republican Study Committee (the conservative caucus in the House) and the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus. He sits on the Helsinki Commission, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China; these commissions provide him with a forum from which to advocate for human rights internationally.

      At home, Joe is a member of the Brandywine Valley Association, the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company, his local Rotary Club, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

      Among the many award and honors he has received are the Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federal of Independent Business, The Taxpayer Hero Award from Citizens Against Government Waste, the Hero of the Taxpayer Award from Americans for Tax Reform, and the William Wilberforce Award from Prison Fellowship Ministries. He received special recognition from the North Korea Freedom Coalition for his role in passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act, and from the Brandywine Conservancy for his leadership in Congressional efforts to aid in conservation of open space.

      Joe and Ginny have three grown children and four grandchildren.

As I’m writing this, House Democratic leadership is feverishly trying to scrape together the last few votes to pass a massive government takeover of healthcare. It seems that every hour there is a new report about who is changing their vote from “yes” to “no” or “no” to “yes.”

Despite the introduction of a new package of “fixes,” the House must first pass the Senate healthcare reform bill. You may remember that this bill was passed on Christmas Eve only after dozens of Senators cut special deals to win their support. The deal-making hasn’t stopped, however, and this week we were introduced to a few new items.

Since one government takeover wasn’t enough, Democratic leadership has inserted an entirely different bill into the package of “fixes” to the Senate legislation. This legislation would eliminate private lenders from the student loan industry—every lender except one that is.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) successfully added a provision that would allow the Bank of North Dakota to continue servicing student loans under the new bill. Every college student in America would either get their student loan through the federal government or the Bank of North Dakota. Conrad’s deal is now known in Washington as the Bismarck Bank Job.

In the same package, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) secured an additional $100 million for hospitals in Tennessee. Gordon, the retiring Chairman of the House Science Committee, publicly switched his vote to yes and now there are rumors that he could be appointed to a position at NASA.

In reaction to this and other discussion that bill supporters could get new jobs in the executive branch, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has promised to put a hold on the nomination of any vote switcher placed before the Senate. Members shouldn’t be able to count on a cushy job in the administration if the voters throw them out of office in November.

This reconciliation package to fix the Senate bill is not guaranteed to pass into law. There is a good likelihood that President Obama will sign the Senate healthcare reform bill into law and that the fixes insisted by the House would either never pass the Senate or be significantly modified in that chamber.

Additionally, the separate package doesn’t remove a number of the special deals cut in December:

  • There is still $100 million for a single university hospital in Connecticut placed into the bill by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) still gets $1 billion for New Jersey drug companies.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) ensured that Vermont will get $600 million in additional Medicaid funding. Since Vermont is a small state, that averages out to nearly $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the state.
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will still get $5 billion to cover medical costs of union members. Additionally, the unions negotiated with the President to reduce the “Cadillac” tax on health plans by $117 billion. Many of the plans affected by this tax are union negotiated.
  • While the Cornhusker Kickback gets expanded from just Nebraska to all states, Sen. Ben Nelson still gets an exemption from new fees for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
  • Hawaii’s two Democratic Senators successfully exempt hospitals in Hawaii from planned reductions in federal payments.

Should the House act this weekend, the President will sign all of these special deals into law.

This healthcare reform act represents a government takeover of 17 percent of the American economy. Taken at face value, its cost is nearly $1 trillion in the first ten years. Since Congress is unlikely follow through on all the Medicare cuts and the anticipated tax revenue could fall far short, the true cost could be twice that.

Whether you agree or disagree with the bill, it is clearly the most far-reaching piece of legislation that Congress has dealt with in decades. We are set to remake healthcare for every American by the slimmest of margins. By contrast, Social Security and Medicare were passed with bipartisan majorities in both Houses. Legislation with such an astounding impact should stand on its own merits, not on a foundation of backroom deals and arm-twisting.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R) represents Pennsylvania’s 16th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kian-Mead/100000454748695 Kian Mead

    Sure, if the rebublicans had supported the bill, maybe their would be a good comprimise. But you did not.

    You can not abrogate all the blame to Obama, despite the politics, since you did not engage with the democrats to get a good bill. If you insist that healthcare in the USA is the best it can be, I will fart in your face.

    Because it is a lie, see figures for best healthcare and death rates in the world.