The engine of competition

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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.

I’m sure that many of you have driven a car for so many years that eventually the engine gives out. You can put in a new muffler or a new radiator. You can replace the transmission and put on a new coat of paint. But if the engine has failed, then that car won’t run again until you put in a new engine.

The way I see it, Obamacare is like a car with a bad engine. At the heart of the new health care law is a big-government solution. Unfortunately, big government is the cause of many problems with health care. Creating more bureaucracy, more rules, more oversight boards, and more regulations won’t fix a health system that lacks the engine that runs most of the American economy.

That engine is competition. In most cases, Americans have a wide variety of choices. When you go to buy a television, you have thousands of choices in picture quality, size, and features. When you turn that television on, you see dozens of different car insurance companies advertising their services. In both televisions and car insurance, there is vigorous competition for consumer dollars.

It isn’t remotely the same in health care. Most individuals get their health insurance through their workplace. Their employer probably only has a few choices when it comes to purchasing insurance. In some states, a single insurer dominates the market.

Many parts of our health care system remain competitive and we see the results. Medical research, pharmaceuticals and medical devices are regulated to ensure that only safe products and procedures enter the market. However, individual companies and research institutions in these fields compete vigorously and American patients, and the world, benefit. In the last decade, Americans won or shared the Nobel Prize in medicine seven times.

One of the greatest barriers to competition is the inability to purchase across state lines. As mentioned before, the competition within a single state can be very limited. Also, Americans purchasing insurance in the individual market cannot keep their plan when they move between states.

Workers who receive insurance through their employer cannot keep their insurance when they leave their job. They also can’t receive the same tax benefit that a company gets by providing benefits to employees. This antiquated system is a relic of World War II wage controls. To get around wartime regulations, companies were allowed to offer competitive benefits. Decades later, this system makes little sense.

Rather than controlling prices and quality with competition, Obamacare seeks to put government in control of more healthcare decisions. The federal government will not only require individuals to carry health insurance, it will also define the minimum benefits.

Companies will have to purchase plans that meet government standards. Because of the high standards, many plans offered today don’t meet the requirements. The Department of Health and Human Services has had to offer hundreds of waivers to companies and unions so that they don’t drop their health care plans altogether.

Individuals will have to purchase insurance that is approved by the federal government. Since most existing individual plans won’t comply with the new standards, consumers will be forced to purchase new and more expensive coverage. Rather than reducing future medical costs, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that medical costs will rise faster because of Obamacare.

Republicans want the engine of competition and patient choice to run our health care system. Patients should be able to purchase across state lines, take their plan with them from job to job, and get the same tax treatment as companies. We also want small businesses and other organizations to be able to pool together to purchase care just like big corporations.

We need full repeal, because at its heart Obamacare is anti-competitive. We can pass piecemeal free-market reforms, but mountains of red tape would strangle them. Real reform isn’t creating 159 new federal offices and tens of thousands of pages of regulations. It’s making insurance companies compete and offer choices so that patients can decide what they want and need.

Rep. Joe Pitts represents Pennsylvania’s Sixteenth Congressional District.