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Lawmaker Dispatches

Featuring: Randy Forbes, Tom Perriello, Robert Hurt, Kaye Kory

Randy Forbes: National Dialogue

Ask a teacher, and they will most likely tell you that one of the quickest ways to kill classroom discussion is for one strong-willed student to monopolize the conversation. A long-winded or uncomfortably impassioned monologue inevitably polarizes viewpoints. Conversation shuts down, and often times inner-fuming begins.

Likewise, business leaders know that creating dialogue is one of the most effective ways to enhance collaboration, and ultimately create a product that can improve their bottom line. Just as a monologue creates polarization, dialogue by its very nature requires collaboration. An effective dialogue recognizes not only the right to know, but the need to know. True dialogue is important not only because it allows each individual to be involved in deciding what gets done, but because it nearly always leads to a better outcome than if no dialogue had taken place.

There is a lot of uncertainty in America today. One thing we can be certain of, though, is the fact that America is polarized. Citizens and elected leaders alike feel passionately one way or the other about a wide range of issues. Some of the polarization is legitimately caused by differing principles; some is fed by partisan politics. Often, though, it is the partisan politics rather than the principled differences that controls the conversation. What America needs, however, is dialogue.

As a member of Congress, I intend to remain unwavering on the principles upon which I was elected. At a time when there is distrust in government, I believe it is important to keep the promises I have made. I am also certain that many of my Congressional colleagues feel the same way. Yet, we both have a responsibility to hear each other out. Some in Washington have become so focused on scoring political points that they’ve jeopardized the national conversation. Just like the student that won’t stop talking, leaders in Washington have become more attached to their talking points than the best solutions to start moving our nation forward again. The result is the areas where we can work together become muddled in a mire of political grandstanding and mudslinging.

Yet, even those of us with strong policy differences have common ground. And amidst the monologues, it’s important to point out those areas so that our government in Washington can serve the American people as well as Americans have worked for their own families and sacrificed for our nation. Here are some initiatives where we have a potential for dialogue:

While many may disagree on cap and trade legislation, we do have common ground on energy. The Administration has stated its support for expanding the use of nuclear power, clean coal and domestic drilling, efforts that many Republicans and Democrats support. Likewise, the American Energy Act, which I supported, is an “all-of-the-above” bill that would increase the domestic supply of energy through drilling and expanding nuclear power, among others.

In addition, there are many that agree – the Administration included – that we need to take a Manhattan style approach to solving our energy challenge. I have introduced the New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, which challenges the U.S. to reach 50% energy independence in 10 years and 100% energy independence in 20 years.

There is broad agreement in Washington that the Alternative Minimum Tax should be repealed for individual taxpayers. Congressional leadership included an AMT patch in the stimulus bill, H.R. 1. Although I did not support the stimulus bill on government spending principles, I have supported full repeal of the AMT in the Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act. This is an initiative that could be passed as a stand-alone bill to bring tax relief to thousands of Americans.

There is wide bipartisan support for encouraging charter schools and rewarding school innovation as a means of improving the education system in America. The Administration has created initiatives such as Race to the Top, which requires that states not prohibit charter schools. I have supported bipartisan programs that seek to reform the educational landscape through competitive grants programs and systems of rewards as a means to help transform education in America. We have the opportunity to make great strides in education by coming together on these initiatives.

Health care
Health care is one of the most divisive issues in Washington and around the country. While I remain adamantly opposed to the House-passed version of health-care reform, there is common ground in other areas of health care. In addition to many other bipartisan health-care initiatives I have highlighted on my website, I have introduced several health-care bills that have received both Republican and Democrat support:
– The Healthcare Consumer Protection Act, H.R. 3584, would protect consumers from losing health insurance as a result of a missed payment that may have been a result of technical error.
– The Enhancing SIMULATION Act, H.R. 855, would establish modeling and simulation medical centers of excellence across the country to reduce medical errors and drive down health-care costs by as much as $17 billion a year. The bill has more Democratic cosponsors than Republican cosponsors.
– The Accelerate Cures for Patients Act, H.R. 3474, would double funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and prioritize funding towards research with the greatest potential to become a useful treatment for patients. Democrats have also supported increased medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

These initiatives only scratch the surface in terms of areas that are ripe for leaders in Washington to work together and begin moving towards solutions to some of our nation’s biggest challenges. You can read about other initiatives on my Web site. In addition, I encourage you to send me your feedback and ideas on where you would like to see leaders in Washington working together. I’ve created a special blog post where you can share your comments with me and your fellow citizens. By erasing the battle lines and coming together to create dialogue, I am convinced we will see successes that are critical to our nation’s well-being.


Tom Perriello: End the monopoly

For 65 years, the insurance industry has been one of the only sectors other than Major League Baseball to be exempted from America’s anti-monopoly laws. Under the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, insurance companies have long been shielded from federal prosecution for bid rigging, price fixing, and dividing up market territories. When monopolies are legalized, consumers, competition, and quality all suffer, as premiums skyrocket for middle class families. This is the kind of law that only makes sense in Washington because of who writes the checks; for decades, the insurance lobby has held tightly to this exemption.

So last Friday, I unveiled a bill that would end monopoly protections and restore competition among health and medical malpractice insurance companies. The bill is just two pages long and costs the government nothing while saving millions for consumers and government programs.

Congresswoman Betsy Markey and I co-authored this legislation to ensure that patients, doctors, and taxpayers no longer suffer from the flagrant price gouging that is all too common today. Due in part to the lack of competition, health insurance premiums have more than doubled since 2000. That means America’s working families are paying twice as much as they were a decade ago. Moreover, the health insurance industry has had over 400 mergers in the last 14 years, leaving consumers with few choices and less competition. This is simply unfair and un-American. It is time for politicians in Washington from both sides of the aisle to stop bending to the will of insurance lobbyists and start standing up for the interests of American families.

I have heard from thousands of constituents across the 5th District and know that patients and doctors desperately need relief from the soaring costs of health and medical malpractice insurance. However, many constituents also raised concerns over the length and complexity of health care legislation. In an effort to produce legislation that is clear, concise, and easy to understand, our bill is just one page, double-sided. Simply stated, it will require health and medical malpractice insurance companies to play by the same rules as other industries and every small business in our own district. This commonsense bill will lead to increased competition among insurers and lower premiums for all Americans. The rising prices that hospitals and doctors face for medical malpractice insurance drain resources that could otherwise be put towards improving patient care. This bill is a huge step toward restoring confidence to consumers, assuring all Americans that health and medical malpractice insurance companies are not colluding on the prices they charge and the choices they offer.

While Rep. Markey and I voted differently on the initial health care reform bill, we both agree that, particularly in this tough economic climate, it is crucial to give the middle class a real choice on the price and quality of their coverage. Health insurance companies should not enjoy special treatment while hard-working Virginians sacrifice to pay artificially inflated premiums. It has long been our common priority to repeal the health care industry’s exemption from the basic rules of competition that govern virtually every other American industry. And we are not alone in this fight. Many of our Republican colleagues have previously supported similar measures to protect consumers and promote competition in the health and medical malpractice insurance industries. Therefore, by repealing McCarran-Ferguson, we will be taking an important bipartisan step toward providing quality and affordable health care to all Americans.


Robert Hurt:

This past week at the Virginia General Assembly the Senate and the House of Delegates continued their work on thousands of legislative proposals that have been filed during the 2010 session. Several bills which I have sponsored were adopted on the Senate floor and now move to the House of Delegates for consideration.

As we struggle to deal with the Virginia budget and the tremendous revenue shortfall this session, we are constantly reminded of the importance of doing all we can here in Richmond to encourage job growth in Southside and across Virginia. Last week I wrote about Senate Bill 481, which is a bill that I sponsored that would help attract new jobs to Southside Virginia by lowering the threshold requirements for businesses to qualify for the major business facility tax credit. I believe that this legislation will lead to more jobs for our people, and I am glad that bill is now moving to the Senate floor.

Another bill that I have cosponsored that I believe will help spur job growth in Southside Virginia is Senate Bill 475, which provides the criteria to be used in awarding grants and loans from the Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund. The criteria include job creation, private capital investment, and anticipated state tax revenue expected to accrue to the state and affected localities as a result of the capital investment and jobs created. This fund has been an indispensable tool for local and state officials in attracting new business to Southside and I am pleased that this bill was adopted by the Senate this week and now heads to the House of Delegates.

On Monday the Senate adopted Senate Bill 417. This bill, which I am proud to have cosponsored, sends a strong and clear message to the federal government that Virginians do not want a federal takeover of our healthcare system and, more specifically, Virginians will not be forced by the government to obtain or maintain individual health insurance policies. There was significant debate on the floor concerning this bill; however, at the end of the day, I was pleased that the bill was adopted with bipartisan support by a vote of 23-17.

Once again, I am looking forward to working with Gov. McDonnell and our local legislative delegation to promote economic development in Southside Virginia and across the Commonwealth.


Kaye Kory: Northern Virginia delegation succeeds in breaking LCI freeze

Kudos to the entire Northern Virginia delegation for convincing Gov. McDonnell to “unfreeze” the formula used to distribute state aid to local school divisions. This change to the proposed budget calculation of the Local Composite Index (LCI) will bring as much as $61 million in new education funding to Fairfax County schools and nearly $150 million to all of Northern Virginia.

The original proposal would have used 2005 data rather than updating the formula with 2007 data, thereby denying Fairfax County Schools and other growing school districts their fair share of funding.

As you know, I have been working to further update the LCI to include cost factors like percent of ESOL students. Even though the current index does disadvantage some Northern Virginia districts, it is an impartial and predictable method of calculating education funding on an annual basis. This action is an important bipartisan step towards balancing the Commonwealth’s budget.

Our House Democratic caucus has been focused on this issue since the 2010 session began. Governor McDonnell’s proposal, if enacted, provides an improved foundation for educational funding in Northern Virginia during the fiscal downturn. Now we must look to our local governments to step up and protect our schools.

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