Boucher looking ahead

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By April Wright, Reporter

Ninth District Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) is co-sponsoring a bill that could help the federal government create a balanced budget, and that's just of one of his priorities for 2010.

The U.S. House of Representatives member made his annual visit to The Gazette on Dec. 30, outlining plans for the new year and looking back on 2009.

The budget bill would create a commission, comprised of non-congressional members, that would look at all areas of federal spending and federal revenue and make comprehensive recommendations that would lead to a balanced budget, he said.

Congress, within six weeks of receiving these recommendations, would have a debate in the House  and Senate and then cast a single vote in each house to approve or disapprove the recommendations as a whole. No amendments or changes would be made to the recommendations.

Boucher believes this bill is the fastest way to achieve a balanced budget.

“That can be an effective approach,” said Boucher. “It was the same approach that was used in the 1980s to make changes to the Social Security program, and while we have borrowed this process, this commission would have say in the overall federal revenues.”

Boucher said he is hopeful that the president would endorse this bill and would make it a part of his State of the Union address.

“I have encouraged the White House to make this a part of the address, and I think if the president endorses this approach, this would give us a lot of momentum in this effort,” he said.

Health Care Reform

Even though Boucher voted against the most recent health care reform bill that was considered in the House, he plans to consider voting for future health care reform measures.

The present health care system is not sustainable, he said. However, Boucher added that any reform that is considered must be in the interest of the region.

“The cost of health care is increasing more than four times as rapidly as the increase in household incomes, and more people are finding it difficult to afford health insurance,” he said. “So the number of the uninsured is increasing.”

Boucher said he voted against the last bill because it just wasn't feasible and, if passed, would put hospitals out of business.

“I was concerned that it would adversely affect the finances of our not-for-profit community hospitals,” he said.

Almost all of the hospitals in the region, including Twin County Regional Hospital, are not-for-profit, according to Boucher.

“And not being profit-making, they struggle to make ends meet and have revenues equal to their expenses,” he said.

As the House bill was being considered, Boucher said he met with hospital administrators in the region to gain feedback about the bill.

“Uniformly, I was advised by them that the House bill, as written, would be detrimental to their finances,” he said. “Some of them told me that they would not be able to survive under the terms of the House bill.”

Boucher voted against the bill because of those concerns. However, the Senate has not passed its own version of healthcare reform, and in January, a conference committee between the two houses will meet for the purpose of resolving differences between the two bills.

“When those differences are resolved, I will consider carefully whether the new version of the reform meets the needs of Southwest Virginia and cast my vote accordingly,” said Boucher.

He is concerned about the deal-making that is taking place in the Senate about health care reform.

For example, he said, according to the bill, Nebraska will have all of its additional Medicaid expenses satisfied by the federal government.

“Other states will have to pay a portion of the Medicaid costs themselves, and such an arrangement is not fair to the other 49 states that will have to pick up not only their own cost, but also Nebraska's,” he said. “That kind of dealmaking has no place in the arena of proper lawmaking, and so an appropriate health care reform would remove those kinds of special arrangements that just favor one state at the expense of others.”

Boucher said he believes it is also important to eliminate disparities of Medicare funding between urban and rural areas. Hospitals and doctors in urban areas, he said, have always been paid more than those in rural for the same medical procedures.

That unfairness needs to be reduced or eliminated, he said.


Stimulus Funding

The government is providing $10 billion dollars nationwide in water and sewer projects from stimulus funds, and the Twin County area is already benefiting, said Boucher.

“We have a great opportunity in 2010 to obtain funding for water and wastewater projects across Southwest Virginia,” he said. “We also have a great opportunity to obtain funding for high-speed Internet and broadband projects in the region.”

From the stimulus package, the area has obtained funds to build a new water and sewer system in Fancy Gap and new water and broadband projects in the Grant community in Grayson County.

“That is just the beginning in terms of what we can achieve in 2010,” said Boucher. “I have been working closely with local governments and structuring funding applications for water, wastewater and broadband projects, and I'm very optimistic that many of those applications will be funded as federal stimulus dollars are made available.”

Veterans' Cemetery

in Southwest Virginia

Boucher said he is looking forward to opening Southwest Virginia's first veterans' cemetery in the fall.

The nearest veterans' cemetery, in Amelia County, is a five-hour drive.

Four years ago, congress passed a bill that Boucher introduced that would allow for the creation of a veterans' cemetery in Southwest Virginia. More than a year ago, the federal government transferred 80 acres of land in Pulaski County to the state.

This past fall, $7.2 million was obtained to fund the cemetery, and groundbreaking was held a few weeks ago.

Any veteran that is interested in knowing more about the cemetery can contact Boucher's office in Abingdon at (276) 628-1145, or in Pulaski at (540) 980-4310. Veterans are now being approved, and staff can answer any questions about eligibility.

Federal Universal Service Program

Boucher hopes to get passed a bill he introduced that would stabilize the longevity of the Federal Universal Service program, which keeps telephone rates affordable in rural areas.

The program is under financial stress and is essential to affordable phone service in the Twin Counties, he said.

Century Link, a local service provider, is a major beneficiary of universal service funding. If it were not for this fund, the phone rates in rural areas would be four or five times more than they are now because supplying phone service to rural areas is far more costly, due to the greater distance in wiring from house to house and the smaller size of the population.

The Universal Service Program keeps the rates the same in rural and urban areas.

“If it weren't for the fund, the rates in rural area would approximate the actual cost of service delivery,” he said. “So this fund is essential to keeping service affordable in rural areas.”

Right to Know

Boucher has introduced a bill that would provide news reporters a privilege of not having to disclose confidential sources in federal court proceedings.

Being able to ensure anonymity to sources is essential to reporting on sensitive issues, he said.

“The best source of information about corruption of government or misdeeds in a large corporation will come from someone on the inside who knows what is going on and feels a public responsibility to bring that information to light,” he said. “And once the information is brought to light, the public can take corrective steps by passing laws or launching a criminal prosecution or by other means.”

That source on the inside, he added, has a lot to lose, and if the person's identity is revealed, the person can be punished, perhaps by the one who is responsible for the wrongdoing.

The bill has passed the House, and a similar version has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Boucher said he is hoping that this bill will come to the Senate floor within the next couple of months.