This Week in Washington
This week, the President announced a plan to drawdown our current troop levels in Afghanistan and bring home the 33,000 American troops who were part of the “surge” that began in 2009. I am hopeful that this plan achieves the appropriate balance between building on the progress that American forces have made in Afghanistan, ensuring stability in the region – particularly in Pakistan – and handing over security to the Afghan people.
On Wednesay, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its periodic Long Term Budget outlook which reinforced what most of us already know – that our country is heading down a dangerous, but predictable path to economic crisis. The report explains that our national debt is so large that it is inhibiting economic growth, and that failure to address excessive spending and debt does not just mean higher taxes and interest rates down the road for our children and grandchildren, it also means a less vibrant economy, fewer job opportunities, and a lower standard of living than if we had made the tough decisions to do something about it now. CBO also highlighted that entitlement spending – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – is one of the primary driving factors of our debt.
The Senate Finance Committee held two hearings this week, one on fraudulent payments in the unemployment insurance system, and the other on the current state of health care entitlement spending. Our government-run health care programs aren’t working and are swallowing up the budget. At the hearing, I addressed these issues and questioned Bruce Vladeck, former Administrator of the Health Care Financing Association, about government control of Medicaid reimbursements and how this translates into lack of access to care, and essentially rationing, for people with Medicaid coverage. To watch a video of my questions, click here.
Currently, Medicaid, a program rife with issues of waste and abuse, promises coverage to patients, but this promise does not result in access – 40% of physicians deny access to patients in this program. According to a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, two-thirds of children on Medicaid were denied specialist appointments, and those who actually did get to see a doctor were forced to wait twice as long as patients with private insurance. To read a news story about this study, click here.
I have introduced a bill that will reform Medicaid to improve care for patients and empower states with the flexibility they need to strengthen their programs. This bill is an important first step in reforming our nation’s health care system and fixing our broken entitlement programs. In an article discussing this bill, Citizens Against Government Waste agreed that “Granting states more flexibility and freeing them from stringent mandates will cut costs at both the federal and state level, improve access to care, and increase program efficiency.” To read more from this article, click here. We must reform our entitlement programs so that they are able to provide the care they promise and not continue to jeopardize our economy.
On Thursday night, I was honored to attend the Washington, D.C. screening of Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a documentary about Jerry Ensminger’s journey to uncover the truth about water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Jerry’s daughter, Janey, tragically died of leukemia at the age of 9as a result of her exposure to toxins in the water. To watch his stirring testimony from a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, click here.
We absolutely must provide care for those veterans and their family members who are suffering, and in some cases dying, as a result of exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. I have introduced a bill, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, that would allow veterans and their family members to get medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA) if they were stationed at Camp Lejeune when the water was contaminated and experience health problems resulting from exposure to the toxins we know were present in the water at the time. I am hopeful this bill will be brought up in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs next week. To watch a video of me discussing this bill at a recent hearing, click here.
Despite the severity of the situation we are facing, Congress and the Administration are still debating how to handle our debt limit. This week, negotiations broke down over the issue of tax increases. Addressing the debt limit will continue next week and every week thereafter until it is solved, so stay tuned for updates.
Additionally, I am hopeful that the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act will receive consideration at a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr