Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 25, 2013

Rand Paul comes to Highlands

Senator talks budget, health care

Lana Bellamy
For The Independent

ASHLAND — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul addressed concerns about approaching federal budget deadlines and the Affordable Care Act in a public forum in downtown Ashland on Thursday.

With the national government reopening just last week, Paul spoke about the root of congressional issues between Republicans and Democrats and solutions that could help avoid a similar crisis in the future, with Jan. 15 and Feb. 17 deadlines looming.

U.S. Representative for the Fourth Congressional District Thomas Massie accompanied Paul at the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center to welcome his Washington co-worker with an introduction and assistance during the question-and-answer session.

The two men spoke before a crowd of nearly 150 packed into the open lobby area that was reduced to standing-room only that was pro-Paul.

Though the discussion began light, Paul wasted little time confronting the shutdown issues still fresh on public minds.

He attributed the impasse between Senate Democrats and Republicans to bundling financial bills into one package instead of passing them gradually through appropriation bills, as has been done in the past.

Routinely, all Senate members are provided one printed copy of the bundled bills to read prior to voting, but Massie said representatives have to vote without this privilege.

“Why are all the bills bundled together into one 3,000-page bill that nobody can read?... You can threaten one appropriation bill, but you can’t threaten all spending,” Paul said.

Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is who Paul said was to blame for not splitting the government spending into 12 categories and passing them individually, as the government has historically done.

Paul said if they had been able to pass bills one by one instead of trying to reach a compromise on all bills simultaneously, the government would not have closed.

Paul said the best way to get ideas of resurrecting the appropriations system is through public and political pressure on Reid.

“I can speak out about it and maybe he’ll decide he’s getting enough grief about it to do it,” Paul said. “I’m not sure why he doesn’t do it because he does get a lot of grief about it and catches a lot of flack.”

Since Reid independently decides which bills can and cannot take the floor in the Senate, Paul said not only can he never propose bills, but the process becomes laborious and time consuming. He claims if this process returned to the appropriations model, these crises could be more easily averted.

Though most of his talk focused on congressional dysfunction and ways to cut government spending when the floor was opened for questions, the Patient-Protection Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was most heavily scrutinized.

During shutdown debates, Congressional Republicans sought to defund Obamacare as part of their budget compromise with Democrats.

A major proponent of the argument was to delay the individual mandate, which fines individuals and companies without insurance who do not pick up health insurance by March 31, up to one year.

Now because of technological issues with the HealthCare.gov website that hosts the insurance signups, Democrats are finally advocating delaying the mandate, which Paul said stems from embarrassment.

Ish Stevens, a doctor at Ashland Children’s Clinic, talked to Paul about the regulatory burdens medical workers are facing under Obamacare, such as reduced hours and decreases in reimbursements.

He claimed the new parameters laid out by Obamacare have caused more physicians to exit the field.

Paul said the main struggles in relation to those concerns lie within the access and cost of insurance with the “one-size-fits-all” plan though did not specify solutions beyond continued pressure from Republicans to repeal the act.

Paul in Louisa

Paul visited the Louisa Rotary Club after his visit to Ashland.

During the meeting, he spoke about Economic Freedom Zones, a plan he said would help communities that are considered distressed. A community qualifies as “distressed” if its unemployment rate is over 12 percent.

With the plan, all communities deemed distressed would receive a cut in federal taxes. Personal income tax and corporate tax would both be reduced to five percent for everyone in the area, while payroll taxes would be reduced to two percent, he said.

The stimulus would last over a 10-year period. The lowered rates would stay the same over the first five years, and tax rates would gradually rise back to normal over the last five years.

Paul said Economic Freedom Zones are not like a traditional government stimulus. “You get back some of your money that you earned,” he said. “You just don’t have to send as much to Washington.”

Paul said there are more than 20 counties in eastern Kentucky with unemployment at or above the 12-percent mark.

Lawrence County’s unemployment rate is at 10.8 percent and does not qualify for the plan, but Paul said if the plan took place in Louisa, the town could get back $5 million in tax money.

LANA BELLAMY is a freelance writer from Morehead. SARAH BECKELHEIMER-ROE contributed to this report.