What You Are Writing About
Each year, I hear from thousands of Idahoans who write, e-mail, fax and call my offices to let me know how they feel about issues facing our country today. On average, I receive approximately 1,000 letters and e-mails a week. In recent years, an increasing number of that correspondence has come via electronic means. Even with such a volume of correspondence, I try to respond to each Idahoan as promptly as possible. In an effort to be even more responsive and to fully utilize the technology available through the Internet, this web page features the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my response on each from the previous week. You may also wish to review information in the Issues Section or details from my Legislative Record, which lists bills I have sponsored and co-sponsored.
Here are the top issues Idahoans have recently written me about:
I voted against this bill and my opposition continues. This law's ramifications do not stop with health care. Advertised as a measure that will control health care costs, this law will do the opposite by increasing the federal deficit. Additionally, many of the new taxes will disproportionately affect small businesses, resulting in further financial hardships for hard-working Americans - especially in a time of double-digit unemployment rates. Businesses that cannot afford to provide coverage to full and part-time employees will face $2,000 in penalties per worker. Already strained in the current economy, employers that cannot afford health insurance cannot afford these fines. Such penalties will discourage businesses to hire more people.
Health care spending currently exceeds 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and continues to increase at an alarming speed. Our nation needs health care reform that does not come at the expense of hardworking Americans. I envision reform that realigns payment incentives toward outcomes, not the number of procedures; promotes wellness and prevention programs; encourages small businesses to pool together to purchase insurance; allows insurance companies to sell across state lines to increase competition; and eliminates waste, fraud and abuse that contribute to health care's rising costs. I also support consumer-driven initiatives that allow individuals to find benefit options that best meet their needs. For example, expanding effective and popular Health Savings Accounts would do so without increasing taxes or expanding the government.
Instead of giving the government more power over health care, individual patients must have more control, choice and information to make their health care decisions. When individual patients have these choices, they will reward innovative insurers and providers who reduce costs and improve quality.
America deserves a better process and a better product. Any successful reform package must properly address all logistical and personal components of our nation's health care system. We need to start over with step-by-step reforms that would actually address real, specific issues that would make a positive difference for all Americans.
It is important that Idahoans, such as yourself, share your experiences with these federal programs. Medicare and Social Security are both in need of comprehensive reforms to better serve the people of Idaho.
The Medicare program must undergo holistic, systemic changes in order to protect the current and future enrollees. The Medicare Trustees report the program faces an unfunded liability of nearly $25 trillion, and the program is currently on track to be insolvent in 2026, if action is not taken to reform the program.
In recent years, over half of the $1 trillion that the federal government spent on health care went toward Medicare - nearly 15 percent of the annual federal budget and 7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. These numbers are expected to dramatically increase to within the next 10 years. While Medicare is essential to seniors on fixed incomes, it is one of the main contributors to the national deficit, and suffers from significant inefficiencies. To ensure that a sustainable and quality Medicare program will be available to America’s aging population, we must address its cost burden now.
Congress must act now to enact meaningful reforms to these vital programs to ensure that many current seniors and lower income individuals do not face the automatic benefit cuts that will be unavoidable if the programs continue on their current course. The first place to look for savings to preserve these programs is the well-documented waste and fraud that has been found in these programs.
Social Security has been an important and successful program for over sixty-five years, providing benefits to millions of senior citizens and the disabled. Social Security must be preserved in a manner on which our children and grandchildren can depend.
In recent years, there has been widespread acknowledgement that the government must address the long-term health of the Social Security system. Accordingly, a national discussion has evolved regarding the future of Social Security. Our first and foremost concern in this effort is to maintain the promises we have made to protect current recipients, while strengthening the system in order to guarantee benefits for future retirees. I will continue to consider new legislation relating to these programs with the thoughts and needs of Idahoans in mind.
Our country is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis that requires serious reforms that carry enforcement and weight beyond this Congress and into the future. In recent months, we have faced a debt ceiling crisis and a government shutdown because the Senate failed to pass a budget. When added to sluggish economic growth, government regulatory policies that are choking small business and continued high unemployment rates throughout the country, it is no wonder that Americans are up in arms over federal spending and debt. I am concerned with the out-of-control spending taking place in Congress, much of which is unsustainable. It is unreasonable to assume that Washington can continue to operate this way without enacting significant changes.
Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have reviewed and voted on many 10-year budget plans, but without adequate enforcement provisions, Congress inevitably finds loopholes to avoid spending controls that are put into effect in out-years of such budgets. It is time to stop borrowing money from future generations, as these actions do not lead to long-term growth and economic stabilization. The solution to our problems will require dramatic action and shared sacrifice. The sheer scope of our fiscal situation means every part of our government ledger sheet must be scrutinized. For these and many other reasons, I continually seek to support legislation that would bring federal spending in line.
As you may know, Article V of the United States Constitution states that “on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, [congress] shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof.” Currently, 34 States have applications; however, some of these applications are from the 1980s. The most recent applications bringing the count to 34 are Georgia and Tennessee, which revised their earlier rescissions.
As a strong supporter of the Constitution and the authority of our state, I respect the state of Idaho’s judgment to advocate for its delegated powers. On a federal level, there are many questions that must be answered, such as whether there is expiration on state applications and the constitutionality of rescissions. Rest assured I will continue to evaluate the constitutional implications on the current, potential call for a convention of states.
As you may know, this legislation was introduced on July 18, 2013, by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and is an omnibus package of various proposals that focus on outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and sport shooting. Enhancing access to public lands is one of the major provisions included in the bill. Other provisions include:
- Reauthorization of wildlife and migratory bird conservation programs
- Enhanced opportunities for establishing public target shooting ranges
- Modifications to bow hunting practices on public lands
- Exclusion of ammunition and fishing tackle from regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency
S. 1335 is pending further consideration before the United States Senate.
As an avid outdoorsman and legislator, I will carefully review all legislative proposals that seek to modify, expand and/or enhance activities related to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Outdoor sporting activities are essential to many Idahoans, as well as the many visitors our state hosts each year, and Idahoans have a rich history of proper and effective stewardship of the public lands they enjoy, depend and recreate upon. Please be assured, I will continue to work to with my colleagues in Congress to promote policies that ensure the public has the greatest access to enjoy our public lands, while protecting the unique habitats and environments found therein.
The gravity of the problems facing our nation requires serious tax reform as a part of a fundamental fiscal reform plan. Tax reform needs to be comprehensive to get us past the tired and failed arguments about raising and lowering rates. We need to move away from our simplistic attachment to the current tax code with all of its shortcomings, inefficiencies, and waste. The most efficient and simplified tax system would be to transition to a low unified flat tax. If this is not achievable, we should completely redesign the tax code with an emphasis on lower rates, broadening the base, reducing complexity, and eliminating anti-competitive provisions. In either approach, the tax reform process must take into account the dynamic effects of pro-growth reform, which would lead to a measurable increase in economic growth and dynamic revenue.
In recent years, particularly through my work on the Bowles-Simpson Commission and the recent efforts of the Senate Finance Committee leaders Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), considerable public focus has centered on the proper structure of the individual and corporate tax codes. While some favor raising or lowering specific rates, these proposals fail to recognize the inherent failures of the tax code. Our tax code is far too long, complex and anti-competitive to serve as the long-term foundation for the economic growth our country needs. Without structural reform, our potential growth and revenues will be lost.
As part of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, I have previously outlined proposals that create fairness in the tax code, are pro-growth, and unleash the dynamic potential of our economy. Such comprehensive tax reform would eliminate much of the complexity in the current tax code and lower the tax rates for all individuals, families and businesses. Embracing this new paradigm can help generate additional revenues and economic growth and put America’s tax code in a more competitive posture for our future.
Recently House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) released his own draft on tax reform legislation in February 2014. In the Senate in June 2013, following a series of roundtable meetings to explore all aspects of our current tax code, leadership of the Finance Committee, on which I serve, initiated a process to solicit feedback from all Senators regarding their priorities and principles for tax reform. With this opportunity, I have been able to re-state my key principles for tax reform, which build on the “clean slate” approach I first endorsed as a member of the Bowles-Simpson Commission.
These principles include:
- Simplify the tax code by eliminating deductions, credits, and exemptions that cannot be justified by sound tax policy
- Flatten the tax code by reducing the current six-tiered system to no more than three brackets with rates of 8-12%, 14-18% and 22-26%, determined on a revenue-neutral basis
- Comprehensive tax reform will stimulate significant economic growth, resulting in increased revenue. Revenue from dynamic growth in the economy must be scored and accounted for in the calculation of appropriate tax rates.
- Permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
- Reduce the tax rates on capital gains and dividends for all taxpayers in order to stimulate investment, capital formation, and additional revenue
- Establish a single corporate tax rate between 23 percent and 25 percent
- Move to a competitive territorial corporate tax system
- Include transition rules and make no retroactive changes to the tax code
As was recognized in our bipartisan work in the Gang of Six, these basic framework principles must first be resolved before we can effectively evaluate each credit, deduction, and exemption in the current tax code to determine which provisions have a policy justification for being added back to the blank slate tax code, at the expense of proportionately higher rates for all taxpayers. I appreciate the input I have received from many Idaho families and businesses regarding which of these expenditures are the top priorities for Idahoans. This input will be helpful to me when the Finance Committee reaches the point in the tax reform process where a full evaluation of all tax provisions, and their effect on tax rates, can take place.
Please rest assured I will continue to make comprehensive tax reform, along with structural entitlement reform, my top fiscal priorities as we continue in the 113th Congress.