By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) is trying to find the bright side of controversial remarks by President Donald Trump regarding protests in Charlottesville, Va., which left one counter-protestor dead.
“Trump’s horrifying remarks on Charlottesville have been denounced on both sides, and I think it will help us realize we are more on the same page than not,” Schrader said.
Rep. Schrader is home from Washington, D.C., while Congress is on a break and made a swing through Keizer Thursday, Aug. 17, that included speaking at a Rotary Club of Keizer meeting and a stop at the Keizertimes office.
At a time when the nation seems as divided as ever, Schrader said he is looking for solutions.
“I think there is great opportunity as (Trump) pushes Republicans and Democrats closer to working together,” he said.
Despite partisan battles over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Schrader and several of his fellow Democrats began formulating a plan to solve the problems of the ACA rather than repeal it entirely. That effort spawned a bipartisan plan to stabilize individual health care markets.
The plan encompasses several changes, including a repeal of a medical device tax, adjusting the employer mandate to affect only those businesses with 500 employees or more, allowing for more innovation within state-run health care exchanges and placing control of the cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments under the oversight of Congress.
CSR payments are made to insurers to offset the costs of providing discount insurance plans for Americans who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. Recently, Trump threatened to withhold the payments entirely before deciding to make the August payments. It is uncertain what will happen in the coming months.
“Under reconciliation, the plan to repeal the ACA, the President can stop the payments from occurring, but the insurance companies still have to offer those plans,” Schrader said. “If the payments are withheld one of two things occurs: premiums go through the roof, or insurance companies decide they don’t want to play in the individual market.”
Putting the authority for mandating those payments under congressional purview would restore some certainty while still maintaining oversight, he added.
Schrader said the effort to put forward solutions has given the Blue Dog Democrats, a caucus of conservative Democrats of which Schrader is a member, more traction in DC than they’ve had in the past.
“We are being welcomed back into the fold because the route back to the majority is the Blue Dog Democrats. We have to get back into the districts that were underperforming from the Democratic standpoint in terms of Trump support,” Schrader said.
Aside from the fight around health care, circumstance has placed Schrader at the helm of two efforts to reform veterans rights. He is sponsoring two bills that could have a big impact on veterans throughout the country. The first, the HOMES Act, would establish a 10-year statute of limitations on civil obligations for deployed soldiers. The intent would be to prevent active duty service members from losing their homes while serving. The second, the Involuntary Recall Bill, would provide exemptions for soldiers who accepted retirement buyouts and were later injured while involuntarily recalled to active duty. Under current rules, retirement checks can be withheld until the buyout amount is repaid.
Schrader said both bills were just recently introduced, but he doesn’t foresee resistance within Congress.
Another bill that has already cleared both the House and Senate takes aim at prescription drug prices by clearing hurdles to get generic options on the market and offering limited exclusivity for the companies that produce them. The bill was a bipartisan effort of Schrader and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).
“If we can give the right incentives, we can get the generics companies into the market. With that, the incentive to rip off the marketplace goes away,” Schrader said.
Schrader is also part of a subcommittee dealing with energy policy and trying to forecast what that looks like for the years and decades ahead.
“I’m an all-of-the-above energy guy. I favor renewables – I am a Northwesterner – but there are great swaths of this country that depend on fossil fuels to power their economy,” he said.
Given the Blue Dogs’ seeming resurgence, Schrader said there are lessons the group – and the Republican counterpart, the Tuesday Group – could impart to all of the nation’s lawmakers.
“Don’t demonize someone because they have a different point of view. Try to figure out what that person really needs. We all want healthcare, but do we need to repeal ACA or are you worried about the growth in entitlements or the increase in premiums,” Schrader said. “Long-term solutions are bipartisan solutions. Partisan decisions are not representative of where the American public is at during any given point in time. Ostensibly, the Congress is supposed to represent the people, not just the team that won the last election.”