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Larsen conducts Town Talk in Arlington
ARLINGTON U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen returned to his hometown of Arlington for a Town Talk with area residents at the Boys and Girls Club Jan. 13, outlining the priorities of the new Congress first 100 legislative hours while answering questions about local voter concerns, ranging from health care to Americas ongoing involvement in Iraq.
Larsen began by identifying the highlights of the rules package adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives for the 110th Congress, explaining that their ethics reforms now not only prohibit House members from accepting gifts or meals paid for by lobbyists or organizations that employ lobbyists, but also ban lobbyists and the organizations that employ them from planning or financing travel for House members or staff. These reforms would similarly mandate annual ethics training for all House members and employees.
To increase fiscal responsibility among House members, the rules package likewise requires disclosures of all legislative earmarks, in addition to requiring that House members who sponsor such earmarks must show that neither they nor their spouses will benefit from those provisions. This fiscal responsibility even imposes a pay as you go budget rule, requiring offsets for the costs of tax cuts and mandatory spending increases.
To promote civility with the House, the rules package now requires that House members must have at least 24 hours to review any bill before the House votes on the measure, and calls for a fair and open process for amendments. These civility rules go on to prohibit the holding-open of votes for the sole purpose of affecting their outcome.
Moving to their implementation of the 9/11 Commissions recommendations, Larsen cited the Houses passage of legislation directing the Department of Homeland Security to conduct annual vulnerability assessments of the nations critical infrastructure, in addition to prioritizing Homeland Security grants for areas of greatest risk. To increase port security, the House adopted the 9/11 Commission recommendations that all containers be required to be scanned overseas, before being loaded onto ships destined for the U.S., and that American security personnel review those scans before such containers are loaded.
Larsen elaborated that, as technology becomes available, containers will be sealed with a device that will sound an alarm when tampered with, and notify U.S. officials of a breach before the container enters the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States. He clarified that legislation passed by the House would require 100 percent scanning be implemented at larger ports within three years and at smaller ports within five years.
To prevent the worst weapons from falling into the worst hands, Larsen pointed out that the House has passed legislation to strengthen the United States ability to work with its allies to locate, secure and destroy nuclear stockpiles, as well as to create a new federal office, in the form of the U.S. Coordinator for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism.
Larsen believes that the Houses recent passage of legislation to raise the Federal Minimum Wage by $2.10 over the course of the next two years, from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, helps businesses in Washington state compete and keep jobs, while also seeking to prevent Americans from living in poverty, who work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and earn the minimum wage. Turning to health care, he asserted that the House is promoting the potential to find cures for debilitating diseases, by seeking to expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible to be used for federally-funded research, and is enacting legislation with strict ethical guidelines.
Larsen likewise championed the Houses recent passage of legislation that requires Medicare to negotiate for lower prices for prescription drugs, which current laws prohibit Medicare from doing. He pointed to the more than 99,000 seniors enrolled in Medicare within the Second Congressional District that he represents, as well as the approximately 44 million seniors enrolled in Medicare nationwide, and noted that, with more than 16 million of those seniors enrolled in a Part D plan, the federal government has enormous bargaining power.
Turning to legislation not yet passed by the House, Larsen expressed his commitment to cutting the interest rate on subsidized student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent in order to make college more affordable and more accessible, helping out an estimated 5.5 million students in the process because as college tuition and costs continue to skyrocket, interest rates on student loans have steadily increased adding to the burden of student debt. Larsen asserted that legislation currently under consideration in the House could save the average Washington state student $2,410 on his or her loan. If and when such cuts are fully implanted in 2011, he added that the average state student would save $4,670 over the life of their loan.
Our current energy policy is built for Fred Flintstone, and we need an energy policy for George Jetson, Larsen said, turning to the new Congress focus on investing the energy of our nation into the energy of our future. He emphasized the importance of reducing American dependence on foreign oil by promoting both clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as by creating a Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve to invest in such renewable energy resources, to promote new and emerging technologies, to develop greater energy efficiency and to improve energy conservation.
When asked which legislation he expected the Senate and the President to pass or veto, Larsen anticipated that both stem cell and Medicare legislation would be passed by the Senate and vetoed by President, but with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, we can still move forward and the President will have to explain his position. By contrast, he expected the President would probably sign off on minimum wage legislation, and I cant imagine most folks being against the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
When the subject of Iraq came up, Larsen promised to oppose an escalation of American troop levels and opined that its pretty clear, on both sides of the aisle, that theres some reticence about this, because there are ways to address whats going on over there, but few people anticipate that an escalation will do so. Regarding funding for American military involvement in Iraq, he clarified that hed look to specify limits on spending rather than cutting off spending altogether, but he believes that the House will demand that Guantanamo be closed, as a condition of their supporting certain spending.
Its a black eye and a terrible symbol, said Larsen, who similarly warned that not one U.S. Army brigade in America is ready to be deployed, since 40 percent of the equipment that they need to train on is in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He framed the current situation as a choice between fighting off a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, or staying in Iraq, and contended that the U.S. must engage Syria and Iran in discussions of how to deal with Iraq, not only because those two nations are neighbors with Iraq, but also because if theyre serious about finding a solution, theyll agree to it, but if theyre not, the rest of the world will know it.