Duncan talks health care, energy costs and the free market

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan talks at the Chamber

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan speaks to the ...

Some are saying Congress won’t pass health care legislation this year. U.S. Rep. John J. (Jimmy) Duncan, Jr., told Blount County Chamber members that those folks are wrong.

Duncan predicts what will happen when the U.S. Congress goes back in session is the Senate will take the House version, make a few cosmetic changes and then pass it. “They’ll say they have made big changes, but basically, they’ll pass the same bill,” he said.

Duncan said the president has seen focus group results regarding the health care debate and now his administration is touting the initiative as health insurance reform.

During the question and answer period, John Smaldone voiced concerns about healthcare legislation. “Not only could it bankrupt the country, for seniors, it’s going to destroy us,” he said.

Duncan said the problem with health care is it isn’t tied to a true free market where competition drives down the price. Medical savings accounts or vouchers could be a good alternative. “You’ve got to give people a reason to shop around,” he said. “The overriding problem is we can’t come close to affording what they’re proposing. It’s $1.6 trillion and these cost estimates are lower than what it will actually cost.”

Duncan said that when the cost of medical care becomes too much, there won’t be enough votes in either the House or Senate to lower benefits. “What they’ll do is print more money. We’ve printed 20 percent more dollars this year than last year,” he said. “If we had had a fiscally conservative Congresses the last 50 years, we wouldn’t have the problems we have.”

Duncan said the health care issue has been growing since the 1960s when the government began paying for medical care for uninsured or underinsured citizens. He shared how in the early 1990s he spoke with the doctor who delivered him and learned that it cost $60 for nine months of prenatal care and delivery. “In the ‘60s, we took what was a minor problem for a small percentage of people and turned it into a massive problem for everybody,” he said.

“We don’t pay for food or clothes or cars like we do for medical care,” Duncan said. “If we did, a steak might cost you $1,000.”

Duncan said the same could be said for how the government got involved in student loans. It caused the price of education to rise dramatically. “It shocks students when I tell them it cost me $260 for my last semester,” he said.

When asked about a transportation bill to cover costs for highway building and repair, Duncan pointed to projects that had helped make the area safer. “We’ve been able to get more transportation money into this district than any other in the country. There was money for 411 South. That was a death trap. I’m proud of what we did,” he said of widening US 411 South to four lanes.

Regarding an energy policy, Duncan said there needs to be a refiguring of how the tax is calculated because people are buying less fuel as vehicles become more fuel efficient. “We should have more energy production,” he said. “You could bring the price of gas way down.”

Duncan said there are some lawmakers in Congress who actually want gas prices to go to $4 a gallon so people will drive less. The congressman said this would hurt communities such as Tellico Plains where residents commute long distances for work. “If you do that, you’re putting the final nail in the coffin of small towns.”

Duncan was asked about status of the Employee Free Choice Act. “I’ve met with union groups, and I’ve never in 21 years had anyone tell me they were intimidated from joining a union,” he said of the legislation. “I’m not for it.”

Duncan said afterwards that he did vote for legislation in the last session that gave public service employees such as firefighters and police officers limited collective bargaining rights. “But that bill specifically said they don’t have the right to strike and state labor laws have precedence,” he said.

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