Congressman's topics range from health to Helper
Most of the talk in Congress about cutting spending and balancing the federal budget has been focused on a mighty small slice of the spending pie, according to Rep. Jim Matheson.
Speaking to audiences in Helper and Price, he said that if the budget is ever going to be balanced and meaningful reductions in spending are to be made, Congress will have to work on the big five items:
Social Security; and
While talk of cutting foreign aid (0.5 percent of the budget) and other services may get ink and airtime, the big five comprise 88 percent of federal spending.
The challenge facing decision makers is that these are popular programs, in the case of Social Security, immensely popular, he explained.
He himself voted against a Republican plan to replace the current Medicare system with a system of vouchers for senior citizens, who would then have to shop around for private insurance policies on their own.
If health insurance costs keep growing as they are, those vouchers would lose value year after year, he said. It may be possible to reduce insurance costs as well as health care costs by evaluating the worth of many medical procedures, he continued.
As it now stands, physicians may be ordering tests and procedures that have questionable medical value, but provide some measure of defense against lawsuits. Some 30 percent of medical procedures are deemed unnecessary, he added.
So tort reform for medical malpractice is on the table for discussion.
The flip side of spending cuts is revenue increases. While Matheson did not mention adjustments in tax rates, he did say that revisions of the complex tax code to eliminate special-interest loopholes could raise revenue without raising taxes.
Of local interest to Helper, he heard comments from retired postmaster Walter Borla at the Balance Rock Eatery breakfast meeting.
Borla was upset by talk that the Salt Lake District of the Postal Service is considering removing Helper's postal routes and consolidating them with Price's.
The loss of two city delivery routes and two contract routes to Kenilworth and Scofield would mean a loss of jobs based in Helper, he said, and render the current post office into a stamp dispensing site, a place to accept parcel post, and maintaining post office boxes.
Not only that, but by transferring the jobs from Helper to Price, it would mean that postal workers living in Helper would have to make an 18-mile round trip to and from Price each day - not a good thing for fuel conservation.
Likewise, Helper residents who are not home when accountable mail requiring signatures arrives would have to travel to Price to pick it up.
Mayor Dean Armstrong also brought up the postal situation at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Anthony J's. "There's a lot of talk from Washington about preserving Main Street, but this doesn't look like it's going to help our Main Street," the mayor said.
"Nothing's been decided yet," Matheson replied. He went on to say of the Postal Service, "Their world has changed. Their business model has changed. With 200,000 employees, how do you adjust to lower volume?"
The Internet has caused a drop in demand for delivery services, he explained.
On another subject, Paul Birdsey, regional aquatics manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources, noted that efforts to maintain wildlifepopulations that might become listed as endangered have been working. Nevertheless, budget proposals would cut funds for those programs, which might lead to increased hassles by having those species eventually given endangered status.
Matheson said he agreed, and has voted against the bill in the House, but that the new compromise bill appears to be more equitable.