Traditionally, presidential election years are not seen as important legislative years. The heat of the campaign can make it difficult to reach agreement on major bills. However, this election year coincides with the expiration of a number of pieces of important legislation. This should not be a year when we let partisan politics prevent good work from being done.
As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, I have to lead in the House on two major tasks: reauthorization of critical Food and Drug Administration programs and a long-term solution to the growth of Medicare reimbursement rates.
The Food and Drug Administration currently runs programs to approve medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Companies pay the FDA to evaluate products, determine safety and effectiveness, and then approve or disapprove their use. The legislation authorizing both of these programs is set to expire this year.
Previous reauthorizations of these programs have been delayed, causing uncertainty for these industries as the approval process grinds to a halt. This is no time for uncertainty. American jobs are depending on timely reauthorization. Additionally, we are looking to create two new programs to have the FDA evaluate generic drugs and generic biologic drugs.
We've set an ambitious timeline to approve our legislation with time to spare in the House. I hope to make the process in the House as bipartisan as possible. I can't say that there won't be disagreements, but we all recognize the importance of these bills to both health and our economy.
Our other important task is long-term reform of Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors. A previous attempt at reform, the Sustainable Growth Rate, cut payments too deeply leading to the possibility that thousands of doctors could no longer afford to see Medicare patients. For years now, Congress has been kicking the can down the road, delaying implementation of the SGR. To provide certainty for doctors and the federal budget, we need a permanent fix.
While I don't sit on the Agriculture Committee, I will be working with our Pennsylvania delegation and with allies across the aisle to pass a more sensible farm bill. The farm bill reauthorizes most of our agriculture and food programs for five years. The 2007 farm bill was a missed opportunity for reform. I voted against the bill in the House and also voted against overriding President Bush's veto of the bill.
Not only did the bill fail to reform commodity programs, it actually increased subsidies for ethanol. Federal support for ethanol has not made this productive competitive or substantively reduced our dependence on foreign oil. It has made a number of factory farms and processors very wealthy over the past few years as the price of corn reached new highs.
In addition to ethanol subsidy reform, the farm bill should reform the sugar program. I've introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) to reduce government interference in this market. This would be good for American jobs and for the U.S. taxpayer who is subsidizing sugar growers and producers.
I also hope that we can continue programs to protect and preserve essential farmland. Lancaster County has more farmland preserved than any other county in the nation and Chester County continues to lose farmland as metro Philadelphia expands west. The 16th District has some of the best farmland in the U.S. We shouldn't lose this remarkable heritage that defines our community.
Two other important reauthorizations could be considered this year: the transportation bill and No Child Left Behind. I hope that a new transportation bill can concentrate on essential projects and avoid funding expensive boondoggles or projects that have little hope of reducing congestion. Bike trails might improve a community, but the federal government should be focused on large, long-term projects, not things best left to states and localities.
I voted against President Bush's No Child Left Behind because I believed it put too much power in the hands of federal bureaucrats. I hope that a reauthorization of this program can give encourage more local and parental control.
Clearly, there is important work to be done this year. We can't sit on our hands and punt everything past the election. Working together may not be easy, but it will be essential to reforming our government and moving our country forward.