Our nation is confronted with some major questions about what direction our government should take. Should the federal government be able to force individuals to buy health insurance? How can we sustain critical programs like Medicare and Social Security? Should we balance the budget by mostly raising taxes and mostly cutting spending?
Over the last year, it has become pretty clear that Democrats and Republicans are pretty far apart on how to solve these problems. We have regular elections so that the American people can set the direction of our government. While we have an election later this year, there is no reason why we can't move forward with common sense legislation right now.
This week, the House of Representatives moved three pieces of legislation that are substantive. These aren't comprehensive solutions. They are common sense, bipartisan bills that should make their way to the President's desk.
Among the many government programs created by the Affordable Care Act was the long-term insurance plan know as CLASS. The Community Living Assistance Services and Support program was supposed to allow individuals to enroll in an insurance plan that would eventually help pay for home health care, nursing home care, or other daily needs.
Unfortunately, CLASS was poorly designed. Actuarial analysis showed that it would never function as intended. Even if monthly premiums were as high as $3,000 a month, CLASS would eventually collapse. The only solution would have been a government bailout.
The Department of Health and Human Services spent 18 months and $5 million modeling the program and reaching a dead end each time. The only model that was even close to working required each and every American to pay into the program, a mandate outside the bounds of the legislation and probably unconstitutional. HHS concluded that CLASS could not work and pulled the plug.
This week, the House passed H.R. 1173, the Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act to repeal the CLASS Act. Why eliminate the program if HHS isn't implementing it? The government can be sued for not following the law, either through action or inaction. While the law required CLASS to be fiscally sound, it also required the program to be running by this fall. An individual could actually sue the government demanding that the program start running regardless of whether the program is destined to go bankrupt.
It's only common sense to remove the failed program from the books and start over.
This week, we also passed H.R. 3835, a bill to extend the pay freeze for Members of Congress and federal workers. Obviously, Members of Congress shouldn't see increased salaries during a time of record debt and high unemployment. I've consistently voted against Congressional pay increases for 15 years, and since 2008 we've passed a freeze on pay. The House has also decreased the budget for staff salaries two years in a row.
This week, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report showing average total compensation for federal workers is 16 percent higher than their private sector equivalents. This is mostly because federal benefits are significantly better than in the private sector.
It's only common sense to keep pay level as private sector workers struggle with pay decreases and increased costs of benefits.
Finally, we passed H.R. 3567, legislation to prohibit food stamps from being used in a liquor store, casino, or strip club. There's just simply no reason why individuals receiving food stamps should be using them in these institutions. If you've got enough money to be spending in these places, then you shouldn't be receiving government assistance.
It's only common sense to make sure that government assistance is going to individuals who are truly needy.
Each of the bills above passed with bipartisan support. The latter two bills actually passed with more than two-thirds support of the House. Again, none of these bills is going to balance the budget or save a program on their own. We can continue butting heads all year and making arguments at each other, but that will not help the American people one bit. It's time for us to put aside disagreements and have some common sense reform.