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Hartselle Enquirer

A troubling trend

Sen. Richard Shelby
Guest Columnist

On March 22, I completed my annual round of meetings with constituents in each of Alabama’s 67 counties. Holding a public meeting in each county every year is a campaign promise I made during my first run for the Senate in 1986. I have kept this promise every year since, and pledge to fulfill it as long as I am privileged to serve the great people of Alabama in Washington, D.C. This year marked my 1,600th county visit during my Senate career. As always, I enjoyed the spirited discussions as much as I appreciate the wonderful support I received during these meetings.

Visiting face-to-face helps me to see and hear firsthand the effect that decisions made in Washington have on my constituents in Alabama. The feedback I receive helps form the basis for the policy positions I take on votes in the Senate. There simply is no substitute for this interaction. As I traveled the state this year, constituents raised many concerns. Without doubt, the most frequent topics were health care and the economy. I would like to take this opportunity to relate what I heard and state my position on these important subjects.

Overwhelmingly, Alabamians oppose the Democrats’ health care bill, and I share many of their concerns. The Democrats have enacted legislation that will increase taxes, drastically cut Medicare, limit flexibility and options for patients and doctors, and, most troubling, ration care. In fact, the bill signed by the President will expand the government’s role in your life to an extraordinary level. At every opportunity, I voted against this new law that leads our nation down the path to socialized medicine.

Without destroying our nation’s health care system entirely, we could have taken rational, incremental steps to decrease costs and increase access. By making insurance portable, expanding health savings accounts, reducing frivolous lawsuits that provide only marginal assistance to injured patients and drive up our health care costs, emphasizing preventive care, reducing administrative costs, and making insurance more affordable to small business and individuals, we can efficiently decrease the costs that currently burden Americans while expanding coverage; thus, improving quality and making health care more affordable. Ultimately, I do not believe massive tax increases and a reduction in coverage are what the American people have in mind as a way to improve access and create affordable, quality health care.

Instead of resorting to legislative maneuvers to pass a completely partisan health care bill, I believe Congress should have been focusing on creating jobs during these difficult economic times. Over just the past year Alabama has seen unemployment climb by more than 3.5 percent —that’s over 40,000 jobs lost in our state. The Democrat’s stimulus package did nothing to ebb this tide. We do not create real and lasting jobs by handing out Monopoly money. We do not create jobs by raising taxes. Our economy will grow when we, as a nation, stand up and do not allow this Administration to continue to increase deficit spending and budgetary measures without offsets. This is what I am working for in Washington.

Constituents are also rightly outraged that, while unemployment remains high, their tax dollars were used to bail out auto companies and Wall Street banks. I adamantly opposed these bailouts and voted against the TARP legislation that facilitated them. As the ranking Republican on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, I am working to ensure that the phrase “Too Big to Fail” is eradicated from the American vocabulary and federal policy. Our free markets are the most prolific generator of wealth and prosperity the world has ever known.

Congress must ensure, however, that a bedrock principle governs markets: Risk takers reap the benefits and bear the burdens of their own actions.

Never again should innocent taxpayers be forced to atone for the sins of Wall Street. This is my guiding principle as the Senate continues to debate Wall Street reform. It is my hope that Republicans and Democrats can come together in a bipartisan way to enact meaningful reform that achieves this goal.

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