ABINGDON — Democrats weren’t to blame for why the Democratic-controlled Congress passed few new initiatives in 2007, U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher says.
While reflecting on 2007 and looking ahead to 2008, the Abingdon Democrat pointed the finger at Senate Republicans for why Congress isn’t getting much done.
“The American public doesn’t judge the performance of just one house of Congress,” Boucher said. “When the American public judges Congress, it’s a very simple test, and that is what have you produced in new laws that improved the quality of life and advanced the country. Under (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s) leadership, the House passed with flying colors. The problem is the Republicans in the Senate have blocked virtually everything. Only a few bills were allowed to get by the Republican filibusters. An energy bill got by, and so did a small increase in the minimum wage. The Republicans wanted to reap the benefit of the public looking at Congress and saying ‘You didn’t get anything done.’”
Boucher predicted that Democrats, by picking up at least five additional Senate seats, will have a working majority in the Senate after the 2008 elections.
“As soon as we have more Democratic senators ... we can make advances across the board, whether it’s increasing the number of children who get health insurance through the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance) program, or whether it’s advancing the Rural Development Agency at the Department of Agriculture so we can have more money flowing into water and wastewater projects,” Boucher said. “We will also gain House seats.”
He also indicated that election year legislation will include battles over climate change and health insurance.
Boucher, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, said the subcommittee will begin drafting a bill to control greenhouse gas emissions.
Such legislation, he added, “will have an opportunity” for the present and increased use of coal in electricity generation.
“The key to doing those seemingly incompatible things is to develop technology that allows carbon dioxide to be captured from the coal combustion process and then be sequestered permanently in the ground,” Boucher said. “We call it CCS — carbon capture and sequestration.”
Boucher said the bill could help spur a new “green industry.”
“We will develop low carbon emitting technologies that will be exported around the world. ... This will be the next technology boom in the United States,” he said.
With 47 million Americans without health insurance, Boucher said he will get behind initiatives to allow people to get private health insurance either through refundable tax credits or direct payments.
“It needs to be a national priority,” Boucher said of America’s health care crisis. “I can assure you this will be the leading priority of the next president whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. The time has come to fix this broken problem.”
Boucher said his 2008 agenda will also include:
•Continued federal support for rebuilding the High Knob Observation Tower that burned in October and building a network of multiple-use trails in the region.
•Backing funding for new sewer line services across the lower end of the district. “Twenty five years ago, only about 30 percent of the homes had public drinking water. Today that is more than 80 percent,” Boucher said. “My goal within a decade is that we will have sewer services extended to all of the places where we have public water service today.”
•Hosting conferences to educate former tobacco farmers and other entrepreneurs about the growing hair sheep, and fruit and vegetable business supported by regional grocer Food City.
On Iraq policy, Boucher said the Bush administration should be pushing Iraqis to take advantage of a lull in violence to achieve political reconciliation.
“A measure of legitimacy is now being achieved in some parts of Iraq,” he said. “I think that has less to do with what the United States has done than it has to do with changing political realities among the Iraqis themselves. The Sunnis, for example, have decided that rather than align with al-Qaida and fight American forces, it’s better to cooperate with American forces and run al-Qaida out of the country.”
Concerning Pakistan’s unrest in the wake of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Boucher said the United States should continue to encourage Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to move toward making his country a democracy.
“He’s not popular himself, and he’s really the only thing standing in the way of the Taliban and al-Qaida,” Boucher said of Musharraf. “(The Taliban and al-Qaida) have decided that Pakistan is where they are going to make their stand against the United States. The stakes are higher there than in Iraq or Afghanistan. The biggest nightmare we can face is nuclear weapons falling into the hands of al-Qaida or the Taliban.”
On his political future, Boucher indicated he’ll be seeking a 14th term in office in 2008.
“I’m not making any announcements now, but when the time comes to make an announcement, nobody is going to be very surprised,” he said. “I enjoy this work, and we are good at it. We are producing benefits across the spectrum for Southwest Virginia with an improved quality of life, a stronger economy, more opportunities, advancements in telecommunications, improvements in education and transportation, and it’s work I look forward to continuing.”
For more about Boucher go to www.boucher.house.gov.