Transcript: Need to Know Rochester for April 16, 2010

(Julie) COMING UP ON NEED TO KNOW, A REPUBLICAN AND A DEMOCRAT GO TO WASHINGTON.  WE TALK TO FRESHMEN CONGRESSMEN CHRIS LEE AND DAN MAFFEI ABOUT THE TOP ISSUES OF THE DAY, AND HOW THEY PLAN TO FINISH OUT THEIR FIRST TERMS IN OFFICE.

 

(MUSIC)

 

(ANNCR.) Rochester's News Magazine since 1997. This is Need To Know.

 

(Julie) I’M JULIE PHILIPP, THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME FOR THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW. CONGRESS IS BACK IN SESSION AFTER PUSHING THROUGH A HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL AND THEN TAKING A WEEK TO HEAD HOME AND EXPLAIN IT TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS DURING RECESS.  LAST WEEK, WE SHOWED YOU OUR INTERVIEW WITH  U-S REPRESENTATIVE LOUISE SLAUGHTER, A 23 YEAR VETERAN OF CONGRESS.  BUT WE ALSO SAT DOWN WITH THE REGION’S TWO FRESHMEN LAWMAKERS, BEGINNING WITH CONGRESSMAN DAN MAFFEI WHO SUPPORTED THE HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL.

 

(Julie) Your support for the health care reform bill came fairly late in the game. You were getting pressure from all sides. What tipped the scale and led you to vote?

 

(Dan Maffei) Well, Julie, you know it was such a long process and I think that's part of the reason why people have gotten upset or they don't necessarily know what's in it because it went on so long and there were so many different versions. I supported the House bill that had a public option that I thought would be a real start. When the senate bill came along, it was more difficult because there were a lot of things that were unfair to New York I felt. The Medicaid formula would have disadvantaged our hospitals like Rochester General and Strong Memorial and some other kinds of things in the bill that would have been a real problem that actually, I believe, would have taxed middle income people. Their health plans. And I didn't think that was the answer. What we were able to do under the leadership of president Obama was negotiate and a lot of those problems were addressed. Once that happened, I actually came out very strongly for the health care bill, because I do think it was extraordinarily important to do especially better than the status quo.  I do think it was important to have addressed those concerns first.

 

(Julie) There is concern from lawmakers that did not support it though that it contains some gimmicks to make it appear affordable. And we know governments, corporations, others are really good at doing that. In the long run, opponents say this just isn't sustainable. How well would you say you understand the fiscal implications of this bill.

 

(Maffei) I understand it as well as I can. Nobody knows for sure the exact long term costs. All of it is projections, but the congressional budget office is non-partisan and it's by and large conservative. For instance when the Medicaid part D was passed which was a republican bill signed by a republican president, but under those estimates one would have expected it to be much more expensive than it turned out to be. I think the same thing is probably true here. They estimate that there will be about a trillion, actually 1.2 trillion in savings next decade. This decade about 150 billion in savings. So, there is some significant savings here. I'm quite sure there will even be more savings. I'm not positive, but I'm quite sure. But I am positive the status quo will be worse. And that's the real issue. It wasn't compare this to some sort of an ideal. It was compare it to what we are currently doing. Under what we were currently doing, half the number of businesses that can afford health insurance today would be able to afford it in 10 years. Inflation in health care was skyrocketing far above anything else. Any other kinds of inflation and far above other industrialized countries. We simply could not afford that. That would have bankrupted the economy. This at least gives us a chance. It starts a new foundation on which we can build other cost savers.

 

(Julie) Now, it is an election year and already at least one of your opponents plans to use this in her favor that you voted for this health care reform law. On the other side you had supporters. The working families party, for instance, that said if you do not vote for this bill we are not going to back you in the elections. You are kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. How do you plan to frame this as you seek re-election?

 

(Maffei) This health care bill was a big challenge because unlike any other major issue, the constituency is more divided on this. People who are strongly opposed, some of them very vocal, were very strongly opposed. People who were strongly for were very strongly for. By and large though, I don't believe that this was something where I voted against where my constituents would be. I do think that the majority, maybe a slim majority, but a majority of my constituents would have preferred me voting for this than nothing, which was the other option. My job now is to reach out to everybody whether you were for it, against it, particularly people in the business communities, seniors, other groups that have a lot of questions and try to answer their questions. If you are a business leader, whether you were for it or against it, my office can help make sure that you put your business in the best possible situation to try to take advantage of it. If you are really small and want to take advantage of some of the tax breaks or if you're worried about some of the challenges coming up when it really kicks in and you have to provide insurance or pay a fee, then we can help to make sure that your business is in the best situation for that. Now that it's the law, that's what we're going to do. That's how I think I can best try to represent the bulk of my constituents. But, I don't believe I was going against the bulk of my constituents. Again, a lot of diverse viewpoints, and they are all legitimate, but I think that people wanted to see health care reform. And certainly, Julie, it's what I ran on. I really would have been betraying my initial campaign for congress had I not supported some sort of fundamental health care reform. Well, maybe you could say it needed to be the right bill, but once some of our biggest concerns were addressed, I think it was my duty to support it. At least that's what I ran on. I would have been totally moving away from that if I had not supported it simply because it was more politically advantageous to not support it.

 

(Julie) Immigration reform, another big issue that is out there that is very important to many of your constituents, particularly in Wayne County and some of the other rural spots. Does this health care reform law give you some momentum in pushing that through, or you've already used up a lot of chips, is this going to slow down immigration reform.

 

(Maffei) It's an interesting question. I do think, in terms of getting things done in Washington, that on the balance it's more on the momentum side. Certainly where we were a month ago before the president really re-energized the health care debate, and I have to admit, I thought it was probably not going to happen, but the president really did take a leadership role on this. I think it does make everything more possible. That said, I'm going to be candid. I think comprehensive immigration reform will be a big challenge to get it done this year. In the meantime, we need to make sure the farmers in Wayne County can pick their crops and do the kinds of things they need to do. There simply aren't the workers with the kinds of skills they need in the United States and so, we have guest worker programs, but they are totally inadequate. A bill that I helped write is called the Ag Jobs Bill and it specifically addresses this problem. Some people say, why are we bringing in people from other places when we have people here who need jobs? The truth is, if we don't bring in these folks to help pick apples and other kinds of fruits and vegetables we are going to have fewer jobs because these farms are going to shut down and other jobs that our Americans do we are not going to be able to do.

 

(Julie) But do you anticipate changes in the guest worker system by the end of the year?

 

(Maffei) I really am going to try to push Ag Jobs very very hard. So even if I'm more pessimistic on overall comprehensive immigration reform, I'm more optimistic about doing something like Ag Jobs that specifically targets the farming sector. The difficulty in Washington is that some people want to connect the two because Ag Jobs is maybe more popular than overall comprehensive immigration reform. I, personally, think we do need comprehensive immigration reform, but I can't sacrifice Ag jobs and the major industry. We are the largest apple producing county outside of Washington State. We can't sacrifice that waiting for a better political moment.

 

(Julie) I want to touch on jobs and the economy. Not turning around in upstate New York as fast as people hoped. Jobs still scarce. What are some of the major steps that you'd like to see congress take next to address that?

 

(Maffei) I think the next thing that is so important is more lending to small businesses, particularly family businesses. These are the businesses that tend to hire people that in some ways are the ones that really have been halted the most because of the recession because they deal on much smaller scales. Right now I know several business that would be hiring if they could afford a loan to expand their work space, buy another piece of equipment etc. That's really where we are seeing a problem. Not so much on the side of the community banks. They are trying to get the loans out, but the big banks aren't really stepping in as much as they were on these size loans and we really need to see more incentive. There's a number of proposals we are working on in the banking committee which I serve on. We already did extend the 90% guarantee for SBA loans but there is a lot of strings attached to those that sometimes turns off banks and credit unions from working with those. We are working on other kinds of things that would also help stimulate more loans provided they are going to the right folks who really do have a good plan and a sustainable way to create jobs and keep those jobs in the future.

 

(Julie) Final question. It's April, but as we know election season will swing into gear fairly soon. Sooner rather than later. Have you had an opportunity to look at your first term in office so far and really pick the highlights? What you're most proud of and also what's left to do?

 

(Maffei) It's interesting because it does feel like the election is already upon us and yet I've only served in office one year and three months. I'd give myself probably a B plus. I certainly don't think that everything has been perfect, but we were able to do a lot of stuff.  I look at the auto dealer and how we were able to help them in a very partisan way everybody talks about partisanship we work very hard with congressmen from other states we worked with Chris Lee on it who helped us restore some of the auto dealer rights that was very important, I think alot of the economic stuff we've been able to do is at least in the right direction, I do think the stimulus bill opposed by my opponent, but would have been very shortsighted not to stimulate the economy the best way we are going to grow out of economic troubles and out of the big deficits is to make sure we have economic growth.  It's exteremely important here in NY both in terms of infastructure, putting construction jobs and firms there and making sure schools keep there teachers.  looking at the future I think we just have to not let up, more incentives for small businesses, i'd like to see a small business tax credit, for buying new equipment and continue to do everything we can on the governments side to stimulate the economy.  At the end of the day I think we haev great momentum in Upstate NY our water our natural resources our proximity but we're going to have to make sure that we don't let up and we continue to work towards taking care of the challenges.

 

(Julie) Thank you, THAT WAS DEMOCRAT DAN MAFFEI, REPRESENTING THE 25TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT WHICH RUNS TO THE EAST OF ROCHESTER.  THE 26TH RUNS TO THE WEST OF ROCHESTER, AND THAT'S WHERE REPUBLICAN CHRIS LEE CAN BE FOUND.  WE BEGAN OUR INTERVIEW WITH HIS "NO VOTE" ON THE HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL. You did not support the health care reform bill let's spend a couple minute talking about why?

 

(Chris)  I think all Americans agree that we have a system that's broke and needs to be fixed but the health care bill the 2300 page bill that was presented to us really did not go far enough in terms of taking tangible costs out of the system, does it address the issues of those who don't have insurance? it does but my biggest fears and the fears throughout my district is the fact of fiscal responsibility we're talking about another trillion dollar liability that's going on to the backs of taxpayers as well as significant cuts to existing Medicare programs for seniors most popular being medicare advantage which over 60,000 seniors in my district's use.  So I was very much opposed to a bill that didn't focus on taking cost out and was a very adament No against the bill.

 

(Julie) proponents arguing that it is affordable if you look at the Congressional Office budget report what's your response to them?

(Chris) They do a great job but they only rate what's in front of them  and what's amazing, I call it smoke and mirrors this bill is rated over a ten year period, Day one the five-hundred billion in new taxes.  5 hundred billion in cuts to existing programs, happens throughout the entire 10 years, The way the administration got this thing to balance is the real benefits don't start til 2014 so it's only 6 years of benefits 10 years of tax collection and cut still existing programs to make this deficit neutral, it almost embarrassing.

 

(Julie) So the plan is over a decade but after that?

 

(Chris) Yeah let's go out to the second decade what do you got?, You've got a 40 percent shortfall we have a program that's already locked into place that's almost impossible to take away it's very hard to take something away, my view is, lets make sure it works before we go out and promise things to Americans that we may not be able to support long-term

(Julie) Even proponents including Louise Slaughter say they want and there will be changes to this but the existing system was so broken that this has to be some sort of improvement , and specifically the Medicare advantage Program that you're very concerned about, you have ten's of thousand's of senior in your district on that medicare advantage program, that was becoming an unsustainable program that any change is better...

 

(Chris) I disagree, the Medicare advantage, if you talk to seniors and I talk to a lot of seniors they love the program because it really focuses on what they want prevention and wellness so it's this penny wise pound foolish attitude that persists. the amazing thing in the bill are the areas that we wanted to go for including meaningful liability reform and never got put in the bill and how you can look anyone in the face and say we want to reform and take tangible costs off and not address liability reform, frankly, it's embarrassing.  I'm here focused on taking tangible costs out, there were things that both sides agreed on, including

increased competition across state lines, letting younger adults stay on their parents plans, ensure that pre-existing conditions is no longer going to be allowed, excuse me, where individuals will no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, those are things that both sides agree on so there are a few things in there that are acceptable but when you need a 2300 page bill to get your point across it's frightening.  As we unravel this onion and peel it back were going to continue to find that there are areas that probably will have repercussions that were unintended.  I think it's a very dangerous situation when this year we're looking at a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit that the US is running.

 

(Julie) Will you go back to Washington now and say let's tackle this Medicare advantage problem that you see basically the government is going to pay less towards those programs so the premiums could go up considerably. Are you going to go back and say let's do something to help mitigate that?

 

(Chris) Again this was the frustration the administration had the rhetoric that if you like what you have you can keep it medicare advantage over time will all but dissolve because the funding for it will disappear to the tune of several hundred billion dollars that is the frustration that I have, and yes I want to fight to ensure that if seniors like a plan that they have, it's keeping them up,  allowing them to live a home and not have to go to a nursing-home which costs significantly more. Yes, I'm a huge proponent to fighting for that cause.

 

(Julie) is there any hope now for liability reform in the near future or is that...on the back burner again?

 

(Chris) That's a question to talk to my friends across the aisle we've been beating the drum long and hard that  the doctors, hospitals, nurses are all clammering for true liability reform, the administration and speaker Pelose still have yet to address that and I think it's a disservice to the American people when we know it will take tangible costs out of the system which at the end of the day everyone wants.

 

(Julie) With health care putting that aside, for a moment, you get back to Washington, what are some of the things you hope are prioritized, the focus gets turned on?

 

(Chris) Number one issue in my district is Job,  job creation and if we don't start helping business what I found from Washington now is that making a profit is a four letter wrote word if you're making a profit. the goverment is well we need to over regulate you overtax you, I'm here to tell you we need to be growing the private sector,  the only sector of our economy that is growing is the federal government we have added over 300,000 jobs since 2007 it's non sustainable And unless we start helping  businesses compete, not only domestically but on a global basis we're in the fight of our lives against China, India, Korea, western Europe and we're not doing things to make this a more conducive place instead we're adding more tax burden on small business due to the health care bill there's cap and trade, which is a national energy tax all of these thing are going to make it harder and harder to want to go out and start a business not to mention the fact that we're increasing the rates of federal income-tax which fall on the backs of small business owners.

 

(Julie) specifically you just mentioned cap and trade and there is some talk that maybe that would be pulled out of the Senate version of the energy bill, what are you're thought's on that I assume that's something you're heartened by?

 

 

 (Chris) I have a young son at home and I do believe that we have to protect the environment we all share one planet so what we do here we also need to ensure that our other global partners are also following suit,  but if we really clamp down here in the United States and those who are penalized are manufacturers who use large amounts of energy,  those jobs, businesses will all go offshore at a time when we're already looking at record unemployment.  So we need to wake up to the reality of the situation do we want to cut CO2 emmissions? definitely we should be incentivizing businesses  Not penalizing them through taxes.

 

(Julie) Taking a different more measured approach, other than that what are you hoping to see in terms of job creation for western NY?

 

(Chris) What I hear time and time again is we keep seeing more and more government intrusion they want less, I've spoken to, in the last 3 days a lot of small business owners and again I use the health-care bill,  many businesses have over 50 employees and if you have over 50 employees you'll be taxed per employee if you have health-care or based on how much you offer and many of these business owners talk about, well I'm going to contract my business so I stay under that number, it's a great example at a time when we want to try to  grow up the private sector they're now getting indications that it's better for them to shrink then to grow. It's wrong.  I ran a small business I ran a manufacturing company and I  understand what it takes but they need the ability to have regulations that makes sense they need to have a tax structure that's at least fair with other countries, We need a focus on our educational system that instead of having young adults going to become attorney and going to wallstreet I'd like to see our best and brightest students become engineers and entrepeneurs.

 

(Julie) We only have about a minute left, I know it's only April, but it will be campaign season before we know it, have you had a chance to look at your first term in congress and what are you most proud of? and what hasn't happened quickly enough for you?

 

(Chris) well the part I'm probably most proud of was a tradegy in the fact that we had the flight crash in Clarence NY about two miles from where I lived but working with the families we've got some meaningful legislation passed in the house, it's those things that really make a difference for families to ensure that this doesn't happen again, I played a small part in that something I was very pleased with.  Somethin as simple as after we had the Witty initiative of the border traffic pushing and working with a colleague of mine to get a passport office put in western NY so that, again ,minor, but ensuring that we can help the economics of the situation.  I'm in the minority but I focus on things that I can get tangibly done that hopefully have a positive impact and I've been pleased with how much I've learned and being on financial services which is an interesting commitee we passed some credit card regulation which I think was needed to protect senior citizens and young adults.

 

(Julie) Thank you so much for your time, CONGRESSMAN CHRIS LEE.

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WATCH ALL THREE CONGRESSIONAL INTERVIEWS AGAIN, OR ANY OTHER INTERVIEWS YOU SEE ON NEED TO KNOW, WE DO POST THEM ON OUR WEB SITE.  JUST GO TO WXXI DOT O-R-G AND SEARCH FOR NEED TO KNOW.  YOU CAN ALSO LISTEN TO NEED TO KNOW EVERY SATURDAY EVENING AT 6:30 ON WXXI-AM 1370 OR FM 91-5 HD 2 ROCHESTER.

 

THAT DOES IT FOR THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW.  I'M JULIE PHILIPP.  I'LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK.

 

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