By Bill Robinson Register Editor
MADISON COUNTY — The budget compromise that passed the House of Representatives last week support was a modest step toward common-sense policy making that could get the economy moving again. U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District expressed that hope in a Tuesday address to the Madison County Industrial Management Club.
The measure, that was to come before the Senate this week, was in stark contrast to the partisan gridlock that led to a federal government shutdown in October, the first-term congressman said. The shutdown was an “unhelpful” move that most Americans found distressing, Barr said. Unlike the agreement that ended the government shutdown, however, the budget compromise would make a small dent in the federal deficit, $23 billion.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the measure also would chip away at the across-the-board spending cuts that have led to furloughs of federal employees, including those at the Blue Grass Army Depot, the congressman said. Although funding for the weapons destruction plant being built at the depot appears assured for the short-term, so important a project should never be halted because of board policy disagreements in Congress, Barr continued.
The automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, were adopted to force Congress into setting priorities, but the plan backfired when no action was taken and the across-the-board cuts went into effect, he said. No matter how well-intended they may have been, federal legislation such as the Dodd-Frank banking reform act and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, were inhibiting economic recovery. More specifically, they are hurting small businesses and the individuals they were intended to help, Barr said, citing some examples.
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has classified Bath County, a “picturesque community” east of Mt. Sterling with only two stop lights in its county seat, as non-rural. As a result, the three small banks there will have to change their mortgage lending policies. The rules threaten the future of a small bank that has been in business for 120 years, surviving the Great Depression and the financial crisis, according to its fifth-generation president. It may not be in business 10 years from now, unless the regulatory decision is changed, Barr said the banker told him.
The Congressman, who said he has brought the issue before the CFPB, is hopeful the decision can be overturned. Another example Barr cited was a Winchester truck driver with cancer who said his insurance has been canceled because of Affordable Care Act requirements. The cheapest insurance he can find on state’s www.kynect.com site costs $1,800 more each month than he had been paying. As he had done before, Barr pointed to the Joe Bologna’s restaurant in Lexington, which he said has had to curtail its growth so it would have no more than 50 employees and avoid the Obamacare insurance mandate.
The mandate, which has been delayed but not eliminated, also has forced Bologna’s to limit other employees to no more than 30 hours a week, he said. While virtually no coal is mined in the Sixth District, Barr said some of his constituents work in coal-related industries or for manufacturers that depend on low-cost, coal-generated electricity. He told of a Wolfe County mother who told him she had to buy flip flops instead of shoes for her children when they went back to school in August because her husband had been laid off from his coal-related job.
Many such layoffs can be traced to more stringent regulation of coal mining and burning imposed by the Obama administration, Barr said. However, the congressman said extending unemployment benefits creates a disincentive for jobless people to find work. He made that statement as he answered a question about President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage. Barr said he is against the proposal as a way to reduce income inequality because it would “destroy jobs” by removing “the first two rungs of the income ladder.”
Although family breadwinners need to make more than minimum wage, that is not who works such jobs, he said. The minimum wage is for entry-level jobs in which employees are trained, Barr said, noting that employees of the industry groups members make much more than the minimum. In addition to his opposition to extending unemployment benefits, Barr said he favors reform of entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicare.
“Sensible reform” of those programs would reduce the federal deficit while protecting them for the elderly and ensuring their long-term viability. Without going into details, Barr said he was co-sponsoring health-care reform legislation that would cover the uninsured, a goal of Obamacare, and reduce health-care costs. More Kentuckians have lost than gained health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, he said.
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