Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jason Altmire on the PCN Call-In Show

Here are my notes from the prerecorded PCN Call-In Show; it is currently available on their website at As always, these are rough notes and I apologize for any errors or misinterpretations.

PCN Call-In Show 11/27 Jason Altmire, Congressman-Elect, Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District.

Host: Francine Schertzer

Q: anticipated issues

JA; In the first 100 hours, lobbying reform, medicare prescription drugs, student loan interest rate, minimum wage

Q : Top goals?

JA: His personal expertise is in health care.

Q: How can we make health care more affordable?

JA: 1) pay doctors and hospitals based on quality not quantity, 2) create a larger pool for those privately insured, and 3) open up Medicare to those under 65

Q: What is your health care background?

JA: For the past 7 years at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as a health administrator and in government relations, previously worked in DC for 8 years, and 2.5 years at a national trade association. He has a master’s degree in health care administration.

Q: What do you mean by quality versus quantity?

JA: Medicare has a scorecard for quality. We need to tie payment to outcomes.

Q: Cost of health care, insurance premiums going up.

JA: Put people into larger pools, then the health status of the group not the individuals will affect the cost.

Q: Medicare part D

JA: Some good things but a flawed program. For example, you can’t negotiate for group discounts for prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical lobby was against group negotiations.

Q: Re-import drugs? Would there be an assurance they would be the same quality as those purchased in the US?

JA: We must make sure prescription drugs are safe.

Caller: Thanks on Medicare. Congrats on victory.

JA: The caller has reminded him of another medicare problem – the donut hole in part D.

Caller: Are you familiar with HR 2088, the Veterans Heritage Firearms Act, which would allow veterans, their spouses or heirs to register firearms brought back from the service.

JA: Not familiar with that bill but will look into it.

Caller: Congrats. Taxes and declining standard of living. Will you increase the income tax?

JA: Bush’s tax cuts expire in 2010. JA supports a tax credit for first time homebuyers, for those caring for elderly parents, college costs, extension of the marriage penalty reduction. Don’t renew cuts for those earning $200,000 or $300,000.

Host: Increase minimum wage?

JA: Yes, Bush says he will sign.

Caller: Put health education and physical education back into the school curriculum?

JA: This makes sense. If it has been taken out of the curriculum then it should be put back. No Child Left Behind is up for renewal.

Host: No Child Left Behind?

JA: It turns teachers and administrators into paper pushers. Teaching to the test. Doesn’t take the learning disabled into account. Funding is inadequate.

Host: Bush receptive to changes?

JA: There is a new game in town. In fairness, NCLB started as a bipartisan program, when funding was included in the legislation.

Caller: What about universal health care. Massachusetts program will fine those without insurance.

JA: Massachusetts requires health insurance, like we require car insurance. Interesting process. Might not work across the county. JA skeptical. We pay more for health care than other countries do but with poorer results. We need to preserve what works.

Host: Health care savings accounts?

JA: They are helpful to a small percentage of the population, the health and wealthy.

Host: Describe your district.

JA: It includes parts of 6 counties. (He gives a fuller description and they had a map, but I couldn’t write all the county names that fast – look at this map if you want more info)

Host: Social security?

JA: There is no immediate crisis. Currently there is $200 billion a year surplus, but it is taken out to mask the deficit. Not until 2017 will it start to pay out more than it takes in. Medicare is a more immediate crisis. Entitlements will be affected by baby boomer retirements. We need to take a thoughtful approach.

Host: Should guest workers pay into social security?

JA: He takes a hard line on immigration. Illegals should not get benefits but if they are working they should pay in.

Moderator: Should we penalize employers and landlords of illegal aliens?

JA: The key to illegal immigration is to penalize employers. Americans would do those jobs if they paid a fair market wage.

Moderator: English as the official language?

JA: Yes

Caller: People giving friends and neighbors a ride versus taxis (I didn’t follow this question well.)

JA: Primarily a state level concern.

Caller: We should have open borders. What do you think of our imperialistic activities in Afghanistan and Iraq?

JA: We made the right decision to go into Afghanistan. We had Osama bin Laden surrounded and let him off the hook. Then we took a wrong turn going into Iraq. Look at our current goals: to put a democratic government in place in Iraq. They are ready to administer their own affairs. We should refocus on Osama bin Laden.

Host: The UK and other countries are considering withdrawing their troops.

JA: It is crucial to get the Iraqis to set a timeline. We must do what is in our best interest.

Caller: Too many people speaking Spanish not English. Why are we in Iraq when we can’t take care of our own people?

JA: Agrees that English should be the official language. The money we have spent in Iraq could have been spent on port security or airline safety, or other anti-terrorist measures.

Caller: veterans benefits

JA: The current congress reduced veterans benefits. It should be mandatory like a pension. The price of supporting veterans is the price of freedom.

Caller: ad accused Melissa Hart of wrongdoing

JA: He had no advance notice of the ad. It was over the top and he was unhappy with it. It probably hurt him more than it helped him.

Host: Campaign funding

JA: We should take money out of campaigns. Officials wonder how they can cash in on votes, even if subconsciously. There should be public funding, a certain amount per constituent to candidates. We should win on issues not who raises the most money. We also need lobbying reform.

Host: There was national attention on the race, especially in the last few months.

JA: He was on the campaign trail for 17 months. He left his job to campaign. Stayed on message. Santorum was a drag on his opponent. Both national parties spent a lot of money in the last months.

Caller: A retired federal employee. Still paying taxes. HR 147 ?? windfall program (didn’t catch this)

JA: We need to make sure those who have earned pensions get them.

Caller: Your ads said Melissa Hart often voted with George Bush and Rick Santorum. How often will you vote with Bob Casey?

JA; He has many similar views with Casey. In orientation Nancy Pelosi told incoming congressmen and women to represent their districts not the party.

Host: What happens in freshman orientation?

JA: You learn the rules of the house, how to manage family life and work life. In addition they had to vote on leadership. JA supported Murtha over Hoyer.

Host: What committee assignments do you want?

JA: Committee assignments are being made now. JA would like to serve on Ways & Means (health care, trade, taxes) but it is unusual for freshmen to serve on that committee. Would also like Veterans and Education.

Caller: Wants a box on tax forms to donate to veterans health care.

JA: Agree that veterans health care is important.

Caller: is a CPA. What is your position on income tax, capital gains, alternative minimum tax?

JA: Alternative minimum tax should be dealt with – it isn’t indexed to inflation. It will cost money to fix. We need to look at expiring tax breaks, capital gains, caregivers for the elderly. We should not support tax cuts for the ultra wealthy.

Caller: veterans benefits, contracting out of services?

JA: We need to take a comprehensive look at veterans benefits. Make sure we are providing top of the line services.

Caller: What are our taxes, sales tax and income tax, user for?

JA: We need to make sure monies are used appropriately.

Host and JA thank each other.

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