McMorris Criticizes BPA Rule Change in Budget Committee Testimony

 

(Washington, D.C.)  Congresswoman Cathy McMorris (WA-05) testified to the House Budget Committee today on the impact that the President’s FY 2007 budget will have on Eastern Washington. While highlighting the funding that will go towards fighting meth, advancing the use of health information technology, and developing a 21st century workforce, she also criticized the budget for inadequate funding of rural health care and a proposed rule change that would increase energy rates for Northwest customers.

“The President’s budget includes funding for projects that will protect what’s important to Eastern Washington, such as growing our economy; ensuring access to quality, affordable health care; and keeping our nation and community safe,” said McMorris. “However, I am very concerned about the lack of funding for rural health care and we should not allow the money for crucial programs to be zeroed out. We are already facing a health care shortage in our rural communities, and cutting these programs will only exacerbate the health care crisis.”

Last year McMorris was successful in getting $90 million restored to rural health care programs.

“I will also continue working to ensure changes are not made to BPA’s debt repayment structure. It worries me that this rule change would not need Congressional approval, and we must keep drawing attention to the devastating impacts this will have on our economy. Our rate payers are already paying higher costs due to salmon recovery and this proposal would hinder many people’s ability to pay their monthly bills. I am confident that the Northwest delegation will not rest until this proposed rule change is withdrawn.”

A copy of McMorris’ testimony to the Budget Committee is attached.

Testimony of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris
Committee on the Budget
February 14, 2006

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee – Thank you for allowing me to speak on the importance of the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Resolution and its impact on Eastern Washington.

My primary reason in testifying today is to discuss several important budget items the Committee will soon consider, including fighting meth, ensuring quality, affordable health care, training our 21st century workforce and provisions regarding the Bonneville Power Administration. And, above all, support the President’s efforts to control spending and eliminate the deficit.

One of my top priorities in Congress is to keep our nation, and communities, safe. In Eastern Washington, we deal on a daily basis with the devastating effects of methamphetamine (meth) and other drug abuse. In Spokane alone, it is estimated that 80% of crime and 90% of check fraud is drug and meth related. In 2004, Washington ranked 6th in total meth seizures, ahead of California. Imagine the increased safety of our communities if meth production and abuse were reduced, and substance abuse programs were more effective. That is why I strongly support the President’s call for $40 million towards meth lab cleanup, as well as a proposed $69 million to increase our nation’s drug courts to offer treatment and alternatives for non-violent offenders.

Creating a technical and educated workforce is key in promoting economic development in Eastern Washington and throughout our region and nation. I support the President’s call towards advancing our 21st Century Workforce. Specifically, I applaud the proposal for the High Growth Job Training Initiative, as well as the Career Advancement Accounts to assist workers who are entering the workforce, transitioning to new jobs, or advancing in their current jobs.

In addition to building our workforce and encouraging economic growth, we must also maintain a healthcare system that is affordable and accessible. That is why I strongly urge the Committee to maintain the President’s budget request of $169 million for health information technology programs. National coordination on Health IT is vital in streamlining systems, reducing overall medical costs, improving quality of care, and strengthening preventative medicine. The use of health technology throughout Eastern Washington has led to more efficient patient treatment, expanded rural health, and improved doctor care. Strengthening and improving Health IT is essential to the future of healthcare.

Though I recognize the increased funding for the Office of Rural Health Policy, Telehealth and Community Health Centers, the overall proposal for rural health is insufficient. There are many programs at the center of our rural health infrastructure which are proposed to be zeroed out, including Rural Hospital Flexibility Grants and all of Title VII, which funds our Area Health Education Centers. These grants have demonstrated an essential link between Critical Access Hospitals and providers, increasing quality of care, and producing collaboration for these safety net hospitals within our communities.

My district stretches over 23,000 square miles. Much of that distance is rural, creating considerable challenge in ensuring access to health care for Eastern Washington residents. We continue to see increasing shortage of health care professionals. In towns like Odessa, Republic and Davenport primary care coverage is sparse. People in our rural region deserve to have access to the same quality of care as people in large, urban areas. I will work to restore increased funding for critical rural health programs.

Though the President’s budget provides many great initiatives, there is one specific proposal that I believe could be detrimental to the economy and livelihoods of people of the Northwest. This proposal is the expedited debt retiring provisions affecting the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). As you may be aware, the Bonneville Power Administration markets electric power from a series of hydroelectric dams within Eastern Washington, and throughout several other Northwest States. One of my top priorities is to provide economic growth for our region, part of which is ensuring affordable energy. The Pacific Northwest economy was built on inexpensive renewable energy.

This rule proposal would seize a portion of BPA’s future revenue and use it towards an escalating repayment of its federal debt, essentially reversing BPA’s ability to use its sale of surplus power to decrease electricity rates in the northwest. The surplus is often assumed during good water years in the Northwest, years which can often be few and far between. BPA needs the revenue from this surplus not to pay down a debt which BPA is already ahead of paying off, but to use for flexibility in those years in which they must adjust to other conditions.

However, debt repayment is not the issue here. In fact, BPA has already prepaid the Treasury $1.46 billion in the last five years, and plans to continue additional debt prepayments in the future.

A proposal such as this could raise rates as high as 10 percent and will have an enormous impact in our region – a region where electricity rates are almost 50% higher than those in place before the 2001 energy crisis. This increase would build upon the already increased rates we are paying for salmon recovery costs. In 2004 alone, BPA paid over $414 million towards salmon recovery programs, costs which are expected to rise within the next several years. That high cost is then absorbed by every individual customer, translating to 21% of their bill. Between salmon rates and the effects of the Administration’s proposal on BPA, energy consumers will simply not be able to foot the bill. At a time of rising energy and electricity costs around the country, a proposal that effectively increases these rates in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon is simply not acceptable.

It is my understanding that although this provision is in the President’s budget, it would not need Congressional approval, but rather would be implemented by a simple rulemaking procedure by the Administration. This is of great concern to me, and something I will continue to work on with my colleagues in the House and Senate to prevent.

Our communities and businesses are dependent on the low cost energy rates which BPA provides. These same businesses operate because of these low electric rates, and will face major problems should this proposal be enacted.

In summary I believe funding to help combat our nation’s drug problems, improve the quality of health care, and provide economic opportunities, all of which are supported in the President’s budget, will help carry our nation forward.

Once again Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time and I look forward to your leadership as we move forward on the 2007 budget.

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