Rep. Phil Roe: Health care is constituents' top concern

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

During the August congressional recess, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe is visiting his East Tennessee district and holding town hall meetings. At them, he is prepared to discuss matters ranging from the budget to immigration. What do his constituents want to talk about?

“Eighty percent of the questions we get are on health care,” said the Republican.

Major components of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare, are about to go into effect. “People are hearing about it,” Roe said. “It’s going to start soon, and it affects every single one of us.

Roe spoke to Mountain Press staffers at the newspaper’s offices, where he used his cellphone to read from a Chicago Tribune editorial about the health care reform: “Let’s delay and rewrite this ill-conceived law.”

“We think it’s just a bad bill,” Roe said of his fellow congressional Republicans. “It has never polled positive.” House Republicans have voted against the Affordable Care Act dozens of times since it was passed by a Democratic Congress in 2010.

The congressman acknowledged the gridlock that has hindered legislative progress. “I would argue that the Senate is the problem,” he said. “They told me when I went to Congress that...the Senate is the enemy. I believe that now. We pass a lot of bills to the U.S. Senate that never go anywhere.”

During a brief visit, Roe addressed several contentious issues.

On immigration: “You have to step back and say, why do we need an immigration bill? We had an immigration bill in 1986, which we never followed.” Roe said that constituents tell him, “You have to have verifiable border security. Without that, the rest of it doesn’t really amount to anything.”

On food stamps: “We should be embarrassed that 47 million of our fellow citizens are on food stamps.”

On the federal government’s Common Core education standards: Roe sees some merits in the policy, but “I still push for state and local control.”

Roe praised some of the Congress’ recent accomplishments. “No more earmarks,” he said. “You’re not going to fix the budget problem with $17-18 billion dollars,” he noted, “but it was a symptom.” He also touted bipartisan cooperation on issues including student loans, the NSA and tax reform.

Even so, Roe acknowledged that according to opinion polls, Americans do not think much of Congress these days.

“I think a lot of it has to do with how the economy’s doing,” he said. “If people knew they could go out and get a good job and take care of their family, I think (they) would look at it differently. I think probably they’re looking at Washington for answers to those things, and what are they getting? They’re getting more uncertainty.”

kburns@themountainpress.com