Canton Repository

December 23, 2003

Area Republicans call year success, Dems don’t

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — As 2003 draws to a close, Republican Reps. Ralph Regula and Bob Ney are celebrating what they consider a successful year — including passage of a tax cut, a prescription drug benefit and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

But for Democrats such as Reps. Sherrod Brown, Ted Strickland and Tim Ryan, it has been depressing.

On the legislative front, Democrats said about the most they accomplished was occasionally thwarting or modifying GOP proposals.

“I think there was a lot of substantial policy issues addressed,” said Regula, of Bethlehem Township, a 30-year veteran of the House.

“Tax policy was changed substantially” as a result of a 10-year, $330 billion tax cut championed by President Bush, he said. “The Medicare bill (providing a drug benefit for seniors) of course had real implications for the future of Medicare.”

Brown, of Lorain, disagreed.

“On the overriding issues of health care, education and the economy, Congress failed,” he said.

While Regula and Ney voted for the tax cut and the drug benefit, Brown, Strickland and Ryan opposed them.

As 2004 begins, area Democrats say they will oppose further Republican initiatives and attempt to rewrite laws passed in 2003.

Regula called the capture of Saddam and a recent agreement with Libya to destroy its chemical weapons “a real success of the president’s foreign policy.”

Ney, of St. Clairsville, applauded the capture as “a Christmas gift to the American people and to the world.”

Strickland, of Lucasville, remains furious at the failure to provide enough bulletproof vests for U.S. forces in Iraq.

“I absolutely believe that soldiers have been unnecessarily killed and seriously wounded simply because they were not fully protected,” he said.

Regula will continue as chairman of a key spending subcommittee, but he also hopes to win selection as the next chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee at the end of 2004.

“We’re going to make a very aggressive run for it — we’ll see how it works,” said Regula, who has the advantage of seniority but has never been a prolific fund-raiser for the GOP.

In the past he has avoided donations from political action committees, but this year, he is accepting those funds, which he plans to share with other candidates rather than spend himself.

Ney’s priorities in 2004 are job creation and affordable health care.

“I plan to personally work in the health area,” he said. “I think it’s becoming an absolute crisis — availability and affordability both.”

Ney is advocating legislation to make it easier to form pools to purchase health insurance, which he said would increase its availability to employees.

Controlling medical costs would benefit companies, and thereby contribute to economic growth, he said.

Brown sees merit in being an obstructionist.

“What I’m going to be doing is trying to stop bad trade agreements and trying to protect ... the medical safety net,” he said. Brown also opposes efforts to allow Americans to invest part of their Social Security savings in private accounts, which he believes would compromise the system.

Democrats want to amend the prescription drug benefit.

Strickland plans to introduce legislation to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries pay no more than $35 in monthly premiums for drug coverage. The law establishes $35 as an average premium, but does not guarantee the payment won’t be higher, he said.

Area Democrats plan to fight to give the federal government authority to negotiate lower drug prices and allow cheaper drug imports from Canada — two provisions that Republicans defeated.

Last year, one of Regula’s goals was to improve teacher quality. This year, he helped increase funding for programs designed to encourage more people to teach math and science, he said.

Regula plans to take another shot at passing a bill to give young adults more options in refinancing their student loans, he said.

As chairman of the House Administration Committee, Ney worked to provide more funds to improve the accuracy of voting machines.

As chairman of a housing subcommittee, he promoted a measure that will assist low-income Americans in purchasing their first house.

Ney also pushed through a bill establishing a National African-American History Museum in Washington, D.C.

In his first year in Congress, Ryan, of Warren, helped put together an effort to preserve the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which could be targeted for closure when a base realignment commission meets in 2005.

He’s also promoting a first-ever indoor motor sports facility, which he said would foster economic development in the district.

In an effort to help the black community, Ryan plans a meeting in Akron next year — similar to one he sponsored in Warren. “I see my role as trying to move this community forward,” he said. “You need a game plan.”

Strickland fell short in efforts to pass legislation providing equitable insurance coverage for mental health care, but he is confident of eventual success.

Failing to pass a patients’ bill of rights measure was a “huge disappointment,” he said. The legislation would have allowed patients to sue health maintenance organizations.

Regula and Ney are still studying the administration’s proposal for a NAFTA-like free trade agreement with Central America and have not decided if they will support it. Brown and Ryan oppose it.