Canton Repository

December 29, 2002

Regula looks to more federal funds to train teachers 

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Providing prescription drug coverage to older Americans, stimulating economic growth and improving education are among the priorities of area lawmakers who will begin the new Congress in early January.

In general, the region’s congressmen are concentrating more on domestic issues than the looming war with Iraq or terrorism.

Improving teacher quality remains a key issue for U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre. For the past two years, he has chaired an appropriations subcommittee that shapes federal spending on education, health care and job training programs.

“I’m going to continue pressing hard on getting good people in the classroom because I just feel so strongly that success of education revolves around the teacher,” said Regula, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “That’s my goal in administering the education money in our bill.”

During the last session of Congress, Regula helped launch a $2.5 million “troops to teachers” pilot project at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. The 2-month-old project, a model for a national program, is recruiting retiring military personnel to become math and science teachers in districts where there are teacher shortages.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, said one of his top concerns is job creation.

“We’ve got to look at an economic stimulus package that is going to help all aspects of America,” said Ney, who chairs the House Administration Committee.

While he favors some tax relief, Ney said, “It’s got to be an economic stimulus package, I think, not just a tax cut.”

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, is gearing up to oppose administration trade deals, which he believes will hurt American workers.

“They’re basically written by large investors, multinational corporations that will benefit at the expense of workers in both countries,” he said.

Passing a mental health parity bill is a continuing priority for Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville.

Strickland wants the federal government to require that any health care benefits provided to employees include equal coverage for mental health services. Many existing health care plans provide less comprehensive benefits for mental health care.

In the arena of health care, lawmakers said they will try again to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older Americans.

They also plan to take another shot at passing a patient’s bill of rights, which would grant federal protections to those enrolled in managed care plans.

Democrats have pushed to give patients the right to sue health maintenance organizations, an approach that many Republicans have resisted.

Regula supports a right to sue HMOs as long as there are limits.

Reacting to talk of shifting more of the tax burden to the less-affluent, Ney and Regula said they oppose the idea.

“The middle income needs a break,” Ney said.

Regula is keeping his options open on the shape of a tax cut. But he said, “You can’t weigh it in favor of the well-to-do.”

Regula and Brown are pushing with Bush’s support for an extension of temporary federal benefits to the unemployed, which ended for about 800,000 jobless Americans in December.

Regula expects Congress to pass a 26-week extension of benefits “rather quickly in this new session.”

Brown also anticipates approval of benefits. He hopes the extension will be retroactive.

Lawmakers from both parties are wary of going to war against Iraq, which is suspected of hiding weapons of mass destruction.

“I think we shouldn’t go into Iraq without U.N. support and I think the president is not looking at war as a last resort,” Brown said. “He needs to exhaust diplomatic channels and deterrence and all the other things we can do to keep Saddam Hussein in check.”

Regula hopes the United Nations weapons inspection program will avoid the need for war.

“I really hate to see us involved in a conflict,” he said. “I hate to see young Americans and not-so-young Americans put their lives at risk.”