Larsenoutlines priorities during Blaine visit

Published on Thu, Mar 1, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Larsen outlines priorities during Blaine visit

By Tara Nelson

Making college less expensive for students, more affordable prescription drugs, reducing foreign energy dependence and aid to African countries were part of a long list of goals U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA) said he wants to accomplish during the 2007 legislative session.

On Sunday, Larsen spoke to a standing-room only crowd in the Blaine city council chambers about legislation he helped pass in the House during the first 100 hours following the November election, as well as his priorities for the year ahead.

The event was part of his week long “town talk” series, in which Larsen is scheduled to make several visits to Whatcom County cities.
Audience members, however, voiced their own concerns, ranging from health care and the war in Iraq to legislation that would redefine authorization of the president’s ability to declare war and repeal the Military Commissions Act, which gives the president the ability to strip citizenship away from U.S. citizens.

One man received a loud applause when he suggested the impeachment of the president.

“Regardless the chances of being successful, we owe it to the Constitution and the world to show that some people, at least, think that the president is not above the law,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be at least discussed on the floor of the House.”

Larsen said while Congress has conducted 52 separate oversight investigation meetings associated with Iraq, he disagreed with impeachment in favor of moving forward with other issues.
“We need to look at what has happened, how did we get to where we are and how do we make things better,” he said. “Impeachment is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week adventure and if this house proceeds on that route, that’s all it would do. It would suck up every last minute that we have.”

Larsen also said while he voted in favor of a non-binding resolution that denounces President Bush’s proposal to send additional troops to Iraq, he has plans to support a request to fund operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis reduction in Africa.
Border mobility

When asked what efforts he has made to mitigate the economic impacts of upcoming passport requirements imposed by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Larsen said he will be supporting Washington Governor Christine Gregoire’s pilot program for an enhanced drivers’ license.

He also said he will support a similar bill by U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) that would require DHS to conduct a nation-wide state driver’s license program, eliminating the need for a $97 passport for short-term trips across the U.S./Canadian border. This could resolve an anticipated drop in cross-border commerce, which border communities heavily rely on.

A January 2006 report by Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI), for example, predicts the expense and inconvenience of mandating a secure document such as a passport could result in a net loss of $10 million per year in the amount of goods and services purchased by Canadian visitors to Whatcom County.

Larsen said he was also recently encouraged by Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff’s statement announcing the department’s intent to allow greater flexibility within the WHTI, although he was not convinced it would apply to everyday travel for children who are bussed from Point Roberts to school in Blaine.

“Every time a kid gets up to go to school, they should not have to have a birth certificate in their backpack,” he said. “That is ridiculously onerous.”

Other legislation Larsen helped pass during the first 100 hours:

• Ban lobbyists and the organizations that employ them from planning and financing travel for House members and staff.

• Require the disclosure of all earmarks and require House members who sponsor earmarks to show that neither they nor their spouse will benefit from the provision.

• Increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009.

• Require Medicare to negotiate for lower prices for prescription drugs. (The current law prohibits Medicare from doing so.)

• Require all shipping containers to be scanned overseas before they are loaded onto a ship destined for the United States.

• Cut interest rates on subsidized student loans and increase Pell grant amounts for low-income students.