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The Bottom Line: Notes from inaugural Congressional Forum

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke during the inaugural Congressional Forum.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s waiver to make changes to Medicaid in Kentucky is a step in the right direction, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie told the business community at the Kentucky Chamber’s Congressional Forum Monday.

Guthrie, who has been placed on a Congressional task force to look at what changes can be made to Medicaid, said changes to the system must be made as it is bankrupting the country and taking away funds for other areas.

At the state level, Guthrie said the waiver submitted by the Bevin administration, which seeks to keep the Medicaid expansion in the state while controlling costs, is a good plan and “99 percent of Kentuckians” think the Bevin plan is reasonable.

Guthrie said the new Kentucky governor is not there to say no to Medicaid and shut it down but rather to make the assistance system more closely resemble an insurance plan to help with a healthcare transition rather than setting it up for people to stay on Medicaid throughout their lives.

In his speech at the Congressional Forum, Guthrie said the effectiveness of the work of his task force will be determined by who is elected president in 2016 but he hopes some positive changes can be made.

Regulations, Guthrie said, are the main issue he hears about when talking to businesses. And he added that he believes Congress and the executive branch has been over-reaching in these areas.

When talking about over-reach, Guthrie said even if it is Republican nominee Donald Trump who is elected in 2016 and he feels Trump is over-stepping his bounds as president, Guthrie will have something to say about it because he believes the over-reach needs to stop.

On workforce issues, Guthrie noted the federal bill that was passed in 2015 brings power back to local areas noting that the needs of local communities are very different. Guthrie says he hopes the legislation and changes that come with it will help address the workforce issues being faced by the business community.

Yarmuth said Democrats should address over-regulation

Kentucky U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville told Kentucky’s business community Monday that he believes the Democratic Party should start addressing over-regulation head on and be the party to tackle out-of-date regulations.

In his speech at the Kentucky Chamber’s Congressional Forum, Yarmuth said the Democratic Party is the party of government, whether some in the party want to embrace that or not. And because of that, Yarmuth said his party needs to be the people who try to make sure government is running the way it should and that may mean going after regulations that aren’t working rather than just defending them.

The Federal Communications Act was last updated in ’96, Yarmuth said, and there is not much of the world of communications today that existed then. Yarmuth believes the law should be re-written. The same, he stated, could be said for other regulations.

Yarmuth discussed the partisanship of Washington, D.C. and the issues that arise with the way politics has become a spectator sport and the fact that campaigns are now run non-stop and every issue is looked at from the perspective of how to get an electoral edge rather than what could actually be effective.

Following U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s remarks, Yarmuth said the way McConnell speaks is part of the issue, stating that the polarizing speech is causing a divide that goes deeper than just Congress.

Yarmuth did, however, applaud McConnell for his work as Senate Majority Leader and his role in getting legislation passed to address the country’s budget, highway infrastructure and education needs. But Yarmuth said there are still many bills the Senate has not taken up that he feels could make a real difference.

On policy issues, Yarmuth said immigration reform must be addressed. The delegation’s lone Democrat noted his work in recent years on immigration reform with a group of eight bipartisan legislators who worked for seven months to address the issue.

Yarmuth said the only reason that group got as far as they did on immigration reform is because their work was done in secret, again noting the issues presented by today’s political climate.

He added that the political climate makes it “virtually impossible” for any kind of comprehensive tax reform to pass at this point.

Speaking of state politics, Yarmuth talked about Medicaid expansion in Kentucky and the waiver recently submitted by Gov. Matt Bevin to the federal government to make changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Yarmuth said he believes Bevin has submitted a plan to the federal government that he knows they will reject “because they have told him they will.”

Yarmuth said he believes if the waiver is not approved and the expansion is dismantled, it will have very negative impacts on the state and many Kentuckians.

McConnell says over-regulation stifling business

Over-regulation is stifling businesses and will have to be addressed by the next president, regardless of who is elected, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said at the Kentucky Chamber’s inaugural Congressional Forum Monday.

Speaking to Kentucky’s business community, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said business is massively over-regulated by the Obama administration, which he says creates tepid growth and fewer opportunities.

Because of that, McConnell said that no matter who is elected president in 2016, whether it is Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hilary Clinton, those regulations will have to be addressed so that growth is not continuously stifled.

McConnell also noted that even though both houses of Congress are held by the GOP, almost everything requires presidential signature, making it almost impossible to stop the over-regulation issues.

On the presidential election, McConnell stated that he feels the 2016 election comes down to one question: are you happy with the last eight years?

The Senate Majority Leader told the business community if you are satisfied with the direction of the country over the last eight years, vote for Democrat Hilary Clinton, if not, vote for Republican Donald Trump to spur change..

Also on the election front, McConnell said he is prepared for a very tough election cycle for many of his members and said the Senate GOP is hoping to hold onto the majority but said there are many tough elections across the country.

McConnell also touched on the politics of Kentucky at the state level, stating that he feels Kentucky is not competitive for businesses and won’t be, he believes, until the Republicans take control of the state House and pass bills to establish Kentucky as a right to work state, repeal the prevailing wage, allow charter school legislation and more.

Back on the federal level, McConnell said Congress is getting more done under a Republican Senate than they were previously, pointing to the passage of a highway bill and legislation to deal with the drug epidemic in the country and more.

Moving forward, McConnell said “things that don’t work, won’t work” and will have to be addressed by the next administration and Congress by demand of many Americans.

Among those issues, McConnell said, are the Affordable Care Act and the looming cost to states that will come in the coming years to pay for the expansion of Medicaid and more.

Polarization of Congress hurting pro-business agenda

At the Kentucky Chamber’s inaugural Congressional Forum, Senior Vice President of Congressional and Public Affairs for the U.S. Chamber Jack Howard said the growing polarization of Congress has made working for a pro-business agenda more difficult at times but the leadership of a Kentucky senator helps make some improvements.

In addressing Kentucky’s business community on Monday, Howard noted the growing polarization of Congress and how that has caused some issues when pushing for passage of pro-business issues at the federal level.

However, Howard said the election of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to the position of Senate Majority Leader has put Congress “back to work” in many ways, which has resulted in the passage of many issues Howard says are important to the business community.

Howard showed statistics of the growing numbers of polarization in Congress and said that is beginning to impact the daily lives of Americans as well, which he said is visible in the 2016 presidential election.

In terms of the 2016 elections, the U.S. Chamber is closely monitoring the impact that each candidate’s positions will have on the agenda of their organization.

Howard stated that while Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton will have a lot of pressure from the left which will be difficult for the business community but they see potential issues on the horizon with nomination fights and executive orders with Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Drug issues and over-regulation of financial sector must be addressed, Rep. Andy Barr says

As the country’s struggle with drugs continues to grow and over-regulation of the financial market hinders business, Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr says he is working to get a Kentucky influence on solutions for these issues.

While speaking at the Kentucky Chamber’s inaugural Congressional Forum Monday, Barr detailed his efforts to address drug issues in the country, explaining that there has been work by many in his Congressional district to help craft legislation to tackle the drug epidemic.

Barr said he is working on drug-related task forces and stated that while he realized Congress cannot solve these issues alone, it does have a role to play and he is proud that Kentucky’s voice is being heard in that fight.

Barr, who has made a name for himself working on financial issues in Congress, also discussed the problems he feels have come as a result of the Dodd-Frank Regulatory reforms.

“Too big to fail,” Barr said, is a bigger issue than ever now as there is more consolidation and more red tape resulting from the 400 regulations that came out of Dodd-Frank legislation.

Many community banks have said the regulations have been preventing them from doing business, according to Barr.

In an effort to address this, Barr discussed the Financial Choice Act which has been introduced and is strongly supported by the Kentucky congressman.

Barr stated that the Financial Choice Act will produce financial stability without hindering economic growth and without bailouts by giving banks an off ramp from the regulations if they meet certain criteria.

Another issue Barr said he would like to see addressed is the poverty seen in the country, stating that the government has spent trillions of dollars trying to make poverty more tolerable but has done nothing to really address the issue.

Barr said the best way to escape poverty is a full time job. Therefore, he said, the government should be focusing on incentivizing work.

• Check back on The Bottom Line later this week for this story and others for video from the Kentucky Chamber’s Congressional Forum.

For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.