No protests, but Congressman Andy Barr defends GOP plans on health care, budget in Richmond

03/18/2017 08:21 PM

RICHMOND — With the U.S. House of Representatives expected to vote soon on Republican efforts to repeal and replace the federal health law known as Obamacare, Congressman Andy Barr faced several skeptics on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus Saturday.

More than 150 gathered for Barr’s “Coffee with your Congressman” stop in Richmond, where he went to bat for Republican plans on health care as well as President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, although he expressed some concerns for Trump’s cuts to programs like public broadcasting and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Programs on the chopping block, however, are getting choked out by growing national debt, he said. Trump’s budget calls for steep cuts in areas like the State Department, Department of Agriculture and community development block grants while ramping up defense spending by $54 billion.

Barr acknowledged that both will likely see changes before crossing the legislative finish line. They’ve sparked staunch opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike.

He called Trump’s budget proposal “helpful” as a starting point, but he said to expect Congress to pass a revised version since it “holds the power of the purse.”

“The president’s budget, just like Obama’s budget, is a blueprint,” Barr told reporters after the event. “It’s a guideline. It’s a suggestion to Congress, but just like the budgets that President Obama submitted to Congress never really materialized in identical form, this one won’t either.”

On the American Health Care Act, Barr said he would like to see states given more flexibility in work incentives for low-income Americans without dependents.

“Also there is some concern as was voiced in our town hall today that older Americans who are not yet Medicare eligible but aren’t getting health care through work, they may need a stepped up tax credit in order to afford the higher level of costs associated with their health plan,” he said. “That is another change that could be made.”

Protestors had welcomed Barr to Mount Sterling last month at one of his town halls, but the streets outside the Carl D. Perkins Building were quiet on Saturday. Still, many in the audience repeatedly jeered and interrupted as Barr defended aspects of both proposals and touched on other topics like climate change and banking reform.

The Lexington Republican was in the Oval Office with other members of the House’s Republican Study Committee to meet with Trump discuss health care reform on Friday.

“I’m not going to vote ‘no’ on something that’s better than the status quo,” Barr said in response to a question on whether he would vote against the bill.

Barr also criticized estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which predicted this week that 24 million Americans would lose health coverage under the American Health Care Act by 2026.

“They’re pretty good at static scoring, but they’re not very good at forecasting market-based reactions to policy changes,” he said, adding that the agency did not factor in other pieces of health care reform beyond the American Health Care Act.

Despite the passionate outcry from many in attendance Saturday, Barr says he’s happy to see better attendance at his district events.

“I’m so glad that people have discovered that we do these,” he said. “We have been doing these since 2013, and I’m so glad that you are now in our rotation.”

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