U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah) recently completed his 2010 Rural Listening Tour, which included a stop in Statesboro.
Barrow, who represents Georgia’s 12th congressional district, organizes a rural listening tour every year in order to meet with constituents in rural communities and hear their concerns. This year’s tour includes town hall meetings in 10 counties in addition to tours of local farms and other facilities.
Though Barrow asked to start with agriculture-related questions, the topics of conversation quickly turned to water issues, job creation, energy policy, environmental concerns and health care, which dominated much of the discussion time.
Barrow was first asked about the water situation between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. He said that south Georgia needs to make sure Atlanta solves its water issues so that future investment and development are not hampered in the region long-term.
“You have to be concerned about Atlanta solving its problems…about (Atlanta) dipping their straw into our water basin,” Barrow said. “The last thing you want, the last thing I want, the last thing we need is to have our water rights transferred out of our basin into someone else’s basin.”
The congressman was also asked about energy policy, specifically about how bio-mass fuels can be a part of Georgia’s energy independence. Barrow said that alternative fuels such as pine slash or switch grass could add value to something that currently has little value and, in the process, could even have a positive impact on the environment through bioremediation.
“If you can clean up your streams and also provide feedstock you can mow or harvest every year, you’re killing more than one bird with the same stone,” Barrow said.
Barrow also said he does not support making fuels out of present commodities — such as corn — because those types of decisions create additional hardships and unforeseen consequences.
“We don’t want to create a new use for something that has an existing use without realizing that we’re encroaching on that existing use,” he said. “We want to have added value for something that has little or no value — that’s what I call a win-win. I don’t want people to compete for the same feedstock for both their food and their fuel.”
The biggest topic of discussion at the hour-long luncheon was health care. While he was applauded for voting against the latest version of the House of Representatives’ health care bill, Barrow said there is plenty of room for the right kind of health care reform.
“There are things that need to be done,” Barrow said. “There are things that can be done to make sure the insurance you’re currently paying for work more for you — for a change — instead of working for the insurance companies.”
The congressman outlined a number of different fixes he could support. He supports giving more money to health care providers for the services they perform. Barrow said much of the problem of over-utilization of Medicare and Medicaid is that since doctors are underpaid for their services they are practically compelled to perform additional tests to make up the income shortfall with volume.
Barrow said he supports the idea of opening up the federal employees’ insurance plan to all Americans, arguing that if the federal government can negotiate favorable terms for its employees, it should be able to negotiate similar terms for its shareholders — a.k.a. the American people.
He also said that he doesn’t support the idea of a free lunch and instead said he would like to see a system where people “pay what they can afford to pay.”
Barrow said he favors making adjustments to the current health care structure as opposed to a complete overhaul of the system.
“Filling in the gaps is a whole lot better than massive wholesale reform. If it’s pragmatic filling in the gaps, I think we can live with that and also benefit from it,” Barrow said.
“If we can keep these folks out of our emergency rooms, it will be better on all of us because that’s one of the biggest cost drivers we’ve got.”