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Barrow: Timelines can send message to Iraqis
But Congressman doesn't favor fellow lawmakers making them law
Barrow john
U.S. Rep. John Barrow - photo by File photo

U.S. Rep. John Barrow doesn’t believe Congress should set deadlines for the Iraqi government, but he thinks timelines can help send a message to the floundering leadership.

“I’ll continue to speak out in favor of using whatever incentives are necessary to send a message to the Iraq government they’ve got to get their act together,” Barrow (D-Savannah) said at the Effingham Rotary Club on Thursday. “We will not continue to referee their civil war indefinitely. I think the idea of ultimate timelines is a way of doing that. I don’t agree with putting timelines in legislation so that it literally requires an act of Congress in order to change plans on the ground. I think that is a misguided policy.

“I do think there is wisdom in the idea of sending a message and sending it in the clear to the Iraqi government that they have to do more if they want to have continued support from this government.”

Barrow was encouraged by some of the advances Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, reported to the Senate last week. The infusion of additional troops in certain areas of Iraq has calmed some of the violence down, but there’s not enough progress on other fronts, according to the Congressman.

“The whole purpose of that was to bring about an end to the civil war,” Barrow said. “What concerns me is that hadn’t happened yet. All expectations were that we were going to see some progress on the political front by this time and so far we haven’t seen it. All the best estimates are that the political progress is further behind than it was before, that the Iraq government is in worse shape and less able to deliver the political reconciliation to stop the civil war.”

Barrow said the Bush administration’s unstated policy has been that the less the Iraqi government does the longer the U.S. will maintain a large presence there.

“I think our message should be, the more you do, the longer we’ll stay,” he said. “I think timelines can be a way of doing that. But I don’t think Congress can set that in a statute.”

Barrow also said the nation has to fix its health insurance problems. On Monday, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton unveiled her new national health care proposal, “American Health Choices Plan,” which mandates that all Americans have health insurance. Her latest plan is estimated to cost $110 billion a year.

While first lady, Sen. Clinton drew up a controversial health care plan that was defeated in the Senate.

“Hillary Clinton’s plan back in ’93 was the biggest mess, the biggest mishmash, that you could think of,” Barrow said. “Nothing like that, I think, is going to come forward. I won’t support anything like it.”

Barrow wants health insurance companies to go back to the way they used to do business — by taking small groups and making them larger groups to spread out costs and risks. Currently, insurance companies are taking large groups and breaking them into smaller groups for coverage.

He related his own problems of health insurance plans during his time as a lawyer in Athens.

“I’m a veteran of the small business health insurance wars. You can’t get health insurance at the same per capita cost that the big guys can,” he said. “We outsourced every single family in our law firm to every larger group we were attached to in one way or another.”

Barrow also called for Congress to return to the “pay-go” rules that were adopted during the President Clinton-House Speaker Newt Gingrich era to fund new programs.

“They were adopted back in the mid 1990s and they were the direct cause of turning chronic annual deficits into a budget surplus,” he said. “We actually had three years running where the federal government was bringing in more money than it was spending and did it without a general tax increase.”

But the pay-go rules lapsed in 2001.

“The deficits came back again and with a vengeance,” Barrow said. “We had the highest deficits because we didn’t have those rules to stop the urge to spend and have our kids and grandkids pay for it.”

Barrow said he and the rest of the Blue Dog coalition, a group of conservative Democrats, are fighting to get pay-go rules restored. He also said that 70 percent to 80 percent of the nation’s debt is being financed by Asian banks.

“They see America being put on the auction block, and they are snapping up some bargains,” he said. “We’re bearing down on that and the pay-go rules are going to be the way to get out. They were the way to get out before and they’ll be the way again.

“My kids will pay some of their taxes to foreign bankers, principal and interest, to pay off the debt we incurred in 2007 to pay the light bill of the federal government in 2007,” he said. “They shouldn’t be paying any taxes in 2037 on something that had that transitory a value to us. We should pay as we go.”