Fulfilling a pledge to America's seniors
By By Sonny Callahan, U.S. Rep.
During the past several years, one issue of concern to parties on both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as millions of Americans, has been Medicare prescription drug coverage.
I can tell you I have received countless letters and phone calls from constituents in the First Congressional District urging the House to take action on this issue.
Last week, the House passed a Medicare prescription drug benefit bill designed to help a large segment of the American population with one of their most pressing needs.
This action is certainly long overdue. No man or woman in this land of plenty should ever have to choose between paying for their prescriptions or paying to put food on the table.
This legislation, the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002 (H.R. 4954), was passed by a vote of 221-208 after many hours of debate. In fact, this issue is so important that the House did not adjourn until very late that night once deliberation and voting were completed.
H.R. 4954 includes reforms in three areas: the establishment of a prescription drug benefit; the adjustment of certain payments under Parts A, B and C of Medicare; and regulatory reforms to the overall scope of the Medicare program.
However, the drug benefit is the part of greatest interest - and most concern - to Americans.
Under the provisions of this bill, beneficiaries under Medicare's "standard coverage" plan would be required to pay premiums of $33 each month and meet an annual deductible of $250.
Additionally, Medicare would be responsible for paying 80 percent of drug costs from $251 to $1000 per year and 50 percent of all costs between $1001 and $2000. Between $2001 and $3700, beneficiaries would be responsible for paying all drug costs. Beyond $3700 Medicare would resume coverage on 100 percent of all prescriptions.
Critics of this plan will say it does not go far enough, is too expensive or does not provide a sufficient amount of coverage for a maximum number of Americans.
I, however, believe it is an important step in the right direction and will go a long way toward solving one of this country's most pressing problems.
Saving another "Pledge"
While the House of Representatives was involved in fulfilling one pledge made to the American people, we were watching another pledge come under fire by the court system.
In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. Specifically, the decision stated that the use of the words "under God" in the pledge amounted to an official endorsement of a specific belief system.
I have been in public office for 30 years and have seen many remarkable, unusual and downright absurd things take place in this country. This, however, ranks near the top of the list.
As often as the media talks about issues that divide the Republicans and Democrats, this certainly isn't one of them.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) referred to this decision as "sad and absurd." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) stated that the court ruling was "just nuts."
Comments like those were issued from all ends of the political spectrum, and nearly all spoke of their disappointment with this decision.
At this point, this decision only impacts the recitation of the pledge in the schools of nine western states. Alabama is not affected by this decision, and I encourage students everywhere to continue their daily reciting of the pledge.
Conventional wisdom holds that this decision will be overturned by the United States Supreme Court once it has been reviewed. After all, even the daily sessions of the court are opened with the statement "God save the United States and this honorable court."
In the meantime, however, we are left to ponder why the court even issued this decision. This nation was founded on the basis of guaranteeing specific individual rights including the freedom of religious expression. Since the inclusion of "under God" by Congress in 1954, this has been an important part of one of our most important creeds.
I am certain that further review by higher courts will overturn this ill-founded and un-American ruling.
Until next week, take care and God bless.