District work period provides brief respite

Published 12:09 am Monday, March 27, 2006

By By Jo Bonner
This past week, the House of Representatives and the Senate adjourned for a week-long district work period. Members from both chambers took this opportunity to return home for work in their individual states and districts, and I took the opportunity to return to south Alabama and follow-up on some of the important issues before the residents of the First District.
This respite from Washington provides a good opportunity to take a look at what we have accomplished so far this Congress and what remains on the horizon as we head back this week.
First, let's focus on the economy. I am certain that at some point during the past several months, you or someone you know has heard that the American economy is stalled. There will be those who have tried to convince you that job growth has grown stagnant, industry is abandoning the United States, and that we're not making any progress.
This news is simply not true. We continue to receive additional news on the economy from both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the U.S. Department of Labor that provides further proof that the economic policies and legislation passed by Congress during the past several years are continuing to yield strong benefits.
The national unemployment rate for the month of February was 4.8% lower than the average of the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. In Alabama, I might add, the unemployment rate is far lower than the national average and presently stands at 3.8%.
Job growth is booming. February marked the 30th straight month of job gains – that's two and a half years in which the economy has created new jobs each month.
I am fairly confident that for the 243,000 men and women who went back to work last month, this is hardly disappointing. These new jobs – along with the 5 million new jobs that have been created in this country in the past two and a half years – represent a new phase in the lives of these individuals.
We must continue to pursue policies to foster economic growth and create a culture of opportunity where all Americans have access to not only jobs, but lasting, rewarding careers.
But we have a lot more work to do. One area of reform we need to address is budget reform. Congress recently took a step in the right direction when we passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which will reduce the deficit by more than $39 billion.
Finally, we will continue to reform our legal system to prevent lawsuit abuse. Frivolous and predatory lawsuits affect all Americans by driving up the cost of doing business, costs which are then passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.
Frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits have driven up the cost of doctors' malpractice insurance to astronomical heights, driving doctors out of medicine and forcing hospitals to limit the care they provide.
When local hospital emergency rooms close, patients with serious injuries can be forced to drive hundreds of miles to find another emergency room, in situations where minutes can frequently mean the difference between life and death or disability.
Last year, we passed four bills aimed at eliminating frivolous lawsuits and restoring sanity to our legal system. The Class Action Fairness Act, which the president signed into law, to prevent plaintiffs and attorneys from shopping for favorable trial venues and to reduce the potential for abuse of settlement awards by attorneys. We also passed the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act to discourage the filing of frivolous lawsuits.
We passed the HEALTH Act to curb frivolous malpractice lawsuits by establishing guidelines for damages in these cases. We also passed the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, also known as the "cheeseburger bill," which restricts obesity related lawsuits The recent trend toward increased litigation and a blame-game legal system not only puts a strain on our economy, but it violates the American tradition of self-reliance and personal responsibility.
As for the immediate future, this week the House Budget Committee, of which I am a member, will begin marking up the 2007 budget.
As always, I look forward to having your input and comments on the important issues coming up in the House of Representatives.
My staff and I work for you. Please call if we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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