When I became a member of Congress a little over two years ago, our country faced some massive challenges: the worst economic recession in our lifetime, a federal budget that had gone from surplus to historic deficit in the previous eight years, two wars and soaring health-care costs. It has been a challenging time to be in office, to be sure, but I still wake up every day feeling honored and privileged to be able to serve the people of Maine.
It would have been easy to just complain, but as a mom and small business owner I’ve learned that complex problems don’t solve themselves. You have to roll up your sleeves, get to work and start looking for solutions.
Let me be clear about one thing: I am not happy with what Washington has accomplished over the last two years and feel there is far more that needs to be done. We need to do more to bring back good-paying manufacturing jobs to our communities. We need to get our budget deficits under control by growing our economy and eliminating tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. And we need to truly to make health care affordable for every American.
While there is much still to do, we have made some progress.
We passed significant reforms of the credit card and banking industries and passed the toughest crack down on Wall Street in history. Credit card companies are now prohibited from raising rates on existing balances or forcing you to pay over-the-limit fees. Banks are now banned from steering borrowers into more expensive loans or deals they can’t afford. And for the first time in history there will be a Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, whose sole mission will be to protect consumers from big banks and Wall Street.
Health-care reform generated controversy from the very beginning. Opponents tried to scare the public with talk of “death panels,” and the insurance and drug companies poured hundreds of millions of dollars into trying to stop it from moving forward. Although these opponents succeeded in weakening reform and took out many key cost-saving provisions, some common-sense proposals survived. Insurance companies can no longer cancel your coverage when you get sick and have to let you keep your children on your policy to age 26. And 37,000 small businesses in Maine are now eligible for a tax credits to help them pay for coverage.
Soon after taking office I traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, where I met brave men and women from Maine and around America who are proudly serving our country. I left with a renewed commitment to fight to end those wars and to take care of our veterans when they come home.
Although it wasn’t a popular stand to take with the leaders of my own party, I voted to block additional war funding. The billions of dollars we spend on those wars every week are better spent here at home, reducing our deficit and creating jobs.
I also worked hard to make sure our veterans get the care and benefits they deserve, including bills to make it easier to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and a requirement that National Guard and military reserve personnel get a full briefing on the benefits owed to them. And when I learned from a former bookkeeper at Togus that Anthem was using fine print to deny claims for veterans care, I went to the president of that company and told him to end the practice. Anthem agreed and now half a million dollars in unpaid claims are being resubmitted.
For all the big issues we deal with, the most important things I do are often right here at home. Whether it’s helping a World War II veteran in Sanford get the medals he earned, making it easier for an airplane manufacturer to get the financing required to set up shop in our state, or helping a Maine-based relief ship get clearance to head to Haiti, the work I do for Maine people is incredibly satisfying.
This November we face some real choices that have real impacts on our lives. Do we want to give tax breaks to the rich that will add billions to our deficit, or make sure they start paying their fair share? Do we want to make health-care reform better, or give back control to the insurance executives so they can cancel your coverage when you get sick? Do we want to truly invest in the clean energy that will create jobs here in Maine, or keep relying on expensive foreign oil? And do we want to continue to crack down on the excesses of Wall Street, or give them free rein to cook up more of the risky schemes and speculative investments that destroyed 8 million jobs.
In Congress, we hear from lots of political and business leaders, but after two years I still find that the best ideas and most common sense advice still comes from the neighbors, friends and fellow small business owners in my small community. That hasn’t changed and neither have I.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of North Haven is the Democratic candidate for re-election in Maine’s 1st Congressional District.