Healthcare costs concern Shelby

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Social Security is not the only challenge facing Americans in the next few years.

According to Sen. Richard Shelby, the country needs to take a closer look at Medicaid and Medicare, too.

&uot;Medicaid and Medicare are going to be much bigger challenges in this country than Social Security,&uot; Shelby told several dozen people Saturday morning at a town hall meeting in Calera.

He warns that costs of both programs need to be controlled.

&uot;If we don’t reign it in, it will challenge the financial foundation of this country,&uot; he said.

The Medicaid program is already cash-strapped in Alabama, and it soon could become tighter, Shelby said.

President George W. Bush wants to slow federal spending on the joint federal and state program. In Alabama, nearly 20 percent of residents are eligible for the program.

Shelby said the rising costs and current waste in healthcare also should be addressed. Increased competition would help provide more accountability for healthcare companies and operators, the senator said.

Shelby discussed several other topics at the hour-long meeting:

* He is optimistic the situation in Iraq will soon improve.

&uot;The election several weeks ago was a turning point,&uot; he said. &uot;I think you’ll see a change in Iraq. Am I saying they’ll be our greatest allies? No. But there will be a change.&uot;

While Shelby acknowledged there have been some mistakes made in Iraq, he criticized Sen. Ted Kennedy’s suggestion that the administration should set a date to pull troops out of the country.

&uot;That’s the craziest thing we can ever do,&uot; Shelby said. &uot;If Kennedy proposes it, I’m generally against it.&uot;

* He said the administration and Congress should proceed with caution when addressing Social Security reform.

He assured those 55 and older, &uot;You have absolutely nothing to worry about, even if you live to be 110.&uot;

But for younger Americans, &uot;The numbers won’t work in the years to come.&uot;

Shelby mentioned a couple of options, such as increasing the age of when a person can receive benefits or changing the distribution formula from wage-based to inflation-based.

He also talked about President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.

&uot;I commend the president for bringing it up,&uot; Shelby said. &uot;My two sons – they want their money now.&uot;

However, any reform efforts must be bipartisan, according to the Republican senator.

&uot;We’re not going to do anything unless we do it with the Democrats.&uot;

* Shelby said he would support efforts to keep funding for the Upward Bound program.

&uot;We’re not going to cut it out,&uot; Shelby said. &uot;Congress decides what’s going to be cut, and I’m not going to support cuts in programs that make sense.&uot;

Upward Bound was created to help high school students -particularly those from low-income families – gain experience in pre-college programs, and ultimately succeed in college studies. Bush has proposed eliminating the program.

* Shelby said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision to ban capital punishment for juvenile offenders.

&uot;That is absurd,&uot; he said.

He said the president should have the opportunity to appoint one to three justices to the Supreme Court during his second term in office.

He also criticized Democratic legislators for filibustering several Bush candidates for federal court positions, including Mobile native Bill Pryor, a candidate for the United States Court of Appeals.

* Alaska should be opened for oil, according to Shelby.

The U.S. relies too heavily on oil and gasoline imports (about 60 percent), leading to higher oil prices according to Shelby.

&uot;The environmentalists have not let us build a refinery in this country in 20 years,&uot; Shelby said. &uot;I’m for drilling in Alaska.&uot;

* Shelby said morality &uot;is under assault in this country,&uot; and urged those in attendance to &uot;fight back.&uot;

&uot;If you do not fight back, you will be run over,&uot; he said.

Shelby and Rep. Robert Aderholt have re-introduced the Constitution Restoration Act to prevent federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, from hearing cases that could disallow the government’s ability to recognize God.

They are introducing the act in response to Ten Commandments controversies that have occurred in several states, including Alabama.

&uot;I see nothing wrong with the Ten Commandments,&uot; Shelby said.

* Shelby mentioned some of the &uot;growing pains&uot; in the state’s fastest growing county.

He mentioned roadwork, and said the federal government has nearly doubled its yearly allocation to Alabama since 1996, from $300 million to $600 million.

&uot;It’s not enough,&uot; Shelby said.

He reminded residents and officials to lobby their legislators for funding.

&uot;You are a very powerful Republican county,&uot; he said.

* Shelby touched on the increasing number of illegal immigrants in America.

He said a &uot;low ball&uot; number is 8.7 million.

&uot;I think it’s too conservative,&uot; he said.

* Shelby also touched on Iran, Cuba and China.

The United States should keep an eye on Iran because of its nuclear weapons threat, according to Shelby.

&uot;I don’t think we should be afraid of Iran. We ought to be concerned with Iran,&uot; he said.

He said the United States should be &uot;very careful to lift the embargo&uot; on Cuba – particularly with Fidel Castro still in power.

He also mentioned China’s growing economy and the possible opportunities and threats to the United States. While China is an area ripe for growth, it is also the nation’s greatest competitor for manufacturing jobs because of its cheap labor.

&uot;We better be very, very careful,&uot; he said