Blumenthal brings it back to Connecticut: Part 2
By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Statewide - posted Thu., Dec. 29, 2011
While he was home from Washington during the holidays, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) stopped into the ReminderNews office to talk about some of the things he has learned during his first year in the Senate and to answer questions about things that concern our readers living in eastern Connecticut. Please read Part 1, “Blumenthal: Bringing it back to Connecticut,” in the Dec. 29 edition of the ReminderNews, or read the entire story on our website at ReminderNews.com.
The senator talked about how his role has changed as he transitions from Hartford to Washington, although his focus remains on many of the issues that he already found important. For example, as Connecticut’s attorney general, he began an investigation by a group of states’ attorneys general on foreclosure procedures, and this is still a major concern for him.
“I have talked to a lot of my former colleagues, particularly Tom Miller in Iowa, who is now leading it, and I am hopeful that maybe next month there will be an announcement,” he said. “We don’t have a formal investigation in the Senate, but the federal government is part of the attorney general investigation. When I started it, I actually enlisted the Department of Justice to take a role because many of the practices violate federal law, as well as state laws,” he explained. “Robosigning,” said Blumenthal, is a fraud on the federal bankruptcy court, which is why the Department of Justice should be involved.
“I’ve been separately working with some of my colleagues to counter those practices and to adopt statutes that will provide stronger protection for homeowners,” Blumenthal said. “What we can do is make the federal programs more effective that allow people to stay in their homes and eliminate the runaround they get from the mortgage services.” Right now, he said, the mortgage services are often increasing their fees and their charges so that people can stay in their homes. “And they run up the total amounts that they owe. I think what we need is principal reduction on mortgages – not just lower payments, but lower amounts owed – and I think the federal government should promote that because when homeowners are underwater in their homes – when they owe more than their home is worth –they are either going to walk away or not pay their mortgages or be evicted.”
Always a fighter, as a member of the Special Committee on Aging, Blumenthal said that he would fight any effort to reduce, cut or diminish Social Security or to raise the age of eligibility. “I view Social Security as a promise the nation makes to people. I don’t call it an entitlement program: it is a promise, part of the social contract,” he said. The good news, he said, is that the program is solvent at least through the year 2035.
With regard to the Medicare program, the senator said, “I think there is a real opportunity here to cut the cost of medical care, but not the quality and not Medicare benefits. There are some well-proven ways to do it, and at Connecticut hospitals in our medical community, we are showing how reducing the cost of infections in hospitals by having the staff wash their hands, for example, reduces cost. VA hospitals have taken great strides. I’m not the expert, but I can tell you there are ways to cut hospital costs. Some astronomic percentage of people get sick in hospitals with something other than what they went in with. The hospitals know it, and in Connecticut they are doing something about it.”
Blumenthal said that premature discharges increase hospital costs, because people often need to be readmitted. “We also need to reduce medical mistakes, generally getting under control the rate of medical care inflation, which is much higher than the average inflation,” he said. “This is really a passionate interest of mine, and I think we are at a turning point in this country’s history on medical care and providing more affordable medical care.” Noting that, as attorney general, he fought insurance companies’ abuses like exclusion of coverage for pre-existing conditions, he said that healthcare reform is a work in progress. “We have to do more,” he said.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Blumenthal said he believes the nation should continue to draw down in Afghanistan to end our combat presence there by 2014. “I visited Afghanistan once and I plan to go back again,” he said. While he agrees with the withdrawal from Iraq, he said he would have preferred to keep some military presence there to enable better training of Iraqi security forces.
He said he went to Pakistan with three other senators, trying to pressure the Pakistanis to do more about roadside bombs. “[The bombs] have been responsible for more than 50 percent of injuries and death to troops in Afghanistan,” he said. A fertilizer produced in two Pakistani factories is the explosive ingredient in these bombs, which are made out of common products like cardboard and plastic. “I sponsored an amendment in the defense authorization bill that will cut off aid to Pakistan, if they don’t do more to stop the flow of fertilizer across the border,” he said.
Not all of Blumenthal’s concerns are limited to the committees on which he sits. For example, he sees Connecticut farmers having a lot of trouble making it in their profession. He said they are at the mercy of the processors and eventually the retailers. Not only in the dairy industry, but also in the poultry and produce business, he said, “Farmers’ prices don’t rise as much as retail prices do, and I think that is quite a problem that unfortunately was supposed to be remedied by federal law.” Right now, costs are rising, but prices are not rising as much as they should be to keep up with the cost of feeding, and so forth. Processors and retailers are fewer, therefore becoming more powerful in dictating the prices they will pay, he said. “They increase their margins, but farmers can’t,” he added.
Blumenthal also encouraged local residents to contact him with any questions and concerns. Call his Connecticut office at 860-258-6940.