A bill that extends funding for rural counties and schools passed the House on a strong bipartisan vote of 392-37 as a part a bill that fixes Medicare payments.
GOP Rep. Raul Labrador voted against the Medicare Access Act, which reforms Medicare payments and extended the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Rep. Mike Simpson joined the bipartisan majority.
“Congressman Labrador has long advocated a lasting solution for Secure Rural Schools,” said his press secretary Dan Popkey. “Attaching two years of SRS funding to a completely unrelated Medicare bill that adds $141 billion to our $18 trillion debt was unacceptable.”
The Secure Rural Schools Act provides an alternative source of education funding for counties with a high percentage of national forests and is designed to make up for lost timber receipts, which were shared with local communities.
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“By voting yes today, Western members were able to lend their support to one of the most important programs to our rural communities,” Simpson said.
The bill strengthens Medicare and ensures seniors’ access to care by repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate — a formula that determines payment amounts to doctors who treat Medicare patients. It replaces it with an updated system Simpson says will work better, and save money over the long term.
“Repealing the SGR has been the top priority for almost every Idaho medical professional who I have met with for years. Before today’s vote, Congress had simply kicked the can down the road a total of 17 times, at great cost to taxpayers and over the strong objections of the health community,” said Simpson.
Labrador has sought to provide the funding to rural communities by allowing states to manage and harvest the timber on federal lands and directing the funds directly to the counties. His bill to establish a pilot program has passed the House.
“The congressman will continue his effort to enact lasting reforms empowering rural counties to generate revenue from underutilized federal forests,” Popkey said.
Simpson said he wants to come up with a long-term solution “that doesn’t stick Idaho’s rural counties with the annual uncertainty of an up or down vote from Congress.”
“Though H.R. 2 is not perfect, you would have to look long and hard to find a reason to vote no,” Simpson said. “This kind of bill represents exactly what the American people want to see out of their elected representatives.
“They want us to fix problems, not shout across the aisle and point fingers.”