Murphy finds healthcare tops list of local concerns


HUDSON–It’s summer recess for the House of Representatives, but it’s no vacation for Representative Scott Murphy (D-20th). He’s barnstorming his patchwork district, which stretches from the Adirondacks south through all of Columbia County and parts of Dutchess and west toward the central part of the state, catching up on ceremonial duties like the groundbreaking for a new park in Stockport (see Page 1 photo) and talking with constituents.

   He said in a phone interview Wednesday from his Warren Street office that he’s not surprised the big topic on the minds of the people here is healthcare: “about not having it or about the cost.” He sees the two concerns as closely tied, but he acknowledges that efforts at reforming the way healthcare is delivered are “confusing.”

   Three separate committees in the House have reported out three different bills, and no bill has yet reached the floor for a debate involving all members of Congress. Mr. Murphy, who was elected in March to fill the seat vacated when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed U.S. Senator, did not express a preference for any particular healthcare bill, but he did outline what he described as the “principles” he believes any new program should embrace.

   His terms start with reform of the insurance industry so that, for example, companies will not be allowed to deny coverage based on pre-existing health conditions. He also called for the industry to be more competitive, and said that goal would be enhanced by a publically funded health insurer. But he said he is willing to consider other options, including the proposal in the Senate for health insurance “co-ops” instead of a publically funded insurer.

   The congressman said he has also been working on farming issues, particularly on measures to help dairy farmers, and on that topic he has brought to bear his background in business. In his analysis the crisis facing dairy farmers right now is caused by overproduction–too much milk for the market. With that in mind he has pressed for a program that would fund farmers who sell cattle for slaughter either to cull their herds or so that they can close their farms and retire from the business. In essence the federal government would guarantee the price. He estimates that removing about 100,000 dairy cows nationwide would bring U.S. milk production “back into equilibrium.”

   Some farmers have criticized this program as not consistent with why they raise dairy cattle to begin with, but Mr. Murphy says that the program is voluntary and offers a better option for those farmers who otherwise face bankruptcy. He also believes the program would not be large enough to have a negative impact on the beef industry.

   He is far less enthusiastic about continuing government price supports, which he said are only useful in the short term. The current price of milk has hit historic lows, and a measure supported by Mr. Murphy provides a small amount of aid in the form of additional price supports until October. The congressman said that in the long term government support does not solve the problem of supply and demand facing farmers, but he sees hope for dairy farmers in the price of dairy futures, a commodity that can predict the price for milk in the months ahead. He said that the futures market puts the price of milk at $14 to $15 per hundredweight early next year. At that price, the congressman said, local farms could survive.

   Asked about the U.S. role in Afghanistan, Mr. Murphy said he supports President Obama’s approach of attempting to strengthen the Afghan central government. But he called Afghanistan “a scary place” and said that while the U.S. “can’t be there as an occupying force,” American forces are necessary to prevent the return of the Taliban to power, a further expansion of the opium trade and the ability of al Qaeda to use the country as a base for new attacks against the United States.

   He said that getting up to speed on these and other issues has involved a “fire hose” of information coming at him, but his office is now fully staffed and he says he’s having a great time in his new position.

   To contact Parry Teasdale email

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