NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After helping to author a bi-partisan bill that will help maintain area beaches, Congressman David Rouzer is setting his sights on something that will receive much less bi-partisan support – repealing the Affordable Care Act, or as Rouzer calls it, “Obamacare.”
As 2016 drew to a close, area beaches were fast approaching the end of their funding for renourishment and storm damage prevention. Carolina Beach was at the end of its three year cycle, and Wrightsville Beach had nearly exceeded federal funding limits. The Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN Act), signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 16, 2016, provides much-needed federal relief.
Congressman Rouzer got involved with the bill “almost right away,” after it was introduced in the Senate in late February of 2015. (In New Hanover County, the federal government provides approximately two-thirds of funding, with the other third shared between county and municipal governments.) Rouzer authored sections of the bill providing funding in the New Hanover area.
“It was one of my first, main priorities after being sworn in for my first term in 2015,” Rouzer said.
Rouzer introduced language in the House of Representatives that provided funding explicitly for Carolina Beach, and also makes Wrightsville a priority for Army Corps of Engineers projects.
“These were the areas in my district, district seven, that were most in need,” he said. “Carolina Beach is at the end of its funding cycle, so that’s why they were in there. Carolina Beach was the first federally funded 50-year nourishment cycle and, being the first, it was the first to expire.
“The bill also makes Wrightsville and what’s called ‘the vicinity,’ which is Kure Beach, a priority for the Army Corps of Engineers. It also increases their Section 902 limit, which is essentially their federal budget for coastal storm damage reduction projects.”
Rouzer explained that numerous projects are often stuck in a “tug of war,” over available funding in the Army Corps of Engineers, and also struggle to make it to the forefront of the bureaucratic system that selects which projects to consider.
“When I say it makes our beaches a priority, that means not just in terms of where the money is spent, but in terms of how the Army Corps of Engineers prioritizes projects,” he said.
The bill also makes a provision that compels the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to assist Brunswick County in maintaining no-wake zones around the Southport Marina, according to Rouzer.
“In the past, the sheriff’s department would go out and set up no-wake buoys and the Army Corps of Engineers would move them right back out and say, ‘you can’t put those there.’ Now, I think they’ll be working together to help make sure the marina can operate smoothly,” he said.
In a year marked by partisan strife, the bill was passed with broad bi-partisan support (360 to 61 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 21 in the Senate).
“The committees I serve on, the transportation and agriculture committees, the issues we deal with are not that political. We’re actually able to get quite a bit done. This past congress we were able to get doctor reimbursement for medicare fixed. We passed the first highway bill in about ten years. We reauthorized the education bill, which has been quite a long time coming. We got a good little bit done, even if it wasn’t reported in the media all that much.”
Rouzer said he looked forward to the same bi-partisan spirit on local issues in the future.
“In terms of the committees I’m on, the things that affect southeastern North Carolina, we’ll be concerned with our new President’s infrastructure plan,” Rouzer said. “President Trump – or, President-elect Trump – has made some big plans and we’ll of course be looking for ways to fund them. We’re working on a new farm bill. The seventh district has a tremendous amount of livestock and agriculture business, so that will be big.”
When it came to the national agenda, however, Rouzer acknowledged that the coming months, “could get quite political.
“The first thing on our agenda is repealing Obamacare. That’ll be politically divisive, no question,” Rouzer said. “We’re planning on using the budget reconciliation method. We’ll only need 51 votes, instead of 60, provided we’re abiding by the Byrd rule. That means we’re only talking about the budgetary parts, but we can still repeal all the major plumbing. Everything having to do with mandates, everything having to do with the IRS, any fines or fees.
“The whole process will take a couple of years. We’re not trying to strand anyone. Say you’re a lower middle-class family getting a subsidy from the marketplace, that’s not going to go away immediately. We’re interested in creating an ‘off-ramp.’ If you’re on the interstate, driving along, you can’t just slam on the breaks. And we want to replace Obamacare with something that’s more sustainable and affordable. So, an ‘off-ramp’ and then an ‘on-ramp.”
The Senate voted 51-48 on Wednesday, Jan. 4, to begin the budgetary reconciliation process to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The vote went along party lines with the exception of Senator Rand Paul, who joined Democrats in voting against the measure. The process will carry over into next week, when a repeal vote is likely.
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