ALPENA - Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, has begun a new tour to speak with small business owners and other residents of his district to hear their major concerns.
During a stop at The News, Benishek spoke of the concerns he's heard regarding health care costs, the devastating effects of this year's drought, and the burdens of government regulation. He also recounted the experience of speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and how he's looking forward to a new administration in the White House.
A week after speaking at the RNC, Benishek said he enjoyed the experience, especially the support from Michigan's delegates seated near the stage.
"I had a smile on my face, and it made me feel good to have them cheering me on," he said.
Now, Benishek is on a tour he's calling "House Calls with Dr. Dan." One of his first stops on the tour was a dairy farm near Alpena. Their main concern was how the drought will affect their bottom line.
"Their corn crop was way down, so they're going to have to buy feed," he said. "So that was a big concern. You know that this was going to be a red year for those guys, they're going to lose money."
When a new legislative session begins on Sept. 10, Benishek wants to get the "farm bill" passed. Having practiced general surgery since 1983, the representative knows more about sutures than silage, so talking to farmers gives him a better understanding of the issues they face.
"I'm a doctor, not a farmer," he said. "That's why we go to these guys, to see how we can best do things that are fiscally responsible to keep things stable."
Another concern Benishek would like to address is to keep federal taxes at their current rates, he said. The Obama administration has proposed an increase of a number of taxes affecting higher wage earners, including the estate tax. This would have an effect on farms passed down through the generations.
Ultimately, Benishek and others would like to see a comprehensive tax reform, he said. Tax rates would go unchanged for another year, while the House of Representatives works with the Senate to overhaul a 30-year-old, 70,000-page set of rules.
"We'd like to have a simpler, fairer tax code that makes it easier to do your taxes, makes it less complicated, and, you know, cheaper," he said.
Along with taxes, business owners have two other common complaints: the cost of regulatory burdens and the cost of health care, Benishek said.
"Mr. Obama's health care bill is supposed to save people money," he said. "He promised us $2,500 a year in its first year, and the last two years, costs went up an average of $2,900 a year per family. We need to get some common-sense health care reform."
Such reform would open up the markets for health insurance, allowing people to shop among many providers, focusing on wellness, reforming the current malpractice system and encouraging competition among providers, Benishek said. He also proposed encouraging people to put money into health care savings accounts by providing a tax deduction to do so.
Regulations are also having a stifling effect, Benishek said. For example, a mining company near Marquette trying to put in a road to haul the ore. Without the road, trucks must drive a 62-mile route through downtown Marquette. While most are in favor of the road being built, and the state Department of Environmental Quality takes no issue with the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency is weighing in.
"How does the EPA weigh in on the movement of a county road?" he said.
Finally, Benishek mentioned the mothballed plans by Wolverine Power Co-op to build a coal-fired power plant in Rogers City due to higher emissions standards.
"I want to have a cleaner environment, but I want to have jobs, too," he said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.