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Residents share frustrations at forum

By Staff | Apr 9, 2009

At a forum in Rugby last week, citizens shared with U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, frustrations about the economic crisis gripping the nation and the circumstances that led to it.

The Geographical Center was one of a number of stops for Dorgan this past week during a recess from Congress. And as with Dorgan’s previous stops, the poor shape of the nation’s economy dominated the discussion. Many were upset by recent lawmaker action concerning financial bailouts and authorizing more spending despite a growing national debt.

One questioned why a nation deep in debt would authorize additional spending, causing concerns of rising inflation.

“It’s counterintuitive to spend money when deep in a hole,” Dorgan said. “I believe we need to spend more in the short term (to kick-start the economy).”

A do-nothing approach, Dorgan believes, would only prolong the stagnant economy and likely mean additional job losses. Dorgan pointed out this crisis began many years ago, under GOP control, although both parties shoulder the blame for not recognizing the risky actions of the financial industry.

In fact, Dorgan was one of very few lawmakers who warned of imminent collapses in the banking and lending industries tied to real estate. He wrote an article for Washington Monthly in 1996, speculating that public bailouts might be needed to restore order.

The problem, Dorgan said, hinged largely with the marriage of investment and commercial banking activities. They operated, not making sound decisions, which ultimately caused millions of housing loans to go under and there was no safety net to cover the losses.

As a result, many large lending companies lost billions, requiring public bailouts to prevent a domino effect with other big firms. In 1999, the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act, a long-standing law that required commercial and investment banking activities to remain separate, was a big mistake, contributing to the economic fallout.

Dorgan, like many, was angered when some of these firms gave out millions in bonuses to top executives – the very ones who steered the economy into the ditch, he said. He has since introduced legislation to investigate the cause of the financial meltdown and for the Justice Department to establish a financial crimes task force to prosecute any criminal activity that contributed to the crisis.

While many questions posed to Dorgan focused on the negative shape of the economy, Jim Diepolder took a different outlook.

North Dakota, he said, is sort of an oasis in the middle of the sagging national economy. Farmers are getting good prices, input costs have dropped and the state has a large reserve, allowing for additional spending for important programs.

Jim Teigen said perhaps a lot of the frustration shared is because government and big businesses have not operated under the same set of principles North Dakotans believe in – honesty and integrity.

Healthcare fix

President Barack Obama will be focusing his attention later this year on healthcare, addressing the concerns with lack of coverage for a percentage of Americans, and the escalating costs for healthcare, Dorgan said.

Changes are necessary to bring the costs down, making healthcare more affordable for citizens and for businesses to offer healthcare benefits to workers.

Jerry Jurena, chief executive officer of the Heart of America Medical Center, said the disparity in Medicare-Medicaid reimbursement payments to rural states like North Dakota continues to be a burden. The state ranks low on reimbursement but in the top five in quality of care, Jurena said. Further steps need to be taken to bring the bottom end up.

Dorgan acknowledged some headway has been made, but not a lot, and North Dakota is not alone. Other rural states such as Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota wrestle with limited funding to continue to operate health care facilities and provide needed services.

Jim Diepolder believes educating more doctors in North Dakota is necessary to address the shortages which nearly every hospital is experiencing.

Daryl Jelsing urged Dorgan and his fellow lawmakers not to look into a social medicine system to solve the problems of this country’s healthcare system. Dorgan doesn’t believe that is an option, adding the goals are to make it affordable and a “fee for service” system.

Other subjects

One citizen questioned what position Dorgan would take if the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) comes before the Senate. FOCA would prohibit governmental bodies from being able to deny or interfere with a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. It would also overturn federal and state rules that require informed consent and parental consent.

Dorgan said he doesn’t support it based on some of the provisions included in the proposed legislation, such as taking out the need for parental notification before someone can have an abortion.

While he doesn’t support FOCA, he also doesn’t want to make abortion illegal; rather, he wants to make it as rare as possible.

Marie Marshall asked if there is going to be some assistance for ranchers who lost calves and cattle due to difficult weather conditions. Dorgan believes there are some provisions in the farm bill which address livestock losses, but he said he wasn’t sure of the qualifications.

Notes:?About 50 attended the forum held at the Otter Tail Power Co. meeting room…This is Dorgan’s first forum in Rugby since June of 2008.

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