Congressman Mike Michaud at a Bangor, Maine festival. Photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
April 9th, 2009
It’s the first time you’ve been a congressman with a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. People would like to know what that difference is like and how you like working with President Obama?
“President Obama is open and willing to talk to people on both sides of the aisle. The previous president didn’t even talk to people in his own Republican Party. It’s a refreshing change. Forty-seven of us from the Blue Dog Coalition were invited to talk to the president about budgetary issues at the White House. This administration is definitely more receptive and interested.
“The previous administration never focused on the unfunded liability in the Medicaid area, that’s $3 trillion dollars. The fact that President Obama is willing to look at the programs to make sure that they are solvent is a big plus. When you look at President Obama’s budget, it takes into account the real cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It takes into account money that needs to be allocated to help other countries out. For the first time, we are seeing the real impact of what we are doing financially. It’s true transparency, so we can make better decisions from all of the facts that are before us.
“I’m a proponent of pay-as-you-go, and so is the president. Families have to be accountable for their budgets; we need to do the same for the nation.”
Congressman Michaud serves on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Small Business. You led
the effort for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to be in the stimulus package, are you satisfied with the result?
“Ninety-eight percent of businesses in Maine are small businesses. I felt it was very important to have programs that will help small businesses as part of the stimulus package. I’m very pleased that the president has chosen Karen Mills to lead the SBA and Toby McGrath, from Maine, who is in charge of the regional offices. Having voices from Maine working in the SBA can only help the state.
“One of the areas I’m pushing forward is to elevate the SBA to a cabinet level position. It’s long overdue and extremely important, especially in the times in which we are living. Senator Snow will put in the bill for the Senate, and I’ll submit it for the House.”
Your Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) should invest $40 million per year, rising to $60 million per year by 2012, in federal resources for investment in infrastructure, R&D, and economic development. The NBRC is your own stimulus for the region.
Where are we now in its implementation?
“The Northern Border Regional Commission is moving forward. The transportation committee recommended that they fully fund their portion of it to the $30 million level. There is $150 million in there for economic development, plus other programs that will be a great help to Maine.
“I approached the Commerce Department to get some of the $50 million designated to get the NBRC up and running. Until the new Secretary of Commerce is sworn in, there is not much else we can do, because it’s under their jurisdiction.
“Also, there are Recovery Act stimulus funds for NOA that we are recommending going to Washington County for shovel-ready projects. The County has $2 million in projects ready to go.
“With the stimulus, the NBRC, and the Omnibus Bill for ’09, there are funds targeted to help Maine in many areas.”
Congressman Mike Michaud in his Waterville, Maine office. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Is progress in D.C. moving at a faster pace?
“We are moving extremely fast but it’s important to make sure of our investments. I was against the bailout bill for the banks from the get-go. The reason why I opposed the bill was there was no accountability. It’s good to see the president put restrictions on the spending, so banks must report if and how much they are loaning to small businesses. Some banks used their bailout money to buy up other banks and give themselves bonuses. There hasn’t been accountability. Now they will have to act in accordance to what the president outlined. I do disagree with the president asking for another $250 billion in the budget for additional bailout money for financial institutions, not knowing where that money is going to go.”
You’ve spearheaded trade issues promoting fair trade. How are you working with the new administration on this issue?
“So far, I’ve sent a letter with 54 of my colleagues to President Obama outlining a new trade and globalization agenda that would benefit and expand trade and help deal with some of the problems we have seen in the past. The letter describes an array of policy that we could work together on, united. All the items in the letter are issues the president campaigned on. Hopefully, he will keep those commitments.
“It’s a powerful letter; 16 committee chairs, 17 subcommittee chairs, a lot of newly elected members who are concerned about the issue signed on, including some Republicans, the Hispanic caucus, African American caucus … it’s a really diverse group, representing 27 states from urban to rural districts that have been adversely affected by unfair trade agreements.
“The four-page letter addresses: the failed U.S.-China trade relationship as it relates to China currency manipulation practices; improving product and food safety for imports; President Obama delivering on his campaign pledge to renegotiate NAFTA; and how he is going to deal with ongoing Bush administration trade deals that are out there with Panama, Colombia, and North Korea. These are some of the issues we felt strongly about.
“I’ll be reintroducing my trade act again, which gives clear guidelines to negotiate trade deals. It talks about what should be in a trade deal versus flat agreements with respect to labor rights, environmental issues, safety issues, national security issues, and requirements for investment, procurement issues, and medicine. It’s what should be in trade deals, so workers are treated fairly. It also requires the controller general to conduct a review of how trade deals have adversely affected this country economically.”
Congressman Mike Michaud is chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health and serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. What initiatives are you pursuing with regard to veterans?
“I’m working very closely with the new secretary of the VA – Shinseki. The 2010 VA budget is 10 percent over the 2009 budget, which is significant. When Democrats first regained control of Congress, we increased the VA budget $7 billion dollars over the previous year, and every year since then it’s been going up.
“This is the first time the president’s budget is higher than the independent budget that the Veterans’ Service Organization puts forward every year. I’m very pleased with that, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Michaud helped introduce H.R. 1016, the Veterans’ Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 earlier this year. If approved, the measure would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year.
“Too often in recent years, VA has been funded after the beginning of the fiscal year. In one case, it was so underfunded that they required supplemental funding. As a result, maintenance of facilities, cost saving investments in technology, and ultimately care for veterans was delayed or put in jeopardy. This cannot be allowed to happen again. We need a timely, sufficient, and predictable funding stream.”
Michaud has been working in Congress from day one to ensure Maine’s veterans have access to needed health care that is easily accessible. His vision is to have healthcare providers closer in proximity to veterans, many of whom live in rural areas. As Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, the congressman has jurisdiction over the VA’s health care network expansion process and has held several hearings on the issue of health care access over the years. In 2006, provisions Michaud authored were included in a bill that became Public Law 109-461, which directed the VA to develop a business plan for enhanced access to outpatient care for veterans in Maine which funded projects. How are the new VA heath centers and mobile health units coming?
“In Maine, because of increased funding, the Bangor based community based out-patient clinic (CBOC) is moving forward. With the governor and others we are creating a ‘Veterans’ Campus’ that will include a Maine Veterans’ Home, affordable housing for veterans, and the CBOC. The Legislature transferred land last year, at the governor’s request, for its site. Hopefully that will be up and running soon. The Houlton CBOC is up and running.
“Lewiston/Auburn has also been designated as a CBOC health clinic. That should be done in the first part of 2011.
“Because of the ruralness of Maine, we have convinced the VA to have two new, model healthcare clinics that will be the size of a tractor-trailer truck, which will have the state-of-the-art equipment to bring primary care to veterans in these rural areas. So up in Jackman, Bingham, Greenville, and Dover-Foxcroft, veterans will be able to get health care where they live, instead of driving long distances. That should be ready to go by June of this year.
“In addition to that the VA has two mobile counseling Van units. They will have counselors on board. Now they are in the process of training the staff.
“Maine’s VA hospital, Togas, is really busy, so these efforts should give them a breather.”
Michaud worked hard to ensure that H.R. 1538, the Wounded Warriors Act, passed Congress. H.R. 1538 is comprehensive legislation that improves the care, management, and transition of service members with serious injuries or illnesses. Michaud recently was in Hallowell discussing issues that need to be addressed.
“I opened up symposium about VA Togas, looking at the shortage of mental healthcare providers. About 45 percent of men and women coming back from Afghanistan have some form of PTSD. We definitely have to develop more avenues for services for them.”
Is this what you are currently working on?
“This year we are focusing on PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and women’s issues in the military. We’re hopefully getting Maine’s Adjunct Gen. Libby to testify before Congress.
“Men and women who have fought overseas sometimes find it hard to get employment upon returning. Togas does a good job, with 66 percent of their employees being veterans. I’m working with SBA and federal agencies to ensure we provide more veterans with job opportunities.
“After veterans come home from being discharged from Walter Reed or Togas, they still need care. That’s a challenge sometimes for families; sometimes spouses have to give up their jobs. Our veterans and their families need continued support, so I’m working with the Wounded Warriors program, and others, to increase that support at home.”