PELL CITY -- U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers was guest speaker at a recent Pell City Rotary Club meeting.
Incumbent Rogers faces Democrat Mallory Hagan in the midterm election Nov. 6.
While in Pell City, Rogers took time to speak to the St. Clair Times Editorial Board. Here are his responses to several questions that were asked.
How is the campaign going?
I really don’t do anything different during campaign time than I do during the rest of the cycle.
The only difference is since we’re home for an extended period of time, we get to do more of it. I will spend five weeks moving around the district. Normally, it’s one week per month.
The campaign is going very well with the reception I am getting. People I am talking to are very pleased with where the country is and where it’s going.
You introduced a bill to make more bomb-sniffing dogs available in the United States. What is the status of that bill?
The bill did pass and it’s law. It was put on the aviation reform bill we just passed that deals with air traffic control. There is nothing more effective and efficient in detecting explosives than these dogs.
The machines we have at airports are effective to a degree, and they accomplish goals. They are not nearly as good as these dogs. These dogs can smell minute amounts much smaller than we have to smell to be able to keep from bringing a plane down or running a train off the tracks.
The problem is you have to get these dogs from overseas. We don’t produce enough, so we’ve been going to Austria. There is a whole culture there. The rest of the world is competing with us now because they are having the same problems we are with people blowing things up.
My frustration is that we are the United States of America and should be able to produce our own. We don’t because the infrastructure is not in place.
This bill I introduced took Auburn University, the American Kennel Club, Texas A&M, the University of Pennsylvania and the private sector and put them together to come up with a model breeding program that can breed domestically. The type breeds we’ve been looking for include Belgian Malinois, shepherds and labs.
What is your relationship with the St. Clair County Economic Development Council?
I talk with members of the EDC periodically. A member of my staff generally talks to EDC Executive Director Don Smith ahead of my visits in St. Clair County to see if there are people I need to meet with. Don generally points me toward different plants he wants me to tour that have an industry issue.
Recently, I visited WKW in Pell City. What I have told the EDC in the past is where I think I can be helpful is if they have someone they are encouraging to come to St. Clair, let me know. We all work as a team and we are available to help you any way the government can help if you come here. I can write letters, call their CEO or governmental affairs people and let them know I will help anyway I can to get them to consider St. Clair County. I do that for every county I represent.
Every community is unique, and they have to decide what kind of jobs they want to bring in. Let us know, and I will help you pursue it.
There are rural hospitals closing in Alabama. What are your concerns and solutions about health care for people in your district?
It’s just not in my district or in rural Alabama; it’s rural America. It has to do with a lot of things, and the Affordable Care Act is part of it. A lot of it has to do with regulations evolving.
One of the solutions is dealing with Medicare reimbursement as to wage index. Right now, Medicare reimburses different hospitals based on population density at different rates.
If you are in an urban area (Boston), you may get $1 or $1.10 reimbursement for every $1 of expense you have in Medicare reimbursement, whereas in Alabama, it’s 68 cents on the dollar. We have the lowest in the nation. That’s killing our rural hospitals because they can’t compete for employees because they can’t pay the same wages because they can’t put money into infrastructure. That’s all the things that keep hospitals alive.
Getting it fixed takes nationwide legislation, and that’s the problem. The states that are getting the good side of this do not want change. I am co-sponsoring a bill that says you cannot pay less than 90 cents on $1. That would solve it.
But the truth is there would still be some problems in rural hospitals because the Affordable Care Act has made the cost of heath care insurance for many Americans out of reach. There are many who are paying $2,000- to $2,500-per month premiums for insurance that has a deductible of $10,000 to $12,000. They are not going to the hospital unless they’ve got a catastrophic illness.
How important are senior citizens in St. Clair County?
I love our seniors, and that’s why I make a point to always go by and visit as many of our senior centers as I can when I am in Alabama. I want them to know I pay attention to their issues.
I am concerned about their health care and this ‘Medicare for all.’ If someone has paid into Medicare their entire life, it is so unfair to them to get rid of all private insurances, the VA, tri-care, etc. We’re just going to put everybody in ‘Medicare for all.’ It will collapse the system that these people have been paying on their whole life up to their golden years.
We don’t have enough money in the treasury to fund everybody in Medicare. I’m real worried about this ‘Medicare for all’ business because it would be terribly unfair to senior citizens.
How important is it that another VA home is opening up in Alabama?
The VA home here in Pell City is state-of-the-art. I would love for all the VA homes to be that nice. I am real happy that the Bill Nichols Home in Alex City has been remodeled, but it is still nothing comparable to the one in Pell City. Another VA home in Alabama is very important.
Word has it that President Trump may fire the secretary of the Air Force and replace her with you. Is there any truth to this, and if so, are you interested? It would put you in a position to shepherd Space Force into existence.
I am not interested, and they have not talked to me.
All I know is what I’ve read. President Trump is unhappy that Heather Wilson has been resistant (to Space Force). She was lobbying against it when we passed it out of the House last year. This came out of my subcommittee and it’s my baby. That’s why the people in the Pentagon and the White House put my name out there because they knew I would be someone that would shepherd it.
Wilson is now saying publicly that they are going to do this, and she is all in. And, she is throwing numbers out like $13 billion (to fund Space Force), and that is completely made up.
Why should people of St. Clair County vote for you instead of your opponent?
People have put a lot of time and energy and a commitment to put me in Congress to learn how to make things happen in the legislative process, and to gain seniority and expertise. They made a big investment in me.
I want to help pay that investment back by exercising what I’ve learned over 16 years and the seniority that I’ve gained. I’m finally in a position of real strength and power that can be beneficial to the folks of St. Clair County. I think experience matters, too.
What’s the status of securing AMPV (Army Multi Purpose Vehicle) repair work at Anniston Army Depot rather than having it go to Red River Arsenal in Texas?
I had Army Chief of Staff (Mark) Milley in my office about three weeks ago, making the case because we have a strong case.
He made it clear that TACOM (Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command) has recommended that Red River get that work, and we believe the reason why is they’re trying to keep Red River alive. Red River has been losing jobs, and they’re close to closure.
That’s not the reason to be throwing this work out there when it’s a fit at Anniston, and it would be $50 million cheaper if you do it at Anniston, and that’s at today’s labor wages. The final say-so is the secretary of the Army, and I facilitated a meeting between the secretary of the Army and Sen. (Richard) Shelby, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee.
They had a nice conversation about where it ought to go, and I think the secretary of the Army left there with a strong impression of the consequences if it doesn’t come to Alabama.
My guess is (a decision will be announced) some time after the election.