By Dave Ongie
After announcing his intention to run for another term as the representative of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District on Monday morning, Congressman Phil Roe dropped by the News & Neighbor Monday afternoon and explained what drove him to seek a sixth term in Washington D.C.
Roe started by highlighting some of the things he’s accomplished since taking his place in the U.S. House of Representatives in January of 2009. When he took office, Roe was the last person selected to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, leaving him 29th in seniority. He was also part of a Congress in which his Republican Party was outnumbered 257-178 by the Democrats.
“We couldn’t stop anything,” Roe recalled. “But I just got in there, and I just went to work.”
Persistence has certainly paid off for Roe, and his efforts to overturn a provision in the Affordable Care Act called the Independent Payment Advisory Board are a prime example of that. It took nearly eight years to accomplish, but the bill he introduced along with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Cal.) sailed through the House last November and the IPAB was officially repealed in February of this year when the new budget was passed.
“I worked on that bill for 7 years and 11 months,” Roe said. “(The Independent Payment Advisory Board) is finally in the dust bin of bad ideas. I definitely stayed after it.”
Roe steadily climbed through the ranks of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee before being chosen as the Chairman in 2010, a post he holds to this day. Given his work on behalf of veterans, seeing the VA MISSION Act signed into law by President Donald Trump late last month may be Roe’s crowning achievement to this point. The bill was designed to improve veterans’ medical care, improve the VA appeals process and expand the GI Bill.
But as Roe spoke about the VA MISSION Act, it became obvious that he saw the bill he helped shepherd from the halls of Capitol Hill to President Trump’s desk more as unfinished business than a signature accomplishment.
“It will be one of two things – it will either be transformational for the VA about how it provides care, or it will be another piece of paper in Washington D.C. with a signature on it if it is not implemented properly,” he said.
In Roe’s view, the VA is at a critical juncture, and he believes his experience will be needed to ensure veterans are able to get the care they deserve. The VA recently signed a $10 billion contract for a new electronic medical system, and Roe said there is a lot riding on the success of the project.
“The largest electronic health record implementation in the world is going to take place now with the VA,” Roe said. “I’ve already been out to Fairchild Air Force Base, and I’m going to say it was a bumpy roll out. I’m going to be kind to them. If the VA messes this up, it’s going to be a massive black eye. I’m setting up a small subcommittee in my committee that will do nothing but keep an eye on technology.”
Among the other unfinished business Roe will focus on during his reelection bid is finding ways to lower the cost of healthcare, combatting the opioid epidemic and working to establish an immigration policy that secures our borders.
The immigration issue has moved to the forefront of the national discussion as the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy has drawn attention to the fact that children are being separated from adults who are being arrested while trying to enter the United States illegally. Roe encountered a handful of protesters at his campaign kickoff on Monday morning, and he said Congress is likely to act on immigration reform sooner rather than later, citing a scheduled meeting with President Trump for the following day.
While Congress will soon consider a bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia as well as President Trump’s “four pillars” in the near future – both of which Roe said he will support – Roe is hoping to be part of more comprehensive reforms down the road that will help address issues he sees in his home district.
“The more comprehensive one goes into H2A – agriculture workers – and we want to move that to the Ag Committee,” he said. “Over here at Scott Farms, they know how many people they need. Let them work with the Agriculture Department, not the Labor Department. The other one in our district that is really big over in Sevier County is the hotel/motel business. They need those workers in there, so those H2B visas, allow those to match the number of people you actually need.”