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Vote Now: Where Should Roll Call Travel for the Midterm Elections?

Congress Must Act on Energy, Health IT to Ease Public Anger

While Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are promising to end partisan bickering and get problems solved, their allies in Congress are back to the same old warring ways that voters hate.

It appears all too likely that Congress will deadlock once again on means to reduce gasoline prices and move toward energy independence.

And even a no-brainer, widely endorsed proposal to set standards for computerizing health records — and, eventually, saving lives and lots of money — isn’t assured of passage.

It’s no wonder that, in July, Congress’ approval rating reached an all-time low of 14 percent. And, according to the Gallup Poll, only 16 percent of Americans had confidence in Congress, the lowest for any institution.

Congress’ average approval rating has risen to 17.8 percent since July, according to RealClearPolitics.com — probably because it’s been in recess and not reminding voters of its dysfunction.

However, this week, when Gallup asked voters whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the federal government was dealing with their problems, 79 percent were dissatisfied — 51 percent were very dissatisfied.

And, polls have a warning for the people running Congress — namely, Democrats. Gallup’s generic ballot this week showed voters favoring Democrats in the upcoming elections by only 3 points. In July, it was 11 and in February it was 15.

Energy is a tough, complicated problem intellectually, economically and politically. More on that below.

But health information technology is not. For more than a decade, it’s been widely agreed that computerizing medical records would reduce medical errors that kill up to 95,000 people a year and also save money — $165 billion a year, according to a RAND Corp. study.

There’s no disagreement among the presidential candidates — they both favor it, along with measures to prevent disease, reward providers for keeping patients healthy and manage chronic disease.

The problem is that hundreds of different IT programs have been developed without a common standard and many doctors and hospitals are afraid to invest in any one, lest it turn out to be “Beta” when “VHS” emerges as the national standard.

Bills to authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to set a standard actually passed both the House and Senate in 2005, but they got caught up in a jurisdictional dispute between House committee chairmen.

In this Congress, a bill sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), along with Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), was approved by Kennedy’s committee last year.

It was set for Senate passage before the August recess but was blocked by objections from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who argued that its $100 million cost might lead to even bigger federal outlays in the future.

Similar legislation sponsored by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) unanimously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July. Another bill is due for markup in the House Ways and Means Committee.

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