Congressman Dan Lungren fielded questions on health care reform, water supply, energy and interstate commerce last week at a “listening session” at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys.
Lungren, (R-Fair Oaks), became the co-chairman of the Congressional Wine Caucus as the 112th Congress opened Jan. 3, part of the prompting for the gathering which attracted about 50 people, including those from the wine, health care, tourism and business communities.
The Gold River Republican touted passage of the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act on March 3, a bill he sponsored that would eliminate the requirement for businesses to file 1099 forms to the Internal Revenue Service on purchases of more than $600. That requirement is part of the sweeping health reform law passed a year ago. Lungren’s bill is now before the Senate.
Lungren said his bill, which passed 314-112 with support from both sides of the aisle, can be viewed as a step toward repeal of the health care act and “getting rid of a burden on business that never should have been there in the first place.”
He also criticized waivers from the act’s requirements.
“If the government has the ability to grant 1,000 waivers from the law, maybe it’s a crummy law,” Lungren said. “It’s not socialism. It’s not communism. It’s crummy capitalism.”
He said he favors an alternative reform that includes the ability to buy policies across state lines, which has been criticized by some as an unconstitutional restriction on states’ ability to regulate the insurance industry.
Ironstone President Stephen Kautz inquired about adding water storage in California.
Lungren turned his criticism toward the state government on that topic.
“Frankly, I don’t know,” he said. “We have a state that locks up its resources ... at some point we need more water available to us. I don’t see that happening right now.”
Lungren said the issue would have been a priority of his administration had a 1998 campaign for governor been successful. Gray Davis won that election in a landslide by painting Lungren as too conservative for the state.
Lungren cited spillway construction under way in Folsom as the kind of project needed that gained rare approval. The project is really a dam, he said, and mused that “if we call all dams spillways, maybe we can get somewhere.”
He also said the state’s water can be better utilized to provide hydroelectric power. Energy prices, Lungren argued, cannot be wrangled in without “an all-of-the-above energy strategy, including fossil fuels, in the United States.”
Lungren said he and the Republican House will bring forward bills to approve offshore drilling and development of other domestic oil sources. He also said he hopes to reverse prohibitions against designating the conversion of forest biomass for energy as a renewable resource.
Expansion of nuclear energy will become a political no-no, he anticipated, following the Japanese reactor crisis but offered that it took a virtually unprecedented natural disaster to cause the damage.
“We ought to wait until the dust clears ... and see what the facts are that come out,” Lungren said. “I think one thing we’re going to learn is don’t put six nuclear reactors together.”
He also addressed a concern perhaps nearest and dearest of all to his audience’s hearts, the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act. The bill has not yet gained much momentum, Lungren said, but could have a devastating impact if it does. The proposal calls for an end of direct interstate alcohol sales that are a major portion of small wineries’ income.
“It is not being shipped out of our wineries directly to underage consumers,” Kautz said, adding that liquor stores nationwide have caused a problem with lax online sales practices.
Others in attendance agreed, noting they routinely pay a $4 surcharge to have parcels delivered with age and signature confirmation.
Lungren said the small wineries need to get the message out that they are going the extra mile and emphasize the sales’ critical role in their operations.
“Explain that you are very small ... and this is your lifeblood,” he said.
The success of the California wine industry during the last 40 years has a pull on Americans’ hearts, he added.
“There’s a romantic, dare I say, narrative that can be presented about this industry,” he said.