Congress, Energy, Environment, Government, Healthcare, U.S. President

Capito talks Biden budget, EPA and energy, Medicare solvency with West Virginia press

MORGANTOWN — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito talked with members of the West Virginia press on Thursday, covering the Biden budget, carbon sequestration, the Pleasants Power Station and Medicare.

President Biden has proposed a $6.9 trillion budget paid for, in part, by $5.5 trillion in tax hikes across 10 years. The budget represents Biden’s priorities, Capito said. “Honestly, these are misplaced priorities.”

And it’s dead on arrival, she said.

White House fact sheets say, “President Biden believes that investing in America, growing the economy from the bottom up and middle out, lowering costs for families, and reforming our tax code to reward work and not wealth are economic and fiscal imperatives. … At the same time, President Biden believes that long-term investments in our Nation and its people should be paid for.”

The fact sheets say the budget will cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over those 10 years. It proposes a 25% minimum tax on billionaires, repeals some Trump tax cuts, eliminates oil and gas tax subsidies and cryptocurrency transaction tax subsidies, and raises the Medicare tax rate for incomes above $400,000 from 3.8% to 5%, among other measures.

Capito said the budget entails “more and more spending” that will increase the deficit, with tax hikes that will hurt small businesses. It cuts the budgets for the Department of Transportation, the Small Business Administration and — even as illegal immigrants and illicit drugs pour across the border — the Department of Homeland Security.

But Biden mentions fentanyl only twice while mentioning climate change 42 times, Capito said. “I don’t know how he squares that; it’s killing the American public and it’s wrecking families.”

The Dominion Post recently published a story on how state governments and business and industry groups across the country are frustrated that Biden’s EPA is dragging its heels in granting states primacy in permitting underground injection wells for carbon capture and sequestration, even while the administration purports sequestration as a priority.

We asked Capito her thoughts on the issue, and why the EPA isn’t moving. She didn’t offer any speculation on why but she did discuss the problem.

The EPA is looking at primacy applications from Louisiana and West Virginia, she said. “They’re taking way too long.”

The EPA took seven years to permit just two wells. When North Dakota received primacy, it permitted five in two years.

She breakfasted with EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Thursday. “He said they’re trying to move faster and they’re moving to the West Virginia application. … If the whole goal of this administration is to remove carbon, they’re not moving fast enough. … I’m very frustrated by this as well.”

Pleasants Power Station

Capito took a question on her stance on the possible Mon Power purchase of Pleasants Power Station, a coal-fired plant. The House and Senate both recently passed resolutions urging Mon Power to move ahead in order to keep the plant open to keep people working and benefit the local economy.

The resolutions say Pleasants employs 154 people, supplies 9% of the state’s power generation, has a $128 million annual impact in Pleasants County and contributes $1.75 million in annual taxes to the county and school board. It contributes $400 million annually to the region.

Opponents say the plant is uneconomical and the sale would shift the cost risks from stockholders to ratepayers. If Mon Power and its sister Potomac Edison need new capacity, they should rely on the free market to find the best options.

Capito said she knows the area and understands the plant’s value. “We are trying to push them in that direction at well. … We can’t start eliminating some of the larger power stations in our country and expect to be reliable in our electricity. … We should be able to have a grid that can sustain anything.”

Medicare solvency

Capito also took a question on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security solvency challenges.

Biden’s fact sheets say his budget cuts spending by $160 million through the Inflation Reduction Act, allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. And drug makers must pay rebates to Medicare if their price hikes outpace inflation.

The budget extends Medicare solvency by 25 years through tax hikes on the wealthy, closing tax loopholes and putting savings from IRA measures into the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund.

“It achieves these gains with no benefit cuts — indeed, while lowering costs for Medicare beneficiaries,” the fact sheets say.

Capito reiterated that the tax hikes will harm small businesses while Biden’s budget makes no true spending cuts.

Various ideas have been floated to save the programs: Extend the Social Security tax and take the income tax cap off; raise the retirement age; restructure Medicare. “These are questions we are going to have to face, no doubt about it. … We’re going to have to come to a bipartisan solution — it cannot be political because it will never get done.”

Biden’s idea of cutting Medicare Advantage is not a good option, she said. Most of the West Virginia Medicare population is on that program. It’s a public-private partnership that works.

“We need to look at more things like that, that are cost-containing, that are user-friendly.” Bipartisan groups are exploring solutions. “I don’t think what the president has in his budget is a solution at all.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp