Blunt: More than budget legislation slowed in cantankerous Congress

Even though the U.S. Congress’ continuing budget fights seem to be all many people are talking about, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said other issues also are waiting to be discussed by lawmakers.

“There’s lots of legislation that needs to be addressed, and it’s not just the appropriating process that’s not working,” Blunt said Thursday morning, during a telephone news conference with Missouri reporters.

“The big issues like the tax code are issues that both the Democratic chairman of the Senate tax writing committee and the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee would like to move forward.”

Blunt noted the proposed new farm bill has been stalled, with the House and Senate passing different versions.

“We’re going to get here, pretty quickly, in the situation where we may have to extend the (current) farm bill, and then some of the savings in the (new) farm bill that I voted for — the end of direct payments and other savings — will go away for some period of time,” he explained, “because you would be under the old farm bill, the un-reformed farm bill, where you didn’t have $40 billion worth of savings in farm programs over 10 years.”

But it’s those proposed “savings” that are a main cause for the stalled bill, including a battle between Republicans and Democrats over changes to the nation’s food stamp program, and whether it still should be tied to agriculture — as has been the case over several decades — or should be a separate, stand-alone program.

“I think that all Americans should have some interest in a government that works, and works toward the right kind of goals,” Blunt said, without commenting on the political and philosophical disputes between the parties.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to a moment here, pretty quickly, where people realize that the process of governing is the process of finding out what’s possible.”

Blunt, who’s in the middle of his first term in the U.S. Senate after serving 12 years in the U.S. House, said his own list of things to be done includes passing a new farm bill and “efforts to address mental health concerns that everybody should be looking for a solution to.”

Without naming any specific incidents — including last year’s Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings or the 26 murders of students and teachers at the Sandy Hook, Conn., Elementary School, or last month’s killing of a dozen federal employees at the U.S. Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. — Blunt noted: “The common thread of all these loss-of-life tragedies we’ve seen in the last couple of years — that the White House has been very upset about, from a gun control perspective — is mental health.”

He noted his continuing work with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., on the “Excellence in Mental Health Act.”

On her U.S. Senate website, www.stabenow.senate.gov, Stabenow notes: “Across our country, one-third of all people living with mood disorders do not receive treatment and fewer than half of those with severe mental disorders receive treatment of any kind in a given year.”

After the Naval Yard killings, Blunt and Stabenow issued a joint news release noting: “Our bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act expands access to care and improves quality of care so people living with mental illness can get the treatment they need.

“The vast majority of people living with mental illness are not violent, and are in fact more likely to be victims of violence.

“That said, we know that in the absence of timely diagnosis and proper treatment, people experiencing their first psychotic episode are 15 times more likely to commit a violent act than those in treatment.

“Instead of merely talking about this issue in the wake of tragedies, it is time to finally take bipartisan action to improve our mental health care services.”

But, like many other bills in Congress these days, progress is slow.

Blunt told the Missouri reporters last week: “I am absolutely confident that this is the time when that issue has enough attention that we could get something done.”

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