As the smoke clears from last week’s Beltway budget battle, a Republican congressman from the Sunshine State emerged as one of its winners.
Gus Bilirakis isn’t exactly the most high profile member of Congress though he is the number two man on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and, last month, he took over as the GOP leader of the Congressional International Religious Freedom (IRF) Caucus.
Despite that, Bilirakis scored some points in the final budget agreement. A measure from Bilirakis and Tampa Bay Democrat Kathy Castor cracking down on Medicare fraud was part of the final deal.
That wasn’t Bilirakis’ only win in the budget. Bilirakis managed to get his “Community CARE Act,” a proposal to keep federal funding in place for Community Health Centers which help 25 million Americans, as part of the final agreement.
Bilirakis took a victory lap after Congress agreed to fund Community Health Centers for two more years.
“Community Health Centers are an example of what is working in our health-care system,” Bilirakis insisted. “They have a proven track record and have previously enjoyed widespread, bi-partisan support. I just recently held a roundtable to speak with patients and physicians of local community health centers in my district. They shared countless stories about their positive experiences. I am glad they will continue to receive care without an interruption in service.”
Bilirakis scored another win as Congress also backed his idea to get rid of Medicare’s annual limit on per patient therapy expenditures. That could benefit a host of seniors across America--and, yes, in Bilirakis’ district whose Medicare only paid up to $2,100 a year on occupational, physical and speech therapy.
“I’ve met with countless seniors in my district over the years, some of whom have serious medical issues: broken hips, injuries from car accidents, or multiple strokes,” Bilirakis said on Friday. “Their medical needs necessitated therapy costs exceeding the cap. The law just didn’t make any sense, given the actual cost of medical care. I promised to fight for them, and today I am proud to finally be able to tell them that we got it done.”
Playing up to seniors is not a bad strategy in the district which includes Pasco County and parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Bilirakis routed Democrat Robert Tager last time out--69 percent to 31 percent--but there’s already a group of Democrats lining up to take him on in November.
While it’s early, Bilirakis could face more a challenge in November. While Tager’s back, Democrats have some hopes for Chris Hunter, a former federal prosecutor who worked in the FBI. With recent events in Washington taking center stage, in the past week, Hunter has claimed some spotlight with an appearance on CNN, an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times and speaking to the New York Times.
If Hunter wins the primary, he will be a tougher out for Bilirakis than the congressman’s used to though the Republicans remains a solid favorite. Scoring a few wins in the budget deal can only help Bilirakis as he looks to keep his seat.