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In second term, Hern positioned to wield influence on key issues
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In second term, Hern positioned to wield influence on key issues

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Midway through his second term, 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern has positioned himself about where he wants. He has a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee and what seems to be growing influence on GOP tax and health care policy.

Besides the plum committee assignment, Hern is chairman of the Budget and Spending Task Force of the Republican Study Committee, the policy arm of the House Republican conference, and is on a House GOP health care task force.

These developments are very much in line with Hern’s ambitions when he became a congressional candidate in 2018. Then the owner of several businesses, including a string of McDonald’s restaurants, he went to Washington with definite ideas about about he wanted to do.

Federal spending and health care system reform were near the top of his list.

“If I’m going to leave my business and go back and forth to Washington, D.C., and represent the American people, I want to represent all of the people in the district, and the way you do that is you get on committees that touch everyone,” Hern said in an interview last week.

And the House Ways and Means Committee does that. It is the oldest and many would say most powerful committee in not only the House but Congress as a whole. It sets tax policy and has its fingers in everything from international trade to foster care.

“It’s a very important committee,” Hern said. “Some would argue it’s the most important committee in Congress. All bills on spending have to originate in the House, and that would start with taxation and how you pay for those in Ways and Means.”

Ways and Means is so powerful that members are not generally allowed on any other committees. Its 43 seats are among the most sought-after in Congress.

Getting one is not a matter of happenstance.

Some reporting suggests a lot of it has to do with money. Members of key committees like Ways and Means are expected to raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for their party’s congressional campaign fund.

Hern, though, said that doesn’t figure much, if any, into the actual appointment.

“I think it’s based more on what you did before you got there than it is what you do while you’re there,” Hern said. “I made it very clear from early on I wanted to be on Ways and Means, and that if I knew what the pathway was I would work harder than anyone.”

Hern serves on three House and Ways subcommittees: Select Revenue Measures (previously known as the Subcommittee on Tax Policy), Social Security, and Worker and Family Support (primarily public assistance and unemployment insurance). Those assignments dovetail with the two within the Republican task forces.

In recent weeks, Hern has become a more visible proponent of fiscal restraint, slamming Democratic spending plans and launching a Republican letter pledging to refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling. The idea is to force the thin Democratic majority to act without GOP help.

Republicans are confident they’ll win control of the House in 2022, which would put Hern in a strong position to implement or at least influence tax, spending and health care policy.

Fiscally, Hern adheres to conventional Republican economics: Contain spending and cut taxes — or at least don’t raise them.

More interesting are Hern’s ideas on health care. Simply put, he wants to move from the employer-provided group coverage model that’s prevailed since World War II to individual plans.

Health insurance, he said, is no longer the “carrot” for employees it once was, and employers are getting tired of administering their group plans.

Like a lot of Republicans, Hern blames most of the country’s health insurance problems on the Affordable Care Act. He has talked many times about its impact on businesses such as his.

But he also says Republicans bear responsibility for never coming up with an alternative.

“If you go back to ... the many times prior Congresses voted down Obamacare ... the Republicans never had a response,” Hern said. “I thought that was bad leadership to be critical of something and never have a response to it.”

Now Hern is a subcommittee chairman of the group drafting GOP health care policy. It seems to be building off many of the ideas of the late Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma physician and member of Congress who was often critical of both parties’ health care policies and the medical sector itself.

Hern’s subcommittee is focused on affordability, which he said has allowed him to “see the inner workings of the health care system.”

Defining affordability can be difficult, a point driven home by the subcommittee’s first hearing last week. But one thing affordability is not, Hern said, is what most Americans have now.

“It’s not trending in the right direction,” he said.

Hern, like Coburn, believes the answer is more competition and transparency in the health care and health insurance sectors. But getting there hasn’t been and won’t be easy.

One possible model is the state of Oklahoma, whose compensation package includes an allowance that can be spent on an array of health plans and other benefits.

The bottom line, Hern said, is that a way must be found for individuals to have the same bargaining power as larger employers.

“There are too many different (entities) in between the patient and their physician, whether its (prescription benefit managers), or various doctor groups, or insurance groups,” Hern said.

“The average American never sees their cost of a surgery until after its gone through their insurance, through the health care provider, they’ve jostled back and forth to see who’s going to pay what, and then you’re left with ‘this is what you’re to pay.’”

Video: U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern on President Biden’s economic and infrastructure proposals.

C-SPAN video from June 16, 2021. Congressman Kevin Hern, R-Oklahoma, is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

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