© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2002
What do you do when you have nearly $400,000 in your campaign account but no campaign?
Rep. C.W. Bill Young has given thousands of dollars to charity, leased a new car, bought lots of dinners for constituents and paid for Republican fund-raising events.
Federal rules give members of Congress tremendous flexibility to spend the money on meals, cars and travel. They can even buy plane tickets for spouses.
The Largo Republican has no election this year because he is unopposed. Records from the Federal Election Commission for the past 18 months show he has spent $14,319 on travel, $16,577 on meals with constituents and $6,937 on gifts for visitors. He also donated $20,000 to relief funds for Sept. 11 victims.
Young, who was criticized 10 years ago for using campaign money to buy a car, now has a Lincoln Navigator that his campaign leases. Young said the Navigator is used for political events and Republican election activities.
"Transportation is part of campaigning," he says. "I do campaigning on a very personal basis with people. I have never hired a consultant, I've never hired a pollster. But I maintain as personal a relationship as I can with my constituents."
He also spent $10,416 for photos and enlargements. He is often photographed with constituents or contributors and then sends them autographed 8x10s.
"I don't print brochures, but I send a lot of pictures to a lot of people," he said.
Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes are pleading with Congress to reverse cuts in their Medicare reimbursement scheduled for Oct. 1.
The American Medical Association claims 24 percent of physicians are prepared to restrict or have cut their Medicare caseload in reaction to the reimbursement cuts. Doctors fees were cut 5.4 percent this year, and it is estimated that the current Medicare pricing formula would impose an additional 12 percent cut for physicians over the next three years.
Nursing homes are bracing for a 17 percent cut in October and home health care agencies expect their reimbursements to be trimmed by 15 percent.
Although the House voted to restore some cuts as part of the Medicare reform bill passed this year, the Senate has not considered a similar measure. Many lawmakers, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, question whether Congress should raise provider payments under Medicare if it fails to create a prescription drug plan for seniors.
As a result, the issue is not likely to be settled before the November election.
The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing this month to slam the entertainment and advertising industries for portraying the elderly as "sick, sad and broke," as a committee news release put it.
The committee says Americans older than 50 hold more than $1.6-trillion in buying power, yet are virtually ignored by advertisers. But not by the politicians.
"Madison Avenue tends to project an image that only the young can do things," said Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican.
What the young don't do very much, Craig might have added, is vote.
Thus the recent Aging Committee hearing featured 70-something actor Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond.
"The roles for women my age frequently show seniors in insulting and degrading ways," Roberts told the committee.