Published in the April 14, 2016 edition


NORTH READING – Sixth District Congressman visited several towns in the area on Saturday, including a stop in North Reading, where he met with about 30 constituents in town hall and answered questions on a wide range of topics, including funding for persons with disabilities, problems with the Veterans Administration and health care for veterans, the Kinder Morgan pipeline and other issues.

Included in the audience were local town officials, Selectmen Robert Mauceri and Jeff Yull, Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto and Land Utilization Committee member Ken Tarr.

Moulton brought up the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline without being asked. The controversial pipeline proposes to take a route through North Reading and other towns in the district and Moulton criticized the energy company’s handling of the project.

Kinder Morgan has not been responsive to the needs of the communities, Moulton said. “I think they’ve been doing an atrocious job of listening to people and responding to their concerns.” He said there’s a portal on his website where residents can log their concerns and these are passed on to Kinder Morgan on a regular basis.

There are a lot of people concerned about how the pipeline will be routed and Massachusetts already has hundreds of miles in pipelines, “but they’re not built in straight lines.” They have to be built safely and in a responsive manner to environmental and other concerns. “I don’t think Kinder Morgan has done that,” he said.

New England has the highest energy prices in the country and that’s a real inhibitor to economic growth, hurting jobs and resulting in high heating bills, Moulton stated. “This is a concern, it’s one of those issues that straddle the federal-state line and my office is working to give voice to the communities.”

There is a concern that if the pipeline is built that the gas will end up being exported overseas and that’s a very legitimate concern, Moulton agreed, and his office is looking into that. He estimated 70 to 80 percent is already contracted to energy users here in the district and they’re trying to pin down how much, if any, would be exported. “Fifteen percent of our electricity used to be generated from natural gas, now it’s over 50 percent. There’s been a huge change but in the long run I hope we’re relying on more carbon free technologies.”

Top priorities

Moulton said he thinks about his priorities “in three buckets” – international issues such as ISIS and terrorism, domestic and national issues and those at the district level.

He said he recently spent a week in the Middle East checking in on the troops on the front line.

On the domestic level, Moulton was questioned closely on inadequacies in the Veterans Administration and on health care for veterans. He said it’s a priority to make sure veterans get the best health care in the world. Moulton said he’s the only member of Congress who gets his health care from the VA

“It’s been a mixed bag,” he admitted.

He knows first-hand about the challenges veterans face because when he checked in for hernia surgery, the VA couldn’t find him in their records as a veteran but would consider taking him as a humanitarian case. (Moulton served in the U.S. Marines from 2001-2008 and fought in Iraq. They could have Googled him.) After the surgery, they sent him home with Advil instead of the stronger Percocet he was supposed to receive for his pain. He said there is progress being made in this Congress to improve services for veterans.

His number one priority is economic development for his district but that means different things in different towns. Consider Gloucester and Newburyport, which are in close proximity to each other but have completely different priorities. Gloucester is all about fishing while Newburyport is about small businesses. Moulton said he hired an economic director for his staff for just this reason and there’s been a lot of focus on Lynn in the last few months.

Meg Robertson of Park Street said funding for people with disabilities has suffered and a “whole group of people” are being missed when funding is increased for one segment of the population – autism, for example – while funds are cut for other areas, such as blindness.

Moulton agreed this is a real problem but said the real problem is the federal deficit and how the situation has changed from years ago when there was a surplus under Clinton.

Don Miller of Ashwood Drive reminded Moulton he campaigned strongly on fixing the VA system. Although the VA has a $150 billion budget and 400,000 employees, “it’s a prime example of why socialized medicine doesn’t work,” in Miller’s opinion. He wanted to know why veterans can’t be allowed to use private medicine.

Moulton said he supports the VA Choice Act but it has some restrictions. He’s also supportive of private sector initiatives to augment the VA, recognizing the fact that in some areas like mental health care the VA hasn’t done a good job. “Frankly, there’s been some pushback from the VA and that’s ridiculous.”

Moulton said the VA needs to think of itself as competing for patients like everyone else. A lot of the surgeons and physicians at the VA are very good but the support teams around them are a mixed bag – that’s how he was sent home with the wrong medication. The private health care system doesn’t have the capacity to absorb a lot of veterans but Moulton said he’s open to increased competition.

Brett Johnson of Lowell Road thanked Moulton for his support for brain cancer research. Johnson will be meeting with Moulton in Washington on May 3 as part of the National Brain Tumor Society’s “Day on the Hill” and said he’s grateful every day for the research funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and hopes for Moulton’s continued support when their funding comes up for renewal.

Moulton said one of the rare bipartisan successes in this past Congress was increasing funding for NIH, although there are people on the Tea Party faction who are opposed to it. Massachusetts gets more NIH funding per capita than any other state because of all the research going on here.

Moulton’s stop in North Reading didn’t last as long as some people would have liked but before leaving for another commitment, he said constituents are always welcome at his Salem office.

“Government should be open, collaborative and transparent and hopefully that’s the kind of experience you’ll have if you come in to the office,” he stated.