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Humphreys campaigns at Benedum Airport

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Congressional candidate Jim Humphreys made an appearance at Benedum Airport Sunday afternoon to announce his endorsement by a Georgia senator and speak about familiar campaign issues, including a Medicare prescription benefit for seniors.

Harrison County is not within the 2nd Congressional District, where the race between Humphreys and Del. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Kanawha has drawn national attention in a year in which control of the U.S. House of Representatives is believed to be up for grabs.

However, Humphrey's campaign manager, Kevin D. Geary, said coming to Bridgeport was a good way to reach 2nd District voters in Lewis, Upshur, Randolph, Pendleton, Gilmer and Braxton counties through Clarksburg media outlets.

Both Humphreys and Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost both his legs and his right arm in Vietnam, were greeted warmly by a small crowd, which included veterans and members of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. Both spoke at length about seniors' and veterans' issues.

"Jim Humphreys has the heart for people and especially for veterans," Cleland said.

Cleland, who received the silver and bronze stars during his military service, said issues such as veterans' health care are important in a state with many older vets.

"Many veterans fall into the category of both disabled and elderly," Cleland said. "We'll need VA (Veterans Administration) health care more than ever before. It is our last resort to make sure they don't fall through the cracks."

Humphreys said his priorities are providing a Medicare prescription benefit for seniors, to "shore up" social security, and ensure no veterans' hospitals are closed. When asked if he believes the federal government could afford a Medicare prescription benefit without raising taxes, his answer was an unqualified yes.

"I absolutely do," Humphreys said. "I support the Democratic plan. The cost would depend on whether implementation would be full or partial. We're looking somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion a year."

Geary added if catastrophic care were included, cost projections for the program would be about $250 billion over 10 years.

Humphreys and Cleland also said there is need to improve pay, working conditions and housing for active members of the armed forces, as well as to protect veterans' benefits and health care.

"There are 13,000 members of our active duty military who are on food stamps because pay is too low, especially for technically skilled non-officers. We need to keep them to have a military capable of fighting a technological war."

While Humphreys made no attacks upon his opponent, he accused Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush of planning to use $1.6 billion of a projected $1.9 billion federal budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthy. He also accused the "Republican Congress" of "considering closing one of the four veterans' hospitals in the state."

"To my mind, that's ludicrous," Capito said of the charge Congressional Republicans have considered closing one of the state's Veterans Administration hospitals.

On other issues, Capito said she agrees with Humphreys that they need to be addressed, although there are differences in how they address them.

"I agree that we can afford it now and I believe we need to provide a prescription care benefit that's affordable, accessible and immediate," Capito said. "The difference between our plans is I would like to see a private-sector partnership with Medicare so people can have more choices and keep the plans they have if they wish.

"I'm also not in favor of creating another giant bureaucracy that would force people to go to Washington for their insurance," she said. "He's for a blanket program while I want to see one on a need basis. I don't think West Virginia taxpayers want to have to pay to cover wealthy people."

Capito also said she supports veterans' benefits and improvements in pay and housing for active duty members of the armed forces. She also echoed a comment by Cleland that America's armed forces are stretched too thin by long overseas deployments.

"Senator John McCain endorsed me in August, and you can look at his background as a decorated veteran and an advocate of veterans' issues," Capito said. "With veterans issues, I feel like I'm on solid ground."

Staff Writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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