DALLAS — He says he brought national attention to “age discrimination” in organ transplants, blackmailed his party boss to get affordable loans for flood victims and saved taxpayers a cool $1 billion.
Those are some of the accomplishments during his first term in office of which U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is most proud, and he entertained an audience of entrepreneurs, self-starters and eccentrics on Saturday by detailing some of his successes and failures on Capitol Hill.
A former mayor of Hazleton, the Republican Congressman was the presenter Saturday at The Irregulars Think Tank Breakfast at The Metro Bar & Grill.
The Irregulars don’t have “speakers” at their monthly gatherings, explained group facilitator Cholly Hayes. They have “presenters,” because they present their views on any topics they’re familiar with, and then everybody else can ask questions and join in the discussion.
The Irregulars started out as a group of nine friends that Hayes, a retired veteran broadcaster, invited to breakfast about three years ago. They had so much fun shooting the breeze and sharing their views, the tradition continued. The practice of inviting presenters emerged and and the group grew, now numbering 197.
In his presentation, Barletta said he was most proud of bringing the plight of 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan of Delaware County, and other children in need or organ transplants, to national media attention during a hearing at which Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was testifying.
Although Murnaghan’s doctors said she was a candidate for an adult lung transplant and only had weeks to live, a national policy allowed only children 12 and older to be placed on an adult transplant list. Sebelius denied an appeal of that rule.
Barletta said he threw away the on-topic questions his staff prepared for him and asked Sebelius if she would deny someone a transplant based on their gender or race. She replied: of course not, Barletta said.
“So then why are you going to let a little girl die because she’s 10 years old and not 12?” Barletta said he asked. “You could have heard a pin drop in that hearing room. She paused and she looked up at me and she said, ‘Congressman, this is an incredibly agonizing situation where someone lives and someone dies.’ That answer went viral across the country.”
Since then, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the age restriction, Murnaghan received the transplant and is doing well, Barletta said to applause.
Barletta also recalled refusing to vote along party lines in support of a continuing resolution. When House Speaker John Boehner called him in his office, Barletta told Boehner he would change his vote only if a disaster recovery loan rate could be lowered for flood victims. Boehner agreed to that and two other conditions and Barletta changed his vote.
He also detailed how he reviewed lease agreements on federal buildings as chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee and saved $1.1 billion by moving agencies into smaller spaces.
Getting locked down in partisan gridlock was among his biggest frustrations, Barletta said, but he plans to continue to try to find ways to reach compromise between the major parties.
“I appreciate his position,” said Irregulars member Toni Loftus, a registered nurse serving in the U.S. Army, adding that she was most impressed by the $1 billion savings Barletta found. “It’s small in terms of Washington numbers, but it’s a good thing if you’re not taking money out of the military budget and finding other ways to save,” she said.