WASHINGTON, D.C. - In Part 1 of Your Voice Arkansas: A Congressional Forum, Arkansas congressmen get candid about a range of topics including health care, the budget, and President Trump.
The exclusive discussion is hosted by Drew Petrimoulx, Nexstar Media Washington Correspondent and former Arkansas Capitol Reporter, along with Jessi Turnure, current Arkansas Capitol Reporter.
Petrimoulx talks with all four Arkansas Congressional leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives:
- Representative Rick Crawford, (R) 1st District, representing Jonesboro, Batesville and West Memphis.
- Representative French Hill, (R) 2nd District, representing Little Rock, Conway and Benton.
- Representative Steve Womack, (R) 3rd District, representing Fayetteville, Bentonville and Fort Smith
- Representative Bruce Westerman, (R) 4th District, representing Hot Springs, Texarkana and Pine Bluff
When asked to grade themselves on the job they have done so far in office, the congressmen had positive things to shed light on, but all admitted there is still significant work to be done.
"I think we're doing above-average work," Rep. Crawford said. "There was an awful lot to clean up from the last administration."
Crawford noted that, as he represents many agricultural districts, he was pleased about rolling back Waters Of The U.S. (WOTUS) regulations.
Rep. Hill commended the appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, spending priorities in the budget and progress in taking care of veterans.
Rep. Womack said he is pleased with what they’ve accomplished in the House and rated the House's work a "solid B,” but he added that, "There are some things that are still not resolved. Health care, tax reform... These are very complicated, difficult issues that are going to take some time.”
Rep. Westerman said he was happy with the Congressional Review Acts they've been able to pass, which he calls "major regulatory reforms,” but also added, "We've got a lot of work to do... there's a lot on the horizon. Health care, tax reform, some more regulatory issues..."
The congressmen were asked how they feel about the efforts to repeal and replace President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Hill responded, citing the need for affordable coverage and more choice.
"When you look at the people who we hear from...we hear from people who have lost their coverage, who can't afford their coverage, who are spending between $20,000 and $30,000 a year for premiums and deductibles..." Hill said. "How do we bend the cost curve down? How do we be patient-centered? How do we give our people more choice and our states more choice on designing health care?"
The Congressional Budget Office projects 23 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 under this new bill. Does that not give you pause?
"That's kind of myopic in some respects. I think you have to look at it in a more holistic way," Womack responded.
Womack said he hears from a lot of his business community that have been "hard-shipped" by that fact that they're providing coverage that heightens their premiums and deductibles, making it "nothing but a catastrophic plan."
Womack admitted that the Health Care Act passed in the House isn't perfect in every respect, but it got the conversation started.
"...And now it's underway in the Senate. Let's see what the two chambers can come up with," Womack said.
A question from viewer Manuel Garcia, Jr., says he is a 63-year-old retiree paying for his own insurance. Based on what he's paying each month, he figures, by the end of the year, he'll be paying about $18,000 out-of-pocket for co-pays, medications and insurance. He asks what is the plan to make sure people like him, who are not yet on Medicare, don't get thrown under the bus?
"We're going to work with the Senate to address the concerns that this individual expressed, but it's a problem for everybody..." Crawford said.
Crawford added that it's not about the quality of care in this country, it's an insurance issue. He said they need to look into how they can deliver an affordable product and a "discernible" product that saves more money.
Viewer Regina Carter Ault, says that Arkansans have traveled all the way to D.C. to talk to their Representatives and let their voices be heard, but the representatives aren't listening.
"I hosted four... town hall meetings in April... so we gave our public a chance to come in and weigh in on matters. My staff goes out of its way to schedule every person that comes to Washington, D.C. , that wants to sit down with us and talk about issues." Womack said.
Womack said the point he wants to make to the public is that this is all part of a process, which he explained as so:
- House passes bill
- House sends it to Senate
- Senate either takes the bill or comes up with something different
- House and Senate go to conference
- They get something signed into law
- The Department of Health and Human Services, through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, has certain things that he can do that are under his jurisdiction from a regulatory perspective to perfect things
"This is a process and we need to let this process uphold," Womack added.
Petrimoulx: "Raise your hand if you think the president's Twitter habits are hurting his presidency?"
*All four congressman raise their hands.*
Crawford began by saying he feels they need to be moving forward, not spending their time defending Tweets.
"We need to be on offense with regard to activity in the House... legislation we're trying to put forward," Crawford said. "We don't need to be on defense about things that are said in the public sphere on social media and taking our time to defend that."
Westerman said, "I try not to spend a lot of time defending the president's tweets."
Westerman directed attention to the number of positive interactions he believes have been made through the president's Twitter account, calling it a "way to personally reach out."
Petrimoulx: "What Kind of Rating would you give the president on the job he's done so far?"
Hill said he thinks the president is moving in the right direction on foreign policy and domestic economic policy. He also said the president has appointed "some fine cabinet secretaries."
Hill said this is why he's been "frustrated on off-message tweeting" as he believes it distracts from the "good work the president is leading."
Crawford brushes off contact with Russia as something fairly run-of-the-mill.
"Russian active measures in elections in the United States are nothing new. They've been going on for decades," Crawford said.
Crawford admitted, yes, there was contact, but said there is no evidence to suggest any criminal activity.
Crawford also mentioned he feels as though Trump receives a disproportionate amount of scrutiny for involvement with Russia as opposed to the Clintons, who he wishes the media would focus on more.
"The Clintons are being left out of this, but there is a track record there," Crawford said.
Next issue to be taken up? Budget and Infrastructure
Womack said we need to get the budget resolution passed, which he believes would lead to a major tax reform proposal. Tax reform is a promise the president made in his 2016 campaign that has still not been settled.
He said he wishes infrastructure could've been the lead priority this year. He calls it a bi-partisan topic that everyone can get behind and one that's good for Arkansans.
A question from viewer Scott Richardson asks what is the congressmen's solution to long-term infrastructure funding issues and how will that impact I-49?
Westerman said he, too, believes infrastructure projects will get bi-partisan support. But, he said the main question is, 'How do you pay for all of it?'
In the president's proposed budget, $2 billion was allotted for infrastructure, but Westerman said there are a "myriad" of ways to supplement the cost of funding infrastructure.
Westerman said he believes we need to work on the budget and generate revenue in order to do the things "everyone wants to do," such as infrastructure.
Crawford said we need to get our arms around national debt, so he supports a balanced budget amendment or a spending limitation amendment, which he described as a "fundamental underpinning that forces congress to behave in a certain way."
Financial Choice Act:
The House passed the Financial Choice Act last month. It rolls back Dodd-Frank regulations, allows the president to fire Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) directors and gives congress significant CFPB oversight.
Democrats criticized The Financial Choice Act, saying they fear it removes important protections included in the Dodd-Frank Act that are intended to prevent a financial crisis from happening again.
When asked to respond to this, Hill defended the Financial Choice Act, saying it "right-sizes" regulations for community banks, credit unions and small brokerage firms, but maintains strict oversight of the Wall Street institutions and sets up penalties for malfeasance. He said he thinks it is "pro-growth" and gives consumers more choice at lower costs.
Part II of this forum will continue Sunday, July 30, during each station’s regularly scheduled broadcast of “Capitol View” (check your local listings). Use the hashtag #YourVoiceAR on Social Media to join the conversation.
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