Congressman Dan Newhouse held a “listening session” at Sunnyside High School on Thursday, April 13, 2017 from 6:00 – 7:30 PM. About 150 constituents from the Lower Valley region of the district, many from Yakima and the Tri-Cities, were present to ask questions and express their concerns to Congressman Newhouse. The event was moderated by Thane Phelan, Vice President of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce. Constituents wrote their questions on index cards which were read by the moderator for Newhouse to answer. There was substantial discussion between the constituents and Newhouse, who did not hesitate to address follow-up questions from the audience.
Newhouse addressed several issues of national and local interest. Some key points are summarized below.
- Immigration and foreign policy.
- Regarding the wall along the Mexican border promised by President Trump, Newhouse said, “I don’t believe there is going be a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.”
- Regarding ICE raids and the detention of undocumented immigrants, Newhouse touted his co-sponsoring of the BRIDGE Act, which protects undocumented students. He also said, “I don’t think that I want to live in a country that rounds up 20 million people”, referring to the approximate number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
- Newhouse stated his support for H-2A reform to address labor shortages during picking season.
- Although Newhouse had pushed back against executive orders banning immigration from certain countries, he supported tougher vetting for refugees from entering the U.S. (Refugees currently undergo a 20-step process to enter the United States, which typically takes at least 2 years.)
- Newhouse said, “I don’t think the current authorization to use military force covers Syria”, but stated that Speaker Paul Ryan has already said that Donald Trump has to seek congressional approval.
- Health care.
- Newhouse said he buys insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange for himself and his family, but it doesn’t cover all of his family’s needs. Constituents suggested he work to fix the ACA instead of repeal it.
- A constituent called for single payer health care “that covers everybody”. Newhouse responded, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”
- On President Trump’s recent threat to withhold Affordable Care Act subsidies to insurers to force health care overhaul, Newhouse said, “I don’t know that extortion is the way to go.”
- Regarding abortion, Newhouse said, “I’m a proud conservative, and I’m pro-life”, but he acknowledged that women’s right to choose is the “law of the land”.
- Environment and climate.
- Newhouse stated that he believes the climate is changing but that it has been changing “since the beginning of time”, suggesting that he may not believe human activity contributes to climate change.
- Newhouse stated his belief that economic growth and environmental protection can proceed together. However, he was challenged to defend his legislative record, which includes co-sponsoring a Congressional Review Act (H J Res 38) which overturned the Obama-era “clean stream rule” limiting the disposal of coal mining waste in streams.
- Regarding his bill to specifically exempt manure from the law governing solid waste, Newhouse said, “I pull my drinking water out of the same aquifers as everybody else does”. He expressed confidence that “clean water laws” would be used to address the issue of manure-contaminated flooding in Outlook, WA. Constituents raised the concern that the EPA is facing severe cuts and may not be able to effectively enforce clean water laws.
- Newhouse reiterated that the executive budget proposal is only a blueprint and is far from a final budget.
- Newhouse stated that he “would not stand for a zero budget” for federal funding of the arts and humanities. However, he would not state how much of a cut these programs might endure.
- 2016 election and campaign finance.
- Newhouse said he would help to write a bill demanding the release of President Trump’s tax returns, although he questioned why there were no calls for the release of previous presidents’ returns. (All other modern presidents had done so voluntarily, and none were under investigation for foreign conflicts of interest.)
- Newhouse expressed confidence in congressional committees and law enforcement working on investigating President Trump’s possible emoluments violations, stating, “We need to go where the evidence takes us.”
- Regarding the Citizens United decision, Newhouse says, “I wish we could get all the money out of campaigns”, but he deflected follow-up questions about campaign finance reform.
- Second amendment rights.
- Newhouse defended his vote to overturn restrictions on the purchase of guns by mentally disabled people because the restrictions “went too far” to encroach on Second Amendment rights.
- Internet privacy.
- When asked about net neutrality, Newhouse instead defended his recent vote against internet privacy rules set up by the Obama administration, touting how rules are now consistent between the FTC (which regulates companies like Google, which are optional to use) and FCC (which regulates internet service providers (ISPs), which are not optional for internet use and have access to all customer internet usage, financial, and identity data). However, he did not acknowledge the distinction between these types of services. Constituents pointed out that current rules do not require ISPs to notify customers of how their data may be used, and ISPs can sell customers’ data without their consent.
Gallop recently released interesting polling data related to healthcare.
The first chart Gallop provided shows that historically most people believe the federal government has a responsibility to “make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage”. These numbers dropped with the signature ACA (“Obamacare”) legislation, due to smear campaigns or the law itself we cannot conclude. However, the percent of people who believe the federal government should ensure coverage is again on the rise.
Further down on the page linked above (first table), Gallop gives the numbers for how worried people are about the “availability and affordability” of healthcare. Interestingly, the percentage of people who are worried a “great deal” has trended downward from 2001.
In the following table, Gallop asked how satisfied people are with the “availability of affordable healthcare”. The percentage of “very dissatisfied” people (47%) peaked in 2006/2008 and has gone down ever since, by over 10 percentage points in some years (33% in 2013/2015).
These numbers are interesting, considering the rhetoric we hear from Washington DC. There is much more data on the page, so please take a look if you’re interested!
These bills will establish a healthcare trust that will cover every resident in Washington state. Residency is explicitly defined and those who would move to Washington primarily for healthcare would not be covered. The care includes, but is not limited to, everything covered under the “Essential Health Benefits” of the ACA (ambulance, out-patient and in-patient visits, emergency care, etc.), with a focus on preventative care. The coverage would be secondary to state/federal insurance plans, which I take to mean Medicare and Medicaid, or any other optional work-funded or personal insurance plans. No providers will be excluded from receiving payment from the trust (though the text does not indicate whether providers will be forced to accept patients insured through the trust). Long-term care (nursing home) coverage would not start immediately, and when it does start, a co-pay would be required from those with an income of over 150% of the federal poverty level.
The trust will be governed by a board consisting of 9 paid members, who will be reconsidered every 6 years. Both parties in the House and Senate will submit a list of 5 people they would like on the board. The governor chooses the board members, but must pick 1 person from each list. The board members must be healthcare professionals (both on the financial and administration side; the bills do not mention practitioners), business professional, and/or understand the needs of diverse populations. The board will appoint 3 unpaid committees: a financial committee, a citizen’s committee, and a professional committee. The board will manage the money in conjunction with the financial committee and develop standards of care and determine needs in conjunction with the citizen’s and business committees. Administrative costs are not to exceed 11% of the total trust amount.
The funding mechanism of trust isn’t established in the bill, and instead, the financial committee will work with the board to determine the best way to fund the trust. Suggested funding mechanisms include employer taxes, premiums for Washington residents with incomes over 200% of the federal poverty level, and/or shuffling other current tax revenues around.