U.S. Congressman James Comer discussed at a town hall in Mayfield on Thursday the Alexander-Murray health care compromise, government spending, adoptions from foreign countries, industrial hemp and other issues with an audience of around 30 constituents.
Reflecting on traveling Kentucky's 1st District holding town hall travels, Mayfield being number 33, "It may be gerrymandered, but it's gerrymandered in a beautiful way," he joked. He added that while geographically spread out, most of the district is rural and comprised of small towns with shared values.
Comer said of people who have come to town halls wearing 'Resist' shirts that questioning leaders in public is part of the democratic process. He said while people don't always agree on issues, he values the opportunity for discourse. He said after the town hall meeting, "I'll stay here until the last person leaves" if anyone has questions or comments and wants to speak with him personally. Comer has done this in previous meetings and has been praised by progressives and conservatives alike for this accessibility.
Through staff conducting regional fieldwork, Comer said one thing he was surprised to learn is how many foreign adoptions there are in the 1st Congressional District. He said it's getting harder to get kids into the United States from certain countries, for parents who want to adopt.
Following up on this, Comer said there are parents in the region looking to adopt from China, Ethiopia and other countries. Members of Congress can help cut through the bureaucracy by helping go through an embassy or working with a charity, he said, and has learned over the past several months how to assist through those channels.
In experiencing the legislative process in Washington, Comer said he believes the lengthy process was by the founding fathers' design, but that they would be surprised to find members of Congress spending so much time raising money from special interests and members who have been serving for decades. He believes had they known what things would be like today, they would have written into the Constitution campaign finance laws and term limits, both of which he said he supports as a means to "unclog the logjam."
As in past town halls, Comer detailed health care issues, which he said is "the biggest problem in America." He cited issues with the lack of options on the individual health insurance market and too many people now on Medicaid. He said to resolve issues, the government needs to create a health care system that helps people "get from welfare to work."
An issue with letting the private market take over, he said, is that insurance companies want to make money and may preclude people with pre-existing conditions. "And if you don't protect the consumer through regulations in the health care law - then the health insurance companies have had a history of canceling people when they got sick. So I support a health care system that has competitions, that gives consumers a choice... to pick which policy they want with various prices but also one that protects people with pre-existing conditions."
Comer also noted work-requirements for Medicaid access, which is something that Governor Matt Bevin has floated. While most Medicaid enrollees (nationwide) are children, disabled and elderly - some 34% are adults that comprise 19% spending.
Defending the Affordable Care Act, a member of the audience said the notion of Medicaid "not working" is misleading as it has given health care to people who were previously uninsured and implemented standards that protect people if they get sick. "I'm extremely proud that Kentucky embraced the ACA," the audience member said, noting the relatively low uninsured rate due to the expansion. He felt people only have an issue with it because it has "Obama's name on it." The audience member noted that before the ACA there were cheap policies that didn't offer much coverage. Association health plans have been recently touted by President Trump and Senator Rand Paul. Plans like these existed before the ACA, which effectively killed them.
Comer said he doesn't deny that there have been 'winners' with the Affordable Care Act, but said there have also been 'losers' - those on the individual market with skyrocketing premiums. He said Medicaid expansion was a good deal for Kentucky for the first few years because the federal government subsidized the expansion, however noted that Kentucky will have to pay 10% of this cost by 2020.
Regarding the Alexander-Murray compromise bill to appropriate subsidies for two years for low-income individuals while including permanent changes to give states more flexibility to seek waivers, Comer said if the measure passes the Senate and comes up for a vote in the House that he would support it. He said he supports President Trump's actions to end cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments as it forced the Senate to come up with a solution (though Alexander and Murray say they have been working on the bipartisan fix for months). Comer later said that there needs to be a subsidy for the working poor - a temporary subsidy until there is a permanent fix. According to NPR, the Congressional Budget Office estimated without the Alexander-Murray subsidies premiums would increase, the deficit would rise and millions of Americans would have no insurance providers.
Funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program lapsed in Congress at the end of September. The bipartisan-supported program covers approximately nine million children and 370,000 pregnant women each year. Comer said he supports CHIP funding, adding that it's the government's responsibility to help people who can't help themselves, like low-income children. "If we don't invest in their health care at an early age, it's going to cost us more down the road."
After the town hall, when asked about free speech issues, from athletes kneeling to censoring news media to white nationalists speaking on college campuses, Comer said he interprets the First Amendment as it was written.
"I think it's unfortunate that we have so many people disrespecting our anthem and our flags, but at the end of the day I believe in free speech and people have the right to do that," Comer said. He referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's defense of flag burning last fall, when President-elect Trump suggested flag burners be jailed.
Comer said football players kneeling is having a detrimental effect to the NFL's bottom line and is counter-productive to what they are trying to do - which is to bring attention to the oppression of African Americans, specifically police issues.
On tax reform, Comer said Congress needs to pass a budget before tax reform. He said he hopes to vote on a budget by Monday when he returns to D.C. "I do believe the votes are there to provide tax relief for all Americans," he said.
Some members of the audience expressed a desire to cut bureaucracy and government spending. Comer said he is frustrated by both parties over a lack of concern for the country's debt. He feels the debt will continue to increase as most members of Congress seem uninterested in resolving the issue. Nothing has changed in the last several months with regards to spending, he said, however noting a 'strong' economy where people have "confidence to invest again." Comer said spending is "immoral" as it places a burden on future generations. He said he supports across the board cuts, of 1-2% for example, with an exception for the military. Comer said if cabinet secretaries want to make their mark then they should cut waste in their areas.
On his Industrial Hemp Farming Act legislation, Comer anticipates a vote "very soon" in the House. The bill defines hemp and marijuana differently, reclassifying the former as an agricultural crop while keeping marijuana on the controlled-substance list.