Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., talked about health care, minimum wage and the struggles of working people during a town hall meeting Monday at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Welch, who said he was “home for August” from Washington D.C., did almost all the talking. There were very few comments or questions from the audience of about 40, even though Welch repeatedly stopped to solicit questions. At one point, the congressman drew laughter when he asked if there were “any comments about any tweets.”
One of the few questions asked was on the minimum wage, which Welch said should come up.
“Half of Americans haven’t had a raise in 20 years and the pricing power of these bigger and bigger and bigger corporations are raising prices on people whose wages are flat,” he said, adding that record corporate profitability is coinciding with record low wages.
With the setting at the hospital, the talk naturally drifted toward health care, with Welch saying that the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid has been essential to the role hospitals are playing in the rebuilding of their communities.
“The Affordable Care Act is under assault and it’s really been, in Washington, a dispiriting debate,” he said.
He compared how when the ACA was in committee, there were 14 months of hearings during which more than 400 witnesses testified, to how a repeal bill was handled.
“We showed up at the committee room at 10 a.m.,” he said. “They locked the doors. We were there for 27 hours. … After 27 hours, we voted. … The bill was essentially written in secret in the speaker’s office.”
Welch said the health care debate focuses on the tension between increasing access to health care and keeping the health care system financially sustainable. He said the answer cannot be taking away people’s health care, but working to find efficiencies and cracking down on “broken markets,” such as the pharmaceutical industry.
Welch said the pharmaceutical companies fight anything resembling government price controls, even though monopolies in the form of government-enforced patents give them control over the marketplace.
Welch also noted how a tax bill that gave massive breaks to corporations was followed by Republican leaders declaring the country could no longer afford major infrastructure investments and needed to cut back on Social Security and Medicaid.
“We’ve got a consequential election coming up,” he said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for Americans to decide if they want to hit a reset button.”