SCOTTSVILLE – Rep. James Comer outlined his priorities for the country – health care, tax reform and infrastructure improvements – in a town hall meeting Friday morning in front of a friendly crowd at the Allen County Justice Center.
Comer, a Republican freshman lawmaker who represents Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District, also wanted his constituents to know that the House of Representatives is working toward those goals and passing bills. But, the Senate hasn’t been able to get its act together to pass those measures, he said. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
He cited the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act, immigration legislation, a sanctuary city bill and an omnibus bill that included funding for a border wall at the U.S. border with Mexico as examples of proposed legislation the House has passed that either failed or is stalled in the Senate.
“I believe we’re seeing a lot of progress,” Comer said. “That’s not always the message you get sometimes from the media, not the local media. The national media sometimes focuses on all the bad that’s going on and not the good.”
Comer said the private sector is beginning to show restored confidence and the stock market is “very strong.”
But getting legislation passed through Congress is challenging right now. Newscasts often say Congress can’t get anything done, he said.
“I agree with part of that, but I wish they would be more specific because Congress, the definition of Congress is the House of Representatives and the Senate, and if you will remember, for a bill to become law it has to make it through the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
“Here’s what’s wrong with Congress right now. I’m going to be very specific. The Senate is having a very difficult time getting to 50. … Most bills take 60 votes to get passed in the Senate. Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is no way they can get to 60 on anything right now. There are 52 Republicans and 48 either Democrats and Independents. To get to 60 right now on any controversial legislation, I don’t think is possible in this environment. I’m going to go a step further. I don’t think they can get to 50 votes.
“When people say Congress is dysfunctional, I will agree with that and go on and add it’s specifically the Senate right now and it’s not the fault of our senators. I think (Mitch) McConnell is getting a lot of the blame for this. I think he’s doing as good a job as he can do. You can’t get a senator in a room and make them do anything, especially when they just got re-elected to a six-year term.”
Health care tops Comer’s lists of concerns because he said the current system is not sustainable. When Congress resumes meeting in September, Comer hopes to address both health care and infrastructure. He also expects Congress to take up tax reform.
He also touched on foreign policy and the continuing threat from North Korea, and said he is confident in the United States’ ability to defend itself against a North Korean missile attack.
“They’re not going to hit America with a nuclear warhead,” he said. “We have a superior enough missile defense system.
“The problem is, what do you do with them after they launch it? You can’t not do anything. But I’m pretty confident that our military is being rebuilt.
“I feel like we’re on the right track with foreign policy,” he said.
The Senate needs to move quicker on legislation, he said.
When Comer opened the floor for questions, Scottsville resident Debbie Kovach wanted to know why the U.S. can’t move in the direction of a single-payer health care system.
“I don’t think that’s the way to go. If nothing’s done to improve health care, that’s something that could happen eventually. I still want to see market-based solutions. Now I don’t like for-profit health care companies. Health care is not like any other industry,” Comer said.
Most of the time he agrees with letting the market decide. But the problem is, there is not much competition in insurance, he said.
There have to be regulations with health care, otherwise insurance companies will decide to drop sick people from their rosters, he said.
“We have to have a lot of rules with respect to health care (insurance) companies because I don’t trust the health care companies or the big pharmaceutical companies,” he said. “But, I don’t trust the government to do health care, either.”
Kovach suggested a national referendum on single-payer health care to let voters decide what they want.
Scottsville resident Allison Dorsey, a retired electrical engineer, said she was impressed with Comer for having a town hall.
Dorsey brought up the violence in Virginia and said she was there to ask Comer, as his constituent, to go on record against racist hate. She expressed disappointment in President Donald Trump for “fanning the flames and not calming the waters.”
“We don’t want to repeat the terrible history of the Klan marching by tens of thousands in the Capitol,” she said.
Dorsey has benefitted from a diverse world and workplace, she said. She suggested Comer model dialog across the political aisle.
“I agree we’re divided as a nation and we need to unite. … I felt like the president could have done a little better job with his statement,” Comer said, referring to Trump’s remarks following the white supremacy march in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in the deaths of a counterprotester and two officers killed in a helicopter crash.
When Comer heard the news about Charlottesville, he said, he was in Israel and had just visited the Holocaust museum.
“There’s no place for racism in America,” he said. “I hope the president really tries to unite us as a country.”
After the meeting, Comer condemned hate groups.
“I’m opposed to all hate groups on both sides of the political spectrum,” he said. “There are conservative hate groups and liberal hate groups.”
On the conservative side are the neo-Nazis and white supremacy groups and on the liberal side are Black Lives Matter and Antifa, he said.
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