Huelskamp discusses national issues with Garden Citians
By SCOTT AUST
During a town hall meeting at Garden City Community College on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp said the nation is facing some big challenges, but he is optimistic about the future.
"We can face these challenges. We can make the right decisions here in this country," he said. "Maybe I'm too optimistic that we can solve these problems, because they are pretty deep."
One of those challenges, Huelskamp said, is the impact of Obamacare. He said he hears from business owners from all over Kansas concerned about the Affordable Health Care Act and its economic impact that they fear will hinder growth and lead them to not hire new employees, make some full-time workers part-time, or lead to layoffs.
Huelskamp said not many people have read the 2,200-page law to be able to know what it's in it, but there are many regulations that won't be understood until the rules are finalized. Some people have asked whether the Congressman will help people figure out the law, and Huelskamp said his response has been to call Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius.
"At HHS, they don't even know what the requirements are because they haven't finalized so many of those (regulations). The (health insurance) exchange is supposed to be up and running by Oct. 1. Good luck because I don't think it's going to be ready for prime time," he said.
Huelskamp said his Washington staff could help answer specific questions, but he believes the people who put together the law should explain it.
Leonard Rodenbur, a Garden City Community College social sciences instructor who also has a gymnastics business with his wife, spoke at the town hall meeting and said he disagrees with Huelskamp about Obamacare and those who want it to go away.
Under Obamacare, Rodenbur said, his 22-year-old son, who has a full-time job and is now paying back student loans, can stay on his parents' insurance until he's 26. He said his daughter can get insurance despite a pre-existing condition, and his mother-in-law will be able to afford her prescriptions because the Medicare Part D "donut hole" will be closed. And, Rodenbur said, his brother-in-law has received a reimbursement check from his insurance company along with 12 million other Americans who have received $1.1 billion in reimbursements so far.
"You guys take that away, it's going to go right back to insurance companies," Rodenbur said.
Rodenbur said the employer mandate only affects businesses with 50 or more employees, and businesses with fewer than 25 employees actually would get a 50 percent tax credit for two years to help pay for insurance.
According to Rodenbur, 96 percent of all businesses in the U.S. don't employ more than 50 employees. Of the 4 percent of businesses that do fall under the employee mandate, 96 percent already provide health insurance for employees, he said.
"So we're talking about a very small number," he said.
Rodenbur asked why Tea Party Republicans threaten to shut down the government over Obamacare, since in Rodenbur's opinion, most people won't want to end the law when they see the benefits, just like they did for Medicare and Social Security.
"One of those is a real good question for the president," Huelskamp said. "It's the president who suspended the employer mandate in this health care law. If he really thinks it's good, why is he suspending it?"
The Obama Administration announced more than a month ago that it would delay the employer mandate provision, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide insurance, for a year due to concerns from businesses about the law's impact.
"It's not just a few Republicans," who are against the law, Huelskamp said. "Look at the polls. A majority of Americans happen to agree with the position that Obamacare is not ready for prime time."
Other questions covered immigration, agriculture and energy policy.
Sister Janice Thome, of the Dominican Sisterhood in Garden City, noted that many religious organizations have advocated for immigration reform based on Gospel principles and favor creating a legal process to enter the U.S., uniting separated families, legalizing undocumented workers to some extent, and establishing opportunities for permanent residency. Thome asked if Huelskamp favored any of those ideas.
Huelskamp said his starting point is national sovereignty and protecting and controlling borders. In his opinion, before those other questions can be answered, the border must be secured.
"We are physically capable of securing the border. We just haven't done it," he said. "Maybe we'll have to disagree. I think you have to secure the border and then decide what to do with the 11 or 12 million illegal folks."
Huelskamp said the House is not going to pass an "Obamacare-like" bill that throws everything together. There are four proposed bills coming out of committee that will start with border security and deal with other issues as they come along.
Immigration is a complex issue, he said. But Huelskamp doesn't think there will be much progress on the issue due to the president's insistence of including some form of a pathway to citizenship, a non-starter in the House, before considering any other immigration reform.
"I think that's unfortunate. I actually think the president doesn't want to have a bill on his desk this year. I think he wants to use it in an election. It worked very well for him in 2012," Huelskamp said.
In response to a question about agriculture exports, Huelskamp said there are some tremendous growth opportunities in the future for beef and wheat in Asian markets such as Japan and South Korea, which bodes well for Garden City producers.
"We can talk a lot about the farm bill, but at the end of the day, we have to make certain we're able to export the stuff we're producing here. We produce at a competitive price, and we're exporting those around the world," he said. "That's one of the reasons we have positive export news, it's usually because of agriculture."
Another person asked about U.S. energy policy in general, and whether there had been any policy changes that might help Sunflower Electric push through its proposed coal-fired power plant near Holcomb.
Huelskamp said it's clear the presidential administration doesn't like coal, so he believes the prospects are tough.
"The regulations they have proposed would make it illegal for most new power plants, but Sunflower could be one of these transitional units that could still get in under the wire. That's entirely possible. We've been pushing on the White House," he said, adding that not much progress has been made.
As far as "big picture" energy policy, Huelskamp said President Obama met with House Republicans seeking an area both sides could agree. Republicans mentioned energy, but found Obama was uncompromising on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Huelskamp said there's not much to report on that issue, but he hopes there's movement on it sometime in the fall.