Impeachment, healthcare and climate change were on the minds of constituents who posed questions to U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, at her last town hall meeting before the holidays Saturday, Nov. 16, at Oswego Fire Protection District Station No. 1.
It was Underwood’s 14th town hall meeting since being sworn in as the representative for the 14th District in Congress in January.
Introducing Underwood and calling on speakers from the standing-room-only crowd of 170 was Oswego Village President Troy Parlier.
Each audience member received a packet of information before the meeting that outlined legislation passed by Underwood, including HR 1010, a bill to overturn a rule that expands short-term, limited-duration insurance, commonly known as “junk plans,” an amendment to strengthen the CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) and the U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening Standards Act to ensure that migrant children and families receive basic medical screenings.
But constituent Denise Fox of Naperville brought up a more specific topic when she asked, “What, if anything, can pass through (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell to the Senate and what are we doing about that?”
Julie Smith of Sandwich remarked, “What I hear a lot is we’re being held hostage by Mitch McConnell” before asking, “What can I do, what can we do as constituents, to go beyond our senators to put pressure on them to move some of these things forward, to bring them to the floor so that we aren’t held hostage anymore?”
“The House of Representatives have passed over 200 bills that have gone over to the Senate, most of which have not moved forward,” Underwood said. “There are some items that have passed through the Senate, and those are mostly things that are able to pass by something called unanimous consent. What that means is that out of all 100 senators, nobody has an amendment they want to offer; and everybody agrees, which is rare. Things that have passed are The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act…and the 911 Victims Compensation Fund… mostly everything else has stalled; things that have broad bipartisan support in the House, like my veteran care quality transparency act, which addresses mental health and suicide prevention resources, hasn’t even had a hearing in the Senate."
Underwood advised her constituents to contact their senators – Dick Durbin or Tammy Duckworth – “who would be very happy to hear from you” – or any other senator. She also advised that writing letters is more effective than sending emails.
“Write President Trump and let him know what is a priority for you,” she said.
In answer to questions about climate change, Underwood noted that the House of Representatives passed H.R. 9 May 2 designed to force the United States to stay in the Paris climate agreement.
“Earlier this month, the Trump administration formally removed the United States on the first day they were legally able to, which was a real disappointment to me,” Underwood said. “We heard President Trump repeatedly say he was going to do it, but I hoped he would hear from the American people and change his mind. He did not, so the House of Representatives passed legislation to recommit the United States to that agreement with nearly every other country around the world to keep us on track to meet the bold commitment and high standards to make sure climate change is being addressed and mitigated. I think that agreement has pretty broad popularity among the American people.
Another audience member told Underwood that he supported her in part because she spoke “very strongly" on healthcare.
“However, you haven’t come out in full support of Medicare for All despite it costing less than our current system in 10 years. Why haven’t you come out for healthcare for all?”
Underwood answered by first saying she believes that healthcare is a human right.
“And we know that the American people are struggling to afford out-of-pocket healthcare costs that have continued to escalate,” she said. “In the House of Representatives, there is a Medicare for All bill but in that legislation we don’t have any information on how they would pay for that kind of transition.
"What I’ve been working on in terms of lowering healthcare costs has been in four areas: lowering premium prices; lowering deductibles, lowering prescription drug prices and reforming that surprise medical billing practice (that can happen in an emergency situation).
"With these four areas, I see we have an opportunity in this Congress to come to a compromise and a solution that can not only pass the House but can pass the Senate. In my opening comments I described for you a bill I introduced: The Healthcare Affordability Act. What that does is it says no American would pay more than 8-1/2 percent of their adjusted gross income on healthcare premiums.”
Underwood said a family of four in her district, making on average of $100,000 to $105,000 a year, is paying 20 to 25 percent of their adjusted gross income just to have “the insurance card in their wallet.
“That doesn’t include any kind of co-payments, any deductible-related fees, nothing like that. So that is unaffordable.”
On the topic of impeachment, another audience member said he wanted to “talk about the 500-pound elephant in the room.”
“I’m not necessarily the biggest Trump fan,” he said. “With some of the things he says he can be kind of a doofus at times, but the stuff the president is being accused of doing, the Democrats themselves have done.”
His question was whether the six Democratic senators who are running for president should recuse themselves from a vote for dismissal “because that’s a conflict of interest.”
“As you know,” Underwood said, “I did vote in favor of the rules that would govern how this public phase of the impeachment inquiry would be executed and I think that it’s important to do this so the American people can hear the facts. It is illegal in our country to solicit or accept any kind of foreign help in an election. We have heard and seen the president do that on multiple occasions.
“There is a process for impeachment in the House and then removal in the Senate and we are moving forward in that constitutionally outlined way. The Senate is a trial. The judge is the Supreme Court. The senators are like the jury. I am not calling for the recusal of any of those senators, because they were duly elected by residents of their states and this is part of the scope of their responsibility. Just like it’s my responsibility as the elected representative of all of you to serve in my full capacity if in fact the House Judiciary Committee moves forward with drafting articles of impeachment. It’s my responsibility to review those articles which would be considered like charges and to consider them on behalf of all of you.”
A Batavia resident asked how Underwood felt about the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and free college education.
"I’m not on the Medicare for All bill in the House because we don’t know how they plan to pay for it,” she said. “As for the Green New Deal, I support aggressive action on climate, but the Green New Deal has other things in it including Medicare for All. I support climate initiatives but not all the other initiatives.
“With respect to free college for all, we have the College Affordability Act.” The act provides for free community college. “I think this would be a significant change in the way our higher education systems work and I think it represents a tremendous improvement, and I voted for it.”
At the end of the meeting, Underwood posed for photos with her constituents.