Congressman Rick Nolan held a listening session at the Hubbard County Government Center Wednesday afternoon to discuss health care, budget priorities and infrastructure and to hear questions and concerns from his constituents.
Congressman Nolan said the two foremost topics of concern for voters have been the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and the 2017 proposed budget and the 2018 budget.
According to Nolan, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act came up time after time under the closed rule with no amendments.
"Obviously, there are things that need to be fixed in our health care system, but if no one offers up an amendment it isn't going to get done, and in this case, it came up under a closed rule so you couldn't offer amendments to fix things," he said. "That's no way to run a business, it's no way to run a country and it's no way to run a community."
Nolan feels that a government runs more efficiently through that open process, stating that hundreds of amendments used to be debated, argued and resolved and now the process is to simply vote "yes" or "no."
"The political economic system is rigged. For the benefit of the very few at the top and at the expense of everybody else and I fear for the future of my country. Money plays too big a role in politics. Now they tell you to run across the street and start dialing for dollars for your next election campaign and if everything is on a closed rule, you've got more time for raising money," he said. "I go to Washington and I go to work. I didn't go to Washington to become a middle level telemarketer dialing for dollars."
"It's no wonder Congress isn't getting anything done. There's no time left for governing which is what you're elected for. We need to change the way we do politics in this country to get this country back on track and we need to be more sensible," he added. "That's what the great American Revolution was all about: it was about process. We aren't going to be ruled by tyrants and kings and queens. We're going to have a democratic process where we all get to participate, where we all get to have our notions and ideas heard and examined and voted upon. Process matters. And the Congress of the United States has increasingly and dramatically, and to our great disadvantage, become more and more undemocratic and that's why I say we need to change the way we get started."
After opening the discussion, the audience questioned Congressman Nolan on issues pertaining to mental health.
"We need to devote more money to mental health services. On a global sense, there's a clear trend toward increased mental illness with advanced civilization," he said, "which means you have to start changing the way you're thinking about things and getting people the mental health services and treatment that they need."
He added that the issue could be approached from a caring point of view or from an economics point of view. Individuals struggling with mental health issues often leads to criminal behavior where said individuals end up in a federal prison or jail, costing the government money.
"If people are struggling with mental health issues, we should be there to help them," Nolan said. "But if that's not good enough for you, it's good economics to help people get their life on track and get them into a productive mode."
The audience also questioned the congressman on bringing updated healthcare to rural Minnesota and whether or not he is in favor of changes that will lower the cost of healthcare.
Nolan explained that analysts say rural America will be hurt the most by the repeal. Minnesota's Eighth District has one of the largest population of seniors than anywhere in the country, according to Nolan.
"This repeal will increase insurance rates for people between 50 and 64, roughly $140,000 a year, which is why they estimated 24 million people won't have insurance," he said.
Nolan added that the repeal could take money away from rural hospitals.
"There's a number of reasons that I don't think it's good at all, which is why I worked against it and voted against it," Nolan said regarding the repeal.
"Life can be beautiful. It can be so wonderful. It can be so exhilarating. It can be so exciting, but at the same time it's also very fragile and it can be very very painful and that can turn on a dime. And we don't know who could be hurt by that turn. It doesn't matter what your age is, wealth is or genetics and the idea behind insurance is that we're all in this together," he said. "None of us are more than a breath or a step away from an illness or an accident that could put us in the place that it would be nice to be surrounded by a loving community in a state of euphoria. That's what insurance is about, sharing that risk."
The congressman feels that an aspect to being a good representative is both representing the people's wishes, but also to educate people along the way adding that there are things that can be done to lower health care costs.
"It's not accidental that prescription drugs are cheaper in Canada and everywhere else in the world because they have citizen boards that have the authority to control drug pricing," he said. "But if you saw the amount of money that the pharmaceutical industry poured into campaigns and elections you would know why we're not doing it here. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it."
The audience also wanted to hear Nolan's thoughts on the promise of dedicating money toward infrastructure and creating jobs during the presidential election.
Congressman Nolan said infrastructure is one of the most important tools in business and job creation.
"You create a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure and everyone will agree it's needed. One of the things that resonated with the President was that he was going to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure," Nolan said. "Unfortunately, the budgets he has submitted have reductions in infrastructure."
Nolan serves on the infrastructure committee and claims President Trump will not take the time to meet with the committee and after two budget submissions the President has not allocated any new money for infrastructure.
"I want our President to be successful because if he's successful then presumably we'll all be successful," Nolan said. "I've been to places where they don't have any infrastructure and you don't want to live there."