St. Albans Messenger: Welch: House 'not working'
By Michelle Monroe
ST. ALBANS — When Rep. Peter Welch sat down at the Traveled Cup on Tuesday, he was approached by a local man who wanted to thank Welch for responding to his concerns about his medication. The cost had gone from $24 per month to $450.
The five-term incumbent spoke with the Messenger about the dysfunction in Congress, money in politics, what can be done for to aid dairy farmers, and what he hopes to accomplish if re-elected.
“It’s a broken market,” Welch said of prescription drugs. Some of his Republican colleagues are becoming interested in trying to fix it, he added. “More and more, they’re seeing it’s not a free market.”
“Everyone’s losing when pharmaceutical companies abuse copyright,” said Welch.
But the challenge remains getting something done in an institution that, in Welch’s words, is “just not working.” In 2010, Republican state legislatures charged with drawing new Congressional districts following the census created heavily Republican districts, some of which were subsequently rejected by the courts. Many remain, however, and those safe Republican districts are creating a governance problem, according to Welch.
“Gerrymandered districts make it so many members are looking over their shoulders fearing a primary,” said Welch. Those primary challenges tend to come from the right and from candidates who attack the incumbent for anything that looks like compromise. The primary loss of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in 2012 is an example of a conservative Republican losing to an even more conservative primary challenger in a safe Republican district.
Since assuming the speakership after the ouster of Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has created a rule in which no legislation will be brought to the House floor unless it can be passed with Republican votes only, explained Welch. “The right wing basically has a veto,” he said.
Previously, the House made progress when Boehner would work with Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass essential legislation, such as the budget or the transportation bill. “You build a coalition that’s bipartisan,” said Welch.
If Republicans return to being willing to work with Democrats, “we’ll have a chance of addressing some of the challenges we face,” said Welch.
He sees potential for common ground in bringing broadband to rural areas, which Welch said is necessary to try and temper the flow of people to urban areas.
Energy efficiency is an area where it is possible to find common ground even with climate change deniers, said Welch, since it both saves money and puts people to work creating more efficient homes and other buildings.
There is also bipartisan support for protecting downtowns with the Main Street Fairness Act, which would require Internet companies to collect sales tax on the items they sell. Currently, consumers are expected to track their online purchases and add the tax onto their state income tax filings.
When local businesses collect sales tax and online businesses don’t, it creates an uneven playing field, said Welch.
He also wants to reduce swipe fees for credit cards, which are higher in the U.S. than many other parts of the world. “There’s no justification for it,” he said, and it creates an expense that hurts small businesses. The fee reduction is “really important for our merchants,” said Welch.
“These things are within our reach,” said Welch.
Welch has made it a point to work with his Republican colleagues. “I try to find an issue where we have common need,” he said.
Now he’s joined them, sort of. This year, so many Republican voters wrote in Welch’s name on the primary ballot that he has the nomination of the Republican Party as well as the Democrats in his race for reelection to the House.
Welch said he was pleased Republicans felt he was doing a good job of representing them.
Asked about the ongoing struggles of dairy farmers, Welch said he is pushing for a change to the way feed costs are determined under the margin protection program, an insurance program for dairy farmers which provides payments when the margin between milk prices and feed prices drops below the insured amount.
The feed prices are determined nationally, even though some regions, such as New England, have higher feed costs, explained Welch. He wants to see the feed costs determined regionally, which would help local farmers.
He’s also gearing up for another push to secure a supply management program, which would enable dairy farmers to balance the supply of milk with demand.
Sheldon farmer Bill Rowell, who lobbied for the supply management program when the last farm bill passed, has blamed the money flowing from dairy processors to the political action committees of representatives for the program’s failure.
Asked about Rowell’s analysis, Welch said, “Money in politics is a problem across the board.” He cited money donated by pharmaceutical companies and the influence of defense contractors on the Pentagon budget as particular examples.
“Since Citizens United, it’s on a scale that’s never been seen before,” said Welch. Citizens United refers to a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding corporations had free speech rights and that hindering the amount of money corporations could spend on elections would be an interference with those rights.
The decision’s impact isn’t seen only at the federal level. “Anyone with money can decide they want to play politics in our state,” said Welch.
In his 2006 race against Martha Rainville, the two agreed to avoid negative campaigning. With out of state organizations now running ads in Vermont, “we wouldn’t have the ability to have that agreement today,” said Welch.
“The candidates themselves lose control of their message,” said Welch. “The more it’s outside money, the more attenuated and muddled the message becomes.”
Those outside groups have no responsibility to Vermonters, said Welch, adding, “The net effect is to turn the public off.”
“I really hope for the future of democracy we overturn Citizens United,” said Welch.
Asked if the current scandal involving Wells Fargo, which has admitted to creating accounts for customers without their knowledge or consent, is changing the conversation about financial reform, Welch said he is “seeing more people get outraged about the market abuse of these big corporations.”
AlthoughtheWellsFargo involved a small amount of money, the behavior of those involved is “gross,” said Welch. “It shows the corporate culture.”
When it comes to financial reform, Welch said he would like to see an easing of regulations for small, Main Street banks whose failure would not threaten the entire economy. The degree of regulation should reflect the risk the institution poses, he said.
Asked about the Presidential race, Welch called Trump’s statements suggesting he may not concede if he loses and his claims that the vote is rigged unprecedented.
The U.S. has had “over 200 years of peaceful transitions of power,” said Welch. “Donald Trump is challenging that with no evidence whatsoever. It’s very… dangerous.”