By Evan Johnson
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch had a busy Thursday in Rutland last week. He spoke on behalf of the Community Development Block Grants, visited a Veterans’ Affairs outpatient clinic, sat in on a meeting with the Rutland Regional Chamber of Commerce and got a tour of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. When he arrived at the Rutland Free Library in the evening for a “Congress on Your Community,” he found a full room of citizens with both sitting mayor David Allaire and previous mayor Chris Louras in attendance.
Welch said what he’d seen in Rutland earlier that day left an impression with him, and seeing both Louras, Allaire and community members bringing their concerns and questions brought that message home.
“We’re at a time in this country when the real leadership is coming from local communities,” he said. “I think democracy is alive and well in Rutland and I think there’s a common commitment to try and make this a better place.”
In the hour-long conversation that followed, Welch addressed national issues spanning U.S. military action in the Middle East to Republicans’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the recovery that followed the 2008 recession, significant portions of the country have not seen the same recovery as other areas. Welch said anxiety over jobs, immigration and national security rose to prominence in the recent presidential election, which saw the election of Republican real estate mogul Donald Trump.
“A lot of Americans want to raise their families and have safety in their communities and they feel that the government doesn’t have policies to move them ahead,” he said. “There’s merit to that criticism and that of the Democratic party.” he said.
With new leadership in Washington and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, Welch said the way forward was to collaborate on laws that meet the desires of both major political parties. That’s why he attended Trump’s inauguration and met with the president and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings in early March to seek common ground on reducing skyrocketing drug prices.
Welch is one of 35 members of Congress to make up the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group taking a collaborative approach to a number of issues.
Welch cited the recent fight over healthcare as a recent example of the highly partisan nature in Congress. According to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, the House republican plan would increase the number of insured by 24 million by 2026 but save $337 billion in federal budget deficits. Welch and his colleagues spent 27 hours in-session, reading through the bill and attempting to debate and make amendments. That plan was abandoned at the last minute by Republicans after they failed to muster the votes needed to pass it.
Welch also addressed concerns regarding recent developments in foreign policy. Congress is the only government body constitutionally authorized to declare war. Yet last week, the United States dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and launched some 60 Cruise missiles against Syria while tensions with North Korea continued to rise.
To Welch, two things stand in the way of progress: giving companies’ interests the same protections as individuals and the redesigning of districts to adjust allocations of congressional seats.
“This way, the politicians are picking their voters, it’s not the other way around,” Welch said.
The solution, Welch said, was strong, inclusive leadership that presented ideas and not simply dissent.
“When I was not in office, but a citizen like you, it made me more confident when the person running for office was saying what they wanted to do, not just how bad the other guy was,” he said.