Congressman Denny Heck talks Trump, Syria, federal budget at Olympia town hall
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck held his first town hall of the year Tuesday to field questions from constituents about President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, the conflict in Syria, the domestic health care crisis and more.
Nearly 700 people packed the Minneart Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia to see the congressman, who was elected to the then-newly created 10th congressional district in 2012. The district includes most of Thurston County, as well as Shelton to the north, and University Place, Lakewood, and Puyallup in Pierce County.
Below are some highlights from the town hall.
On the budget
Heck warned constituents that Trump’s budget proposal would have a drastic impact on the Puget Sound region.
One example is the proposed cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would “zero out” a program to help restore the health of Puget Sound, which Heck said is “the very heart of both our commerce and recreation.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the annual Puget Sound salmon harvest alone contributes nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy.
Heck said “we are going to have an uphill battle” as long as Scott Pruitt is running the EPA and continues to reject evidence of climate change. Congress ultimately has the responsibility to appropriate funds to the agency, and Heck said “one of the best ways to check (Pruitt) is to speak up during the budget process.”
Other proposed cuts on the horizon that would be felt in the South Sound include the elimination of funding for the arts and for medical research, which Heck said would have an impact on the University of Washington’s renowned health research programs.
Community Development Block Grants could face the chopping block and affect the city of Olympia’s financial support — about $200,000 — for the future Providence Community Care Center to serve the local homeless population, he said.
While proposing these cuts, the president has promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits while at the same time increasing defense spending.
“That arithmetic doesn’t work,” said Heck, adding that “the federal budget is the ultimate statement of our values.”
Heck said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent chemical gas attack on citizens was a “war crime and an affront to humanity.” He also said Trump had no legal authority to order missile strikes last week on a Syrian airbase.
“This action begs the question: What’s next?” Heck said. He said he has no confidence in the Trump administration’s foreign policy on Syria or lack thereof.
An audience member asked why Heck supported a defense bill in December that, according to the Washington Post, authorized the administration to send anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebel groups.
Heck said he disagreed with the “characterization of my vote” and said he opposes intervention in the Syrian civil war as well as any regime change. He said his vote on the bill was focused on fighting ISIS.
On health care
Heck said the recent failure of Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act — also known colloquially as Obamacare — was a victory, but that the fight is far from over. He also said the effort to repeal the ACA is not about health care at all.
“It was about tax cuts for the wealthy,” he said. The New York Times has reported that the Republican plan would offer billions of dollars in tax cuts for health insurance agencies, pharmaceutical companies, investors and more.
An audience member asked Heck why he doesn’t support HR 676, the proposed “Medicare for All” bill proposed by Democrats. The crowd also cheered at the notion of establishing a single-payer system.
Heck said he supports a stronger health care system where more people are covered, but said the bill has “no plan for how we get from here to there” and that “Medicare reimbursement rates are not sustainable.”
“I don’t think it’s fully formed,” said Heck, citing the bill’s potential ramifications for private hospitals and private nursing homes.
Heck also vowed to fight for Planned Parenthood funding in the federal budget and encouraged constituents to “stand up and speak out.”