U.S. Rep. Thompson: Health care, infrastructure key issues facing state

Published 6:39 pm Monday, October 22, 2018

Health care and infrastructure are the two main issues affecting Mississippi, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said.

Thompson, D-Miss., was in Vicksburg to address a candidates’ forum Thursday night. He is seeking re-election to a 14th term as congressman from the 2nd Congressional District in the Nov. 6 general election. He is challenged by Troy Ray, an independent who ran against Thompson in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

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“I think healthcare is a big, big issue for our state,” Thompson said. “First of all, we have a significant population in counties that are medically underserved. We don’t have enough doctors, nurses and other professionals to go around.

“So with that shortage, health care is very critical. A hospital in my district in Clarksdale is in bankruptcy as of this week, and they have given notice to employees that they will probably be out of work in December. If that happens, then that’s an entire county that will be without a hospital. We had the same situation occur in Humphreys County.”

Thompson, who supported the Affordable Care Act, said it provides a vehicle for people to get health insurance coverage and covered many people in Mississippi, especially people with pre-existing conditions and others who had illnesses like cancer and stroke, diabetes, that cost a lot of money.

“We took the caps off a lot of health care so you wouldn’t have to deal with running out of money and you’re still sick.”

He said Gov. Phil Bryant’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state caused Mississippi to lose “quite a bit of money” that could have gone to improve health care in the state. He said he would support a bill to require states to expand Medicaid.

“I was the only member of our (state) delegation who supported the Affordable Care Act, so I’m already on record; and every time the Republican leadership tried to do away with it through amendments, I was the only one (in the delegation) to vote against that effort, and we have been able to sustain it,” Thompson said.

“I know I did the right thing. Everybody can’t afford health care, but if we put everybody in a system, we can make it affordable. That was the concept behind it (ACA) and I am comfortable with it. So if there’s legislation that’s put forth to make those Medicaid dollars expansion dollars available, I would support it just like I supported it in its original form.”

Improving infrastructure

Congress “absolutely needs to pass a transportation bill that will help us improve our highway system in our state,” Thompson said.

“Our interstate highways are crumbling in some instances, but also our bridges, structurally, they’re challenged, too. And there’s not enough money at the state and local level to do it. We have been toying with a bill for a couple of years now, but nothing has happened.”

He said President Trump’s 80-20 infrastructure program where states and local governments would pay 80 percent of the cost of infrastructure projects and the federal government 20, had no support.

“The formula historically was just the opposite, and so this co-called a trillion dollar bill it didn’t go anywhere once people looked at it,” he said.

“I didn’t have a single group come into the office saying ‘we want to pass it in that form.’ Most of them said, ‘don’t pass it and go back to the drawing board and come up with something that makes sense.’”

He said the House has been working on a transportation bill, “But one of the things I’ve noticed with the Republican leadership is they don’t let their chairmen do the work. They determine what bills get introduced in committee for markup and determine what bills get to the floor.

“So the Republican leadership did not feel strongly enough to get the bill done. We would sit there and say ‘we hear from our people, we want to get it done.’ But at the end of the day, it’s a Republican leadership call, and in those instances, they have not decided that this is something we really want to do.”

Thompson said Congress needs to pass a farm bill, adding the present bill is stuck in a conference committee.

“There’s some hope the lame duck session will get a bill done,” he said. “Mississippi is an agricultural state, so a farm bill is absolutely essential for the number one economy in our state to continue to thrive. Hopefully we can get a bill everyone can agree with.”

National issues

Nationally, Thompson said the nation’s deficit is growing in the wake of the tax cut approved by Congress in 2017.

“The tax cut obviously provided money for wealthy people in terms of money back, but for the average working person, they saw no difference, and now it looks like they’re going to pay for some of those tax cuts that went into place to try and pay down the deficit,” he said.

“The deficit is somewhere around $770 billion now and this administration came into office saying we’re going to be fiscally responsible and do things to government and run it like our homes and businesses; well, easier said than done.”

What is also of concern are recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who discussed cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to address the budget deficit.

“Senior citizens in this country did not create the deficit; they have spent a lifetime working in that program, it’s (Social Security) an insurance policy; it’s a retirement policy,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to think about penalizing those individuals on the errors made by the politicians.

“Although there’s nothing on the table but the conversation, I think if it’s put forth, I think it would be received even louder than that 80-20 federal match on the transportation bill. It’s a non-starter.”

Social Security, Thompson said, is a contract “that you as an employee have with the federal government. I think the framers of that program knew that as we worked and get older, there would be a time that we’d have to have something to take care of people and that’s how the program came to be. We’ve never had a check to bounce, never had one to be late, so it’s a good program.”

Trump helping democrats

Thompson said he has seen a lot of excitement as he campaigns for re-election and for candidates in other states, adding he has been to Texas, Georgia and Arkansas, trying to help Democratic candidates.

“And every place I have been, I’ve seen a lot of excitement, and I think the president has done a lot to help with that excitement,” he said. “I think a lot of what I see and hear from him is driving the Democratic excitement.”

One of the issues driving that excitement, he said, is the increased tariffs, which have also affected foreign tourism in this country.

“People are going elsewhere,” he said. “And a tourist from another country spends between $3 and $4,000 on the visit, so we’re losing a good bit of that.

“I think one of the good things about our form of government is how we select our officials,” he said. “I see this election in that same vein, that at every opportunity, the people get the chance to pick their elected officials, I so I would say any election is an important process that our country goes through and we can all be proud of it.

“I think part of that is it that if our leader does not meet expectations, then it’s the ballot box that you use to change it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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