by ELENA DURNBAUGH
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin visited the Older Persons’ Commission (OPC) Senior Center in Rochester last Friday to tour the facility and to meet with constituents.
During her tour of the 90,000- square-foot center, Slotkin was impressed by the number of activities and services available at the OPC.
“I have literally never seen a place like this my entire life,” she said.
The congresswoman was warmly received by OPC members, and many said they supported her during her campaign this fall.
“You do the best for us, especially seniors,” OPC member Carol Ramsey told Slotkin.
After touring the center, Slotkin talked to members about a number of legislative issues, including the price of healthcare and prescription drugs, infrastructure, trade, and the immigration crisis at the southern border. Throughout her remarks, Slotkin emphasized bipartisanship as an effective way to move the country forward.
“One of the things I feel very strongly about coming from our district is I have a mandate to work across the aisle. It is literally what you all sent me there to do, was to get something done,” she said. “What I hear all the time is ‘How do we get back to civil discourse? How do we get back to being able to disagree, but in a respectful way?’… So, I feel like I have a very clear directive to go to Washington and work across the aisle.”
One of the legislative initiatives Slotkin discussed was lowering the price of pharmaceuticals and ending predatory price increases on life- saving drugs like insulin.
“That is – we just need to call a spade a spade – pure and unadulterated greed by the pharmaceutical industry,” she said.
To lower prices, Slotkin worked on a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices, which is currently prevented by law.
“There is no logistical or scientific reason why Medicare patients shouldn’t be getting a discount on their drug prices, based on the competitive buying power they have,” she said.
Slotkin is also working on bills that would increase transparency in the pharmaceutical industry. These bills would let people comparison shop for drugs and allow doctors and pharmacists to direct patients toward less expensive generic equivalents. She also envisions an online resource to help people navigate what their healthcare plan covers and at what rate.
The House will also be looking at the reimportation of pharmaceuticals from Canada, which is an idea the president has spoken of favorably.
“Whenever you have both Democrats and Republicans saying the same thing, that’s, as a pragmatist, that’s where I go because I feel like that’s our best chance of passing something,” she said.
There are currently bills in both the House and the Senate that would allow the United States to import drugs at a lower price, but Slotkin was skeptical about the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate taking up the issue, citing the power of the pharmaceutical lobby.
“I still think there’s potential,” she said, “but the president will have to do some heavy lifting in the Senate to get the Senate to
take this to make it into a law.”
At a town hall meeting at Oakland University in March, Slotkin spoke about a more expansive Medicare program that would allow all Americans to buy into the program without requiring those with private insurance to leave it.
On Friday, Slotkin told the Gazette that the plan, called Medicare-X, was making its way through committee. The bill was introduced in April and is currently being looked at by the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees.
“That’s, to me, a really practical, positive way to make sure that everyone has a good plan at a good price if they want it. As a choice,” she said.
Slotkin also talked about her work on infrastructure, specifically on the PFAS levels in Michigan water. PFAS is a group of man-made chemicals that are commonly found at manufacturing facilities and military installations. There is evidence that the chemicals have a negative effect on human health and can cause cancer. Michigan has the highest number of PFAS sites in the country.
As part of the National Security House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, Slotkin said she was making sure the Pentagon was setting aside money in their budget to clean up around Michigan military bases.
Slotkin also said she would take ideas about doing more to federally protect Michigan’s water resources back to Washington.
“It is our job as Michiganders to make sure we are monitoring and preserving our water for future generations,” she said.
In an interview with the Gazette, Slotkin talked more about the possibility of a federal infrastructure deal.
She said that Congress was making progress when the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met to work on a top-down infrastructure plan and agreed on a $2 trillion price tag. That plan fell apart last month after the president said he would not work with Democratic congressional leaders until they stopped investigating him.
“I’m still hopeful that between the president and the Congress we can have a negotiation because it’s a big deal that we agreed on a price tag,” she said. “We all know that we need a once-in-a generation infrastructure package, so, everyone gets that, but you’ve got to be able to pay for it.”
Slotkin also discussed immigration and border security, saying that in the last six months the situation at the U.S.- Mexico border had evolved into a “legitimate crisis” as both a national security and a humanitarian issue. The problem is now directly affecting Michigan, according to Slotkin, because customs and border agents are being pulled from our borders and sent south to help with the volume of people trying to get into the country.
“What we’re seeing at the border right now is a symptom of a larger problem, which is, very clearly, our immigration system is broken,” she said. “National security has always been a priority for me. We need to maintain that, and we need to be clear-eyed about what’s going on at the border. It is a crisis.”
Slotkin advocated for a more comprehensive approach to immigration and a system overhaul that was economically focused.
The potential trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada was another issue Slotkin discussed. Last week, talks on a new agreement stalled because the president was threatening to institute a blanket tariff on all products from Mexico, which Slotkin said would disproportionately affect Michigan’s economy. Ultimately, the president did not go through with his threats, and Slotkin anticipated that if tariffs were not imposed, conversations around a trade deal would resume. She said she had some concerns with the current form of the agreement because it doesn’t do enough to enforce labor standards in Mexico. Without enforcement, she said it was too easy for companies to send jobs across the border because there are fewer restrictions.
“With a few key tweaks, I would support it,” she said, “but I’ve got to make sure this doesn’t just continue the movement of jobs out of our state down to Mexico.”
The congresswoman said she hoped that deal would be ready to come to a vote by October 1.
Slotkin also addressed the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on Michigan gerrymandering, telling the Gazette she would wait and see what happens. The 8th Congressional District, which Slotkin represents, was one of the districts that a panel of judges ruled was illegally gerrymandered and said would have to be redrawn prior to the 2020 election.
“I’m not sure we’re going to see the Supreme Court in support of change, so, I don’t think we’re going to change for 2020, but who knows?” she said. “What we do know is that here in Michigan we will change in 2022.”
The congresswoman also shared with the Gazette her thoughts on starting impeachment proceedings against the president.
“I think we need to be very judicious about walking into an impeachment process. It’s a very big deal, and it needs to be handled in a methodical, step-by-step way,” she said.
On Tuesday, the House reached what Slotkin called a “milestone,” by voting to pass a civil contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.
“I think there are members that I serve with who believed in impeachment two years ago, and there are members of Congress who will never support impeachment,” she said. “I believe it’s a political process that you need to bring the nation along with you, and that is something that is very critical if we’re going to make this big decision for our country.”
To contact Slotkin, visit slotkin.house.gov/ or her district offices in Lansing and Rochester Hills.