Questions, questions

U.S. Rep. Bergman meets with constituents at Marquette Township Hall

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, speaks during a community engagement event at the Marquette Township Hall on Wednesday. Residents expressed concerns about a variety of issues including health care reform and the proposed GOP tax plan. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, answered questions from constituents on everything from climate change and tax reform to veterans issues and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative during a community engagement event at the Marquette Township Community Center Wednesday.

The event started with attendees reciting the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an invocation, which Bergman said mirrored his daily experience in the House.

Before taking questions, Bergman asked for civility, acknowledging that some of the issues discussed may be contentious.

“Folks like me were elected because people like you were not happy with the status quo,” Bergman told the crowd of about 100 people. “More of the same, bodes more of the same. And I would suggest to you that people were unhappy with the status quo when they voted Donald Trump into office.”

Bergman — who was elected in November 2016, is the president of the freshman Republican class in the House, and serves on the budget, natural resources and veterans affairs committees — said communication is the key to effective governance.

Vietnam veteran Vic Romback, holds up the contents of one of several different packages sent to him by a Department of Veteran's Affairs Health Administration office during a community engagement event with U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet on Wednesday at the Marquette Township Hall. Romback brought the items to highlight wasteful spending in the VA health system - he said all the packages were mailed from the same address on the same day. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

“The key in our system of governing is getting to know people and getting to know them in such a way that you can have uncomfortable discussions in non-threatening ways,” Bergman said.

Several audience members pressed Bergman — who voted for the American Health Care Act, a plan that passed the U.S. House on May 4 but stalled in the Senate — about health care, including Nora Johnson, a Northern Michigan University student from Leelanau County.

Johnson said neither she nor her sister could get health care insurance through their parent’s plan, so their plans are purchased via the Affordable Care Act.

“We get subsidies for it because she just graduated college and I am currently in college,” Johnson said. “I am just wondering, without these subsidies how are we supposed to afford health care?”

“Is that the only option you have?” Bergman asked.

He said the American Health Care Act, if implemented, would include provisions for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parent’s plan until the age of 26, but admitted that the bill did not cover all scenarios.

“Anyway, the point is, whatever changes we make, will fall into that majority of category,” Bergman said. “To address 100 percent of an issue with every policy, you never get a policy.”

Several veterans in the audience touched on various issues, ranging from waste in the Department of Veterans Affairs to local health care gaps.

Jason Wallner, veteran navigator at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, said as an advocate for veterans with disabilities he sees mental health care as an issue for veterans of all ages.

Wallner said traveling outside the U.P. to Wisconsin or downstate Battle Creek for in-patient mental health treatment can increase the hardship for veterans and their families.

“Currently we have a lot of mental health agencies that are available, but one thing we are lacking here in the Upper Peninsula is a residential in-patient mental health facility for veterans,” Wallner said. “In regards to substance abuse, as well as PTSD and other mental health issues that may arise, currently our VA health care are forced out of the area. While they are in-patients this creates a hardship for their families and they are displaced from the region that they know and love.”

Bergman said the broad answer to issues like in-patient mental health care in the VA system might be simply allowing veterans to use sources outside the VA for their medical care.

“Is it more important for a veteran to get quality health care or to get it through the VA system? Now to me, it was a pretty simple answer, we want to take care of it because we owe it to all of our veterans to give them the health care (and) the benefits all of those things that they’ve earned — pure and simple,” Bergman said. “It’s not about getting it through the VA system. It’s about getting it through local, quality health care providers.”

Many constituents asked for specific ideas of how President Trump’s tax reform plan would work, what programs might be cut and who would benefit.

The proposed plan would lower the corporate tax rate from 36 percent to 20 percent and reduces the number of tax brackets to three and eliminates the estate tax.

Susan Maynard of Marquette said she voted for President Ronald Reagan in 1980 because she believed in the theory of trickle-down economics, but statistics over the years did not demonstrate a benefit to middle- and lower-income Americans.

“Instead of trickling down, it appears that good prosperity trickles up,” Maynard said. “Do you believe that the president’s tax reform will have different results, and if so, how?”

Bergman admitted he is not an economist, but said revamping and simplifying the tax code makes sense on a variety of levels.

“I knew that as a small business owner, the money that I was paying in taxes I could have used to purchase more equipment — which then I could have added product lines and added a couple of employees,” Bergman said. “In the end we have hard-working Americans that are living paycheck to paycheck. If there is anything we can do to put money back in their pocket, that is a big deal.”

Maynard asked Bergman to consider his constituents before casting any votes on tax reform or health care.

“When you vote, please think of the people in this room, not big corporations — because it’s the people here that need that kind of assistance,” Maynard said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.