U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill visited Cape Girardeau on Aug. 19 for a public town hall. The stop at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus, was her fourth and final stop for the day, and many residents came to ask her their questions.
“It does ground me and it puts a spring in my step and it matters that you showed up,” McCaskill told those who attended. “I’m honored to have this job. I work hard at it, I hope you can tell, but that’s because I love it and I love trying to get things done on behalf of you.”
McCaskill started by sharing two stories about how things are still functioning in Washington D.C. before taking questions.
McCaskill was able to pass the Arla Harrell Act, which the president signed Aug. 16. World War II veterans, including Missouri’s Arla Harrell, were exposed to mustard gas during top-secret missions and weren’t allowed to tell their family or doctors.
This law gives these veterans an acknowledgement of what they went through and make veteran affair benefits easier to approve. McCaskill stressed that she couldn’t have gotten this done without bipartisan support.
“We will not get anything done if we’re not willing to work with one another,” McCaskill said. “So everyday when I get up, I’m trying to figure out how could I work with Republicans to actually accomplish things.”
Her other recent example of bipartisan lawmaking involved her work to deregulate hearing aids and make them accessible over the counter, much like reading glasses. She said the hearing aid companies had locked up the market with regulations that require a medical evaluation to buy a hearing aid.
“Within a year, you’re going to be able to get a hearing aid at Walmart or at Walgreens for probably $350,” McCaskill said.
Many of the questions she received were about health care. The first question that McCaskill answered was whether funding for Planned Parenthood was needed. McCaskill said the one thing we can all agree on is that we want to reduce the number of abortions.
She said the most reasonable way to do that is by giving women access to birth control, which Planned Parenthood helps to do. McCaskill added there has been a lot of work in the past eight years to make birth control affordable and accessible, making the abortion rates are at an all-time low, and that no federal dollars go to abortions at Planned Parenthood.
McCaskill spoke about drug treatment and the opioid crisis. She congratulated Cape Girardeau County on adopting a prescription drug monitoring program, and said she was ashamed Missouri is the only state not to have a statewide PDMP.
McCaskill is currently investigating opioid manufacturers on their sales and marketing techniques, saying “these companies told doctors these drugs were not addictive.” She compared it to when tobacco companies denied health effects related to smoking.
She added the Medicare program is so important because many people with medical issues like Alzheimer’s disease save for retirement, but do not expect to have to have so much medical care and run out of money. Protecting the Medicaid program was also brought up by McCaskill as one of the best ways to help men and women with disabilities.
McCaskill was asked if she thought dental health would be covered through Medicare. She said it is unlikely right now, because Medicare is currently the primary driver of America’s debt and until they figure out how to bring down medical costs, it would be financially irresponsible to add more to the plans.
Additionally, they are still trying to fight to make sure all the current essential health benefits, including mental health benefits, in the Affordable Care Act are covered. After the failed Republican plans to replace the ACA, McCaskill believes they will be able to help the existing law in a bipartisan way.
Her ideas to strengthen the ACA are to send a clear signal to insurance companies that cost-sharing subsidies will be paid, look at using reinsurance that leverages potential for great losses off on a different company that is able to underwrite it or create a copper plan. The copper plan would be is cheaper and provides free prevention, but would not kick in until you have serious health costs.
McCaskill was asked about funding for Alzheimer’s and Cancer research, which the president cut in his budget. McCaskill said she was worried Republicans would follow this plan, but luckily congress has increased research for the rest of the year.
“I am confident we will at least be able to keep level funding in the appropriations process,” McCaskill said.
Another concern from visitors was Missouri infrastructure. McCaskill said she has met with Jared Kushner about infrastructure, and while she hopes to work with the White House the only infrastructure projects they have proposed are incentives for private investments, like tolls.
McCaskill said the problem is that Missouri has decided it doesn’t want tolls, and these private investments would only help Missouri cities and leave rural Missouri behind. She said the most pressing infrastructure projects for Missouri are “structurally-deficient bridges and roads” as well as broadband in rural areas of the state. These projects would require the infrastructure bill to include some public money.
Regarding rural Missouri interests, she said her main focuses were favoring public education over private, making sure rural transportation needs are met, protecting agriculture in trade deals and public health concerns.
She also received a few questions about climate change. McCaskill said most congress members she has spoken to believe in climate science, with a few outliers including the president’s choice for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Although McCaskill has fought back against some EPA overreach, she said the agency’s main task of maintaining clean air and water remains important.
When asked what to do to help climate change, McCaskill said to keep talking about it to their friends that don’t believe in climate science.
McCaskill received a few questions about President Donald Trump. She has been disappointed with some of his actions but said her focus has not been on the president, but instead on the needs of the people of Missouri. She added she will not, and has not, commented on the Russia investigation while it is still ongoing.
However, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, McCaskill was “bitterly upset.” She said the rule of law is one of reasons America is the envy of the world, and no politician should require loyalty from those whose allegiance is to the constitution and is apolitical.
McCaskill added that it isn’t appropriate to talk about impeachment, and it is unhelpful to get things done in Washington.
Other answers included saying it is important to make sure the country’s nuclear arsenal is properly maintained and she will advocate for the middle class and for eliminating unfair loopholes in the upcoming tax reform debate. McCaskill also told Democrats in the area to run if they are interested to make another prospective heard in your community.