Welch Urges Collaboration


Front Page / Apr. 20, 2017 10:30am EDT

By Tim Calabro

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch spent noontime with a small audience at Vermont Law School’s Chase Center, discussing the state of Congress. (Herald / Tim Calabro) U.S. Rep. Peter Welch spent noontime with a small audience at Vermont Law School’s Chase Center, discussing the state of Congress. (Herald / Tim Calabro) U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont’s sole congressman, had a busy Tuesday in the White River Valley, visiting with constituents for an hour in South Royalton, before heading north to appointments in Randolph.

That noon hour was spent on the Vermont Law School campus in the Chase Center, a large meeting area capable of seating more than 100. Tuesday, however, the audience ended up with a much more intimate setting.

About 20—law students and faculty, combined with a smattering of community members—gathered chairs in a small circle in front of the podium to discuss the state of affairs in Washington with Rep. Welch.

Conversation ranged from immigration policy to problems facing the American workforce, and even touched on the president’s tax returns— fitting on April 18, tax day in 2017.

Health Care

Welch pointed to the fight over the Affordable Care Act in the House as a sign of difficulty for Republicans in Washington.

The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R, Wisconsin), has had great difficulty wrangling opposite ends of his party, Welch said. Some Republicans feared that ending the ACA (also known as Obamacare) would be a detriment in their districts, where it was insuring many in their blue-collar base. Others thought the proposed repeal (and the GOP-drafted replacement health care law) didn’t go far enough to remove the federal government from insurance regulation.

For Ryan, negotiating to win over one side lost support on the opposite end of the Republican spectrum.

Losing Jobs

Audience members had questions for Welch about the administration’s immigration policy.

Welch said that the topic has been one that has come up again and again with his constituents.

The congressman mentioned a dairy farmers’ round-table that he attended, where he expected to be discussing federal aid for farms. The farmers instead wished to emphasize the importance of their primarily Latino farm hands. Many indicated that they had had great difficulty finding local help for the wages that could be paid and that a federal crack-down on undocumented immigrants could have a grave effect on rural dairy farms, Welch said.

“If ICE went and did a wholesale roundup, we wouldn’t be milking our cows,” he said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

On the topic of jobs, Welch described a coal-country belief that regulation under the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for a loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Miners, he said, should worry more about robots than government.

Welch described visiting a coal mine, going down the mine shaft with a dozen guys. A decade ago, he said, there may have been a hundred men in the hole. Today they’re producing more coal with fewer workers. A highly-mechanized operation has made hundreds of jobs in that industry and others unnecessary.

Winning Compromise

To round off the visit, an audience member asked Welch what could be done to win over the minds of political adversaries, both in Vermont and in Washington.

Welch warned that confrontation of ideas isn’t a tactic that has proven successful.

“In all my years in politics,” he said, “I can’t remember a time where I’ve convinced someone that I’m right and they’re wrong.”

Those battles should be avoided, he said.

“Ideas are important, but they’re not enough.”

Instead, the congressman urged people to have discussions with philosophical opponents and try to find some common ground that they could work on together.

Infrastructure could be that collaborative linchpin that brings together Republicans and Democrats. The administration, he said, has a strong following in rural America, where infrastructure improvements, such as broadband access, could be the key to a jobs future in small towns.

After his visit to VLS, Welch hit the road, holding a press conference at Vermont Technical College to discuss the effects of the president’s so-called “skinny budget” on higher education, before paying a visit to officials at Randolph’s Town Hall.

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