BY: LISA WIRTHMAN
Here’s what Colorado’s congressional representatives had to say about their legislative priorities, repealing the Affordable Care Act, protecting the environment, and healing our divided country.
What would you like to ask your Congressperson? That’s the question we presented to 5280 readers on social media in December. We fielded dozens of questions on topics that matter to Coloradans before selecting a few to take to our local legislators.
Voters re-elected every incumbent Representative in 2016, keeping our mix of three Democrats, who primarily represent the Denver-Boulder metro area, and four Republicans who represent Colorado Springs, the Aurora suburbs, and rural communities on the western slopes and eastern plains.
But don’t expect the winners to return to business as usual in the nation’s capital. Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the White House and changes are already underway—including approval of the first steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and changes that pave the way for easier transfers of federal lands.
Here’s what Colorado’s representatives had to say about healing a divided electorate, repealing the ACA, protecting the environment, and priorities for the new legislative session.
*Answers have been edited for length and clarity
What are your priorities in the 115th Congress? Did the outcome of the presidential election shift your approach to those priorities, and if so, how?
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver, 1st District): My priority is to protect Americans’ health care. We must strengthen the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare and Medicaid. I am also working to create bipartisan coalitions to protect immigrants and promote policies addressing climate change.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder, 2nd District): I am focused on protecting DREAMers [individuals who meet the requirements of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act] and our new immigrant community to help make sure that they can work in our country and get an education. They are under fire, of course, by the new administration. It’s also critical that we can’t put our heads in the sand and deny that climate change is occurring because of carbon emissions. We have issues around oil and gas extraction, even here in Colorado, that I have heard about from so many homeowners in my district and that we need to address.
One of my main priorities has always been education with my work in Colorado in founding some charter schools and serving on the State Board of Education, and I hope to be able to do more to make college more affordable.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez, 3rd District): My focus has really not changed. In our district we continue to see families struggling and businesses having a tough time creating enough profit to maintain the jobs that they have and to hopefully be able to create new jobs. We’re very committed to making sure that we’re creating opportunities to get our people back to work, and that’s regardless of whether the president is a Republican or Democrat.
My focus is going to continue to be on jobs, our economy, and creating those opportunities for families to be able to prosper. I am hopeful that under the incoming administration, we’re going to be able to roll back some of the provisions that have inhibited those opportunities in terms of overregulation. We need sensible, commonsense regulations that create opportunities for people to be able to prosper.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley, 4th District): It shifted my priorities slightly because we now have a president who will not obstruct progress in the United States Senate and veto the bills. We will have a president who will welcome market-based ideas, deal with the tough issues like immigration, and fix a banking system that was certainly broken when the last president took over, but has been destroyed in many ways by the Dodd-Frank legislation.
So there are a number of areas that we’re going to be working on very hard, based on what our constituents are telling us. The land grabs that [President Obama] has engaged in are wrong, and we need to make sure that we move forward in a positive way on some of those issues.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs, 5th District): I will remain focused, as I always have, on being a leader on pro-family and small business issues, serving as a strong advocate for our veterans and our military, and being a supporter of lowering taxes, decreasing government spending, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and protecting the Second Amendment.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora, 6th District): I have and will continue to be an outspoken advocate for fixing the [Department of Veterans Affairs] so that the men and women who have sacrificed so much in serving our country receive the health care they need and deserve; fighting against wasteful Pentagon spending because every dollar wasted by the Pentagon is a dollar not spent keeping our country safe; and for reforming our immigration system. At the heart of all of this is to make our government more accountable for the American people.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Lakewood, 7th District): Since first being elected, my number one priority has always been to help hardworking Coloradans. I will continue this effort and focus on issues that will have the most impact, such as creating jobs and growing the economy, promoting the aerospace industry, infrastructure, reducing the student loan debt burden, veterans and the new VA Medical Center, and creating more affordable housing.
Congressional Republicans have prioritized repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Without a replacement, many Coloradans will lose health care coverage. Do you support keeping the ACA in place and improving upon it? If not, how will you ensure that all Americans continue to have access to healthcare?
Rep. Tipton (R-Cortez): I just visited with a couple out of Glenwood Springs who, for a Bronze Plan, are now paying $36,000 a year in insurance premiums with about a $50,000 family deductible. Another lady that I talked to has a mortgage payment that is less than what she is paying for her insurance premium right now with a $5,000 deductible. Those are the stories that we hear out of our district. People are crying to be able to get relief from what was labeled as the Affordable Care Act, but has not been affordable for the people in rural Colorado. If you live in rural Colorado, you pay more for the identical product that someone purchases in downtown Denver. Yet we, on a per capita basis, earn less in rural Colorado. So how fair is that?
We are advocating to bring relief from the impacts that we’re seeing from Obamacare, to put forward a good plan in terms of a replacement to make sure that we’re giving people more choices, more control, and more freedom in terms of those choices. One of the first steps is approving Tom Price as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price has actually put forward legislation called the Empowering Patients First Act. It’s a piece that we co-sponsored and were very forthright on. Was it perfect? No, but it was a great starting point.
We do have those ideas on the table, because we’re seeing that particularly in the rural part of our state—and I think that we’re seeing it in the metro areas as well— people are struggling to make those premium payments. When we include the deductible, they may have insurance, but are they getting health care? That’s a two-pronged issue that we need to be able to address.
Rep. Polis (D-Boulder): We should be focused on: What is the next phase of improving the affordability of health care in our country? The answer is not simply to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that is better, and we haven’t seen that replacement proposal. I certainly have a lot of ideas about how innovation can reduce costs and expand coverage, and I hope many of those are incorporated into the plan—but it will be a more meaningful discussion if we can compare different proposals side-by-side rather than just talk about repeal without replacement.
Rep. Buck (R-Greeley): It’s important to help people understand that the system is broken. We have 14 counties in Colorado that only have one insurer. We have skyrocketing insurance premiums. Some counties this year will see 40 percent increases in insurance premiums. The Democrats passed this bill in 2009 without a single Republican vote, and with very few hearings. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, said we would have to pass this bill to find out what’s in it. It was done at midnight—literally at midnight. We can’t pass legislation that way. We have to have open ears. We have to have the best ideas from industry, from citizen groups, and from legislatures. America has to come together and solve this problem; it is far too important to ignore.
There are many plans that were discussed in the Republican House last fall, but I’m reluctant to say this is what we’re going to do, as if we’re going to shove a healthcare system down American voters’ throats the way the Democrats did. We’re going to listen and really put a plan together that meets the needs. It will be market-based and it will be patient-centered, but it will not be arrogantly run by the federal government. Even though Obamacare will be repealed, there will be a transition that will allow people to get health care coverage.
Rep. DeGette (D-Denver): I have long supported improving the ACA. Over the last 6 years, and as recently as [early January], I have spoken repeatedly with my Republican colleagues about the need to work together to strengthen the law. I hope the majority will realize that bipartisan efforts will be much more effective than the draconian plan to put millions of Americans at risk by repealing the law without any replacement in sight.
Rep. Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs): Overall, Obamacare has been very unpopular, expensive, and unworkable. However, some individual portions of the law are supported by Americans. Republicans will undoubtedly incorporate these popular aspects into the next generation of healthcare. These policies will: Allow children to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26; prohibit lifetime limits on insurance coverage; protect those who suffer from pre-existing conditions; incentivize, though not mandate, employers to offer healthcare coverage; and make refundable tax credits available.
Republicans want to reduce the decision-making power of Washington bureaucrats, and allow individual consumers [to have] more healthcare choices. There is a clear path forward for our country in a post-Obamacare United States. The right path is forged with more state responsibility, more robust choices in healthcare for consumers, less restrictive regulations and costly mandates, better quality coverage, more innovation, and protection for deeply held convictions and beliefs.
Rep. Perlmutter (D-Lakewood): The ACA has helped 20 million Americans gain health care coverage, end discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, focus on preventative care, and allow young people to stay on their parents’ coverage until the age of 26. I believe access to affordable healthcare is a civil right that must be upheld. I support making changes to the ACA to improve the system and hope my colleagues decide to reach across the aisle to work together to improve the law rather than a full repeal with no replacement.
Rep. Coffman (R-Aurora): No aspect of the ACA will be repealed without first having a replacement. We will soon vote on certain aspects of a repeal, but the effective date for that repeal will be far enough in the future that it will allow time to craft and negotiate, in a bipartisan manner, a replacement. There are some in Washington and Colorado that push this narrative as a scare tactic, but at the end of the day the process of repealing and replacing the ACA will take a couple of years with the goal being to lower costs, preserve access, and to improve on the health insurance choices available.
What will you do to protect our public lands and environment?
Rep. Coffman (R-Aurora): Colorado is a special place and one of the reasons is our amazing outdoor recreational activities made available by our state and federal public lands. The natural beauty of Colorado relies upon our limited water resources, our clean air, and our majestic mountains and plains, so I am a strong advocate for sensible policies that ensure access for recreation, keep our air and water clean, and ensure we can pass this gift on to future generations.
In my suburban district, the only federal public lands are essentially Buckley Air Force Base, and I have been working with the U.S. Air Force and enlisting state and local government participation to acquire an additional 1,000 acres adjacent to the base for use as recreational open space and to avoid future encroachment on the base.
Rep. Perlmutter (D-Lakewood): Our public lands are a national treasure and I believe we have a responsibility to protect them for future generations. States should not assume control of federally managed public lands. These lands should be federally protected and preserved from overdevelopment, and we should not put pressure on state budgets or diminish outdoor recreation and tourism economies.
Rep. Tipton (R-Cortez): I have the blessing of representing what I think is the most beautiful district in the state of Colorado—the 3rd Congressional District—where we have abundant land on the Western Slope. Approximately 70 percent of our land is federal, state, or tribal land. Our people love to get out and enjoy this land as anglers, hunters, hikers, and recreationalists, and we are committed to supporting legislation to ensure that people have access to those public lands.
If there is going to be any resource development, it’s going to be done responsibly to be able to create jobs. We’re going to continue those efforts. We have a piece of legislation, as an example, that was signed into law called the Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act, where we create jobs and have a good positive use of natural resources as well. We have a strong commitment to making sure that our lands and our access to our lands is protected.
Rep. DeGette (D-Denver): I am very concerned that the Trump Administration will attempt to weaken environmental protections that benefit every American. For example, I support the [Environmental Protection Agency] EPA’s Clean Power Plan to combat climate change. Colorado can meet the Plan’s goals and in the process protect the environment and expand renewable energy resources. But Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, sued the EPA last year over the Clean Power Plan.
I will oppose any efforts in the House to undo environmental and climate protections like the Clean Power Plan, and I will always speak up to correct the record when special interests criticize commonsense rules that are in the public interest. I will also continue to fight for the preservation of our very special public lands.
Rep. Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs): I will continue to serve in a leadership capacity on the House Natural Resources Committee, which is dedicated to responsible use of our public lands and resources. Producing energy and creating jobs from public lands can be done while responsibly managing these lands.
Rep. Polis (D-Boulder): A lot of the action of protecting our environment has shifted to the state and local levels. I’m going to do my best here to fight against efforts to sell off our public lands, to eliminate a clean coal rule and a clean power rule. But a lot of this will likely be done because the majority of Congress is against protecting the environment, and that’s what we expect from our incoming president as well. I will certainly be supportive of state and local efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and move forward until we can get through this era, and hopefully elect a future Congress that holds stewardship in higher regard.
Rep. Buck (R-Greeley): I think Coloradans are the best stewards for our lands. About 36 percent of our state belongs to the federal government, or is under federal government control. Certainly some of those lands, like the national parks, are treasures and should be controlled by the federal government and protected by the federal government. But most of the land in Colorado is land that could be put to productive use, and should be put to productive use. I think that we need to have input from the local level from county commissioners, from the state level with our legislature and governor, and from the federal government, and all work together to be sure that public land is used for the public benefit.
How will you personally help to heal a divided electorate and protect our most vulnerable citizens?
Rep. Polis (D-Boulder): This was a very divisive election. The best thing Republicans and Democrats can do to restore faith is to come together to make important reforms, including stopping the revolving door between lobbyists and lawmakers, redistricting reforms, and campaign-finance reforms. Those are a lot of the reasons that people lost faith in the system.
As we saw with the recent flare-up on attempts to gut the independent ethics watchdog committee in the House, the public is really engaged on these issues. The public came to the rescue of our ethics process in Congress, and now we need to expand that into the presidency, because there are no similar ethics laws that include the president. We need to show that Congress is up to the task, and we need to fix the system and restore people’s faith.
Rep. Tipton (R-Cortez): I continue to reach out in our district, holding town hall meetings and sitting down with a variety of groups across the district in order to be able to hear other people’s concerns. There was one constant that we heard irrespective of political positions in the 3rd Congressional District in rural Colorado. We have struggling families who never felt the recovery coming out of the recession and were having a tough time being able to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads. I’m committed to continuing the work we put forward to create economic opportunities for families to be able to improve, and create a more prosperous future for those communities.
Rep. Perlmutter (D-Lakewood): Despite strong economic conditions in Colorado, there is still a fair amount of anxiety among many Coloradans about a variety of issues, ranging from immigration to national security to their own economic security. My goal is to reduce these anxieties and keep working for all Coloradans. In addition, my office regularly helps constituents with a variety of issues involving federal agencies and holds events to help provide information and resources, such as college and senior resource fairs.
Rep. Buck (R-Greeley): This is something that I did two years ago and I want to continue to do it. I think it’s really important for people in Colorado to understand that their member of Congress is listening. I will continue to hold town hall meetings in every county in the 4th Congressional District—all 22 counties. I will have meetings with different constituent groups, and I will do my very best to have telephone town halls and email access for as many people as possible. Many of the good ideas that I get for legislation in D.C. are a result of that effort to listen and solve problems.
Rep. Coffman (R-Aurora): I spend a lot of my time in Colorado meeting with constituents and hearing their concerns. I meet regularly with community leaders, particularly with faith leaders. I often turn what I hear into initiatives back in Washington. To me, it’s extremely important to have an efficient safety net to help our low-income citizens and an example of this is my continuing leadership in advocating for community health care clinics.
In regards to helping bridge the divided electorate, I am a member of the group “No Labels” which is comprised of Republicans and Democrats who have come together to bridge the partisan divide in Washington. I plan to continue working on the expansion of this group in the 115th Congress.
Rep. Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs): I believe that working hard to make the American economy great again will lead to a healing of divisions and a restoration of the American spirit of unity and freedom.
Rep. DeGette (D-Denver): Starting the day after the election, I have publicly and repeatedly urged that Americans rise above the rancor and rhetoric and come together to address the serious challenges that face us. These messages have been addressed to voters, to President Trump and to my colleagues in Congress.
At the same time, I have called for people to show solidarity to those who are feeling especially at risk in the wake of this election. Hateful rhetoric, vandalism, and violence are unacceptable; all Americans—including immigrants, people of color, women and girls, and the LGBTQ community—deserve far better. Each of us can speak out about these matters, express solidarity with the most vulnerable, and ensure that the rights of all are respected.