SPARTA, NJ – Kicking off local government week, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill visited Sparta, holding her fourth “Monday with Mikie” town hall meeting. Approximately 50 people came to Sparta’s municipal building to meet and talk with Sherrill.
“What a better way to focus on local government than with a visit from our Congresswoman,” Mayor Molly Whilesmith said as they spoke outside the township hall.
Inside Sherrill began her remarks with the JFK quote, “We don’t do these things because they are easy, we do them because they are hard,” speaking about her responsibilities in Washington D.C. “It’s not always easy and it’s not always easy to find partners but it is rewarding.”
The questions and remarks touched on a variety of topics but nearly all against the backdrop of fiscal decisions and economic policy; healthcare, the SALT deduction, unions, shell companies and income inequality.
“We have to bring back the mandate,” Sherrill said responding to a question from Robert Atkinson about healthcare. “Without it, the Affordable Healthcare Act doesn’t work.”
Sherrill said the problem is the “twentysomethings” who do not think they need health insurance. “When they do, we who have insurance end up paying for them.”
Atkinson shared a conversation he recently had with his physician about the unintended consequence of the Affordable Healthcare Act’s push to consolidate hospitals to achieve economies of scale. After regionalizing, hospitals are now buying up small practices and lab and imaging facilities, having the opposite effect of raising costs.
“Nobody thought the Affordable Care Act was the end point,” Sherrill said, acknowledging the unintended consequences, including the reliance on certain information technology systems because of all of the reporting requirements.
That, in turn, pushes physicians into groups to be able to keep up with the IT needs she explained.
Sherrill said there are a number of issues with respect to healthcare that need to be addressed, many have been accepted by both parties as necessary, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions. She said the mandate to require that every person have health insurance needs to be restored for the system to work.
“We need to drive the cost down and we need to stop fighting over it,” Sherrill said. She believes part of the mid term election results were because of healthcare.
Sherrill related the work being done on the Armed Services’ committee with regard to veterans’ issues and reauthorizing funding for the 9/11 First Responders Victims’ fund. She talked about the overlap with young veterans who have been exposed to burn pits finding they have similar cancers to those who were at ground zero. This is an important link because the doctors were not looking for cancers in the young soldiers she said. Instead they were being told they had colds or other respiratory issues.
Kathy Weinberg from Hopatcong share her plight of seemingly unending student loan debt. She and Sherrill agreed on key problems with the current system; compounded interest, terms that cannot be renegotiated, principal that cannot easily be paid down and lack of clarity of the terms from the outset.
Wienberg said she borrowed $32,000 for her daughter’s education, has paid $17,000 and still owes $52,000.
“It is also impacting our young people who can’t buy a home, can’t get married, can’t start their lives,” Weinberg said.
“Making it more egregious is the debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy,” Mike Bush said from the audience.
Taking a question stemming from the issues highlighted by the Me Too movement Sherrill said they are working to get reliable data on sexual assault and domestic violence saying she is “very involved in legislation regarding domestic assault.”
She said she just spoke at the Naval Academy about how “stubborn” the numbers are at our service academies. “They are getting good data from the academies but not from public colleges’ administration,” Sherrill said. “A lot depends on getting access to data and better training.”
Wayne Bauchard used the recent 60 Minutes interview with a wealthy CEO who said he should be paying more in taxes to form his question about income inequality. “What are we going to do about this,” he said.
Professing to have missed the show because of an “11-year-old lacrosse game that went way too late,” Sherrill said “every election now is a big change election.”
“We are developing into a society of haves and have nots,” Sherrill said. She said she is proud that New Jersey is on the “front line as being a union state and it is critical for New Jersey to hold the line with workers.”
The country needs “tax reform not tax cuts,” Sherrill said. “We are not incentivizing growth.” She said the elimination of the SALT deduction unfairly impacts the middle class and it impact the ability to fund public schools. She said she is a proponent of tax reform “like under Regan, not 2015, fly-by-night, nobody-read it,” tax reform.
“The SALT cap has been killing us in the region,” Sherril said. “Every single elected official is working on it.”
“The corporate tax needed attention but now it’s difficult to fund the things everyone wants to fund,” Sherrill said to cheers from the audience.
She spoke specifically about the need for the United State to have military authority around the world; “power, democracy and values that need to be upheld around the world but there is no way to move those types of defense strategies with such large deficits.”
Concerns are growing that China and Russia will soon eclipse the United States as the global power Sherrill said.
The finance thread continued with a question from Gail Morris about shell companies. “They are easy to start and secret,” Morris said. “It’s totally absurd.” Morris proposes that no member of the federal government; judicial, executive or legislative, should have a shell company, “even during the campaign.”
Sherrill said the HR 1 legislation was trying to address better reporting on election funding. She said it had widespread bipartisan support, passing on a voice vote.
“It’s a law and order problem,” Morris said. “We need to take away their magical properties, then we’ll have money for other things.”
Individually Sherrill spoke with attendees. She spoke with one man about antisemitism and another about social security.
With the township manager Bill Close, Sherrill talked about the Lackawana Cut-Off and the benefit it would bring to the region. Sherrill said her caucus is looking broadly at infrastructure and a priority for transportation expenditure was the Gateway Tunnel. Earlier in her comments she spoke about her concern for the resiliance of the railroad lines that run along the shore lines and the impact of rising sea levels.
Close also spoke about the impact of legislation such as the Highlands act that protected the drink water for those in other regions and essentially penalized much of the region by removing large parcels of land from the tax rolls.
Judge Lorraine Parker said she “just wanted to say thank you,” for representing the district so well.
Whilesmith and Close, joined by Councilmen Jerry Murphy and Dan Chiarriello and Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn gave Sherrill a tour of the municipal building. She shook hands and said hello to the township employees, before heading off to catch a train to Washington D.C.
Sherrill said she plans to continue to hold town hall meeting, looking to schedule for different times and even weekends. The schedule has not yet been announced.