LEXINGTON — Tariffs, gun violence and education were only a couple of the things Congressman Adrian Smith discussed during his visit to Lexington on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Smith is traveling the third district during the month of August and meeting with people and communities to hear their concerns and answer questions.
Starting off, Smith gave a brief update of the situation in Washington D.C. and started with trade. He said the tariff issue with China has not been resolved and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA, has yet to be approved.
Concerning the USMCA, Smith said it is up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring it up and said the democrats, “demagoguery on trade has backed them into a corner.”
A new trade agreement is needed Smith said, there are many new factors in place which were not when the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, was originally established in 1994. The economy itself has changed since the 1990s and the trade of services is a big issue today, but wasn’t a variable in 1994.
Trade with Japan is an issue Smith has spoken several times about and is eager to see more of it down with the island nation. He said the Japanese can be, “protectionist,” and they have a 40 percent tariff on outside beef, one of the state’s main trade commodities with Japan. Smith’s aim is to bring the tariff down and make sure Nebraska beef is being traded with Japan efficiently.
“We have a global economy today,” said Smith, “We can complain about its complexities or we can take advantage of it.”
Smith switched gears to speak about rural health care, he said he has pending legislation which will reduce regulations and help with the high cost of health insurance. He said high copays have led to uncompensated pay.
A plan is needed to help make health insurance, and health care in general, more affordable, he said. Medicaid Part D has put downward pressure on drugs and has made it easier for senior citizens to access. It also has given them more choices among plans now there is more competition. Smith said the affordability of plans has helped increase access to them.
Questions from community members were directed to Smith and the first one concerned the recent flooding disaster in the area.
Smith said he couldn’t give an exact date for the Federal Emergency Management Agency help in the area, due to the nature of the disaster and there are differences from one county to the next which need to be assessed.
Another question came from Great Western Bank President Earl Lindeman, a member on the Council for Economic Development. He asked how it could be made known in Washington D.C. how the current trade situation is effecting towns like, Lexington, Cozad, Gothenburg and Overton.
Smith said the next step is to approve the USMCA, it will be the bedrock of future trade agreements and the world is watching how the United States handles it.
Smith believes there are enough members of the House of Representatives who will vote for the USMCA’s approval, from both sides of the isle. He said the Senate should approve it as well, but allowed there could be issues, as there can be in the Senate.
On the House side, Smith said, “Pelosi knows trade in North America is at her feet.”
The conversation shifted to the recent tragedy of the mass shooting in El Paso, where a white gunman killed 20 people after posting a four page manifesto which was filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric and white supremacist ideology.
Smith was asked what regulations could be put in place to prevent another such tragedy. He said there is an appetite in the county for immigration reform which is less bureaucratic. He said in the face of the current immigration system, people choose to subvert it.
There is a lot of room for agreement, Smith said and an opportunity to improve the system, while maintaining the rule of law. He said there have been proposals of all or nothing when it comes to the immigration system and in that reality, “nothing usually prevails,” he said.
Smith was asked how the government should approach people who have been radicalized on the far right and are anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, etc., and use violence to support these views.
Smith said he doesn’t think some points of gun control will prevent these tragedies but said mental illness seems to be the most prevalent partner in these types of massacres.
In this mass shooting issue, Smith said on an individual level, our neighborly relationships are under breakdown in the face of wireless communication. This has created an ironic situation where we can share more information than ever before, but find we are more isolated mentally.
In the face of these crimes, “Violence is violence,” he said and policy addressing it should be crafted accordingly. Smith said he wants to listens to people’s concerns and not rush to conclusions on these issues.
In these cases, Smith said mental health seems to be the issue and the motives of the people who carry out these crimes can be difficult to comprehend. He said the mental issues in these people are very real.
Another question posed to Smith was the exodus of young people from rural parts of the state. A member with the Department of Labor said there are more 60+ year olds who stop in the office, but a distinct lack of young people.
Smith said one of the reasons has to do with education and said for many years, students were told the only way to be successful was to get a four year degree at college, at the expense of other vocational work, which is now seeing workforce shortages across the state.
Education leads to work, Smith said and federal dollars which go toward education need to go to the people who need the assistance the most, not to people who make more than enough to send their child off to a prestigious, expensive school.
Smith said he is currently working on legislation which will ensure federal dollars can only go to the people below a certain level of the poverty line but is still flexible enough to help people.
When it comes to employers, Smith said more than ever before, employers are willing to train employees and said a lot of potential lies in the private sector.
“We should view every human being in America as an asset and not as vulnerability,” said Smith.