Welch working toward re-election to 4th term
By LISA RATHKE
The Associated Press | November 02,2012
SOUTH ROYALTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is seemingly cruising to re-election to his fourth term in Washington, yet he is still working to let Vermonters know he remains committed to promoting their interests and thinks Congress could take some lessons from the state.
At a campaign stop last week at a restaurant in South Royalton, Welch, 65, talked with seniors about health care, the budget and gridlock in Congress.
He told them it’s clear what needs to be done about the growing federal debt: “If we want to make a big dent in the debt then we should put everything on the table,” he said.
He was one of 100 House members — 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans — who signed a letter to the supercommittee calling for $4 trillion in deficit reduction from a combination of revenues and defense and domestic cuts.
The biggest challenge is that “Congress is facing everything as an ideological challenge to be won rather than a practical problem to solve,” said Welch.
That’s counter to Vermont’s Legislature, where Welch twice served as Senate president pro tempore — and as a lawmaker, you’re a practical problem solver, he said.
“There’s competition in the campaign, but once you’re elected it’s time for cooperation,” he said. “And I come out of that tradition and my view is that Washington needs more of that Vermont approach. And it’s the approach I try to take and have with some success even in the face of just the enormous gridlock that is making Congress dysfunctional.”
Welch is being challenged by Republican Mark Donka, a Woodstock police officer and a newcomer to politics. Also in Tuesday’s race are independent James “Sam” Desrochers, Andre Laframboise from the VoteKISS party, and Liberty Union candidate Jane Newton.
Welch, who is on the U.S. House committees on Agriculture and Oversight and Government Reform, says he’s been a voice of pragmatic problem-solving in Washington working across the aisle on a price stabilization provision for dairy farms in the farm bill, which passed the House Agriculture Committee but wasn’t voted on before the election recess.
He also points to funding for Vermont to recover from Tropical Storm Irene after he said he created a bipartisan Irene coalition, and work on energy efficiency and as part of a budget group focusing on reducing the deficit with the everything-on-the-table approach.
“My view is that the big problems are going to require bipartisan cooperation to get them done. And ... we need more members of Congress to try to basically swim upstream,” he said.
While Welch said he works for common ground, his Republican opponent has questioned why most of his votes are along party lines.
Many bills are jammed by the majority — a Republican majority now — so, by the time they reach the floor any minority input has been stripped out, Welch said. Another problem is too many “gotcha-style” provisions that are unrelated to the heart of the legislation, like abortion provisions that were added onto bills, he said.
He told the group of seniors that implementing a new health care system will be challenging and there’s a lot of fear from the public because it’s breaking new ground.
Congress’ challenge will be making adjustments along the way to take into account the challenges individuals and employers face, he said.
“It’s not like written in stone. What we know is the status quo doesn’t work. You know you can’t have a health care system going up in expense two and three times the rate of inflation, profits and growth and think that’s sustainable,” he said.
Welch, whose campaign has raised $928,854 as of Oct. 17 compared with Donka’s $5,000, also takes issue with a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns.
“The problem is the money then dominates what issues get considered in Congress,” he said.
He said he is sponsoring a constitutional amendment to change that.
“More likely we’ve got to get a new Supreme Court that revisits that 5-4 decision and reverses it,” he said.
Welch is married to Vermont state Rep. Margaret Cheney and returns on weekends to Vermont, where he has done 50 Congress in Your Community meetings in two years and visits one business a week on average.
“Our ear is to the ground listening to the challenges of Vermont business and Vermont families,” he said.