U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, campaigned on health care reform, such as negotiating prescription drug prices and repairing the inefficiencies of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Although progress has been made on some of these issues in the House, a congressional gridlock caused by a Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate is halting advancement of legislation.
Sitting down with the Northwest Herald’s editorial board Tuesday, Underwood discussed the status of legislation regarding gun control, tax exemptions and other business affecting residents of the 14th Congressional District.
Underwood said many bills passed in the House could get a 51-vote majority or 60-vote supermajority in the Senate – such as universal background checks, staying in the Paris Climate Accords and election security measures – but are landing with a thud.
Underwood targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not advancing legislation that doesn’t carry unanimous consent.
“I think that we have passed over 200 bills in the House, many of which have had Republican support – many things,” Underwood said. “And the idea because they didn’t have unanimous support they can’t be considered, that is gridlock and dysfunction at a level that I had never even contemplated and I point to one man – Mitch McConnell – as being the problem.”
Underwood highlighted two bills related to background checks on firearms that have passed in the House but have lost all momentum in the Senate: H.R.8, which allows for universal background checks, and H.R.1112, which extends the review period for background checks on firearm purchases.
One of the health care-related proposals Underwood has brought forward is H.R.1868, the Healthcare Affordability Act, which would reframe existing health care coverage so that no American pays more than 8.5% of their adjusted gross income on healthcare premiums.
Underwood said families of four in the district with an annual salary of $100,000 currently will pay between $20,000 and $25,000 for their coverage if they do not apply for a premium tax credit, which has a $100,400 threshold.
Underwood said she expects the bill to move through committee and be up for consideration on the House floor by the end of the year.
Underwood, who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the ideas that the country has a family separation policy regarding immigration and that children have died while in federal custody speak to policy not grounded in the values of the American people.
One bill introduced in response to the conditions of detainees would create basic requirements for an individual to get medically screened.
Underwood said border patrol stations were never designed to be long-term detention areas or medical clinics and they lack basic infrastructure to keep people hygienic, safe and alive.
Underwood said in the district, the average state and local tax deduction was about $13,000. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 imposed a $10,000 cap on these deductions.
One of the first bills Underwood said she introduced raised the cap for individuals to $15,000 and for married couples to $30,000 indexed to inflation.
Underwood said two other SALT deduction bills exist – a full repeal and a bill setting the caps at $12,000 and $24,000 – and she expects one of these three proposals to pass out of the House this session.
Underwood said the effects of the ongoing trade war with China are unacceptable.
Although the Trump administration has made a second round of bailout funds available, Underwood said the requirements were for farmers to have seeds in the ground by a certain date, which made some farmers ineligible because of the heavy amount of rainfall this growing season.
“I hear a lot of frustration from farmers who say they’re being asked to sacrifice more than others,” Underwood said.
She added that health care also has been a common concern among farmers.
“I believe that for our local economy to be strong, our rural economy has to be strong, and right now our rural economy is not,” Underwood said.
Underwood recently announced her support of an impeachment inquiry but maintained that she was only interested in knowing all of the facts.
As a federal lawmaker, Underwood said she was candidly dismayed not to have full access to the Mueller Report.
“The idea that congressional committees have to go to court to get access to the underlying documents to find out what we need to do to better protect the security of our country is something that’s incredibly challenging,” Underwood said.