In Washington, DC, two intertwined pieces of legislation are trapped in feuds between House and Senate Democrats as Republicans mostly look the other way.

But this week, a pair of conversations 850 miles west of the nation’s capital reported the potential impact of those bills in Wisconsin – a brief slice of real life amidst the messy sausage-making that is the government.

Over lunchtime on Tuesday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers reflected on how President Joe Biden’s administration’s infrastructure program could benefit the state – an agenda focused on fighting change climate change while, its supporters hope, it paves the way for an economic rejuvenation that will produce good jobs for new green industries.

Thirty minutes after this discussion ended, another began in which a trio of Wisconsin residents discussed how a package of reforms – measures that are part of the same Biden agenda – could make their health care more affordable, accessible and effective.

The breadth of these two topics – healthcare and the green economy – shows just how monumental the White House’s goal has been set in current legislation. Tuesday’s virtual talks brought those lofty abstraction ambitions to their concrete potential to change the lives of Wisconsinians.

At the center of both discussions were the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already been passed by the US Senate and a separate and broader budget reconciliation plan. This second package, now dubbed “Building a Better Budget,” is being led by Congress in a process that allows Senate Democrats to pass it by simple majority instead of having to wipe out the 60 votes. necessary to prevent Republicans from blocking it.

Green economy

The first discussion was hosted on Zoom by WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com and the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, a non-profit group that advocates making the environment and sustainable development top priorities when it comes to solving economic problems. He explored what the two infrastructure laws could mean for Wisconsin’s transition to a greener economy.

In addition to funding new repairs to roads, highways and bridges, the bipartisan bill would strengthen the nation’s energy grid against service disruptions caused by inclement weather, according to David Kieve of the White House’s Quality Council. the environment. “We can’t let what happened in Texas in February, and what is happening in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida now, happen to Wisconsin,” Kieve said.

Additional provisions in the separate budget package “tackle the root cause of the climate crisis,” he continued, citing tax incentives to encourage consumers to choose cleaner forms of energy and a combination of carrots and financial sticks to get power companies to stop using fossil fuels to generate electricity. Meanwhile, elements of both packages will help encourage the production of more electric vehicles, Kieve added.

Representative Greta Neubauer (D-Racine)

Taking part in the Zoom discussion, State Representative Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) highlighted other provisions that would replace lead pipes and expand broadband internet access, both throughout the world. State. Programs like these “would mean that we are in a position to truly transform the economy and move forward into the next century,” she said.

Neubauer sees the transportation provisions of the infrastructure bill particularly promising, with $ 590 million for public transit in Wisconsin and the expansion of electric vehicle charging stations in the area. Statewide, the bill package could create “about 266,000 good jobs,” she added.

Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay)

State Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) said he would welcome federal assistance to expand battery resources that would bolster the state’s growing solar power grid. “Our solar fields, which are popping up statewide, are working very well,” Cowles said. “I’m not saying we can completely erase the carbon footprint” of power generation, he added, “but we can do more.”

Health care repairs

The second conversation, also on Zoom, was hosted by Protect Our Care, an organization that has formed to mobilize support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) Opened this discussion, reciting several points that would build on the 10-year-old federal healthcare law.

One would expand the federal medicare program to cover vision, dental care and hearing. Milwaukee retiree Stephanie Stein cited a survey by lobby group Families USA, which found that “more than half of people 65 and over never see a dentist because they understand that when they are told what they need to do… they just aren’t. will be able to afford it.

Another would allow the federal Medicare program to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs, as it does for all other medical services. Baldwin said this should have a broader impact, lowering drug costs for many more people than Medicare beneficiaries alone.

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“It’s not just a problem with the elderly,” said AJ DePre, a La Crosse resident who has struggled to pay for medications prescribed for attention deficit disorder and anxiety – drugs that DePre has found it essential to work. “It affects families, children and young adults who are just trying to make a living.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin

The proposed health care expansion would also establish a program to extend the enhanced Medicaid benefits of the ACA to 12 states, including Wisconsin, where state legislatures have so far refused to accept the funded expansion. by the federal government. Baldwin said this could provide coverage to 91,000 people in Wisconsin who do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford private insurance, even under the ACA.

Another provision would make permanent temporary changes, first included earlier in 2021 in federal COVID-19 relief legislation, that would reduce premium costs under the ACA for people who buy insurance disease in the federal market.

One of the changes related to ACA is increasing grants that make policies more affordable based on a person’s income. Another allows people who receive these grants to continue to receive them even when their income increases.

When her husband retired before being eligible for Medicare, said Connie Meyer of Green Bay, the couple purchased a policy under the ACA. The subsidies helped make the policy affordable, but as originally structured, these subsidies would have ended when their incomes increased, creating a tax “cliff”, according to Meyer.

“It demotivated us [from working]”Meyer said.” And it was very frustrating for me because I feel like I still have things to contribute. “

Unlike the infrastructure talk, this was a straightforward argument for participants to lobby their federal lawmakers. To get the message across, Protect Our Care released the Event on Facebook Live.

“Now is the time to prove to the American people that their government is working for them, not just for those at the top,” Baldwin said. “Tell Congress it’s time to pass Better Build Back Budget legislation that gets the rich paying their fair share of taxes so we can lower your health care costs.” “


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