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Rep. Tom Emmer addressed a mix of praise and criticism.

Congressman Tom Emmer hosted his Jan. 31 town hall in Zimmerman, where a standing-room-only group of constituents crowded the City Hall to attend the 60-minute event in hopes of asking questions and airing concerns.

Zimmerman Mayor Nick Stay was on hand to welcome Emmer to the city, as well as the more than 60 people crammed into available seats and along the edges of the room. Robert Benson, district representative for Emmer, coordinated the question-and-answer session that was a mix of praise and criticism for the congressman.

Eduardo Silva, a St. Cloud constituent and representative for the National Letter Carriers Association, thanked Emmer for co-signing HR 2382, the USPS Fairness Act, a bill that would abolish the requirement that postal workers prefund the department’s retiree health care benefits 75 years in advance.

“There is no company on the face of the planet that banks 75 years in advance,” Emmer said. He also told those gathered that even when the postal service is making money, the system makes “it look like you’re bleeding cash on an annual basis.” Emmer reaffirmed his commitment to helping pass the legislation.

A constituent from Zimmerman, who suffers from early-onset dementia and is one of seven family members who have been diagnosed with the disease. She voiced her appreciation for Emmer’s past support and asked him to give a floor speech to affirm his support of HR 1873, the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to inform health care providers about care planning benefits available through Medicare. The proposed legislation has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, but Minnesota Reps. Jim Hagerdorn (R) and Pete Stauber (R) have not yet signed on to the bill.

“This bill is important,” she said, “because it gives people like myself who are living with Alzheimer’s ... access to medical and non-medical treatments, clinical trials, and most importantly, support services.”

Emmer praised Canada for her commitment to the issue and reaffirmed his support. 

A St. Michael man asked Emmer about President Trump’s recent suggestion to cut Social Security benefits in order to offset the federal budget deficit. 

“We have paid into this fund all our working lives,” he said. “How can you honestly rationalize that the average American should make up the shortfall for tax cuts given to the top 1%?”

Emmer questioned the president’s desire to cut Social Security. 

“I haven’t heard him say that ever,” he said. 

The president’s 2020 budget included a proposed $25 billion in cuts to Social Security, and a new rule proposed by the administration in January looks to change aspects of disability (SSDI) reviews, potentially terminating disability payments to hundreds of thousands of people. In an interview with CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, when asked if cutting entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would ever be on the table, the president responded, “At some point they will be.”

A Clear Lake resident asked about the tax cuts and the rising deficit, reminding Emmer that he has consistently run for office on the platform of Washington having a spending problem. Speaking to Emmer, he said, “You voted to give the wealthiest 1% a $1 trillion tax cut. You supported sending money to the farmers as welfare to get their vote for a failed China policy,” he said. “Everybody in this room is going to pay for this. Why do you deserve a fourth term saying after three terms that Washington has a spending problem but you’re part of the problem?”

Emmer argued that the tax cuts were a middle class tax cut and that spending is what has added to the debt. “I have voted against every spending bill since I’ve been there and I will continue to do that.” He also defended the payments to farmers and the tariffs imposed on China. “It worked extremely well as the Chinese have now agreed to buy billions of dollars worth of soybeans and poultry and beef. There are bright skies on the horizon because they’re going to be selling a whole bunch of product over the next 12 months.”

Phase 1 of the China deal was signed in January, and while it does require purchases of U.S. agricultural products, China’s Vice Premier Hiu Le said in comments immediately after the signing that “sales would depend on domestic demand and U.S. prices.” 

Emmer fielded additional questions in regards to the USMCA trade agreement, school funding, foreign election interference, and intellectual property rights.

Before the town hall concluded, Mayor Nick Stay took the opportunity to ask a question on behalf of Zimmerman residents and Highway 169. 

“Once the Elk River project is done, we’re going to be the only stoplight,” he said, and he asked if there was any possibility of federal funding to help with converting the Fremont intersection into a flyover or other stoplight-free interchange.

Emmer is hopeful that a transportation bill might make its way through Congress despite it being an election year. “I think they [Democrats and Republicans] are going to want to sit down and get something done going into the election.”

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