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Dollars and Sense: Rep. Jacky Rosen’s Town Hall with a Twist

Last month, Nevada’s two U.S. Senators held dramatic town halls at the home front. After their events, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) shook it up with a different kind of town hall. Instead of the usual Q and A, Rosen had constituents try out her job. How did that play out?

In Reno last month, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) did his first in-state public event of 2017 and faced tough questions from constituents alongside Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) on everything from Planned Parenthood funding to the EPA budget. The next day in Las Vegas, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) engaged in open dialogue with constituents on everything from the future of health care reform to Donald Trump’s ongoing threats against vulnerable communities.

Rep. Jacky Rosen came home to Henderson during April Recess to engage her constituents with a different kind of town hall.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Instead of the traditional microphone and podium affair, Rosen invited her constituents to sit at round tables for a budget workshop. The bipartisan Concord Coalition has long campaigned for fiscal austerity, and Concord finally arrived in Nevada yesterday with its budget workshop that has audience members decide how to balance the federal budget.

I spoke with Concord Coalition’s Phil Smith why he came to Nevada. He pointed out how their event with Rep. Rosen differed from the Senators’ town halls. “We give people something of substance to dive into. […] It takes the ordinary town hall model and turns it on its head. Make informed requests instead of just shouting into a microphone.”

“The most common complaints about the budget were ‘we don’t have time’ and ‘we don’t have enough information’. Those were from Members of Congress.” – Phil Smith

Following some opening comments from Rosen and Smith, the audience was split into groups to sit at the round tables and decide their budgets. How much will they cut? How much will they tax? What are the most essential programs that constituents must have? Which decisions will prove to be the most taxing back at home?

Rep. Rosen stopped at every table to check on their progress… And discuss what she actually has to do in Congress. She then took a few minutes to speak with me about what she and colleagues must do when they return to Washington.

“The best way to let people understand what we face is to put them in my shoes.” – Rep. Jacky Rosen
Photo by Andrew Davey

I first asked about the looming threat of a federal government shutdown over the debt ceiling and budget. She urged her Republican colleagues not to play games with the country’s fiscal health. “[Republicans] have the Presidency, the Senate, and the House. The ball’s in their court. They need a clean bill, without any riders.”

Since the far-right House Freedom Caucus threatened to withhold votes for a short-term budget and debt ceiling deal, Congressional Republican leaders ultimately needed Democratic votes just to keep the government up and running. Yet as of April, they did not reach out to Rep. Rosen. “Since we went on district break, I haven’t heard from [House Republican leaders] personally.”

Republican leaders also haven’t reached out to Rosen and other Democrats on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though they probably still lack the votes to pass their “Trumpcare” repeal and replace legislation. Rosen stated her desire to keep in place health care programs that have expanded access and improved care… Despite Donald Trump’s occasional threats to undermine the ACA.

“We need to mend it, not end it.” – Rep. Jacky Rosen on the ACA

Even while co-hosting her event with the Concord Coalition, she rejected the austerity regime Donald Trump has proposed with his “skinny budget”. “We’ve seen the budget from the President. It’s not a particularly kind budget.”

She noted bipartisan agreement in the Nevada delegation on issues like Yucca Mountain. “We don’t want to be the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.” She added that Senator Dean Heller visited her D.C. office last month to discuss ways to fight Yucca and other items in Trump’s budget that could hurt Nevada.

Even though there’s bipartisan accord on Yucca, other key issues are still up in the air. Since his Monday town hall, Heller has flip-flopped again on Planned Parenthood health care funding. Rosen provided more clarity on where she stands. “We want to support Planned Parenthood. It provides preventive care, sometimes the only care.”

“I will fight for Nevada to get its fair share. […] I will fight every way I can.” – Rep. Jacky Rosen

Rosen also indicated her desire to keep in place funding Nevada depends upon for public lands protection, airport security, arts programs, public television and radio, health care, and much more. As state officials struggle to make sense over the federal budget impasse, Rosen promised to fight for that funding to keep the State of Nevada afloat.

Her first major test began when Congress’ April recess ended. Unlike Concord Coalition’s workshop, this has consequences in the real world. The Nevada Economic Forum is meeting today to present its official state budget forecast to the Nevada Legislature. Hours beforehand, Congressional leaders announced a budget deal that will keep the government running through September. It’s an initial victory for Rosen and her House Democratic colleagues, as the budget deal mostly avoided Trump’s proposed cuts. Still, expect more drama later this year as Congress decides future budgets.

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