By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
(Editor’s note: This is the finale of a two-part interview with U.S. Rep. Susan A. Davis. Read the first part at bit.ly/2jIlfJi.)
As a new Congress begins its two-year term, Democrats have their work cut out for them. As the Trump era begins, Democrats will be hard-pressed to counteract the policy changes brought about by the Trump administration and his Republican allies in Congress.
The first skirmishes have already begun. Only hours after taking the oath of office, Trump signed executive orders that began the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or Obamacare — despite the administration’s and Republicans’ complete lack of an alternative to replace it. The new administration has made vague overtures about a replacement plan that Trump says will provide insurance for everyone, but no details on such a plan have been offered.
While the ACA is in no danger of disappearing immediately, it may be just a matter of time before 20 million Americans who have gained insurance on the exchanges nationwide will lose it. In San Diego, that means 300,000 will lose their insurance; twice that number of Medi-Cal recipients could lose access to coverage, according to U.S. Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-53) of San Diego.
The fight to preserve and improve, rather than dismantle, the ACA has been a particular focus for Democrats — and even some Republicans — since the presidential election on Nov. 8. On Jan. 15, Davis and Scott Peters (D-52) held a joint press conference at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego to discuss the threat that gutting the ACA presents.
In attendance were a number of doctors and ACA beneficiaries, each of whom considered Obamacare a saving grace; all expressed intense concerns over the ramifications of a repeal of the ACA.
“I can’t tell you how many San Diegans I’ve heard from who are scared to death of losing their health care,” Davis said at the press conference. “We all need to remember that this won’t just impact those who obtained insurance through the law. Repeal would affect virtually everyone who has health insurance.”
In the days since the Obama administration began to wind down, the former president’s signature health care reform legislation has found new popularity, something it never did enjoy since the law’s passage in 2010.
“We have to learn from why our message [on Obamacare] didn’t resonate. We have to understand better what made the difference for people [to vote for Trump],” Davis said. “Some of it doesn’t seem related to what was occurring in the economy or even in their own communities.”
Also of grave concern to Davis and her Democratic colleagues is the future of Social Security and Medicare.
“In San Diego, we have strong numbers of people on Social Security and Medicare. We know that’s critically important. What policies you support means something to the people who receive (those services).”
Davis noted Republican efforts to privatize Social Security.
“There are maybe some changes that can occur, but we don’t believe it should be privatized,” Davis said. The economic impact of privatization, she said, could be devastating: 40 percent of seniors in San Diego would be living in poverty without Social Security. “There is $6.6 million spent in San Diego by recipients every month that boosts our economy. That’s important to me and it’s certainly important to the people I serve.”
While Social Security and Medicare have a significant impact on the local economy, military spending packs the real wallop. According to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., military spending accounts for 22 percent of all jobs in the San Diego region. It would seem, then, that new president’s insistence that our military is woefully unprepared and dilapidated (they’re not, according to Davis) would seem to bode well for the locals. Part of Trump’s campaign rhetoric involved significantly increasing military spending.
Throwing money at the problem, real or perceived, however, may not be the sole answer. Davis, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, believes that the country may be due for another round of base relocations and closures (BRAC), with an eye on efficiency. “San Diego has benefitted more from BRAC than it hasn’t,” she said. “But on the other hand, we have many installations [nationwide] that have more facilities than they need.”
Closures and/or downsizing can be done in a manner that boosts, rather than decimates, local economies. “San Diego has downsized where we could,” Davis said, specifically pointing to the portion of Naval Training Center on Point Loma that is now known as Liberty Station, a mixed-use development that is viewed as a success story. The trick, she said, is to find other industries that are willing to come in and fill the economic void left by a base closure, much like what happened in San Diego.
Still, Davis said, despite the number of military installations in the county, San Diego is likely safe from another BRAC. “We are not in as much jeopardy as other areas around the country. There are other facilities that are outdated and not being used, and they should be looked at,” she said.
And despite the periodic fervor for a new international airport at Miramar, Davis said that is not on anyone’s radar. “We need Miramar,” she said. “Miramar is functioning well.”
Also looming ominously are the Trump administration’s policies on immigration. Trump has already issued executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from several majority Muslim countries — an action that has been met with enormous backlash.
Trump also signed an executive order paving the way for his favorite pet project, a wall running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet to be determined is the fate of nearly 11 million undocumented residents, many of them living in California.
“People here in California are very concerned about what’s going to happen,” Davis said. “Schools in my neighborhood, kids are going to school and asking their teachers ‘what happens if I go home and my parents aren’t there?’ They believe that’s a possibility, even if they know they themselves were born here. Parents are making plans for what could happen.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) have had fairly extraordinary success, Davis said, with over 750,000 people registered under DACA alone to go to school and stay in the U.S.
“It would be ideal if, as even George W. Bush advocated, that we could find a path to citizenship,” Davis said. “That works for businesses and for families.”
Some of Trump’s policies have also placed the San Diego region’s border economy is at risk, she said.
“We have to ensure that Trump doesn’t harm that symbiosis,” Davis said, referring to the growing interdependence in a region with the single busiest land port of entry in the world.
It remains to be seen how effective congressional Democrats can be in staving off some of the policies of the Trump administration they view as overly extreme over the next four years.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.