U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, has been spending some time getting to know her new territory to the south, including Littleton, Columbine Valley, Bow Mar and lots of unincorporated Jefferson County.
She wants her new constituents to get to know her, as well, so she spent some time with the Littleton Independent April 30 offering a broad overview of her perspectives.
Health has been a big topic of conversation locally, with Littleton Community Retreat members choosing it as their 2014 issue to drill down on.
DeGette is the senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is the oldest committee in Congress and has jurisdiction over health-care issues. She notes the Affordable Care Act refocuses attention on prevention and wellness, a trend Littleton Adventist Hospital CEO Brett Spenst says is catching on in the industry.
She’s planning a series of town halls throughout her district to talk about the changes resulting from “Obamacare” that will kick in on Oct. 1
“I think it will be a benefit for a lot of middle-class people,” she said, though some younger men might have to pay more. She knows not everyone is a fan of mandatory coverage, but says covering kids, equalizing costs for the genders and closing the Medicaid “doughnut hole” won’t be possible otherwise.
DeGette has been outspoken about legalizing stem-cell research, which President Barack Obama did by executive order in March 2009. But DeGette notes a new president could reverse that, so she found a Republican co-sponsor and will introduce legislation to make it permanent.
The National Institutes of Health are currently conducting two stem-cell studies on eye disorders.
“The anecdotal evidence is that these people are able to see again,” she said.
DeGette is very concerned about the effects of the recent sequestration budget cuts on Colorado, and says a “grand bargain” needs to be reached this year. Her data shows 700 kids lost Head Start throughout the state, and there are 440 fewer work-study jobs for college students. About 370 families waiting for housing assistance in Denver got letters saying they were approved, but mandatory cuts reversed that.
“These are people who thought they had homes, and then they didn’t,” she said.
With Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet working with the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” on immigration reform, she’s doing the same in the House with a group of six.
“Having 11 million people here not on a regular status can’t be sustained,” DeGette said. “Families are being torn apart. I’ve always been supportive of comprehensive immigration reform.”
On the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana, DeGette worked with Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman to introduce a bill to exempt pot from a statute that says federal law supersedes state law when it comes to controlled substances.
“My constituents have spoken, and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens,” she said.
Finally, on the subject of fracking, she supports it as a method of extracting domestic oil and gas.
“But I think it needs to be done in an environmentally safe way,” she said. To that end, she’s been trying since 2006 to pass a bill requiring disclosure of what chemicals are used and forcing companies to comply with safe drinking-water laws.
“I think it’s a pretty reasonable piece of legislation,” she said.