This article is part of the Daily's ongoing coverage of the Mackinac Policy Conference. Follow staff reporter Kevin Biglin on Twitter and check the site for more updates.
Mackinac Island, MI – U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (D–Mich.), Dave Trott (R–Mich.) and Fred Upton (R–Mich.) gathered Thursday afternoon at the Mackinac Policy Conference to discuss key issues both federal and statewide and the bipartisan solutions they use to encourage Michigan’s growth.
The event fell under the conference pillar of restoring civility in U.S. politics, which the panel said is becoming increasingly difficult. Despite disagreements, all four congressmen and congresswomen commended each others’, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder’s and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s, ability to set aside ideologies when it comes to helping Michigan residents.
“We’re Americans,” Dingell said. “Our delegation is trying to work on all things Michigan. We’re trying to work together.”
The panel discussed protecting Michigan’s resources, such as water, oil and commerce. One particular topic was the protection of the Great Lakes amid potential federal budget cuts under the new administration.
Recently, President Donald J. Trump's budget proposal has been at the center of controversy for targeting and threatening to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which aims to protect and restore the Great Lakes, as well as control invasive species in the region, among other goals. A bipartisan plan to restore funding for 2017 put an end to concern temporarily.
Still, according to Lawrence, a budget that harms the lake's resources is unacceptable.
“We will not support a budget that does not include protection of the Great Lakes,” Lawrence said.
Trott agreed with Lawrence and added when it comes to creating the new budget, it will be mostly a congressional effort.
“The president’s budget is just a starting point,” Trott said. “We’re going to do our own budget in the house and I’m confident whatever we come up with, if it ends up on the president’s desk, he’ll sign it. We’re not paying a whole lot of attention on the president’s budget.”
One of the biggest conflicts with Great Lake protection is Enbridge Line 5, which carries 22 million gallons of oil and natural gas across the Straits of Mackinac daily. Upton was in favor of keeping the line running as long as it follows the code of two pipeline safety bills which include yearly inspections.
“We upgraded the standards,” Upton said. “We upgraded the fines. In the second one the president signed this last year — President Obama — we again upgraded the standards. And I inserted the provisions in lines like Pipeline 5… that they now have to be inspected every year. We want to make sure there is no possibility of a break.”
Dingell, Lawrence and Trott all believed the pipeline should be shut off. Lawrence also voted against the pipeline and favors rerouting it elsewhere. However, Upton noted rerouting could take up to ten years.
“One of the reasons I didn’t support the pipeline was because they would not require those provisions that we’re talking about in the pipeline," he said. "When there are spills, you have tremendous amount of cost damage to our environment. For me, it is imperative we start talking about how to reroute it.”
The representatives also discussed the importance of health care under the new administration. Dingell and Upton spoke specifically about their efforts to protect Michiganders’ health care plans despite a new act potentially coming into place which would jeopardize their current coverage. Upton said lawmakers must protect the 679,000 individuals in the state on Medicaid, as well as guarantee coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition.
“After the bill left our committee, there was a provision that was added that would allow states if they chose to seek a waiver to waive essential health benefits, which included preexisting illnesses,” Upton said. “I said I can’t accept that and I let our leadership know.”
Lawrence said the new health care act was merely a political victory that ignored the health care needs of U.S. citizens. Dingell said the new healthcare act puts people's coverage in jeopardy after December 31, 2019.
Nevertheless, Dingell commended Snyder for defending Michigan’s health care coverage.
“It’s the people that are the most vulnerable,” Dingell said. “It’s the sickest, it is the people that have disabilities, and it’s the seniors that are the most worried. Health in Michigan has made a difference in many people's lives. We have to make sure we take care of people. If you live in this country, I believe you’ve got a right to affordable, quality healthcare. Let’s work together to improve (the bill).”
Dingell also voiced strong concern over protecting manufacturing jobs in the state, especially in the automotive industry. She said they are failing if they are unable to keep jobs within the state.
“A lot of people don’t understand that people have not gotten over 2008 and 2009 in this state,” Dingell said. “They haven’t forgotten that fear and anxiety that their job could disappear at any second. They don’t feel like they're playing on a level playing field.”
Lawrence said despite innovation in the auto industry in Detroit, they will not be able to sustain it in the future unless the surplus of skilled-labor jobs are filled. One way she offered to fix this is by creating a better-educated workforce. This includes offering experiential programs beginning as early as students’ senior year of high school.
“We have a growing need for skilled trades,” Lawrence said. “Whether you go to a technical school or college — either one you’re successful, contributing citizens of the country. We are going to have to be leaders. We have unemployment that is unacceptable in the city of Detroit."