Pocan talks casino, healthcare, budget

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News Visit Beloit Executive Director Celestino Ruffini shakes the hand of Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Beloit, at Vision Beloit. Pocan visited Visit Beloit's Lunch and Learn event on Wednesday to hear the concerns of Rock County business people.

BELOIT - U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said he will continue to be a strong advocate of the Beloit casino project.

Pocan fielded media questions on Wednesday afternoon following his appearance at a "Lunch and Learn" event hosted by Visit Beloit at Vision Beloit. Pocan attended the event to hear from Rock County business people and share with them what is happening in Congress.

When asked about his level of support for the casino, Pocan said he's in strong support of it. He said Beloit's unified support of the project makes it a strong proposal and helped him decide to become an advocate for it. Pocan said he's continued to work with casino advocates, city government and the Ho-Chunk Nation to get the project moving.

"We've all been patient. From the city to the tribe, everyone has gone out of their way to provide information, and I think it's time for a positive decision," Pocan said.

While the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has done its due diligence, Pocan said the project still needs political oversight. Because President Donald Trump has been slow to name political appointees who may have to approve the project, the process to get approval has gone even slower.

The Ho-Chunk Nation has secured a workspace in the Irontek facility in downtown Beloit and joined the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, indicating preparation for a ruling by the BIA. If approved by the BIA, Gov. Scott Walker would make the final decision on the casino. To be located on 38 acres on Colley and Willowbrook roads and adjacent to Interstate 39/90, the casino project is estimated to create 2,000 jobs.

Pocan said business leaders at Wednesday's Lunch and Learn event expressed support for the casino because of its boost to tourism. Leaders also expressed concerns about healthcare and education. Pocan - a member of the Appropriations Committee's Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee - said Congress has been dysfunctional when it comes to addressing problems that need fixing in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Pocan said Republican proposals have focused on giving the wealthiest Americans and large drug companies a tax break while 20 million people would lose their health insurance. With each Republican "tweak," Pocan said the bills more closely resemble tax reform than a health care plan.

He said it's a positive sign that bi-partisian efforts are underway to extend subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He said the framework of ACA should remain.

"You can't drop millions of people from their health insurance, and older Americans shouldn't be forced to pay more," Pocan said. "We have to build it and fix it rather than repeal it without an idea of where to go next."

With the proposed federal budget devoting more than $70 million to defense, Pocan said he will be watching to see how it will impact funding to schools, Meals on Wheels, National Institutes of Health funding and other deep cuts which could impact Wisconsinites.

When it comes to Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military, Pocan said he hopes calmer and wiser minds in the military will prevail. Pocan said it was an example of Trump and his Twitter account causing problems.

Pocan said he encourages people in his district to contact his office and share stories of how policies might affect them so he can relay them to the floor of Congress.

"People reaching out to us about how things will impact them is very valuable," he said.

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