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US Rep. Johnson answers questions at Zesto ice cream parlor

U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) hosted one of his 20 “Inside Scoop with Dusty” open forum meetings at Zesto ice cream parlor in Pierre on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

“We want a more low-key, casual, everyone-relaxes meeting, rather than calling it a town hall open forum,” said Matthew Krall, special assistant to Johnson. “And, almost everyone likes ice cream, right?”

The meetings across South Dakota by Johnson are all at ice cream places.

Johnson began the Dusty Scoop meeting by “setting the stage” for the meeting, then took questions from the audience.

“I’ve only been in Washington for about seven months,” Johnson said, noting what he deemed a great turn out. “It’s difficult to make things work there, especially the big things.”

An audience member asked about possible cutting back on Social Security and Medicare.

“We have a danger to the sustainability of the programs,” said Johnson. “Used to be more people were paying in and fewer were taking out; now the math doesn’t work. We need to long-term bend the rules and limits. It is fair to ask me to work three more years to later get more years paid on these programs. I’m not offended in raising the retirement age for someone who is 40 years old, but not for people who are 60 or 70. If you can bend those cost curves, over time you can get some real value.”

Responding to the audience’s concern about the country’s deficit, Johnson said America has lost a lot of tools that it has previously used to fight a recession. America has no excess cash for economic stimulation, having already cut its annual budget’s 30 percent of discretionary spending down to below 20 percent. Getting a new NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement where tariffs are smaller between the United States, Canada and Mexico) would go a long way. “We have to pick several programs to hit, not just one or two,” said Johnson.

In response to concerns over “bullying and racism from the president,” Johnson said, “If you want someone to toe the party line, that’s not the way I do business. I may support the president, but it is not my job to.”

He said that Republican party silence and weak condemning of the president is not condoning the president.

“I know you are upset by the president’s tone. I could spend two hours a day addressing the critical tweet of the day, but I am busting my back on the issues that matter. The rhetoric that some people engage in does not work toward accomplishing anything. When I do respond, I do so in a de-escalating tone. What I do see is my colleagues motivated to a tremendous degree on what public opinion wants.”

Another question was about unequal and even unfair health care costs.

“Medicare for all, as it is, is impossible,” said Johnson. Medicare under-pays what it costs hospitals for care. “Private care and private pay, including insurance, pays the difference,” he said.

In support of America’s medical accomplishments, Johnson reminded the audience that the survival rate of women with cancer is 46 percent higher in America than in Europe.

In order to diminish healthcare costs, “We have to do a better job of case management and wellness; not service-based but outcome-based,” Johnson said. “50 percent of healthcare is spent in the last year of life.”

Rather than focus on the payer — private businesses as employers — of health insurance, America should focus on preventative measures such as smoking and obesity as more of the issue.

Agreeing with the audience that recent shootings are terrible, Johnson said we must determine why white supremacy, anger, and division are on the rise. We must collectively do things to positively impact these, as well as illegal drug usage and overdoses. The behavioral health issue must be addressed.

An audience member told of prices at the local agriculture cooperative going up because of the ripple effect of international tariffs on local communities. They asked why congress doesn’t take back from the president the power to levy tariffs.

“We have an abusive trade arrangement with China. The average tariff charged by China is 100 percent more than what America charges China. China steals property, manipulates its economy, subsidizes its agriculture. China negotiates in bad faith; having reneged on half of 80 points that it had previously agreed on.

“But if we fold our hand we will not only have a bad deal with China, but with future negotiations with other trade partners,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to give leverage to a country that is willing to starve its people. China has a plan for a much larger power base in the world. It is not looking to benefit America.”

Johnson said that America has recently agreed to an extra $2 billion worth of trade with Canada.

“There is potential real value in being part of a bigger trading block,” said Johnson.

An audience member complained about the abuse of food assistance programs, and where some programs are very stringent on healthy foods (WIC — Women, Infants, and Children) while others allow “junk” food (SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Food Stamp Program).

Johnson said that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is cash assistance. In many states, because TANF is so difficult to qualify for, if people are on the TANF program they automatically qualify for other programs, such as SNAP.

“Categorical eligibility is okay, but not for everything,” said Johnson. “I am proud to pay my taxes so kids can eat, but not for such things as soda pop. I want to help people in need, but there is the argument that if a family’s food budget is supplemented through these programs, then the family has money for cigarettes and other things. I don’t know what to do about it. The reality is Americans don’t do a very good job with nutrition; thus poor health, obesity, and other problems affect people and the healthcare industry.”

Earlier in the day, Johnson was in Onida touring Ringneck Energy, and in Pierre speaking at the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs Training Conference.

After his Pierre visit, Johnson was headed to Eagle Butte and Mobridge to continue his “Inside Scoop with Dusty” meetings. These stops will include Rapid City. He will visit Black Hills State University in Spearfish, Friday, Sept. 6.