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US Rep. Mark Pocan Says Government Should Play Larger Role In Coronavirus Pandemic

Pocan, Seeking His Fifth Term, Is Facing Republican Peter Theron For 2nd Congressional District Seat

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan talks with reporters on how Democrats have learned from mistakes made in the 2016 presidential race and won’t repeat them as he looks ahead to 2020 during a news conference on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Madison. Scott Bauer/AP Photo

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan is seeking his fifth term against Republican challenger Peter Theron for Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, covering Madison and the surrounding region in south central Wisconsin.

Pocan says the government has a much larger role to play in the coronavirus pandemic than it has under President Donald Trump’s leadership. He recently spoke with WPR’s “Central Time” host Rob Ferrett.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Rob Ferrett: A big Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act could change it in part, or remove the whole thing. If it were removed and you are in Congress again, what would you do to replace it?

Mark Pocan: It’s imperative that we keep the provisions of the ACA available for the public. For the last nearly four years, the Republicans have tried to get rid of it, but they’ve had no alternative. The ACA means not just access (to health care) for 20 million people. It means if you have a pre-existing condition, you can get health insurance even with the private insurers, adult children stay on their parents policies until they’re 26, and women pay the same as men for coverage, and many other provisions.

When Joe Biden is elected president, we’ll strengthen the ACA, hopefully adding a public option, maybe looking at adding buy-in to Medicare, lowering it to age 60. I would like to go farther, but those are a couple of things we can do.

RF: We’re seeing record numbers of positive cases and deaths of COVID-19 in Wisconsin. What would you like to see change in the way we’re approaching this?

MP: We have to get people to change behaviors. That means wearing a mask, social distancing, don’t have parties and get together with crowds, especially indoors. We have a few weeks to turn this around before we get into flu season. And if we don’t, we could have these numbers ever increasing into the winter.

Nationally, I think we have some positive light at the end of the tunnel on the vaccine front. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci thinks by the end of the year we will have a vaccine. That sounds good, but doesn’t help someone right now who is unemployed, or a small business owner who’s lost demand, at no fault of their own. We still have more to do. And that’s why in Congress we passed the Heroes Act.

RF: Since the death of George Floyd, we’ve seen protests around the country and conflict between communities and police. Peter Theron challenged you, in effect, to condemn violence that he saw accompanying a lot of these protests and some of the riots that followed. What would you say to that?

MP: He’s been challenging me to say somehow that Black Lives Matter is responsible, and they’re not. So unfortunately, I can’t comply with a request that’s not accurate or true.

But certainly no one wants violence, and we condemn all violence that happens at any of these situations. I’m going to try to do what’s right and all too often, a lot of these have been outside agitators. In Kenosha, the majority of arrests were not people from Kenosha.

What we really need to do is address the policing issues. We can pass a bill that would start changing how policing is done so that we recognize there is some inherent racism in many police officers and we’ve got to address that. That means we have to ban choke holds, we have to start a database of officers that do break the law.

I introduced legislation to have uniform training for police officers. The only thing that’s really uniform in most communities is you have a high school degree. From there, the training can vary greatly. That way everyone would know what to expect when you’re having an interaction with law enforcement.

But we have to admit that there is inherent racism in this country, that we have more to accomplish on that front.

RF: Turning to the economy. We took a big hit in this country from the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think still needs to be done to help rebuild?

MP: There’s a large number of people who are unemployed and a large number of small businesses that are really hurting because of a lack of demand, at no fault of their own — restaurants, bars, tourism. We’ve got to do more there.

We also need to have a major infrastructure package that we can invest in our roads and bridges and our schools, broadband and water delivery systems, our energy grids. Put people back to work who’ve been impacted by COVID-19, at the same time repair a crumbling infrastructure that we need in this country. There’s a lot we can do. With Joe Biden as president, we can certainly get those things done.

RF: The things you just listed sound expensive. We’ve already added a lot to our deficits even before COVID-19, more so with the CARES Act. Can we afford to do the things you’re talking about?

MP: Yes. First, we have to do it right now because of the situation, and government is in the best position to do it. But second, talking to economists, once you get the economy going, you will grow the tax revenues and help to reduce that deficit or debt that’s created. Right now, the only entity that can really do what needs to happen is government. Whether it be a COVID bill or an infrastructure bill, those are a couple of things that will pay off as investments in the long run.

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