Inside a conversation with Congressman Dean Phillips
Washington, DC, March 18, 2020 | Benilde St. Margaret's Knight Errant
Sitting at a folding table in a dimly lit room, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips explained his plans regarding healthcare, education, and gun control. For the freshman congressman, these issues are not just topics he cares about, they are issues his constituents care about as well. As the 2020 election approaches, Phillips has been working to make himself accessible to constituents of the third district, as well as represent their needs in Congress.
Phillips prides himself on being accessible to his constituents. Yet, he feels there are politicians who do not have the same open doors for constituents and do not allow for voices to be heard. But, this is not an issue he sees as apolitical, rather he sees it as systematic. To fix this problem, he proposes that there be a term limit for politicians. “I do think it changes behavior,” Phillips said. “When people realize they won’t be there forever, they act with a little bit more intention and authority and more expeditiously… It would open congress up in particular to people who want to participate, who simply are waiting for someone who has been there for literally decades.”
He believes the term limits are something that could lead to more legislation and remove the deadlock that often consumes policymaking. One of these issues being gun control. He knows that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has bills that are ready to vote, but Majority Leader McConnell will not let them be heard. “I say shame on them. Because we do have a problem, and if we want to have a thoughtful conversation we have to start with gun violence prevention… I’m a gun owner, I’m not proposing we take guns away from everybody. I think most gun owners agree that people who are most likely to misuse those guns should be prevented from having them… That doesn’t seem improper. But if we are not going to be able to get to a point to have the conversation, those who are standing in the way are responsible,” Phillips said. “We did afford resources to the CDC to study the issue, that’s a beginning. We should make every decision based on evidence.”
While continuing to work on issues such as gun control, Phillips has strived to ensure individuals are safe through other policies, one of which being healthcare. Recently, the US Supreme Court announced that the justices will take on a case “deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act.” Phillips sees this case as another strategy on behalf of the
administration to remove the Affordable Care Act (ACA), partially because it is a legacy of former President Barack Obama. “How are we going to defend it? Protecting pre-existing conditions, expanding reinsurance programs so that we see the premium costs stay under control, and I don’t think the ACA is enough,” Phillips said. “Not only should we just protect what exists, I think we should expand it. Right now there still are millions of people that don’t have health insurance. The individual mandate was taken away and that is disadvantageous… There were lots of individual Americans that had coverage before that don’t have it now… I want to see the public option added to the ACA.”
Although Representative Phillips wants Americans to be insured, he does not believe in the elimination of private insurance and a government-only plan, something popularized by 2020 presidential candidates such as former candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren or current candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. “This is a country in which people [have worked] so many generations to ensure that people have freedom to make choices. This is a perfect example of how we can do just that. By allowing private insurance to be competitive and provide competitive options, but for those who want a public program, there’s one available. That to me is how you find this intersection between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans want freedom to choose… Democrats want everyone covered,” Phillips said. “What better way to do so than to have that option available. For those who cannot afford any coverage whatsoever, we have to be a nation of compassion and ensure that through Medicaid and perhaps other programs that everybody is covered.”
Another issue in which Phillips does not side with the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party is education. Rather than free public college, Phillips believes it would be better to reward service with affordable education. He supports the notion of the GI Bill, which he views as an incentive to get people to fulfill certain needs and then reward them with education for their service. “That’s why I like the idea of service, either domestic service… either military service or Peace Corps, or overseas service. In return for that, I think we should reward young people who want a higher education… The same way we did so with those in the service with the GI Bill,” Phillips said. “We need to identify the jobs that affect the public; rural healthcare, teachers, even firefighters, police officers, and law enforcement are really struggling. If we can identify areas that have need for the public and reward people with perhaps reduced costs or benefits to achieve their education. There is a way through the public sector and the private sector to do a much better job. For those who have to take on debt, where there’s a lot of debt or a little, to ensure that they are paying the lowest interest rates possible, so it’s as affordable as possible.”
Along with having a plan for college affordability and other options, Phillips has an approach that he believes would change public education. He believes one of the best ways to improve education would be to fully fund government mandates, something which his website states as “one of Dean’s top priorities when it comes to education. One of these mandates being the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act. “IDEA is really important, it’s a promise from the federal government to provide dollars for spending for special education funding,” Phillips said. “Because it’s not being fulfilled, in the third district we have to make up 150 million dollars a year. If we had that 150 million dollars a year coming from the federal government, we could use that money that we are now relying on our district to come up with, for better programs for students, better benefits for teachers, more resources to take care of kids… The federal government I think should set some standards, have some accountability, ensure kids are being protected and served.”
Quickly returning to education from a previous topic, Phillips made a point to share that he would like to redesign the education system. Stating that he recently met with a group of teachers and staff in a round-table discussion about education in Minnesota. A topic Phillips noticed was creating an education system meant to teach in the 21st century; not the 19th century. “[The redesign would be] using experiential learning ideas. Kids increasingly are struggling sitting in a classroom and teachers are struggling standing in the classroom. So how do we get kids to learn from experience rather than someone just talking at them,” Phillips said.
With all these topics being at the forefront of Phillip’s agenda, it has led to pressure from constituents to endorse a candidate for president. Previously, he had supported Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar for President, but after her drop from the race, he is not planning to follow the Senator’s lead and endorse former Vice President Joe Biden, but he is not planning on endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders either. “I have not spoken with the Vice President since Amy Klobuchar dropped out… what I want to leverage is the importance of campaign finance reform,” Phillips said. “I will make a decision about endorsement once I can have a conversation. But at this time, no plans but that could change.”