WASHINGTON — Freshman Congressman Bryan Steil, R-Wisconsin, got a real sense of how serious it is to work in the nation’s capital during his first day in office Thursday.
Steil, who now represents Wisconsin’s 1st District after it had been represented for two decades by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, was sworn into office at noon eastern time on Thursday and went right to work addressing the partial government shutdown.
Steil was sworn into office on his family’s Bible, which he borrowed from his 101-year-old grandmother. His parents and sisters attended his swearing-in ceremony.
Before officially taking office, Steil, who is Catholic, said “hello” to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, briefly at a prayer service on Thursday morning at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., before Pelosi was herself sworn in for her second term as Speaker of the House.
Aside from that brief moment, Steil had not spent time talking with Pelosi on the issues, Steil said during a phone call to The Journal Times at about 8 a.m. Thursday.
“What we need to do is figure out a way to come together to substantively reopen the government,” Steil said. “There’s a lot of talk of whether or not there will be votes for show or whether or not we’re going to have a substantive conversation to reopen (the government). A lot of that is going to ultimately be in the hands of the Senate and the president.”
Steil said if a bill is passed in the House to reopen the government it must be something that the Senate and President Donald Trump can support.
“If we’re just shooting things over to the Senate for it to die there, that’s not really productive as much as that is just making a show,” Steil said. “What I’m focused on is being productive and how do we actually sit down and get this government open.”
The House late Thursday passed a stop-gap funding bill by a margin of 239 to 192. Five Republicans joined with Democrats to pass it. Steil voted against the package.
The wall and health care
The main issue that caused the partial government shutdown has been on funding for a wall along the United States southern border, an issue Trump campaigned heavily on and is demanding.
Steil said Thursday morning he does agree that there should be increased funding for border security.
“I think that it’s important that we do secure the border and I think that there are multiple aspects of that and the wall is a key component of that,” Steil said. “There’s technological ways you can do that, there’s manpower that’s required, there’s also physical barriers that’s required.”
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Once the government is open, Steil said the most pressing issue Congress will face will be on lowering the cost of health care and increasing the quality.
“That’s going to be something that we have to address as we see the costs under the Affordable Care Act continue to escalate,” Steil said. “From the House perspective, a lot of this is going to be in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and how she wants to govern. And I think that’s going to be one of the very telling things early on.”
But with Democrats in the majority in the House, Steil said he does not think a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act is going to happen during this Congress.
“I do think there’s going to be requirements to address specific aspects that have an impact on allowing us to lower the cost of health care,” Steil said. “I do think it’ll be a little more nuanced than a full repeal and in each one of those (bills) I’ll be analyzing and saying ‘Does this help people in southeast Wisconsin? Does this help people in Racine?’ If it does you vote ‘yes,’ if it doesn’t you vote ‘no.’”
One area of health care that Steil believes has bipartisan agreement is on price transparency. In a basic sense, price transparency is the idea that patients and doctors know the cost of medication or procedures before agreeing to them.
Steil said that’s an idea that both parties can support.
“That’s just good governance,” Steil said. “We have large sections of our economy in health care where price transparency is not available. We need to make sure that we find ways to alter that structure to make health care costs transparent.”
Working with Pelosi
During the campaign, Steil went after Pelosi, slightly, for her positions on issues like health care, but Steil said while he’s in office he plans to not use politics as a reason to attack another elected official personally.
“My challenge is to ideas and that’s a healthy debate to have,” Steil said. “My view, and the path forward for our country, is in contrast to that of Nancy Pelosi’s, but that doesn’t mean that I dislike the person. And I think that’s where sometimes politics goes askew where it should be a battle of ideas and I think a battle of ideas is a healthy battle.”
Steil said politics “doesn’t need to be a battle of people.”
“When I fight for the beliefs that I have, I’m fighting for ideas and the direction we want to take this country,” Steil said. “I’m not fighting against an individual on a personal level.”
“When I fight for the beliefs that I have, I’m fighting for ideas and the direction we want to take this country. I’m not fighting against an individual on a personal level.” U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville