Montana's seniors and low-income children are two groups hit particularly hard by government gridlock, congressional candidate John Lewis said Monday in Billings.
Lewis spent the morning packing Meals on Wheels lunches at Adult Resource Alliance. He said seniors have paid the price for a Congress that operates in constant crisis mode and no longer tackles big issues thoughtfully.
"When Congress goes from crisis to crisis without solving problems, seniors and low-income kids are the ones who pay the price," said Lewis, to date the only Democrat seeking the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Steve Daines.
Politically, it’s been a pothole-riddled few years for meals on wheels. A year ago this week, nearly across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration trimmed 4 million meals nationally from senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels, according to the Meals on Wheels Association of America.
Sequestration was crisis born, brought about in 2011 as a concession to House Republicans who balked at raising the federal debt limit. That summer, the government risked defaulting on its loans if the debt limit wasn’t raised.
House Republicans agreed to go along with raising the debt ceiling, but only with the assurance that, one way or another, $1.2 trillion would be trimmed from the annual deficit over 10 years. They received that assurance from the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Under the act, a “super committee” was formed to make precise cuts to government spending, but the effort failed and sequestration’s automatic cuts kicked in. Medicaid, Social Security and war spending were spared cuts. Other programs like Meals on Wheels and Head Start for low-income children weren’t.
Lewis, who doesn’t have a primary opponent to worry about, said he will spend part the next few weeks listening to seniors around the state explain the challenges they face. A former state director for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Lewis is particularly interested in northeastern Montana where the oil boom has created some of the highest rental prices in the country.
Affordable rent in rural Montana has long been a plus for seniors, but oil boom communities are now seeing single rooms rent for $800 a month or more. That's put seniors on fixed incomes in a tough spot.
Also Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee identified Lewis’ campaign as one it would offer financial and strategic support under the “Red to Blue” program. It has been 17 years since a Democrat represented Montana in the House.
There are five Republicans vying for Montana GOP nomination: state Rep. Elsie Arntzen; state Sen. Matt Rosendale; former state Sen. Corey Stapleton; Drew Turiano; and former state Sen. Ryan Zinke.