Congressman Welch’s visit to SVC


On Wednesday, September 19, SVC was visited by Representative, Peter Welch, who has been Vermont’s only rep in the US congress for the past 12 years. He was invited here by Dr. Renee Merges for a Q and A session with her Criminal Law course. Though those students received extra credit for attending, the invitation was extended to the whole campus. .  For those that may not have been able to come, here is a run down on the questions that were asked, the answers that were given, as well as some of the select opinions the Congressman shared with the audience.

Q 1: Concerned the economy behind an “affordable” college education.

Welch: He began with a statement we can all relate to;“It’s pretty depressing” and “You get out of college and you have a mortgage without a house” and that this is an entirely political issue.

The congressman pointed to a recent 2.3 trillion dollar tax cut, which was given to the wealthiest Americans for the sole purposes of purchasing corporate stock, and that this was “the least productive use of [tax] money”. Despite this tax cut, Welch said the common consensus in Congress is that there is no money for education, implying that there would be if these tax cuts were not given to the wealthiest Americans.

Welch mentioned his colleague and Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders, aim towards free education for all, and that this is what he would like to see as well.

Q 2: Naturally flowing from the first question, a military student in the front row asked that if congress cut military funding, as has been discussed, couldn’t this money go towards making education more affordable?

Welch: Rep Welch’s first comment to this soldier was “Thank you”, before the conversation veered away from military budget cuts paying for education, and more towards the economic impact the military and the current situation in the Middle East has had on the US. Though Welch did say in a normal peacetime scenario, budget cuts could definitely mean more money for education, we are not in a normal peacetime scenario.

Welch explained that though in the eyes of the American public we are in a state of war, war has not been declared, explaining “we are at war, without being at war”. A declaration of war has to be voted on and approved of by Congress, and in such circumstances taxes increase in order to cover the economic impact war has on a nation. War has not been declared, so a tax cannot be imposed upon the people to cover national military spending for wartime. Due to this, the cost of military operations in the Middle East is going directly into debt, meaning any cut to the military spending would only reduce the debt, not provide unclaimed funds to be budgeted elsewhere.

Q 3: This question was very broadly posed as just, “the healthcare problem.”

Welch: “[The] problem with healthcare is it’s just too damn expensive,” was the first thing the congressman had to say. He then went on to explain,  “[w]hy congress is messed up” concerning healthcare:

  1. The Affordable Healthcare Act was passed. Welch himself was part of the committee to draft the bill, and he was part of the majority that helped to pass it.
  2. Sign it’s passing into law there have been 65 attempts made to repeal it, and Welch was part of many of these committees as well.
  3. When the bill was repealed it was sent to congress without anyone, aside from specific members of the committee who drafted it, having seen it;even though, 18 million Americans would be affected by its content.
  4. It passed after only 27 hrs with the consequence of 24 million losing healthcare.

This final piece (#4) stood in stark contrast to Welch’s own feelings on the matter who said we should “preserve what we have” and focus on cost, not repeals, and the only foreseeable solution was for their to be a bipartisan agreement on how to fix the broken Rx market.

Q 4: Branching off of coverage, the question of the moment was “what was the reason for the cost?”

Welch: The congressman revisited his stance on the pharma companies in the US and how it is a “broken monopoly market”.

  • He pointed to the fragmentation of the market (there are too many interests to what should be a rather cut and dry issue)
  • The battle of private insurance companies and for profit hospitals

He ended his thoughts by commenting that the US is the only government among the world’s wealthiest countries that does not step in for the people in regards to protection from pharma costs. Until the democrats take back the majority in Congress, there will likely be little done to combat Rx costs.

Q 5: Shifting gears away from big pharma and education, the next question was about the need for renewable energy sources.

Welch: Rep Welch stressed the need for the US to move to a clean energy economy, saying “it’s the future”. He pointed to creating an opportunity for economic growth, such as through his own sponsorship for a tax credit for electric vehicles. He did not specify whether he thought this credit should be extended to automakers, vehicle owners, or both.

He finished on the thought that the nation suffered from the “fear’ of making the adjustment from the reliance on carbon energy to clean energy.

Q 6: Continuing on clean energy, the next student asked about making the public aware of the hidden damage to the environment behind the production of clean energy.

Welch: He stressed the need for transparency, using the example of the attempt to move from burning gas to the production of ethanol made from corn during the Bush administration. It was quickly found that the production of the ethanol cost more energy than burning gas. Instead of continuing the production, the overall termination of the project and the reason why it had failed, needed to be known to the public.

Q 7: What should be done about the Lymes Disease and tick problem in VT? Should hunting restrictions be changed so there is less of a deer population?

Welch: He immediately stated that this was a state legislature problem, not necessarily something that he would deal with in Congress. He did mention though that he had heard that the swell in the tick population may, in part, be due to climate change.

Q 8: Congressman Welch began his visit with a discussion on criminal law and his own background as a public defender, so returning to that topic, the next student’s question was in regards to Vermont’s own incarceration problem. They referred to the 200 VT prisoners who were sent to a prison in Pennsylvania, where 4 of the 200 were killed; they were then relocated to a prison in Mississippi. The student asked if the recent move to legalize marijuana in the state may have been an attempt to decrease the population of VT prisons and if old cases and drug convictions would be revisited because of this law.  

Welch: Though Welch again commented that this is a state decision/issue, he did bring up a few of his own views on incarceration in the US.

  • There is an over reliance on incarceration as a means of punishment in the US
  • As Americans “we spend more keeping people in prison than going to college”
  • There needs to be an end to for-profit or private prisons

Q 9: Considering this, what are some alternatives to incarceration?

Welch: The first point he wanted to make is, that though it may not seem like it, crime rates are down from what they were throughout the 90s. He then emphasized that a great deal of crimes committed are drug related, and suggested that tackling/treating this issue would have a more positive impact than the lengthy prison sentences the justice system currently imposes. Some alternatives are more funds/treatment options for mental health in prisons and the development of penal options that could be imposed outside of a prison environment.

Q 10: The final question of the day was less of a question and more of a comment on Welch’s visit. Professor Tom Redden made the point that in this nation we often view politicians as dishonest and completely motivated by their own self interests. Vermont politics/politicians do not reflect this ideological view as often as others. He not only thanked Welch for taking the time to come here and visit with us, and making himself available to our comments and concerns, but also how fortunate we were for this opportunity, and that our state was represented by politicians like Welch who were concerned with what those he represents had to say.

Welch: “Can I bring you everywhere with me?”


This is only a broad summary on Welch’s visit. I will also be releasing an editorial review on Welch’s visit, including my own comments and personal views on the Congressman’s visit.