University News

R.I. Senator discusses health care, pollution

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the current turbulent political landscape and his hopes for both the country and the state he represents in an event hosted by the Brown Democrats last night in Wilson 101. Whitehouse touched on topics including transportation issues and health care. 

Whitehouse spoke about bills he has supported that have met Republican opposition. When asked about the likelihood of Democrats uniting consistently to support legislation backed by Republicans, Whitehouse stressed that Democrats will fight for their ideals. “It depends on how extreme (the Republicans) want to be,” Whitehouse said. Despite Republican resistance, Whitehouse has continued to push for his major legislative objectives, such as the reauthorization of transportation funding, which he believes could provide more than 10,000 jobs for Rhode Island. 

Whitehouse also supports legislation to improve air quality. Radio stations warn Rhode Islanders to stay indoors due to bad air days, Whitehouse said, which are caused by increasing ozone contamination. He warned of rising sea levels that will force future dislocation. “People are going to say that all of this is preventable,” Whitehouse said, and environmental problems will be the “biggest mark in history against us.”

Whitehouse criticized congressional inaction on other issues. “There is plenty to do, and we’re not really measuring up right now,” Whitehouse said, pointing to the current health care debate and transportation funding. Due to the prevalence of the filibuster, Republicans demand a high price for cooperation. Whitehouse said Republicans used to filibuster things they were against, while now they filibuster legislation they support, adding that these tactics mean major issues are often never addressed.

During the question and answer period, Whitehouse spoke about the current debate on women’s issues. “It’s a war,” Whitehouse said, quoting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA. Whitehouse touched on what he views as a shift in the judiciary to more conservative views, and in response to questions regarding the Trayvon Martin case, said he believed it is not fitting to pass judgment without knowing all the facts.

Shawn Patterson ’12, president of the Brown Democrats, called the event a success. Whitehouse’s responses were often comical, and he was amenable to all questions directed to him. “I feel like it went well and covered a wide array of topics,” Patterson said. “It’s an opportunity for students to meet elected officials and get a gut feeling on who you want representing you.”