It's a daily, if not hourly, occurrence that Congressman Markwayne Mullin said he's asked a simple question—"Why can't you all just get along."
For seven years he answered the question the exact same way. Now, though, things are different.
"Something like 80% of the questions are why can't you all just get along? For the previous seven years I almost always said "Well how many members of congress can you name and I never could get anybody that could name 10. So I'd say 'you're basing your analogy on those 10 people when there's an additional, counting the senators, 525 of us. We actually do get along.' But that's not my answer now," Mullin said in an exclusive with the Progress. " My answer now is - it's the worst I've ever seen it."
He said, "Some of us do get along but the parties don't even kind of get along. The hatred towards the president is not just affecting the relationship with the democrat party who is unfortunately leading the house right now and the relationship with the president, it's affecting any kind of bipartisanship we could possibly do on working together to move the country forward. Putting our bitterness towards each other aside and moving towards the betterment of the country."
He said he's always felt he had strong bipartisan relationships but that now it's difficult to build new relationships across the aisle.
"It's very disturbing," he said. "I talked to Sen. Inhoffe, we had a heart-to-heart. That man is a very strong mentor and friend of mine and I think of him like a grandfather to me. He said 'Markwayne, don't get so jaded about what's happening right now to effect you in the future. It's not always going to be like this. There was a time bipartisanship was strong. I believe it will come back one day.' I believe he's right, but that's not getting the type of coverage it should right now. Everything is about the president, the president, the president."
When asked what's being done to heal these wounds and work towards bipartisan relationships right now, the congressman said simply: "Nothing."
"There isn't anything done," he said, going on to name a few legislators, himself included, that are working together.
"Some of us are trying to do these bi-partisan reach outs just to show people that just because we disagree publicly doesn't mean we can't agree to disagree. We make decisions based on two things—our life experiences and the way we were raised. The way you were raised will never change. But your life experiences do. When we get into office we base our decisions off those and we get elected to represent our back yard. Well, District 2 of Oklahoma is different from Hawaii and different from Boston. When we start making these decisions sometimes we need to take a step back and asking 'how are you making these decisions?' If it's based on core values you can't fault anyone- but we should have an open debate and see if their life experience can change," he said.
"Right now we're so polarized with hatred, you can't even have these conversations. That's not going to change until we get past this presidential election and we can move on as a country and not try to burn the house down because we hate somebody that's in the White House."
Surprise billing, insurance costs and healthcare woes
When asked what the top priority issue should be, Mullin said surprise billing, prescription costs and the healthcare industry as a whole.
"We need to pay attention to that and be asking our selves "Are the regulations we have passed in healthcare helping or hurting the industry? Is it causing prices to be passed on to the consumer?"
He said typically when someone has to comply with a federal or state regulation they have a cost and that cost gets passed on to the consumer.
"We are seeing our prices go through the roof right now. We need to be asking our questions, what is effective and what isn't' when it comes to regulating the industry. When we go past that, we need to ask ourselves, that is the best care that we need? Is it something that we have a health care that's one size fits all? No. It' needs to be individual choices, we need to make those decisions. It's almost gotten to the point that it's not affordable.," he said. "Now, 20% of all emergency room visits now get what's called surprise billing—meaning it's above and beyond their insurance. Their insurance isn't going to cover it because this person, this hospital, this department was out of network. Prescription drug prices are going through the roof and it's happening at a disproportionate rate….it effects every single individual. I don't care who I am talking to, they have experienced surprise billing, their insurance being so expensive and not covering what it used to—we all have this in common."
He said no solutions are being found—"Since they brought in Obamacare and forced it on so many of us this has been such a polarizing subject we haven't been able to get anything done because of it. "
But politics need to be set aside so that this can be the top priority, he said.
"We need to do a deep dive and figure out what's costing so much. Is it that the industry is running rogue? Maybe.
Is the insurance running rogue? Are they charging the consumers too much then slicing their prices to the hospital and doctors..? Is it the prescription drug prices? Or is it the federal government's fault because we've over-regulated the industry. Are we stifling the industry and making it so expensive for them to do business that they have to pass that on to the consumer," he said.
Truth be told, Mullin said, the federal government owns this one.
"I would be willing to say the federal government owns these price issues—from the prescriptions, to the insurance, to the hospital, to the surprise billing. I think we own it because we've over-regulated it so much that they are having to push those prices on to someone else. There's less people competing for our business, there's less insurance on the exchange. In Oklahoma we have Blue Cross & Blue Shield. Who else is competing for our business? No one. We're losing local pharmacies every day. We need to take a deep dive to see what is working, what isn't working, and how can we do what the government's job is to do. Our job in the federal government is to create an environment where entrepreneurs can create jobs. That's what has made this country great since it's foundation. But what we try to do in Washington D.C. is over-regulate and in my opinion that's what we've done," he said.
'Show me your budget, show me your values'
The congressman recently released a statement on President Trump's budget proposal.
Of the proposal, Mullin said: "I think it reflects the President's business approach. He's a business guy first and foremost. There's a lot of good things in there and some things we're going to change. The point of the budget is to tell Congress what his priorities are. Obviously the house representatives, we set the budget. That's our job. We haven't done a very good job at it at all lately."
He said the proposal reflects the president's "commitment to fiscal responsibility by shrinking the federal government, stopping wasteful spending and providing a path to a balanced budget."
Mullin said he was happy to see in the proposal that the president expanding veteran care in Oklahoma.
"We were very excited to see that, it was a strong statement to say in Ok we're doing everything we can to take care of our veterans there," he said.
What have been the successes of our country's leadership? What are the failures?
"USMCA was a huge win that replaced NAFTA, our trade deal with Mexico and Canada, that was a huge deal for Oklahoma. That brought some stability to our oil and gas industry. It brought a lot of stability to our agriculture community and ag production. There's a lot of things in NAFTA that had a negative effect. When it went into effect we lost factories in Oklahoma to Mexico, and now we're going to see some of those jobs come back. It's a win-win for us, for Mexico, for Canada," he said. "Even in all this partisan bickering going on —we still saw the president being able to work through the trade deal with USMCA and signing the trade deal with China."
Mullin continued, "The president has been saying he's going to make America great again and that's about bringing jobs back to the United states and Oklahoma has been a big recipient of that."
"The biggest failure is the partisanship, the bickering—it brought out the worst in us. We used impeachment, for the first time in the history of the great United States, for a political purpose. He is the first president to ever be impeached and never committed a crime," Mullin told the Progress. "It's just plain hatred towards the president. They want to get rid of him at all costs."
Thank you, constituents
Mullin, speaking to the Progress from a medical facility waiting room where he's attending to his son who was recently sustained a wrestling injury, had a message for his constituents.
"Thank you, everyone, for the prayers during this time. He's got a long road. It's so awesome to represent a district that believes in the power of prayer. We feel it every day and they're understanding knowing my priorities are God, family, then everything else."