Congressman Brad Wenstrup is excited to have secured a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, but he was equally happy to successfully wrap up a couple of issues on the Armed Services Committee before taking on his new role.
Wenstrup, a Republican who represents Ohio’s 2nd District, which includes Highland County, stopped by the offices of The Times-Gazette Friday morning, saying House passage of the VA MISSION Act and the National Defense Authorization Act were important to him before leaving the Armed Services Committee to join Ways and Means.
The defense authorization included four amendments introduced by Wenstrup, including one to require production of an intelligence report on Russian and Chinese interference in U.S. elections, and others focused on increasing military readiness by providing service members with gear designed to meet their needs while reducing injuries.
The VA MISSION Act is designed to streamline the Veteran Administration’s community care programs into one program, create a non-partisan process for reviewing VA assets, and expand the VA’s post-911 Caregiver Program to all eras. It also included a provision introduced by Wenstrup, the VA Provider Equity Act, designed to recruit and retain in-demand surgical specialists due in part to the increased use of IEDs in battle zones.
Wenstrup, a doctor, said his background and experiences will serve him well on Ways and Means, where he secured a position after two Ohio congressmen who were on the committee, Pat Tiberi and Jim Renacci, moved on — Tiberi to enter the private sector, Renacci to run for the U.S. Senate.
Wenstrup said there were also no doctors or health care providers left on the committee, in spite of the fact it deals with health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and welfare, along with taxation and trade.
When Wenstrup’s appointment to the committee was announced last week, Chairman Kevin Brady issued a statement saying, “Dr. Wenstrup is an excellent choice to join our committee. A decorated war veteran, small business owner, and doctor, Brad brings proven dedication to our country and invaluable experience to the team. I am excited to welcome Brad aboard as we take action to combat the opioid crisis, help move people off the sidelines and back into the workforce, and build upon tax reform to accelerate our economy.”
Wenstrup, a colonel in the Army Reserve and an Iraq war veteran, said he spent his first six years in Congress focused on veterans issues, but on Ways and Means he will be involved in issues that amount to “taking care of every American.” He is anxious to lend his voice and expertise to the problem of opioid abuse, including doing more to control over-prescribing by physicians and to ensure that people have opportunities to beat their addiction.
Wenstrup said the trend toward providing Narcan – an opioid inhibitor used to counteract the effects of an overdose — to those who abuse opioids is “a tightrope.”
“When you administer it… they’re free to go right back to it,” he said. He commended programs that intervene with addicts to direct them to the help they need, such as Highland County’s new Quick Response Team.
Wenstrup said the drug fight requires stopping drugs at the border, stopping dealers, and preventing people from starting drug use in the first place.
Wenstrup said fighting poverty is also a top priority, and was an issue he was involved with even before running for public office. He lauded the “Cincinnati Works” program, which “partners with all willing and capable people living in poverty to assist them in advancing to economic self-sufficiency through employment,” according to a program description.
He also praised the efforts of Julie Wise, director of Highland County Communication Action, for assisting families with finding better housing and nutrition. He recounted a local situation shared by Wise wherein a father could not work a job during a certain shift because, with a wife and six children living in a one-room apartment, there was no room for him to sleep when he came home. Wise found them a different home, eliminating a barrier and allowing the father to expand his work search.
Wenstrup said the farm bill supported by the GOP caucus provides more job training for poverty-stricken people, as well as a work requirement for welfare. “People are better off if they have a job,” he said.
Wenstrup praised President Donald Trump for his overall job performance, including his negotiating tactics with North Korea.
“He and his administration have gotten further than anyone in 50 years,” said Wenstrup, noting the suspension of North Korea’s missile firings and the possibility of a summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Wenstrup also praised Trump for gaining the recent release of American hostages held by North Korea, but said that development was “bittersweet” because of the earlier case of Otto Warmbier, another hostage who was held by North Korea and who slipped into a comatose state, which some believe was brought on by torture. Warmbier is from the Cincinnati part of Wenstrup’s congressional district.
“Otto didn’t come out so well” as the most recent hostages who were released, said Wenstrup. Warmbier died in June 2017, just a few days after his release and his return to the United States. Wenstrup praised Warmbier’s parents for handling their son’s tragedy “in a very appropriate way.”
Wenstrup noted that shortly after Warmbier’s death, North Korea was relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism. Warmbeir’s parents recently sued the North Korean government, accusing it of the torture and murder of their son.
Wenstrup gained national prominence last year when he rushed to assist Rep. Steve Scalise after a sniper opened fire at a congressional baseball practice. Scalise was severely wounded, and Wenstrup provided first aid, including applying a tourniquet.
Months later, on the House floor, Scalise said, “Who would’ve thought that God would’ve put Brad out there on that field with me because the tourniquet he applied – many will tell you – saved my life so that I could actually make it to the hospital in time with all the blood loss.”
On Friday, Wenstrup acknowledged the extra attention he’s received since then. But as far as the public acclaim goes, he compared the episode to one involving former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, also a doctor, who in 1998 provided immediate medical attention for two police officers who were shot inside the Capitol. Frist was lauded for his actions, but Wenstrup suggested few recall the incident now.
“So I keep it in perspective,” said Wenstrup.
Wenstrup and his wife, Monica, reside in Cincinnati with their two children. They also own a home at Rocky Fork Lake.
First elected in 2012, Wenstrup is seeking re-election this November to a fourth term against Democrat Jill Schiller and independent Steve Myers.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.