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  • While U.S. Rep. Jim Banks was looking at artwork inside the downtown Allen County Public Library on Monday, protesters were waiting outside. Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette

  • Protesters were on hand Monday to let U.S. Rep. Jim Banks know they didn't approve of his vote on the American Health Care Act last week. Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 1:00 am

Protesters greet Banks during library visit

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

About 25 people protested U.S. Rep. Jim Banks' appearance Monday afternoon at the downtown Allen County Public Library.

Banks, R-3rd, was at the library to see a display of area entries in the annual Congressional Art Competition for high school students and to meet with the two winners.

While he was inside admiring paintings, drawings and photographs from 32 students, poster-toting activists unhappy with the freshman lawmaker's early voting record lined the sidewalk on the south end of the library plaza.

“Repeal and Replace Jim Banks,” stated at least a couple of posters, a reference to Banks' vote last week in favor of repealing the federal Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. The Republican-controlled House approved the legislation on a 217-213 vote.

“The congressman has some things to explain to us, and he won't do it,” said Angola resident Judy Rowe, a 3rd District organizer for Indivisible, a nationwide movement resisting President Donald Trump's policies.

“Please don't vote for this, or tell us why it's a good thing,” Rowe said about Banks' support for the House health care bill. “We'll be respectful, but he owes us an explanation. His votes impact our lives in a big way.”

Fort Wayne resident Courtney Tritch, founder of a networking group called Progressive Social Hour, said House Republicans are “fiscally irresponsible” for “slamming through” the American Health Care Act before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office could estimate its cost.

“Even Senate Republicans are saying that bill is dead on arrival,” Tritch said.

“So it's not even a partisan issue. This is about whether this was a good bill or not and a good vote or not, and I don't think it was.”

Banks is among GOP House members from various states, including Ohio and Illinois, whose votes on Thursday have evoked protests and demonstrations, according to news media reports.

Banks told reporters inside the library: “I thought the bill as it passed out of the House was a good start, addressing many of the issues and concerns. Along the way, there were efforts to strengthen and protect coverage of pre-existing conditions, which I appreciate. I think there are probably more ways to strengthen it.”

Banks said he is “very confident” that Indiana's Medicaid expansion known as the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 will remain intact. The American Health Care Act would give states more flexibility over their Medicaid programs for insuring low-income residents, although the bill also would reduce Medicaid funding by $839 billion over 10 years.

Banks said the fact that HIP 2.0 architect Seema Verma has become administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “makes me very comfortable that we will continue to protect programs like what we have in Indiana.”

HIP 2.0 insures more than 400,000 Hoosiers. Unlike traditional Medicaid programs, HIP 2.0 requires beneficiaries to pay part of their medical expenses.

Banks challenged local protesters' claims that he has been inaccessible. He said he has been at nearly 100 events in his northeast Indiana district since taking office in January, including town hall meetings in Decatur and Portland.

“We are working the schedule to try to find dates to plan more open forums of that type. It's not something that I shy away from, but we are busy in the district doing the things that members of Congress do,” Banks said.

He said he toured the General Motors pickup assembly plant in southwest Allen County on Monday. With the House on break this week, Banks is scheduled to speak to the Huntington University Foundation, as well as at Bellmont High School and Rotary Clubs in Fort Wayne and Columbia City, where he lives.

Madelyn Foutz, a senior at Whitko High School, won Banks' 2017 Congressional Art Competition.

She will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to see her painting “Musing” hung in a Capitol Hill tunnel, where it will remain for a year.

The same contest is held in congressional districts across the nation.