Kalispell’s Al Olszewski bills self as ‘activist’ senator

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Al Olszewski

Dr. Al Olszewski sat down with the Daily Inter Lake editorial board Tuesday to discuss his campaign for U.S. Senate.

His name is likely familiar to many Flathead Valley residents. Originally from Great Falls, Olszewski worked as an orthopedic surgeon in Kalispell for two decades. He’s also represented the area in the Montana House from 2014 to 2016, and in the state Senate since 2016.

He, Russell Fagg, Troy Downing and Matt Rosendale all aim to unseat Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., this November. Undaunted by his challengers, Olszewski said that “my goal and my intent is to become Montana’s next United States Senator, not to become part of a club, but to do something.”

During the interview, he discussed multiple policy areas in need of action. In his view, progress will require moving the Senate away from the filibusters and massive stopgap spending bills of recent years, and returning it to “regular order.”

“We need an activist who is a senator, and it’s easier to be that voice if you’re in the ruling party, if you’re in the controlling party and willing to buck your own leadership.” He identified Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, as independent-minded statesmen he would like to join in challenging Senate leadership.

Turning to specific issues, Olszewski said that the Affordable Care Act’s passage prompted him to enter public policy. Montana is one of 32 states that expanded Medicaid under the law, and the doctor sees problems in that step.

“We’ve used a broken system to expand health care for the lower middle class and the poor...We’re destroying Medicaid for those who need it,”

He also claimed that the expansion’s cost was taking funding from other areas. “We’re balancing how we pay for Medicaid expansion right now, by taking away services from developmentally disabled, our elderly and our poor.”

Not all observers agree with this assessment. A recent study from the University of Montana found that the savings of Medicaid expansion, plus increased revenue from its economic benefits, far outweigh its costs. However, it foresees these gains dropping in future years.

Meanwhile, state health officials announced this month that almost 94,000 Montanans have received coverage through the Medicaid expansion.

“Can we fix (the Affordable Care Act) and find some kind of a common area for insurance for these people?”, Olszewski asked. “We need to ... and the way we do that is, we need to be able to make it more affordable.

“We have to have better product choice and higher competition,” he continued. “We also have to try to let the states regulate health insurance again.”

Olszewski also wants to restrict the federal government’s ability to borrow. He worries that the U.S. national debt, if unchecked, “is going to collapse our system,” and supports a “balanced budget amendment” to the Constitution.

Such an amendment ”probably means we’re going to have to raise taxes,” he acknowledged. “Everyone’s going to have to have skin in the game.”

“If I’m going to ask for me or for you to pay more in taxes, I’m going to ask my mom and my dad to take a little bit less in their fixed Social Security fund,” he said.

While Olszewski is concerned about the nation’s fiscal health, he backs President Trump’s recent tax cuts, expected to reduce federal revenues by about $1.5 trillion over ten years.

“My hope and my prayer is ... that by changing the tax law we’re actually going to move up our GDP,” he said. “We know that for every 1 percent change in GDP, that adds $3 trillion of revenue into our system.”

As the Daily Inter Lake reported last month, many other Republicans predict that the tax cuts will pay for themselves by spurring economic growth and increasing revenues. Several independent analyses have found otherwise.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Olszewski said the federal background check system needs to be strengthened, and spoke approvingly of placing armed personnel in schools. He made clear that individual school districts should decide on these policies, and that the state and federal governments should support them financially.

But individuals, he stressed, were ultimately responsible for violent acts, a belief that fits his underlying belief in personal accountability.

“We need to have a conversation, whether it’s about guns, [or] it’s about opioids, [about] who gets to make decisions about how you live. Who takes responsibility for those decisions?”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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