SHERIDAN — Sen. Carl Levin may have had one of his busier weekends in Washington, D.C., in recent memory, but that didn’t stop him from making a scheduled stop in Montcalm County Saturday evening.
After a 13-hour process resulting in the first formal United States budget proposal in four years finally ended at 5 a.m. Saturday, Levin boarded a plane and flew back to Michigan with his sights on the VFW Hall in Sheridan for the eighth annual Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, hosted by the Montcalm County Democrats.
Nearly 100 supporters of the senator, such as Elwell resident Phil Ramsey, attended the dinner to hear him deliver what could possibly be his final message in Montcalm County after recently announcing he will not seek re-election in 2014 after more than 30 years of service.
“You have not seen the last of me, this is not a farewell party,” Levin said to a crowd. “I don’t feel comfortable over the next two years doing anything but keeping my nose to the grindstone.”
Levin said his decision not to run for re-election was made in large part because he wants to keep his focus on his job as opposed to putting priorities on running for re-election.
“Many of you have said that you are so sorry that I’m not running for re-election and I can only urge you to hold off being sorry for a year and three quarters, because I’ve got a hell of a lot of kick in me before I’m out of this office,” he said.
In a touching moment, Levin was presented with an original holographic pin featuring his own image, as well as that as former Democratic candidate for governor William Fitzgerald, from when they ran for election in 1978, Levin’s first term.
Ramsey was the one who discovered the pin, and though he couldn’t recall where or when he had come across the pin, he knew that Levin had his eyes on it.
“He’d been bugging me about it after I wore it to Huckleberry’s Restaurant one day when he was there. He’s offered to buy it from me a couple times now,” Ramsey said. “He really wanted it and we thought it would make a nice retirement gift.”
Levin accepted the gift, along with a homemade apple pie, and thanked everyone in the room for their continued support.
“This is what you call a high-tech pin, we fixed it to show my image two-thirds of the time,” he joked. “It’s worth a lot of money now, maybe 25 cents.”
Levin said he couldn’t stress enough how much the support from people in areas such as Montcalm County meant to him.
“I want to thank you all,” he said. “There are many people in this room who go back to the beginning. And I only want to look forward into the future, but I want to to thank you all for being there for me.”
During his 20-minute speech, Levin spoke on several topics he believes are crucial in the upcoming years.
One such issue was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or better known as “Obamacare.”
“The American public is divided on Obamacare,” Levin said. “But what they’re not divided on is the good parts of Obamacare. Some people worry about how we fund it and about the mandate, but there are so many pieces to Obamacare that the vast majority of the people like.”
Levin said those pieces include taking away power from insurance companies to deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance up to the age of 26.
“They like a lot of pieces to Obamacare, but Republicans are so anti-president, if it has the name “Obama” on it, they are going to vote against it,” he said.
Levin also spoke on the federal budget approved by the Senate in a 50-49 vote Saturday morning. Though the budget likely will not pass in the House of Representatives, Levin said the budget was still crucial for future negotiations and differentiated it to the plan presented by Congressman Paul Ryan.
“All the things the federal government does, with few exceptions, under (Sen. Paul Ryan’s) plan, would be cut by 20 percent,” he said. “You’d have seen massive cuts to education, health care, roads, environment and police protection.”
Levin said he believes the primary difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue is that instead of enforcing cuts, he believes the solution comes from raising revenues.
He added, however, that preventing cuts to government services comes at a cost.
“We have to pay for it, we cannot simply borrow, we know that,” he said. “The great difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this, the thing that differentiates us, is revenue.
“Republicans will say, ‘there they go again, raising your taxes,’ and that’s not true,” he added. “What we’re talking about is, there we finally go again, collecting taxes from people who have avoided paying taxes. That’s what this is really all about, closing loopholes.”
Most importantly, Levin said a compromise must be reached between the two parties in order for the country to move forward.
“I really, genuinely believe, that we are facing a point where we’ve got to find a way to bridge this incredible gulf between (Democrats) and Republicans, we’ve got to find a way,” he said. “It’s going to take leadership and compromise.”
Levin dismissed himself after speaking and was followed by guest speakers former state representative Mike Huckleberry of Greenville, Rep. Brandon Dillion, D-Grand Rapids, and Michigan State University Law Professor Mark Totten, who spoke on numerous political topics relevant to Michigan.
“In 2008, the senator helped us open up the Democrat headquarters in downtown Greenville,” Huckleberry said. “He’s been to Montcalm County at least six times since 2008. What an incredible honor, that a senator of his stature, would do that. I think that tells you what kind of person he is. He goes beyond being a politician, he’s a statesmen.”