Mary Clarkin The Hutchinson News

ELLINWOOD - They kept their powder dry.

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler/Hutchinson, addressed a Tuesday morning coffee for the Ellinwood Chamber of Commerce. Seated in the second row was Kent Roth, Ellinwood Chamber member and new candidate for Huelskamp's seat. The Republican primary contest is about six months away.

Huelskamp did not talk about the election. Roth bypassed multiple chances to ask Huelskamp questions.

Chamber Administrator J. Basil Dannebohm invited Huelskamp "to attend in his official capacity," said Huelskamp district scheduler Josh Bell.

"I think looking at him eye-to-eye, you have to be ultra careful," retired farmer Larry Panning said, suspecting Huelskamp was cautious in his remarks.

The purpose of the Huelskamp invitation was to give the rural community the opportunity to talk to Washington, Dannebohm said.

What Huelskamp heard included:

* Panning wanted to know what's on the horizon with the pending farm bill.

* Ellinwood District Hospital Chief Executive Officer John Hughes said physician supervision requirements are unreasonable for a two-physician hospital.

* Linda Borror, affiliated with a non-profit entity, voiced concern about Common Core Standards for education.

* Nurse Kara Brauer said she had a pre-existing health condition - no longer an obstacle getting health insurance - and she knew certified nursing assistants being paid about $9 to $11 an hour, and eligible for a subsidy under the health insurance law. She asserted "there are pieces" of the Affordable Care Act "that are desperately needed."

* Retired postmaster George Martin said there was another side to deregulation, saying he lost a lot of money when the deregulated savings and loan industry collapsed. He also said his 25-year-old daughter probably would have died without the Affordable Care Act.

The national health care law that Huelskamp calls Obamacare "just might be good," Martin said.

"We just disagree," Huelskamp said.

Huelskamp hammered at the health insurance law's impact on business. He's heard of businesses with 48 or 49 employees that don't want to hire the 50th employee and trigger health insurance mandates. He's also heard of full-time jobs reduced to part-time jobs.

Also, President Obama arbitrarily has granted exceptions or delays for some groups, Huelskamp noted.

Imagine if a President Romney had suspended parts of Obamacare, people would be up in arms, Huelskamp said.

Huelskamp said health care reform was needed but he favored a patient-centered approach.

The two-term Congressman said, critically, that the farm bill is being worked on behind closed doors, and 80 percent of the farm bill will be for food stamp funding.

"That will be a lost opportunity," he said.

He shared Borror's distaste for Common Core and criticized various federal agencies that impose unrealistic regulations.

Obama will talk about raising the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, to "distract us," Huelskamp said.

"We need to find a way to grow jobs," Huelskamp said. Every time they raise the minimum wage, the country loses jobs, he said.

Roth said later he favors the approach New Jersey voters took, tying the state minimum wage to cost of living, so wage hikes occur in the future.