JANESVILLE — Vice President Mike Pence today promised the Trump administration will grow the economy “faster than ever before,” calling the president “the best friend Wisconsin businesses will ever have.”

Pence spoke in Janesville today following a listening session with local business leaders and farmers, who he said shared “candid feedback” that he’ll take back to Washington.

The former Indiana governor said he and Trump “both know the sacrifices” business owners need to make, recalling his days as an attendant when he was 14 years old at the gas station chain his father ran.

“When small business is strong, America is strong, and we’re going to fight every day for small business,” Pence told employees and guests at the Blain’s Farm & Fleet distribution center.

Pence said Trump, a “president with broad shoulders and a big heart,” is already getting results, highlighting Ford’s decision to scrap a plant in Mexico and instead expand in Michigan. Trump signing off on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines will add thousands of jobs, Pence said, and companies around the country are announcing “they’re keeping jobs and creating new ones.”

He pointed out Harley Davidson officials visited the White House and that Trump wants to help grow companies like Harley or Farm & Fleet that are the “engines of our economy.”

Ahead of the speech, several protesters gathered outside the distribution center as cars were waiting to enter the fenced-in parking lot. Some carried signs that read “Resist” while others had signs supporting Obamacare and public schools.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, touted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act on a conference call with reporters. And she blasted Pence, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, both of whom attended the event.

“[They] are here not speaking to the average citizen in Janesville,” Kolste said, but to “a few donors” about a bill that “affects the middle class more than anyone.”

She also criticized the GOP for taking swipes at the ACA “without a viable alternative,” as well as misleading constituents into thinking Obamacare is “in a death spiral.”

“I think Republicans should concentrate on the health and well being of their constituents,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, also joined Pence, though Gov. Scott Walker did not attend. Walker was in Washington, D.C., yesterday to meet with the House GOP conference and could not make it back in time for the event, his office said earlier this week.

Still, Pence called Walker, who helped prep the vice president for last fall’s debates, one of his favorite elected officials in the country.

“What’s in the water here in Wisconsin?” Pence said.

He also thanked Wisconsin for supporting Trump — the first Republican to win Wisconsin since 1984 — and recognizing his “unshakeable faith in the American people.” Trump, he said, will “rein in unelected bureaucrats,” support law enforcement, rebuild the U.S. military and end illegal immigration “once and for all.”

But among his biggest messages was that the “Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”

Pence dismissed the protesters and activists at congressional town halls opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“The American people know Obamacare has failed and Obamacare must go,” Pence said.

He cited the 25 percent increase in premiums on ACA plans last year as just one of the “long list of broken promises” from Obama in pushing his health care law. Healthcare.gov enrollees are getting higher subsidies to curb the effects of the premium increases, which in Wisconsin averaged 16 percent.

Republicans, he said, will repeal the ACA with “something that actually works,” letting people buy health insurance across state lines, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions and giving states flexibilities to manage their health care programs.

The “incredible team” in the Trump administration and Congress, Pence said, is “putting the finishing touches on our plan.”

Before Pence spoke, Ryan ticked off names of some of the farmers and business owners who spoke at today’s roundtable. Pence got a chance to “hear straight from them” on the congressional agenda, Ryan said.

Ryan also credited Trump’s joint address to Congress on Tuesday for listing America’s top challenges and laying out solutions, saying that’s “what we need out of government.”

“We’re not going to duck or dodge America’s problems,” Ryan said. “We’re going to run at our problems.”

One of those top priorities, Johnson said, was addressing the “enormous challenges” of Obamacare and instead finding “patient-centered, consumer-driven solutions.” Price, meanwhile, said the administration’s goal is to ensure “nobody falls through the cracks.”

David Hauck, a 50-year-old Farm & Fleet receiving clerk, said Pence delivered a “positive message” aimed at fixing the healthcare system and getting “more money back in our own pockets.”

He said he supports Trump, because he doesn’t “beat around the bush and he ain’t scared to say what he thinks.”

“I’m ecstatic, man,” he said. “Nothing like this ever happened to me, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this.”

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