This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A town hall meeting with Congressman Rokita

On Tuesday evening Congressman Todd Rokita had a town hall meeting in Rensselaer. I had never attended a town hall meeting so I thought it would be fun to go. Below is what I heard. Naturally, my account may not be identical to those of other people who attended.

The meeting was held at the Ritz Theater. I was surprised at how many people were there--my eyeball estimate was that a quarter of the seats were occupied. I like the Ritz as a movie theater--the pictures high on the walls are fun--but not for this kind of event. The theater is designed to be dark, and I prefer a setting that is lighter. On entering the theater, the web page from usdebtclock.org was being projected on the movie screen.

After some introductions and the reading of Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the main event, questions from those attending, began. A member of Rokita's staff handed a microphone to each person who had a question so everyone could hear.

The first question was about entitlements. What is an entitlement and is defunding Obamacare the right way to deal with it? Rokita pointed out that about 60% of federal expenditures are locked into place and that the budget process only affects about 40% of spending, what is called discretionary spending. The audience revealed that it did not like Obamacare. Rokita mentioned a factory in the district that was exporting its product and  had the demand to expand, but it would not go over 50 employees so it would not be subject to the employer mandate. He also said that it was trying to fill as many positions as possible with part-time employees working under 30 hours a week. I did not understand why they would do both--if you stay under 50 employees, what is the incentive to have part-timers?

The second citizen asked about the inheritance tax, which he did not like. Rokita shared his distaste for the inheritance tax.

I did not understand the next question, about critical access hospitals and a threat to them from changes in health care rules. Rokita did not know details and gave a general answer, saying he would like more transparency in medical pricing.

A question about immigration prompted a response that the problem was not just that the border was porous. 40% of illegal aliens came legally and overstayed their visa. There is a need for a reasonable program for guest and seasonal workers.

A person from Highland, which is not in our congressional district, asked about Common Core. Rokita has worked on legislation that passed the house that would replace the No Child Left Behind bill, which he said had outlived whatever usefulness it ever had. To a question on voter ID, Rokita pointed out that he had worked on Indiana's voter ID law when he was Indiana Secretary of State. In response to a question on the farm bill, he said that he supported the two bills that had come up in the house because he thought they were somewhat better than the current program.

He liked a question about the budget process. He explained how the system was supposed to work, with congress passing a budget that then became the framework for appropriation bills. However, that process has not been working because for several years the Senate would not pass a budget. This year they finally did. Funding for the discretionary programs is being done with continuing resolutions.

There was a question about some palliative care bills making their way through the legislative process. Rokita said that he was not familiar with those particular bills but, as he did when he did not have a full answer, he had a staff member get the name of the person asking the question and said his office would find out more. He said that he would not support the bills if they were asking for new spending, but probably would if they were redirecting spending from other purposes.

He also promised to get back to a vet who complained that the Veterans Administration does not pay for emergency care that is provided by regular hospitals. A questioner wanted followup on an answer earlier where Rokita had talked about a company that did not want to go above 50 employees. Was the company not currently offering health insurance and was it just trying to avoid adding this benefit? Rokita said that since they had talked about how much their health insurance costs were rising this year, they were currently offering health insurance. President Obama's assurance that if you like your current health insurance, you can keep it, turned out not to be true.

A person with Crohn's disease said that he could not afford the expensive co-pays for his medication. Rokita said that there was no good answer to some health care problems. Then a citizen had a rant about the IRS and other things. Rokita said that sometimes the problem is that Congress passes the buck, and instead of doing things that are politically unpopular, they give the task to the administration to write the rules. So part of the problem with administrative overreach is Congress.

The next citizen was outraged by President Obama's travel expenses and asked just how far can he go before people object. Rokita observed that elections have consequences. The voters re-elected Obama and if you are truly unhappy with the state of affairs, work harder next election.

To a question on the EPA, Rokita said he was skeptical of alarmist global warming theories. Another citizen voiced concern about the need to get something done about the farm bill because the present bill expires at the end of September.

A Rensselaerian said there was a dark side to the accountability movement in education. It had led to excessive testing and it was cutting into the ability of teachers to teach. There was also a sentiment expressed and applauded that Congress should be subject to the same provisions of Obamacare that it has imposed on the rest of us.

The subject of wasteful defense spending was the subject of a question that touched on unneeded M1 tanks and the lack of preparation for an EMP attack or event. Rokita said that politics trumps sound decisions because the Pentagon has its fingers in every district with some program that creates local jobs. He thought that the most inviting target of waste in the Pentagon was the oversized bureaucracies. He also acknowledged that the Republicans are more responsible for Defense Department waste than are the Democrats.

The penultimate question asked if the Washington Republicans understand where the base is on the issue of immigration. The final question was a rant against immigration, asking why illegal Mexicans get everything free. Rokita reject the facts of the rant and said that in the case of emergency medical care, free service was the compassionate choice.

1 comment:

Dave Vohlken said...

It's interesting how often elected members of the U. S. Congress shy away from identifying their party affiliation of late. Ashamed of what they're doing?