Top 3 Priorities: 'Jobs, Jobs, Jobs'
Congressman Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, tells a town-hall meeting in Cartersville that the GOP approach to creating employment is to cut corporate taxes and regulatory costs.
We're live at the town-hall meeting for Rep. Phil Gingrey at the Clarence Brown Conference Center in Cartersville. We have a packed room with about 50 people.
1:30 p.m. The congressman closes the meeting on the Obamacare question, although he hangs around to answer individual questions. His next stop will be in Kennesaw at the Ben Robertson Community Center at noon Thursday.
1:26 p.m. The last questions come from an insurance man. He asks about life insurance and health insurance for minors, and he wants to know where the effort to overturn Obamacare stands.
Gingrey: "Where do we stand today?" He says the first vote of this Congress was to pass H.R. 2 to repeal the Obama health care bill, but the Senate has not voted on it. Obamacare is the law of the land, Gingrey says. It won't be fully phased in until 2014. Rules and regulations are being written based on the law. Money is being spent without Congress' control.
He turns to the lawsuits against the health care law, focusing on the mandated purchase of insurance. The constitutional question revolves around whether the federal government can order commerce. The 11th Circuit has agreed it is unconstitutional; the issue will go to the Supreme Court in the session starting in October.
"We will get a decision before the affordable care act is fully implemented," Gingrey says. He thinks that provision is unconstitutional.
1:24 p.m. A woman asks whether Gingrey will support the passage of the Equal Pay Act.
Gingrey says he has to read the whole bill before committing to a particular vote. "I am for equal pay for equal skills, and certainly I am not in opposition to that."
1:22 p.m. Next question: What can this Congress do to respond to a president who has circumvented Congress? "I haven't heard where anyone has stood up to this man."
Gingrey picks up on the questioner's mention of the incandescent light bulb being outlawed, and he says the House did pass a bill allowing the traditional light bulb to be produced. That bill is in the Senate.
Gingrey says he understands the man's frustration.
1:18 p.m. A Towne Lake resident, and thus a future Gingrey constituent under the current redistricting plan, calls for the House to be more aggressive at passing good legislation even in the knowledge that it will die in the Senate or on the president's desk. Among other things, he mentions zeroing out the Environmental Protection Agency's budget.
Gingrey says he doesn't want to eliminate the EPA. Protecting the air and water is important to all of us, he says. "But you cannot let these federal bureaucracies run amok."
1:13 p.m. Doug Redmond of Cartersville says he thinks what bothers him the most about Congress is that members don’t apply the law to themselves. He cites the lack of cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits while members of Congress got raises.
Gingrey says it's all tied to the Consumer Price Index. He says $200 payments have been made the past few years to help seniors who weren't receiving increases in benefits.
Redmond says his complaint is that Congress passes things like health care reform but exempts itself, and Gingrey says they agree on this point.
1:11 p.m. Next question: "Are there discussions about reducing the pay of all federal employees, and if not, why not?"
Gingrey says there have been a number of bills introduced to do just that, including cutting the pay of members of Congress, whose pay has been frozen for two or three years. Cutting federal employees’ pay has been discussed but not passed.
Gingrey says federal workers on average have a 4-to-3 edge in salary and benefits compared with equivalent workers in the private sector. “We cannot afford that.”
1:08 p.m. A woman asks her fellow seniors: "Are we going to let the Democrats frighten us to death so we vote for Obama?"
1:04 p.m. J.M. Prince says the GOP jobs plan is essentially the same, cutting taxes and regulations. But Prince says the regulatory burden of $10,585 a year is less than it would cost to hire someone. Prince suggests instead a cut in the payroll tax to spur hiring. He also criticizes cutting the Stafford Loan program. Prince also suggests instituting term limits and encouraging the states to hold conventions to create a balanced budget amendment instead of waiting for Congress to act.
Gingrey says he's not opposed to student loans, but he doesn't think throwing more money at college costs is the answer. "We need to rein in the colleges," he says, because they just keep raising prices to soak up increasing student aid.
Gingrey acknowledges that he needed student loans to attend medical school. The deal was that he either paid the money back with interest upon graduation or instead went to work in small, underserved town for five years. He wound up having to take a bank loan to pay back the student loan because he went to work in South Carolina instead.
1 p.m. The next speaker, who’s from Paulding County, encourages Gingrey to continue efforts not to increase the size of government and not to raise taxes, but he suggests increasing the payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare. “We’ve got to get more people with skin in the game, so to speak, paying taxes.” He also talks about water problems in Georgia and asks for an update on the water wars.
Gingrey says the water, of course, originates in the state of Georgia. He recaps how Alabama and Florida complain when water is kept from flowing freely downstream to them. The lawsuit is winding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Gingrey says.The District Court ruled against Georgia. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and said human consumption is allowed, but it will eventually wind up at the Supreme Court, Gingrey says. "It's going to be incumbent on the three governors ... they have got to get together and work out an agreement on how the water is shared."
He adds: "It's all about economic development."
A three-state agreement would easily pass Congress, Gingrey says.
As for raising payroll taxes, Gingrey says the 2.9 percent payroll tax for Medicare has no cap, while the Social Security tax does have a cap of about $110,000 of annual income. "That's something that I think we have to look at."
Gingrey says members of Congress can't be afraid of being thrown out of office by the senior-citizen voting bloc. Something has to be done, he says. The Republican budget proposal in the spring addressed Medicare but not Social Security, Gingrey says. People younger than 55 would be given an amount of money for medical care that would increase each year as the person aged. The money would go directly to the insurer.
Gingrey says he has been on Medicare for four years but obviously still has a job and thus doesn't need as much support for health care costs.
12:48 p.m. Joshua Fisher, a 19-year-old unemployed man who can’t afford to go to college, asks: Why can’t we afford loans to potential college students, not handouts, when the United States gives away so much money to foreign nations and spent so much on the civil war in Libya?
Gingrey talks about the Pell Grant and various federal student loan programs but says you have to be careful not to encourage students to borrow more than they need or can pay back. He says he thinks the government is spending enough on student loans.
As for the wars such as Libya, the congressman says he was not in favor of getting involved in Libya, and he acknowledges the high costs of Iraq and Afghanistan.
12:44 p.m. Next question: What is the Republicans' job bill?
Gingrey: "If you ask anybody what they're top three concerns are, they would be jobs, jobs, jobs." The congressman talks about Obama's stimulus bill that was supposed to target shovel-ready projects not really working. He says a number of bills have passed in the House to "stimulate a market economy and not a government economy." The jobs program of the Republican Party, he says, is to take the handcuffs off small businesses so they can create jobs. "That is the approach that we will continue to take," he says, including cutting corporate taxes. "We have to lower the corporate tax rate."
12:40 p.m. Willie Caldwell says his organization of retired federal employees is concerned about losing the benefits the retirees have already earned. He also says he saw a list of foreign programs the U.S. government is supporting and asks whether they can be cut.
Gingrey: "I guess the first thing that pops into people's minds is foreign aid." He cites $1.5 billion a year for Egypt and $3 billion a year for Israel. He said that because of the promises the government has made to veterans and other Americans, "we have to start looking at things like that." But Gingrey says a lot of the things America does overseas shouldn't be cut, such as a program fighting AIDS in Africa. "We just need to be careful about not throwing the baby out with the bath water."
12:38 p.m. Al Harwell, a retired CPA with 60 or so years' experience, says he is in favor not of raising taxes, but of "leveling the playing field," and he would like to sit down with Gingrey's staff to talk about it.
"We need all the help we can get," Gingrey says.
12:36 p.m. The next question comes from Skip Gray: “The thing we need to do is to make sure our veterans get buried properly, with honor.” He says something has to be done about indigent veterans not getting money to be buried in national cemeteries.
Gingrey thanks Gray for his service. "I don't know the specific issue of which you are mentioning," but he says his staff will get the information and look into it.
12:34 p.m. Next question: What do you think needs to happen to get the approval rating up and get the people’s faith in Congress back?
Gingrey says, “The trust in the Congress is gone.” The approval rating is about 11 percent. “The American people are thoroughly disgusted with all that is going on in Washington.” Why can’t members of Congress get along and get things done? "I would hope and pray that in my lifetime there will be a coming together." He says the atmosphere is getting more and more polarized as each side pulls further from the center. Members are scared to death to take a vote that would smack of compromise, he says.
12:30 p.m. Mark Dabney says he has drafted a letter calling for forensic evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. He claims it was a conspiracy to cover up the theft of military pension funds. He blames "the international plutocracy." He says the impunity of the international bankers is destroying us and leading us into a global government. "Where is the body of evidence that bin Laden carried out 9/11?" he says.
Gingrey is trying to stop him after a couple of minutes of accusations. He says he'll be glad to meet with him and discuss it further.
12:28 p.m. Question time.
12:26 p.m. After a slide showing the unemployment rate over time, Gingrey shows a slide about the regulatory costs faced by small businesses. The slide says each small business pays an average annual cost of $10,585, with a total burden of $1.7 trillion a year. The House is trying to limit the addition of regulatory costs, Gingrey says.
12:24 p.m. The national debt grows by $3 million a minute and has grown $4.2 trillion under President Obama. The current path, according to a slide titled "The Crushing Burden of Debt," would give the nation a debt equal to eight or nine times GDP within 70 years.
12:22 p.m. The amendment would have emergency waivers, such as natural disasters and declarations of war. Such an amendment failed by one vote in the Senate in 1996. Since then, the federal debt has grown by $9 billion.
12:20 p.m. Cut, Cap and Balance requires the passage of the balanced budget amendment, sending it to the states for ratification, to increase the debt ceiling.
12:19 p.m. "What I am still holding out for and praying for," Gingrey says, is Cut, Cap and Balance. The idea is to cap federal spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product, just above the historical average of 17.7 percent but well below the current 23 percent.
12:17 p.m. He goes through the debt-ceiling agreement, which he did not vote for. The deal calls for $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years and $1.5 trillion in possible additional cuts with no tax increases in return for a $900 billion rise in the debt ceiling. "It's a start," the slide reads, but it does not require a balanced budget amendment to raise the debt ceiling again. Gingrey says he was among 60-something Republicans who voted against the deal.
12:15 p.m. Gingrey has a slide presentation to get through first. He shows a cartoon about the debt ceiling whose punchline is that blood alcohol levels will be raised to solve drunk driving. "In a way, I tend to agree with that," Gingrey says about raising the debt ceiling to solve the debt problem.
12:13 p.m. He says he knows people are more concerned about the economy, the budget deficit, the debt ceiling, jobs and so on much more than districts.
12:11 p.m. "It is a big change," Gingrey says, but we just have to deal with it. He'll lose seven of the nine counties he now represents if the current proposal holds up. "Of course, my main focus will be on my new district."
12:10 p.m. Gingrey says he knew he'd have to give up some of his district when Georgia added a 14th District for 2012, but it's out of his hands and up to the General Assembly. "It's a drastic change, what was passed," he says.
12:07 p.m. "I wouldn't trade you for 10," Jennings says to Gingrey, praising the work the congressman has done. "I want to wish you the very best."
12:05 p.m. Parnick Jennings introduces the congressman for the 11th District.