Election season is coming up, and many of our representatives are, or will be, holding town hall meetings. It is important that voters attend as many of these as possible, not only to express their opinions, but to decide if they wish to return the representative to Washington in the elections in 2012.
Congressman Frank Lucas (R – OK) held one of his town hall meetings at the Hominy City Hall on April 19, 2011. He reported that the war in Iraq is winding down, but that Afghanistan continues to be a quagmire without a definite ending in sight. There is concern about our role in Libya, but the President does have power to take limited military action without a formal declaration of war. He reported that the Legislature has become even more divided and partisan over the last year, and it is becoming very difficult to carry out the business of government. This year, Congress is mostly going to be about the budget, and little else is likely to get done.
A scientist in the audience explained that Dr. Patrick Michaels, who testified before Congress that there was no consensus among scientist on climate change, had been exposed for taking large payments from power companies to lobby for them. There is a consensus among scientists. A recent survey showed that 97% of climate scientists active in research agree that global warming is happening and that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause. Every major scientific organization in the world has adopted a statement in agreement. Research has also shown that global warming is the cause of some of our extreme weather events, and that higher CO2 levels and warmer temperatures may damage crop yields. After that long explanation, the question was whether the Congressman, who will chair the Agriculture Committee next year, would be willing to hold hearings to determine if global warming might put our food supply at risk. The Congressman replied he could not make a commitment as yet.
Note: Later, on June 16th, Rep. Lucas voted to prevent the Department of Agriculture from planning for future extreme weather and crop loss that scientists say will be the result of climate change. Apparently Congressman Lucas does not believe the scientific evidence and does not want the Department of Agriculture examining the issue, though it poses a danger to our food supply.
When asked about Social Security, Congressman Lucas explained that, over the years, the surplus collected has been put in a trust fund in U.S. Treasury bonds. Though the government has borrowed against the surplus, it must be repaid and will be available to make future payments. After the trust fund is exhausted, Social Security will pay benefits as money is collected, and benefits may be reduced by about 30% unless the system is tweaked by reducing benefits or raising the retirement age. A little research after the meeting showed that the trust fund is expected to be solvent until about 2034 but that the most popular tweak, raising the cap on FICA contributions, will make this trust fund solvent to about 2080.
One lady explained that we had just spent billions of dollars developing Head Start centers and now the money needed to operate them may be cut from the budget. Head Start allows many low income people with children to work as it reduces some of the expense of child care. What sense does it make to extend the tax cuts for wealthy citizens and then cut programs that benefit disadvantaged citizens and may even cost jobs? The Congressman commented that the mood in Congress was to cut taxes and reduce spending.
Another lady asked about the wild horses on ranches west of town. Congressman Lucas explained it was a program, apparently one he questions, that moved the horses to save them from being euthanized. The horses are a non-native species that damage range-land and the program costs $5 billion dollars. The lady from Head Start asked why we could spend $5 billion on horses, but not $5 billion on the Head Start program benefiting children.
One constituent complemented Congressman Lucas on the Tulsa World article where he defended raising the debt limit so that the U.S. would not have its credit rating lowered, which would be disastrous for the country. He asked about the monetary policy which benefited the stock market, but hurt many retired people by keeping interest rates low. The Congressman pointed out that the policy was set by the Federal Reserve and it benefits those who borrow and hurts those who save. He suggested the policy might change, and suggested it might be wise to be sure any loans you have were at a fixed rate.
When asked about a flat tax, the Congressman explained he favored a “fair tax”, a national sales tax on all purchases. The states would collect the tax and it would end income tax. Putting the IRS out of business sounds good except that a little research shows that the “fair tax” would have to be about 30% on all goods and services. It would shift more of the tax burden to middle and lower income citizens and would hurt seniors, who have paid income tax all their lives and would now be taxed more on their purchases.
When asked about the wisdom of subsidizing ethanol from corn, the Congressman replied that the subsidy program benefits corn producing states but hurts everyone else. It costs tax money and it raises the cost of animal feed and food. He commented that the corn producing states have a lot of political clout, and the policy might be hard to change.
The discussion was lively and it was good that voters could ask questions and express our concerns to Congressman Lucas. The third district covers a large area, the Western two thirds of the state, and it should be appreciated that he conducted town hall meetings at many towns in his district. Elections are coming up and Oklahoma voters need to weigh carefully what he says, and how he votes, in order to decide if we should return Congressman Lucas to Washington.