Election season is coming up, and many of our representatives are, or will be, holding town hall meetings. Congressman John Sullivan (R-OK) held one of his town hall meetings in Sand Springs on November 7, 2011. He told us that things have been crazy lately in Washington, and he illustrated that by talking about the budget.
Budget: A Supercommittee has been formed with the goal of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Congressman Sullivan said he did not think that was enough and he supports a balanced budget amendment, with the goal of cutting $4 trillion from the budget. He said that we would have to cut entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a list of other programs that mostly help the poor and the middle class. He said he supports raising the age or cutting the benefits for Social Security, but that those over 55 should not worry, as the proposed changes would only affect those younger than 55.
A member of the audience commented that he did not think that was fair, as he was just under 55. When the Congressman was asked if he would consider raising revenue rather than making such deep cuts in spending, he said he could not support raising taxes. That is not surprising as he and 276 Legislators have signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, making it almost impossible for Congress to raise taxes. Any reasonable effort to balance the budget will require tax increases as well as spending cuts. Congress is trying to fight the budget battle with one hand tied behind its back.
Congressman Sullivan also criticized the budget submitted by the President, saying that no one would vote for it and even Harry Reid voted against it. A member of the audience pointed out that Harry Reid changed his vote for procedural reasons and asked what the Senate’s vote was. The congressman replied he did not know. The records show that the President’s budget passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 47, but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Harry Reid changed his vote as a procedural move so that it might be brought up again later.
Banking reform: Congressman Sullivan said he could not support unneeded regulations and that the Dodd Frank law should be repealed because “it hurts small banks”. That is surprising, as the Dodd Frank bill was applauded by the Independent Community Bankers of America who said it would “level the regulatory and competitive playing field for community banks.”
Energy: The Congressman said he has introduced legislation encouraging the development of natural gas as a fuel. He pointed out that natural gas provides about three times as much energy and costs much less than gasoline. Natural gas is plentiful in Oklahoma and developing the infrastructure to use it as a fuel would help Oklahoma’s economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Using natural gas would also significantly decrease our carbon emissions – but the Congressman did not mention that as he does not accept the scientific research on climate change.
EPA: Congressman Sullivan was quite critical of the EPA and stated he has introduced legislation that would require the EPA to do a cost-benefit analysis for every rule it makes. His legislation would create a huge amount of paperwork for the EPA and would make its job impossible to do, which seems to be his goal. Perhaps Congressman Sullivan could help by including a value for human life in his bill, as the EPA says slashing toxic emissions would prevent many premature deaths. The American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school. The public agrees that the EPA should be setting standards to protect our health, not Congress. A recent poll found that more than two-thirds of registered voters supported EPA setting strong air pollution standards.
Jobs: The Congressman spent considerable time criticizing the job creation efforts and the economic policies of the President, particularly the stimulus program. When he declared that the government could not create jobs, someone the audience asked him about the CCC and the WPA, which created jobs during the Great Depression and provided improvements in the infrastructure, such as creating the REA. The Congressman answered with a long criticism of the stimulus package, which he finished by claiming that the stimulus package had not created one job.
A school administrator in the audience said that there were a number of jobs saved in education by the stimulus money and that the cuts to the school budget would’ve been much worse without it. Interestingly, the records show that District 1 in Oklahoma, Congressman Sullivan’s district, received $463 million in stimulus money which directly created 280 jobs. That did not include jobs indirectly created or jobs that were saved, such as the teaching jobs.
Services: When asked about cuts to mental health services, the Congressman rather surprised us all by saying that one fourth of all Oklahomans have some form of mental illness. The Congressman said he supports mental health programs, efforts to help soldiers with PTSD, and programs that help those with substance abuse. However, it is rather difficult to see where money would come from to support those programs if the budget were cut by $4 trillion.
2012: The 1st District covers the population centers in the northeast part of Oklahoma, mostly Tulsa and north to Bartlesville. We certainly appreciate Congressman Sullivan taking time to share his comments with us and answer our questions. Some of the things the Congressman said were of concern to the author, as you can discern from his comments. As the 2012 elections near, Oklahoma voters need to weigh carefully what Congressman Sullivan says and how he votes in order to decide if we should return him to Washington.
Co-authorship credit: Barbara Moore
(c) 2011 J.C. Moore