Things that many Americans most would like to cut, such as foreign aid and farm subsidies, make up relatively tiny slices of the federal budget, while things most don’t want to touch, such as Medicare and Social Security, take far larger portions, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston recently told constituents.
Kingston, the Republican who represents Georgia’s 1st District, hosted his first town hall meeting of 2011 on Saturday at Bryan County High School in Pembroke. With five local law enforcement officers stationed around the cafeteria, about 80 citizens asked the congressman questions and shared their opinions.
Kingston started off with a slideshow that touched on the budget deficit, health care and more. Later, Kingston took questions.
Robert Railey, a retired chemical plant worker from Savannah, said it hurts to look at a piece of furniture in a store, turn it around and see "Vietnam" when he has relatives who have lost jobs in North Carolina.
"I don’t agree that American companies have a right to take our jobs overseas like they do because they’re taking technology that you and I paid for with our tax money. ...," Railey said. "We’re being spit in the face also by the companies that are taking it overseas. They’re getting a tax break."
He asked if Kingston would introduce legislation stopping tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.
The congressman said America needs "to be tougher at the trade table" but does not need protective tariffs. Instead, he said he thinks lower corporate taxes would help.
"The corporate tax rate in America is 35 percent; among the nations that we’re competing against it’s 24 percent. If you want to keep American jobs here, you need to look at the tax rate," Kingston said.
Lynda Morse from near Richmond Hill, whose husband started a commercial contracting business in 1970, said he has worked without pay for almost two years now and that they are on the verge of losing everything. She blamed it on competition from contractors who hire undocumented immigrants.
"We cannot get a job because contractors, and now subcontractors and anybody that’s working, they will use the cheaper labor, and they’re not only hurting my family, they’re hurting the Mexicans or whatever the illegal workforce is. They’re paying them nothing," Morse said.
Kingston agreed that the use of undocumented workers suppresses wages.
"I think we will see a lot more oversight on our customs and immigration service and a bigger push for enforcement, because people absolutely are fed up," he said.
B.J. Clark, 1st District American Legion chaplain from Pembroke, asked several questions. One that drew applause was: "Is there any way for a highway bill to go through that is just about highways, a defense bill that is just a defense bill?"
Kingston noted the House has banned spending earmarks. But in answer to another question, he said this ban may block funding for deepening Savannah’s harbor, since this was to be earmarked through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget.
During his opening presentation, Kingston showed graphs and charts related to Congress’ goal of reducing the deficit.
A 2009 Economist.com poll ranked the kinds of federal spending Americans most would like to see cut. One of Kingston’s slides paired a graph of these results with one showing the portion of the federal budget spent in each category.
Foreign aid was the favorite target for budget cuts, with about 70 percent of those polled willing to reduce it, followed by environmental programs, housing and agriculture. All of these are small parts of the budget, dwarfed by Social Security, Medicare and defense spending.
Kingston said he would like to put foreign aid "on the chopping block" but that it wouldn’t do much to balance the budget, since it amounts to only 1 percent of the total.
"Social Security — very few people want to cut it — and Medicare. And those are big chunks of the budget," he said. "I’ll just say this. We’re all in the same lifeboat, and trying to wrestle with these things, we need to have full communication."
Kingston also included health-care reform in his slideshow. While many Republicans want to repeal the health-care law that Democrats enacted last year, Kingston said the courts may ultimately affect it more than Congress does.
Two federal courts have ruled the mandate that Americans buy health insurance unconstitutional, but two have upheld it, and he predicted that the Supreme Court will have to decide.
"There are some things that we can do to tackle health care," Kingston said.
Frivolous lawsuits, he asserted, add to costs by prompting doctors to practice "defensive medicine." Besides limiting lawsuits, Kingston said he would like to see greater transparency in health-care pricing. He supports making small business and association health insurance plans available, allowing cross-state purchasing, and giving individual and self-employed insurance buyers the same tax advantages as large employers.