Visclosky starts annual Town Hall meetings in Portage

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Community News, Featured

Published on January 10, 2012 with No Comments

U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky is on his tour of 24 Town Hall meetings, which he starts in January every year to meet his constituents.

This time, he started in Portage. About 40 people came to hear him. They were mostly respectful and sometimes disagreeable but everyone who wanted to be heard had a chance to speak with their federal representative.

Eighth-grade student Katelyn Necco of Bailey Middle School introduced the Congressman. She is her school’s student Council president and also plays sports.

She led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Visclosky started his visit with a moment of silence for Valparaiso University student Spc. Brian Leonhardt, killed in Afghanistan the previous weekend. As a Congressman who voted against permission to go to war, this is a particularly painful reminder of the cost of such service.

“We cannot forget we are still at war,” said Visclosky. He pointed out Indiana is the 16th largest state according to the 2010 Census, yet has supplied the fourth-most soldiers for the recent wars.

“There are still 90,000 in Afghanistan” he said. There will be 20,000 more drawn down thus summer. But I still disagree with the president’s (war) policies.

“I want to talk about issue affecting the nation,” he said. “We need to put aside party differences, rebuild the economy and treat veterans with the respect they deserve.”

He said he knew the economy is foremost on everyone’s mind. He said his biggest disappointment in the year since he last came to a Town Hall Forum was that the president and the Congress had not dealt with the problem.

Speaking without notes, he said only 30 percent of Americans feel their personal economic status is satisfactory. A majority of parents feel they will not leave their children to be better off than they were when they entered the workforce.

So the dissatisfaction in the room could be credited more to a “no one is happy” attitude than to a personal dislike for any one political party.

Portage Mayor Jim Snyder, welcoming his first federal official to his town hall, was front and center. Visclosky acknowledged and thanked him. Snyder is a Republican and Visclosky a Democrat.

Visclosky quoted noted economist, and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, a Gary native, who has reported the economic cost to the country from the war is $3 trillion against the estimated cost from the Bush administration at $22 billion.

“And everyone of those dollars is borrowed money,” Visclosky said.

“Congress did not vote a reduction,” he said. “I am very disappointed in the Congress and the President.”

The bigger point, he said, is “Jobs do matter.” He said there are still 13.1 million American out of work who are willing and able to work.  “Even if 200,000 go back to work every year, even if we get unemployment down to what economists consider full employment, 5.2 percent, it will be 2024 before we recover to the 2007 levels.

“But it would reduce the deficit by a third.”

He is on committees dealing with clean air and fuel effectiveness and says the country had begun to make impressive gains.

He also sees a potential employment boom in fixing infrastructure, citing 4,091 bridges in Indiana that are obsolete.

He also called on everyone to, “Pay their fair share.”

He cited corporations which made $160 billion in profit last year but, “Who had not paid a penny” in tax. “Portage policemen and Portage firemen put their jobs on the line for us every day,” he said, “they pay their taxes.

“Yet there are hedge fund managers who earned $22 billion and paid no taxes on it and they didn’t risk their lives for anyone.”

He did not like the income tax break given 10 years ago, and extended every year since, to the highest wage earners and biggest companies.

“Those tax breaks were supposed to create jobs,” he said. “It’s 10 years later, where are the jobs?”

He said much of his focus is to help the children of America. As an example, he said some people might not like the idea Porter and Lake counties have been designated as drug trafficking areas.

“But that allows us to access federal funds to better fight drug traffic,” he said.
The question-and-answer session was a good give-and-take. Twice, the congressman had to interrupt two guys who wanted to dominate the conversation by reminding them others needed to be heard as well.

One local volunteer asked how determine if there is dangerous lead in toys as his group works to spread cheer at the holidays. Visclosky said there are special programs for that and promised to connect the questioner with the answer.

Another asked why does this country export oil and why doesn’t the Congress hold the line on prices.

Visclosky said the U.S. does not export oil and the only way to hold costs down was to spur more production. He also returned to the task of creating vehicles that accomplished more miles per gallon.

He quoted U.S. Senator Richard Lugar as “Where we buy oil is a national security problem.”

Another asked why the Congressional Page system had been eliminated.

Visclosky said the Speaker of the House discontinued it as ineffective, because many of the traditional jobs – carrying paperwork – is now done electronically.

But Visclosky said he enjoyed the system because it allowed young people to get involved with the government at the highest level.

He also said all Congressmen had cut their office budgets by 5 percent in 2011 and more cuts will bring the total to 10 percent this year.

In response to a question of line-item vetoes, Visclosky said the only veto a president has now is a total veto of any bill.

As to government spending, he said federal funds have helped many environmental cleanups.

In a sharp discussion, he was asked if he approved of the government’s inclusive federal health care He said he had voted for it and would still vote for it.

A follow up asked about increasing insurance premiums. Visclosky pointed out premiums hardly moved when the discussion about federal health care was under way, but, as soon as it passed, premiums went up, “So you have to ask, who is really profiting?”

He also took on the unlimited donations to campaigns now allowed by the Supreme Court.

“There has been catastrophic, bi-partisan failure,” he said. “There were never votes called on some bills and not even votes called on bad bills.”

For more information on U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky, call 202-225-2461, or 888-423-PETE or visit visclosky.house.gov.

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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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