U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, last week waded into what could have been dangerous waters when he
held a telephone town meeting with constituents just two days after
the controversial debt and deficit vote.
Boustany said he had 15,000 constituents on the line, many of whom had concerns about spending, and criticism about Washington.
Boustany started the event by explaining his support for the legislation that raised the national debt above its $14.3 billion ceiling in return for proposed cuts to the federal budget deficit. Boustany called the vote critical to the economy.
“A ‘no’ vote on this bill would have been a vote to default and made our debt situation significantly worse,” Boustany said.
Acting much like a talk radio host, Boustany fielded questions from about a dozen constituents in his region, who only gave their first names and home towns.
Lawrence from Lafayette is skeptical about the debt deal, noting that cuts don’t begin until two years from now. “It’s very difficult for me to see that this bill does anything to cut real spending,” he said.
Boustany replied that the legislation was the best deal that Republicans could make. “We have the House, we do not have the Senate and we do not have the White House,” he said.
Ben in Lake Charles contends that people on the lower end of the nation’s socioeconomic spectrum will feel the cuts most. He doesn’t know why Congress is so adamant about not raising taxes, he said.
“I really don’t understand what the problem is in raising taxes,” Ben said. “Where are you going to get the money from?”
Boustany opposes raising taxes in the troubled economy, he said. Handling one call, Boustany praised the tea party movement. “It’s helped change the whole tenor of the debate in Washington,” he said.
Jerry of Sulphur is offended by Social Security and Medicare being classified as “entitlement programs.” “I pay good hard-working money for Social Security,” he said.
The programs could better be called “mandatory programs,” Boustany said.
Harry, who did not give a location, gave Boustany and his congressional colleagues a hard time about the need for more details over the budget and spending.
“I don’t want vague, I want specifics and you’re telling me what everybody else is telling me,” Harry said. “You’re part of that group and I don’t want to hear double talk. You can’t spend more than you’re bringing in.”
Earl of Delcambre expressed concerns about cuts to defense programs. His son has made a career in the military, he said. “There are not too many people who say they’re willing to go out and die,” Earl said.
Boustany agreed. During the legislation debate, Boustany expressed concern about cuts to the defense budget.
“This is critically important,” Boustany told Earl. “It’s the first obligation to the Constitution, the defense of our country.”
Boustany sits on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee that writes the nation’s tax laws. He will likely be on the front lines if Congress overhauls the tax code as Senate and House leaders along with President Barack Obama are calling for.
Boustany said some corporations, such as General Electric, paid no taxes last year. In all, about half of the people or businesses in the country paid no tax, Boustany said.
“That’s not fair to the middle-class families that work and work and work,” Boustany said.
Wade, of Lafayette, criticized Boustany and the rest of Congress for failing to understand the tribulations that Americans are going through. “You guys are kind of oblivious to this,” he said.
Randy in Carencro questioned the call for a balanced budget amendment that Boustany and Republicans support. Critics of the law have said it would handcuff spending on critical federal programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Aren’t you taking away the power of future representatives?” he said. “It seems to me that it is a tying of our hands.”
Boustany said holding the session after the debt and deficit debate was important. “This is a great way for me to stay connected with folks in my district,” Boustany said.
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@aol.com.