U.S. Sen. David Vitter had alternately warm and hostile receptions Wednesday in Gonzales and Port Allen, fielding questions about federal spending, Republican Party Medicare proposals and issues ranging from levee building to sickle cell anemia funding.
In Gonzales, Vitter, R-La., had a more receptive audience. About 70 people gathered at their respective parish governmental buildings, and retirees dominated both groups.
Vitter argued to his Gonzales audience the need to restrain U.S. government spending and debt and to ease permitting for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to create job growth.
Vitter said nobody in the Senate fights harder and more often against President Barack Obama’s policies than he does. But he said pushing to impeach Obama ? a move suggested by two military veterans ? would backfire “big time.”
“I think we need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and I think we need to say, ?You know what? Elections have consequences.’ “ Vitter said. “You know who got us into this mess? We did, as the American people, and we need to have other elections that have opposite consequences.”
Many people wanted aggressive efforts to rein in taxes and spending, and Vitter agreed.
The senator said Obama is being dishonest about the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion. Republican congressional leaders want Obama to agree to deep cuts in spending before they’ll support raising the debt ceiling.
In Port Allen, several audience members questioned Vitter’s vote in favor of House Congressional Resolution 34, a proposed budget by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis.
The most-controversial part of that budget would transform Medicare from a guaranteed benefit to a voucher that could be used to buy private health insurance, but it would grow at a smaller rate than future projected health-care costs.
Vitter defended the proposal as an attempt to “save Medicare,” which he said will go broke unless changed.
He said the proposed budget doesn’t cut anyone’s Medicare benefit, and opponents need to offer alternatives not just criticism.
Greg Lavergne, wearing a T-shirt for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wasn’t having it. The difference of opinions led to a testy exchange.
“Did you support Obamacare?” Vitter interrupted.
“Yes,” responded Lavergne, sparking some boos.
“You supported a bill that actually cut a half trillion from Medicare, and you’re criticizing me?” Vitter asked. “I’m sorry; I think you’re completely off base.”
“You’re not cutting Medicare,” Lavergne responded. “You’re getting rid of Medicare.”
“Let me put it in simple terms. That is a lie,” Vitter said, his voice rising, “and I’m tired of getting lied about.”
Outside the West Baton Rouge Parish governmental building, a dozen Vitter opponents, many of them members of local construction unions, protested, focusing on the proposed Medicare changes.
Michael Day, a member of a member of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 198, said he called a bunch of his friends to come out and protest, describing it as “a haphazard deal” similar to one lodged Saturday outside the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
Some Port Allen speakers challenged Vitter from the right. For instance, Dan Ristroph, of Baton Rouge, urged Vitter to cut back on entitlement programs.
“I do not think anyone is entitled to get public money for their own support,” Ristroph told Vitter. “I think these programs should be called enablement programs because in most cases, these programs are enabling people to be dependent upon productive members of society.”
Vitter is planning more town hall meetings Thursday in Church Point and in Luling.