BISMARCK, ND – Congressman Rick Berg was in Bismarck this afternoon, holding the second of four town hall meetings he has scheduled around the state during Congress’ two week recess.
Held at 2pm at the Bismarck Public Library, the room was filled with citizens who came to voice their concerns and ask the freshman congressman questions. Berg took the first 10 minutes to brief the audience on his first 100 days in office, then spent the next hour listening and answering questions from constituents.
The questions covered a range of topics, from social security cuts to petroleum development, small business loans to HeadStart programs, and of course, the ever growing problems of health care costs and plans. One attendee even asked Berg if, given the need to cut spending, Congress would consider removing all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, saving the country billions in military expenses.
“We have to be honest with what’s going on out there, and both parties have kind of twisted the facts. Ten years ago we had a balanced budget, but right now, we are in pretty rough shape,” said Berg. Pointing to his pie chart handouts displaying government spending outlays, Berg pointed out even if all of the “discretionary spending,” which makes up approximately 40% of the budget, were to be eliminated, the country “would still have a 40% negative cash flow for this coming year. That’s the challenge.”
But an even bigger challenge right now, contends Berg, is that the non-discretionary, ongoing program funding is starting to accelerate rapidly and is poised to take off on an exponential growth rate, leaving the country with debt levels that far outpace gross domestic production (GDP) levels by the year 2030.
The fact that a large portion of the country’s debt (47%) is held by foreign countries is particularly troubling, especially given that 29% of all debt is held by China, an aggressively expanding, communist nation. In 1970, only 5% of the country’s total debt was held by foreign countries.
In addition to financial and budget difficulties, Berg also noted burgeoning regulatory policies and their negative effects on industrial and small business growth. Berg is one of the original co-sponsors of the REINS Act, a legislative effort to force EPA and other regulatory agency policies that will entail “significant financial impact” to go through a congressional approval process before they may be enacted.
Berg said that in May, the House will be introducing a number of different bills to address many state concerns with the EPA.
Berg took many criticisms from people on votes to “eliminate medicare” and cautions against cutting funding for programs like HeadStart. While listening to concerns, Berg also pointed to the problems poised by compounding debt in the years to come, and the burden those problems lay on children and future generations.
On the topic of big business and tax cuts for “big oil” and “the wealthiest Americans,” Berg heard the questions, and reiterated his commitment to lowering corporate taxes to 25% while at the same time closing the loopholes and deductions that allow large corporations such as General Electric to avoid paying taxes.
“50-80% of those wealthy taxpayers are small business people, who own and run small businesses and create jobs in our economy,” responded Berg. “We need to encourage small business and we need to encourage those people to be reinvesting in hiring. Do I support raising taxes? No I don’t, especially not on the people who are creating jobs.”
Several people came forward to talk about health insurance concerns. Some of those stated that they would be in grave trouble without the federal legislation, which prevents insurance from capping payouts and mandates coverage of people with special needs. Others stated that as small business owners, they were having difficulties continuing to provide health insurance benefits for employees because the federal action has resulted in skyrocketing premiums.
For every person who came wanting to protect program spending, another came forward encouraging the congressman to continue to fight for cuts. One man nearing retirement age said that he intends to keep on working and would gladly give up social security if it meant leaving a better country for his children and grandchildren.
Afterward, Berg said that he was very pleased with the meeting, and that he is looking forward to holding many more. “This is what the job is all about – listening to the people, and trying as well as I can to represent their best interests back in Washington.”