A couple of us progressive Texas Democrats attended the town hall meeting conducted Saturday, October 15, 2011, by Congressman Francisco Canseco in Marfa, Texas. To our surprise, we were the only citizens there, so the Congressman said we could proceed in a more informal manner. Instead of listening to his entire speech then commenting or asking questions, we were able to stop him at various points for discussion.
His presentation can be summarized as the facts are ALL fixed around the policies and the policies ALL serve large corporations, banks, Wall Street and the wealthy. In an effort to convince us that government debt was the country's most serious problem, he first presented the same chart as at the last town hall in Alpine. It says it's based on Congressional Budget Office projections, but it went far beyond those for purely dramatic effect. While CBO does no projections further than 10 years, his chart projects the debt out to 2077 and assumes no action to reduce it. No wonder the debt goes off the chart.
We asked why he didn't mention the causes of the debt. It's only logical to look there if aiming to reduce it. He falsely insisted that it was all due to excessive spending under President Obama. We reminded him that the debt rose from roughly $5 trillion to $10 trillion under President Bush. And furthermore, most of the debt under President Obama ($4 trillion) is due to continuation of policies he inherited, such as the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Medicare Part D giveaway to pharmaceuticals.
Then there is debt due to stimulus spending necessary to recover from the economic collapse caused by deregulation of financial institutions. Over the past 2 decades "Big Money" was able to get Congress to legalize their scams then bail them out when it all blew up. Now, this Republican Congressman, who sits on the Financial Services Committee, wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank regulations and let Big Money destroy the economy again. We asked him why and he insisted "regulations were causing uncertainty."
In trying to sell us on the need for a Balanced Budget Amendment to force the Federal government to spend no more than it receives, Congressman Canseco claimed that almost half of Americans were not paying any personal income tax, as if to imply they were freeloaders. We stopped him there to remind that the reason they don't pay is they don't earn enough to pay income taxes. The percent of non-payers used to be around 35% and now has risen to 47% as most American incomes have stalled or fallen. Furthermore, all those non-payers of income tax do pay other taxes -- payroll taxes, sales, and property taxes. As a result middle and low income Americans pay a much higher percentage of their earnings in overall taxes than do the wealthy and corporations.
The Balanced Budget Amendment is such a non-starter that Congressman Canseco didn't bother to sell it further. It only sounds good -- "don't buy what you can't pay for on the spot." Families, small and large businesses and states do have to balance their budgets, but it is not the same with the Federal government. It sets the value of money and has responsibility for operation of the economy, overspending when necessary to restore balance and deal with emergencies such as natural disasters. Furthermore, families, small and large businesses and states do have to operate with some debt within their balanced budgets. So to imply that a Balanced Budget Amendment would end government debt is misleading.
The reason the amendment is being pushed by the Big Money backing Congressman Canseco is that it's paired with a provision requiring a supermajority (e.g. 60%) vote to raise taxes. That's the same undemocratic provision as California's Proposition 13 that severely damaged the state economy and cut services for all Californians. And it is similar to one of the rules of the US Senate that has turned that body into a roadblock to passing much-needed legislation.
At a time when a clear majority (actually even a supermajority) of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Republicans like Congressman Canseco are now blocking it and trying to make it almost impossible to achieve in the future.
We addressed his other false talking points one by one. One was that "government doesn't create jobs." It's mystifying to have to explain this to a supposedly knowledgeable US Congressman. It's obvious that government creates millions of jobs, some by directly employing people to do the public's work. Millions more are created through government contracting whereby private companies hire workers to do things like infrastructure improvement. They buy materials from other companies supporting more jobs. And those employees go out and buy food, goods and services, which creates jobs throughout the economy. Then taxes come back to the government at all levels.
Another talking point was a claim that small businesses are struggling under "burdensome regulations." We informed him of a recent survey of businesses nationwide which revealed their biggest concern was providing health insurance for employees and business insurance. They were also concerned with inability to get loans, high interest rates on credit debt and a lack of customers. Regulations were not a major concern for small businesses. But two kinds of businesses do want fewer regulations: Big polluting industries like oil, gas and minerals and large financial institutions, both Congressman Canseco's base.
High gasoline prices are also restraining our economy and up to 40% of the price is due to speculation in oil commodity futures. Congressman Canseco denied these facts and refuses to regulate that speculation.
We discussed a non-economics issue, asking why he voted for HB 358, the "Let Women Die" Act. Currently, if someone appears in an emergency room in need of life-saving treatment, the hospital has to provide treatment if it can. This bill makes an exception for one group of people, pregnant women. It allows a hospital to refuse to treat a women bleeding to death from a miscarriage if the life-saving procedure is an abortion. Congressman Canseco denied that this was in the bill and insisted that it was only about federal funding for abortions, something already prohibited under the Hyde Amendment. Cynically, the bill was formally titled "Protect Life Act" to deceive apparently even the Congressman. Its passage by the House was all for show. It's unlikely to pass the Senate and President Obama will veto it if it does. But this is what our Congress was doing instead of passing a true jobs bill.
Perhaps none of our input got through to the Congressman, but we left him with the assurance that we were not going away. We're going to continue to "occupy" his space in sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement and on behalf of the 99 percent of the American people now under the thumb of the 1% wealthiest he serves.