Hoyer Tries to Calm Constituent Concerns in Telephone Town Hall
Congressman Steny Hoyer said in a telephone Town Hall meeting with constituents on Monday night that he can’t remember any comparable time in Congress when things were so dysfunctional as they are right now. The Town Hall meeting was held to address constituent concerns about the upcoming federal government sequester, where across the board cuts to the federal budget will be enacted. That action is just three days away—barring intervention by President Barrack Obama and Congressional Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.
The sequester is part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Act “kicked the can” of budget balancing two years down the road to 2013. If the Congress and the White House were unable to find a way to cut spending and begin to balance the budget, then automatic spending cuts would kick in.
The day of the automatic cuts has nearly arrived. In three days, about $100 billion in spending cuts will go into effect. The cuts are split between defense and domestic spending. Wars, Social Security and Medicaid are exempt. Over the next nine years, until 2021, roughly $103 billion will be cut each year. At the end of the automatic cuts, $1.2 trillion will have been axed over a nine year period.
Congressional Republicans in the House of Representatives and the President have the ability to stop the cuts. If they can find $103 billion in spending cuts—or added revenue through tax increases—the automatic across-the-board cuts will be halted. Currently, there is consensus between Democrats and Republicans that spending cuts should take place. The hangup is apparently that Republicans want to find the $100 billion in savings through spending cuts alone, while Democrats want to cut spending and raise tax rates.
During the call, residents from Hoyer’s sprawling district called in to ask about specifics regarding the sequester and how it might impact their family’s bottom line.
Hoyer said that he hasn’t seen things this bad. “Maybe in 1995, when we shut down the government for three weeks. But then Newt Gingrich and President Clinton got together and balanced the budget,” he said.
A caller, Steve from Bowie, wanted to know how “we find ourselves in this position despite Hoyer being in a leadership position in the Congress?”
Hoyer said that he doesn’t like it either, but that as someone in the minority, he is unable to put bills forward or bring items to the floor to be voted on. He said that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) put two proposals together and the rules committee blocked them from moving forward. Hoyer said that Democrats believe that there need to be cuts in spending, but that those cuts should move forward alongside revenue (tax increases).
“We need to cut spending, but do it in a balanced way,” Hoyer said.
A caller, Jeffrey in Upper Marlboro, asked how the sequester would impact health care and Social Security, adding that his health insurance premiums had doubled under “Obamacare.”
Hoyer wanted to know more about Jeffrey’s insurance carrier off line, because he said that over the past two years, health costs have grown their smallest amount, slowing to nearly the pace of inflation. In addition, Hoyer said that President Obama’s health care reform would not kick in until 2014.
“It hasn’t kicked in yet, but insurance rates are protected,” Hoyer said, offering to help Jeffrey get to the bottom of his carrier’s premium increase. “I want to know what happened. I want to look into it on your behalf.”
He said that the only difference in payments that constituents should see from the sequester are a delay in receiving checks.
Justenia from Accokeek called in on the same issue. She is a retired government employee. She gets a military annuity on behalf of her spouse. She wanted to know what will happen with the sequester.
Hoyer said that her benefits will not be reduced. The checks may be delayed, but the amount would remain the same.
Justenia then asked what the delay will mean to her mortgage lender.
Hoyer said that any delay would be days, not weeks or months, so mortgage lenders should be understanding.
Hoyer ended the call right at 8 p.m., saying that in his 30 years in Congress, he hasn’t seen anything like the current inability to communicate across party lines.
“Seeing our downgrade at Standard and Poors, I’ve never seen us go off the cliff like this,” he said, adding that he feels these kinds of episodes undermine confidence in the American economy.
“In 2010, that election gave us a lot of people who want to take a meat ax to the Federal Government. But we have military, response to national disasters, things that we have to keep going. It is frustrating for all of us here,” he said.”We have people who believe compromise is not part of their philosophy.”
He gave his website address (www.hoyer.house.gov) and he signed off.