A crushing national debt, a jobs crisis, a crumbling infrastructure, and
war: these were the issues U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, addressed on
Monday at a well-attended town forum at the Library Service Center.
The problems may seem insuperable—all the more so in view of the highly
publicized partisanship in Congress—but Visclosky had this message of hope
for folks: Congress has better than 200 years of experience in compromise,
“it’s not true across the board” that members on opposite sides of the aisle
are incapable of cooperation, and “it is possible” for Congress to
achieve comity and results.
“We are part of a democracy and I do believe in the system, as frustrated as
I am about it,” Visclosky said.
But yeah, there are some problems.
Visclosky opened his presentation by asking for a moment of silence in honor
of the four sappers killed in Afghanistan last week, members of the Indiana
National Guard’s 713th Engineer Company, headquartered in Valparaiso. He
then noted that, though Indiana is only the 16th largest state, it has the
nation’s fourth largest National Guard. Fully 17,000 Hoosiers in the Indiana
National Guard have served overseas since 2001, Visclosky said, and 1,275
are serving overseas right now.
There has been “a positive development,” namely, that U.S. troops have been
withdrawn from Iraq. But 90,000 are on the ground now in
Afghanistan—following a surge last summer—and even with a planned withdrawal
this year of 23,000, the U.S. will continue to have a military presence in
Afghanistan until 2014.
Which Visclosky made clear he utterly opposes.
“Those troops should be withdrawn now,” he said. The four sappers’ deaths
“show the true cost of these conflicts” and the “sacrifice of time, energy,
The monetary cost of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq is between $5
trillion and $7 trillion, Visclosky added, “every one of which is a borrowed
Last year a select committee charged with making $3.9 trillion in
debt-reduction proposals was unable to summon the fortitude to send their
proposals to Congress, Visclosky said. And Congress was unable to summon the
fortitude to vote on those proposals independently.
That’s “unacceptable,” Visclosky said. As the ranking member of the Energy
and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, he
and his chair—a Republican—succeeded in the cooperative cutting of $1.4
billion from energy and water projects. “We looked at each project and
eliminated it if it didn’t have enough value.”
Not every project, however, was jettisoned. The subcommittee did increase
spending by $20 million on industrial technology projects and $19 million on
vehicle technology, as investments in the nation’s future. And more
investments need to be made, Visclosky said, in particular in
infrastructure. It’s deteriorating badly, it’s in need of $2.2 trillion in
maintenance, repair, and upgrades, and the economy last year was $130
billion smaller than it could have been because of poor physical
Where should the government get the money for those investments?
“I am convinced that it is now time in this country that everybody pay their
fair share,” Visclosky said. Between 2008 and 2010, 30
corporations—including General Electric and Boeing—made $160 billion in
profits and “did not pay a penny in corporate income tax.”
A Chesterton police officer, Visclosky continued, pays a larger percentage
of income in taxes to the federal government than the hedge fund managers
who’ve made millions.
More: President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts will have resulted at the end of 2012
in total lost revenues of $2.7 trillion. Those tax cuts were intended to
create jobs and stimulate the economy, Visclosky noted, but compare 2001’s
economy to 2011’s. “Was it worth borrowing $2.7 trillion? No.”
A provision-by-provision review of the tax code would help matters a lot,
Meanwhile, with national unemployment in January at 8.5 percent, more folks
are working now than were a year ago, when the rate stood at 9.4 percent.
“But 13.1 million people are still looking for work, not counting the
underemployed and the discouraged workers.”
Visclosky then cited a Brookings Institute study which calculated that, even
were 208,000 jobs added in this country every month, it would still take
until 2024 to return to the employment levels of 2007.
Full employment in this country, he added—that is to say, an unemployment
rate of 5.2 percent—would make fully one-third of the deficit “simply go
“My No. 1 priority is to create jobs,” Visclosky said.
Visclosky then took questions from the audience, previously submitted on
“You are the problem,” someone wrote. “You are not the solution. You
partisan politics must change.”
Visclosky did not altogether deny the premise of the comment but he did
point, again, to his work on the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.
Visclosky said that he also put his signature on a letter to the select
committee—signed by 60 Democrats and 39 Republicans—urging the committee to
put everything on the table for consideration, not only spending cuts but
tax increases. Compromise, he repeated, is possible.
One person worried about cuts to Social Security. Visclosky replied first by
saying that Social Security “is not part of the deficit problem” and is
funded through 2036. “But the fact is, two-thirds of every federal dollar
spent is on Social Security, debt, Medicare, and some agricultural
programs,” he said. “I’d like to touch it to make sure (our youth) get it.”
Visclosky’s solution: once a worker hits an income of $106,000 or so, he
stops paying Social Security on his earnings. That provision should change.
“If it’s good enough for waitresses and steelworkers, why isn’t it good
enough for everyone?”
Is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation—which assumed pension
liabilities from many steelmakers when they went belly up—in danger of going
belly up itself?
Visclosky said that he doesn’t think so. And as the stock market slowly
claws its way back, the situation should improve. “I do not believe it’s in
any imminent or foreseeable danger of collapsing.”
Taylor Rodriguez, an eighth-grader at Chesterton Middle School and president
of the Student Council, introduced Visclosky and led attendees in the Pledge