Chesterton Tribune

Visclosky addresses war debt, taxes and jobs at town forum

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By KEVIN NEVERS

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.

War

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There has been “a positive development,” namely, that U.S. troops have been withdrawn from Iraq.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“Those troops should be withdrawn now,” he said.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, and talent.”

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 dollar.”

Debt, Taxes, Jobs

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 infrastructure, said.

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, Visclosky said.

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 away.”

“My No. 1 priority is to create jobs,” Visclosky said.

Q/A

Visclosky then took questions from the audience, previously submitted on index cards.

“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.”

From CMS

Taylor Rodriguez, an eighth-grader at Chesterton Middle School and president of the Student Council, introduced Visclosky and led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

 

Posted 1/10/2012