“It’s very serious. I think it’s really threatening to us Americans that we have to call on other countries to deal with our overspending problem.”
Citing an unsatisfactory resolution to the recent “fiscal cliff” debate and the upcoming confrontation in Washington over the nation’s debt ceiling, Huelskamp was less than optimistic about Washington’s ability to find a solution to the country’s fiscal problems.
“It’s going to get significantly worse very quickly,” he said of the debt if spending is left unchecked. “I worry about 10 years from now, I worry about 20 years from now—and I know you do as well.”
He said it’s been about 1,350 days since the U.S. Senate passed a budget.
“We will meet our own (debt) obligations, the question is will we put a plan forward for our creditors of how we’re actually going to get our spending under control?”
Regulation and retirement
Huelskamp highlighted his list of 11 “dumbest mandates” initiated “courtesy of Washington bureaucrats.” The mandates ranged from restrictive guidelines for school lunches to preventing youth from working on family farms.
“To me, Washington, D.C., is a place where it’s so easy to lose touch,” he said. “I’m a small-town guy. Unlike most folks (in Congress), I come home every weekend.”
Adding to the nation’s economic challenge is that fact that 10,000 members of the “boomer” generation are retiring every day, leaving fewer and fewer workers to support ballooning entitlement programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“I just want to let you know that there was never any money put in the Social Security Trust Fund,” Huelskamp said. “They never set it aside, they spent it as they went. And they set it up in a way that didn’t match reality.”
He said when Social Security was established in 1935, Congress selected 65 as the retirement age because the average lifespan at the time was 63 years. He said today’s kindergartener is likely to live to age 87.
“The system is not set up for 22 years of retirement,” he said.
Responding to the public
Huelskamp’s economic message was received sympathetically by his audience, but at times, judging by the questions they asked, it seemed some were more interested in talking about the more provocative dimensions of D.C. politics.
Constituent comments ranged from recent headlines about Huelskamp’s removal from the House Agriculture Committee by the Republican speaker of the House, to Internet rumors about a secret plane crash in Iran involving Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton.
Seeming more comfortable responding to verifiable topics, Huelskamp said he still doesn’t know why he was reassigned to other House committees.
“A lot of people called the speaker’s office, and they never took any calls that I know of,” he said. “I wrote a letter to the speaker, ‘Please tell me why you removed me,’ and he wouldn’t tell me.
“But we did discover there was a secret scorecard, and if you voted generally conservative, they marked you down. I asked the speaker to show me the scorecard, and they wouldn’t do that either.”
In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, constituents speculated about the likelihood of gun-control legislation.
Huelskamp said there may be an attempt to revive a past ban on assault weapons, but he doesn’t think it would change much.
“We have 270 million guns in this country, and plenty of those already fit that category,” he said. “The way I approach things is, what can we do that will actually work? There’s a tendency and logic that every time there’s a problem, let’s pass some law.”
He said gun violence is a societal issue.
“We have a very violent culture,” he said. “I don’t think it’s driven by the fact that folks own guns, but it’s driven by a lot of things in this society.”
He mentioned mental illness as one issue, but spoke more forcefully about how video games desensitize young people to violence.
As for a reasonable response to gun violence in schools, Huelskamp referred to the school his 11-year-old son attends in Fowler.
“The principal of that school is a former Marine…he can handle a weapon,” he said. “Under state and federal law he is forbidden to actually have a gun anywhere near the school.
“I think I would like him to defend my 11-year-old son from a monster like in Newtown. Under federally law it’s, nope, call 911 and wait to see what happens.”
Another recurring theme from the audience was frustration with the current president. One man called Barrack Obama a “pretender president (who) doesn’t do anything, doesn’t say anything.”
One woman asked directly, “Why is it so hard to get this president impeached?”
Others expressed concern about the president’s frequent use of executive orders rather than traditional legislation to accomplish his goals.
Asked near the end of the hour-long meeting how many members of Congress share his conservative convictions, Huelskamp replied, “I serve with a lot of honorable men and women—until they go behind closed doors and you’re not there.
“You’ll be amazed what someone says behind closed doors. I’ve been very disappointed at times and very excited at times.”
Huelskamp said too many elected officials in Washington are concerned more about politics than finding solutions.
“I understand that—we’re all politicians,” he said. “But the economic reality is this: Our nation’s bankrupt, we’re going to have our credit rating downgraded, we’re borrowing 40 cents of every dollar—and they’re sitting there worrying about who gets to go on a trip to see embassies around the world.”
As for the standoff between the White House, the Senate and the House, Huelskamp refered to the 2012 election.
“Remember, 51 percent of the American people voted for (Obama), they reelected a Democratic (Senate), and they reelected a Republican Congress— with even fewer members from my party. Are we going to see any different results?
“I hope so. That’s why I’m still working at it.”