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From the Affordable Care Act to immigration to getting a farm bill passed, locals seized the opportunity to ask Congressman Brett Guthrie a myriad of questions during his Spencer County town hall meeting last Wednesday.
Local officials and citizens from both conservative and liberal viewpoints attended the almost two-hour meeting in the fiscal court room to get their questions answered.
The Affordable Care Act
Spencer County Judge Executive Bill Karrer got the audience discussion started by asking Guthrie about the status of what he termed the “Unaffordable Care Act” — commonly known as Obamacare and officially named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The controversial act is well-known across the country for its ongoing attempt to implement comprehensive health reform, including the goal of drastically reducing the number of uninsured Americans.
Guthrie said he felt the 2,700 page bill was almost impossible for most people to understand or to implement successfully.
“The bill is such a difficult bill to make work,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Guthrie noted that the bill’s employer mandate portion, which requires establishments with 50 or more full-time employees that do not offer health insurance to pay a penalty, has already been delayed. He said those employers must provide proof of insurance for each employee and “there just isn’t a way to do it.”
Guthrie said in his opinion, the act hurt small business owners and self-employed individuals the most. Karrer noted his concern about potential costs that could affect the county, including the cost of ambulance runs.
“We’ll have to supplement emergency services more at the local level,” Karrer said.
Guthrie said at this point he believes that the best move for congress would be to delay the whole bill at least one year and try to address the real issue at hand — the rising cost of health care.
The Syrian conflict
Local citizen, farmer and businessman James Allen Tipton asked Guthrie his opinion on the role the United States should play in the escalating Syrian conflict and in other countries torn by civil war, like Egypt.
Most recently it has been confirmed that chemical weapons were used in Syria, and President Barack Obama said over the weekend that the Syrian government used those weapons on its people. Guthrie said there is no easy answer on how the United States should respond.
“The president is not dealt an easy hand on this at all,” Guthrie said of the situation.
He said congress should have to authorize any U.S. military action. Guthrie also said that the Syrian opposition is led by well-known Islamist militant terrorist group al Qaida, which puts the U.S. and other countries in a difficult situation. He said toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime might leave al Qaida in power.
In regard to Egypt’s ousting of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, Guthrie said, “I think they did a coup and the money should stop.”
Several audience members also asked Guthrie to speak on his feelings regarding United States immigration policies.
Guthrie noted that immigration is a complicated issue and eluded to the fact that comprehensive immigration reform could still be very far off, but also recognized that he is a third-generation immigrant.
“We’re a nation of immigrants, we’re a nation of laws,” he said.
Guthrie noted there are numerous issues regarding immigration, including that it was very difficult for local farmers to hire legal workers, and that around 11 million illegal immigrants are currently in the country.
“Because we didn’t enforce our laws we’ve got a pretty messy system,” he said.
Guthrie noted that he was fully in favor of all immigrants following U.S. laws, saying that “If you vote illegally, you make my vote less.”
However, Guthrie said there is no perfect solution to the multi-faceted issue.
“It’s a tangled mess,” he said.
The farm bill
Several farmers including Tipton and Doug Williams inquired as to if congress would get a farm bill passed, which includes federal farm policy, aid and federal food assistance policies, such as food stamps. The current bill is set to expire Sept. 30 and, if it does, policies dating back to the 1940s could go into effect.
Guthrie said that he supported a bill that removed policies that awarded money to farmers for not growing certain crops and reverted the federal food stamp program back to pre-stimulus levels, but that bill didn’t make it out of the House.
“It wasn’t conservative enough, quite honestly,” he said.
Tipton inquired about the possibility of getting industrial hemp legislation passed.
“I think there’s likelihood that would stay in,” Guthrie said of the portion of the bill addressing hemp. However, the House and Senate bills differ in how farmers could move forward in producing hemp. The Senate version would allow farmers to immediately begin growing hemp, while the House version requires university research before farmers could move forward.
The restriction of voting rights, the Voting Rights Act, keeping jobs stateside and education reform were also a part of the discussions last Wednesday.