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Black addresses concerns at nearby town hall meeting

Staff Reports • Updated Apr 8, 2016 at 12:00 PM

U.S. Congresswoman Diane Black held a town hall meeting Monday in Carthage, one of three such stops in the 6th District this week.

Around 20 people turned out for the meeting in the historic Smith County Courthouse and listened to Black discuss what she called “the top four legislative issues we hear the most about” in her office.

“It is really an honor to represent you guys, and I take it seriously,” Black said.

Black’s first area of concern was the federal budget. Using a Powerpoint presentation, she highlighted her vote against the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was signed into law by the president in November. Black, who sits on the House Budget Committee, was among nearly two-thirds of House Republicans to vote against the bill, which increased spending above the sequester limits by $85 billion in the first three years.

“We did not stick to a promise we had made, that we were going to continue to cut the budget… so that we weren’t borrowing so much money,” Black said. “I really felt strongly that we should have stuck to the promise we made.”

Black also decried the consistent failure of Congress to actually pass an annual budget for the government.

“I’ve been in Congress for six years, and it’s been really hard to get Congress to do a budget,” she said.

Black announced her support for a Republican budget proposal which would repeal Obamacare, and which supporters claim would balance the budget in 10 years while also reducing the federal debt by $7 trillion in that same 10 years.

“Our budget calls to reduce the spending, so that you eventually get the spending down to the point where you’re not borrowing money,” the congressman said. “You’re living within your means.”

Other areas of concern

Black’s second area of focus was the security of multi-employer pensions.

“We’re getting more and more calls that are asking about the issue,” Black said.

The Central States Pension Fund, a multiemployer fund that serves mainly trucking companies, has said it is currently paying out $3.46 for every dollar collected in contributions.

The CSPF has asked the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to provide federal backing should the fund fail, a path Black said she was firmly opposed to taking.

“It’s really not fair for everyone not in the pension fund to be paying taxes to back somebody up, when they’re not getting any benefit from that,” the congressman said.

America’s security was the third area of discussion Black focused upon during the assembly.

Black noted her support for the SAFE Act of 2015, which would require the FBI Director, Secretary of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence to certify that anyone from Syria or Iraq seeking refugee status in the U.S. is not a threat. The bill passed the House, but has yet to brought up in the Senate. President Obama has threatened a veto should the bill reach his desk.

“Should we be generous, as we have throughout our history, of helping people when they’re in tough situations? Absolutely,” Black said. “But my No. 1 responsibility is to keep you all safe.”

Black also decried the president’s request for Congressional approval for the use of military force against ISIS. Obama’s request said that American ground troops would not be used, something Black called a mistake.

“Does anybody agree that we should tell our enemies what we won’t do?” Black stated.

Black also discussed her support of pro-life causes and the need to back religious liberty in America. Black attended arguments as the Supreme Court recently heard a case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic organization which has sued the government to avoid being required to cover contraception for its employees.

Crowd questions

Black concluded the meeting by taking questions from the audience.

One attendee asked about the definition of “natural-born citizen,” which Black deftly sidestepped, saying, “We’re not going to solve that here tonight.”

Other questions raised dealt with voter ID laws, trying to fund infrastructure improvements, healthcare and how to preserve Medicare for future generations.

In December, Congress passed and the president signed a $305 billion bill to govern federal transportation spending. The bill did not raise the federal gas tax, but instead relied on other funding mechanisms. Raising the gas tax was something Black said she did not envision at the federal level just yet.

“It’s not really the solution,” Black said. “If you raise the gas tax, would that really be a sustainable solution? It’s not a panacea.”

Black cited a need for more stability in federal funding of roads. Some of the areas she noted were regulations that she said increased costs, the taking of money from the road fund by past Congresses to spend elsewhere, and the increase in fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel powered vehicles.

The congressman noted a pilot project in Oregon, which determines the amount of gas tax based on the number of miles driven.

“They’re showing some pretty good results,” Black noted.

With regards to Medicare, Black said, “We have got to do something to reform Medicare or it’s not going to be there in the future.”

Black noted a plan that she said would preserve the program for those currently enrolled and bring the private sector to be part of the program.

A means test would be part as well, and the government would provide funds to be applied toward premiums.

“It’s not a voucher,” Black said. “It’s just like in your workforce. We would send your premium directly to where you directed us to send it… If you want a plan that would give more comprehensive care, or if you want a high-deductible plan, we would give you a long list of options to choose.

“Competition brings the cost down, and that’s what we would do.”

— Chris Gregory, The Hartsville Vidette

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