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Schrader says tough calls ahead in D.C.

Rep. Kurt Schrader addresses the audience at a town hall Wednesday, Aug. 24 at the Keizer Civic Center. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

As might be predicted Congressman Kurt Schrader’s “fiscal” town hall Wednesday morning at the Keizer Civic Center was heavy on the numbers.

The second-term Democrat told a packed crowd eliminating tax breaks for the country’s wealthiest companies and people would have to be included with spending cuts to keep the federal government from careening further into debt.

He said some $1.1 trillion in potential federal revenue goes out the door in deductions. And while some had value, others would have to go, he said.

“Bottom line is we’re giving away half of what’s collected,” Schrader said. “And that’s why we can’t afford a whole heck of a lot.”

The congressman also noted Medicare spending has increasingly come from the general fund rather than payroll deductions and employer contributions. He said some 42 percent is coming from general taxes.

And while Social Security spending isn’t rising dramatically, revenue will become an increasingly severe problem. The ratio of workers to recipients has dropped from 16 to 1 in 1950 to 3 to 1 in 2011 and is projected to go to 2 to 1 in 2035, the congressman said, and its trust fund drops every year.

“If we do not do anything, Social Security will have to be cut by 2036,” he said.

Negotiations from the August debt ceiling debate created a Supercommittee evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with six from the House and six from the Senate. It has until November 23 to create a plan saving at least $1.2 trillion in the next 10 years. Without an agreement by that date  automatic, across-the-board cuts will hit both domestic programs and the Department of Defense. However, Schrader said programs like Social Security, veterans and Medicare benefits would be safe.

“Let me make one thing crystal clear to seniors: You’re not at risk as a result of this work,” he said.

And he said some $917 billion in deficit reduction measures over the next 10 years are “not enough.

“If you just do that we’re not changing the trajectory, folks,” he said.

Audience members were picked by drawing to ask questions. Harry Bladow of Independence questioned the wisdom of foreign aid with tough times on the homefront, saying he hasn’t “heard one word” about reducing those expenditures.

Schrader acknowledged “a growing sense in Congress that we can’t afford to do what we’ve done in the past,” but said foreign aid only makes up 1 percent of the federal budget. That said, he wants to analyze money going to places like Pakistan, where leadership may not have the United States’ best interests at heart. But he said he “wants to be thoughtful” so that the country doesn’t further align itself with anti-U.S. Sentiments.

And as rebel forces reportedly closed in on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, he said he was pleased with the outcome, but also happy American forces weren’t bearing the brunt. In July he told the Keizertimes he wanted U.S. forces off the African nation’s soil.

“We let the French and the English carry the load,” he said. “… They’ve been the traditional powers in that part of the world.”

Schrader’s statements that portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act could save money didn’t impress Luis Martinez of Salem.

“Obamacare is what’s going to bankrupt this country,” said Martinez, who accused the congressman of “pushing socialism down our throats.”

Schrader said many portions of the act had been proposed by Republicans and conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and noted the U.S. Supreme Court would likely decide whether the individual mandate to purchase health insurance violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Meanwhile, another questioner asked why Medicare couldn’t be expanded to all Americans.

Schrader noted the loud and sustained opposition to the health care act passed by Congress as a reason that would be politically difficult.

“There’s a lot of hysteria out there about repealing the bill,” Schrader added, “but that’s just not gonna happen.”

The congressman has been in Oregon visiting constituents during the August recess.