Love him or hate him, Tim Huelskamp can draw a crowd.
The First District representative in Congress showed that Friday afternoon when nearly 140 persons showed up for his Town Hall appearance at the Manhattan Public Library.
Judging from more than 15 questions fired at the congressman during the 75-minute session, the audience contained significant numbers of both supporters and opponents of Huelskamp’s conservativism, a brand so staunch that Republican leadership booted him off the House Ag Committee earlier this year. Huelskamp didn’t shy away from the debate Friday, and he wore his differences with House Speaker John Boehner as a badge of honor.
“I told the Speaker I was not going to work for him…I’m not up for sale,” Huelskamp asserted. He described his ouster, reportedly for not voting as Boehner wanted him to, as “a punishment on you (district representatives.”
Several recurring themes – notably health care, national security, and debt — dominated the discussion. Huelskamp several times called out National Security Council head James Clapper for testimony during which Clapper said the NSA was not collecting data on Americans. The testimony was subsequently established to be untrue.
“Mr. Clapper got caught in a lie,” Huelskamp said. He described himself as “very worried — troubled — that there’s more tracking (of individual messages) going on than has been reported. One attendee, a KSU student, asked Huelskamp to “protect the Fourth Amendment;” that’s the one that prohibits unreasonable or warrantless searches and seizures.
Backers of the President’s health care initiative several times challenged Huelskamp’s call for the law’s repeal. One challenged the congressman to name any aspect of the medical or insurance industry that the new law “takes over,” to which Huelskamp replied by asserting that it will require the shifting of $7 billion from Medicare, concurrently reducing that service. He also asserted that 7 million Americans who currently have workplace insurance will lose it. The questioner made it clear he did not think Huelskamp had answered his question.
Another individual, a government employee who has been hit by the furlough program at Fort Riley, challenged Huelskamp’s support for “balancing the budget ion the backs of federal employees” by sequestration. The questioner said the spending cuts were irresponsible.
Huelskamp replied that 40 percent of all government spending today is borrowed, and that while he did not like the sequester approach, something had to be done.
He said the question he asked on spending votes was, “Is this important enough that I’m going to borrow 40 percent of it and pass the cost along to my grandchildren?”
One questioner told Huelskamp that the representative’s opposition to immigration reform was neither compassionate nor realistic. Huelskamp replied by pointing to his four adopted children, two from Haiti. “We did the paperwork,” he said of them.
He said he did not believe it was “compassionate to let 11 million people ahead (of those already) in line to immigrate legally.” At the same time, Huelskamp assured his audience that “nothing will pass” on immigration reform because politicians believe they can gain more from it “as a political issue.” He also conceded that the system needs to be repaired, noting that 40 percent of those here illegally came here legally and simply overstayed their visas.
He disagreed with the contention of an advocate for wind energy that the alternative fuel source ought to be promoted ahead of expansion of a proposed coal fired plant near Montezuma. “Wind power is not (financially) competitive,” he asserted. But he conceded that federal energy policy at present was blocking the Montezuma expansion plan. He told the audience that the “dirtiest” plant now operational in Kansas is the one in Lawrence, and wondered why there were no calls in that city to upgrade it.
Aaron Estabrook, a USD 383 board member who has announced he is exploring a Senate race against Pat Roberts, challenged Huelskamp both at the forum and afterward on his vote against the farm bill. Huelskamp said his opposition was based both on a finding that 80 percent of the bill related to food stamps, not farm issues, and also to the absence of a work requirement for able-bodied adult food stamp recipients.
Estabrook said that reasoning “neglects to mention that less than 20 percent of (food stamp) spending happens in Kansas while more than 80 percent of farmers are getting hit by the delay for their subsidies.”