Second District U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins told about 40 constituents Wednesday at the Manhattan Public Library that a tighter fiscal environment is encouraging discussion of subjects previously considered to be out of bounds.
The two biggest of those issues are reducing spending and reform of the tax code.
Sixty percent of the budget is allocated for what Jenkins termed autopilot spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest and other mandatory spending. Jenkins said legislators wouldn’t discuss those issues in previous years due to the unpopularity of doing so.
“We’re in a different environment this year and we’ve been talking about that 60 percent of the pie,” she said. Jenkins said consideration of changes in these programs is important due to the increasing cost and demographics that fit into the programs.
One audience member, Marvin Zentz, suggested looking into consolidation of some of the Cabinet departments. Using the 2009 budget, he cited health and human services, labor, agriculture, transportation and education, spending more than $1 trillion a year.
“The country is spending too much money,” he said. “Why can’t some or all of them be eliminated?”
Jenkins said it’s important to multitask when making cuts, but she considered autopilot spending and the tax code as the necessary priorities.
“Our goal is to get back to what the federal government is intended to be under the Constitution,” she said. “But we will never ever, ever make a dent in balancing the budget or eliminating this debt until we tackle the drivers, which are autopilot spending and overhauling the tax code.”
While there is more discussion of these programs, Jenkins said the difficulty right now is developing the bipartisanship required to get tasks done. “There’s the rub,” she said. “Our views of the world are a lot different,” she said of Republicans and Democrats.
Jenkins also took questions on government shutdowns, budget cuts, the Keystone pipeline and the rights of America citizens.
Ron Peery expressed some disappointment in the job being done by House Speaker John Boehner to counteract what the Obama administration is doing.
“Every time there’s a major confrontation with the administration, he backs down,” Peery said of Boehner. “We gave him that job basically so that he could get up in the president’s face and say, ‘you’re not going to do this.’”
Jenkins said although she has her share of disagreements with Boehner, he’s doing what he can. “As it relates to negotiating with the president, it comes down to trying to get the best that you can,” she said.
Some audience members inquired as to how much actually wouldn’t get paid under a government shutdown.
Jenkins said that would be partially in the hands of the administration because “the administration would have control over the treasury.” She added, however, that a shutdown would be ill-advised.
Some asked about the status of the Keystone pipeline, which would go from Canada to Texas if a project permit is approved by President Obama.
Nancy Ireland-Otto had concerns about the overall safety of the pipeline. She wondered what would happen in the event of a leak, asking whether the water supply would be safe. “It seems to me if there’s an oil spill big or small, the water will be contaminated,” she said.
Jenkins said experts assured her that there are numerous fail-safes in place should an issue happen, but Ireland-Otto said the experts aren’t perfect.
“There should also be a Plan B, especially when you’re dealing with something as volatile, as destructive and so tied into our economy,” Ireland-Otto said.
A controversial topic for many citizens is a section of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 dealing with the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens. There were disagreements among those in attendance about the law.
Jenkins said uneasiness with the act has to do with the initial language. She said citizens would feel more at ease if they realized the newer version includes the provisions that “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”
Jenkins said Constitutional protections against illegal detention “trump anything your United States Congress could do today.”