Town Hall Meeting With Congressman Bill Sali
I went to a hurriedly-scheduled "town hall" meeting today with my Congressman, Bill Sali. Long-time readers will remember that I'm not a big fan of Bill Sali; I feel that our district deserves a Congressman who is able to work with people to get things done, rather than just embarrass himself with insensitive gaffes and be on the losing end of a bunch of 403-18 votes.
The meeting started about 10 minutes after the scheduled noon start time; here's who was there:
We ended up with a few people showing up late, so overall attendence was about 30 people -- probably 90% of them Sali supporters. Congressman Sali has always been very personable when I've seen him before, and today was no exception. He opened the meeting by apologizing for the short notice, and explained that he had planned to go to ANWR this weekend; unfortunately, he was unable to arrange for transportation. He said the reason for that was that the "Democrat Congress" had passed an ethics bill that made it so that Congressmen couldn't get free airplane rides from lobbyists anymore -- apparently, he's against that restriction.
He started off talking about high energy prices, and said that our problems are caused by the "Democrat Congress" not allowing us to drill off the coast and in ANWR. Never mentioned was the fact that it would take years for any of this oil to get into the marketplace, and it would have no real effect on prices for a long time. While I personally don't have a big problem with drilling for oil where we can in an environmentally-conscious manner, I do know that it's neither a short-term nor a long-term solution to our problems by itself -- ANWR would provide maybe 1% of world oil production by 2030.
He then moved on to attacking entitlements, including problems with Social Security. I asked him about his campaign promise in 2006 to reveal his plan that would "protect Medicare and Social Security for all generations" by reducing payroll taxes. Amazingly, he flat-out admitted that he was wrong; he claimed he "had" a plan, but when people with an actual clue looked at the numbers, they convinced him it wouldn't work. Then an older woman mentioned how her Social Security check wasn't going very far, and the crowd started getting ugly. While Congresman Sali responded to the woman with comforting words, I heard people snidely whispering behind me that "I bet she hasn't paid into Social Security as much as she's getting out." Congressman Sali, who had attacked opponent Larry Grant in 2006 over his admission that we'd have to balance intakes and outlays of the program (either by increasing payroll taxes or pushing back the retirement age sometime in the next 30 years), basically admitted that the math just doesn't add up -- by 2040, you'll have 2 contributors for every recipient under the current rules. While he's a canny enough politician not to come out and say that you'd have to reduce or delay benefits to get it to work, it was clear he thought that was the only option if we want to keep Social Security solvent.
The overall tenor of Congressman Sali and his supporters was that "people screwed it up in the past" and that had people only followed their principles, we wouldn't be having these problems. They might be right. That being said, it doesn't help us now to only provide "we told you so" as a solution. Any possible solution they offered was either patently absurd, against the laws of physics, or (most often) politically impossible. (One person suggested President Bush declare a "National Emergency" and rule by decree. Congressman Sali said the President should "keep that option on the table.")
At this point, a Sali supporter asked him if Congressman Sali ever gets down-hearted by all the people saying bad things about him; specifically mentioned was the new "Bill Sali Hates Idaho" website. Bill Sali said basically that he's OK with himself standing by his principles, and if the people elect someone else, he'll take it with good grace. I followed up by asking him, in the manner of Bob Slydell from "Office Space", a variation on "What exactly is it that you do here?" [Long version of the question: I first thanked him for getting the PUC for VO-67, and then pointed out that he really hasn't accomplished anything else tangible during his tenure, other than be on the losing end of a bunch of lopsided votes. I mentioned that his much-hyped "Always Think Freedom" bill wouldn't even get a hearing (he didn't disagree), postulated that his "Simplify the Tax Forms" amendment would probably get dropped in conference (he said he thinks it will survive, so I'll believe him for now, even though he didn't disagree with my characterization of it as "without metrics" and therefore basically meaningless), and pointed out that his co-sponsorship of bills like Rep. Ron Paul's "U.S. Out Of The UN" H. R. 1146 was completely pointless, since there's no chance that any of these bills will even get a committee hearing. I concluded that the only tangible effect of having him in Congress seemed to be that our district got less federal money than we would have had we elected a Democrat in 2006.] He chose to focus on why he signed on to co-sponsor the UN Bill, and fell back on "American sovereignty" -- he didn't mention why he wasn't supporting a "U.S. Out Of NATO" bill, since that organization actually would force us to go to war when we might not want to, which seems like a bigger threat to our sovereignty than the UN would ever be. He then went on to claim, bizarrely, that he doesn't think the House leadership would have given more money (in the form of earmarks) to a freshman Democrat in an unsafe district; instead, he claimed that he'd gotten more earmarks than "most" of the freshman Democrats. Other than my amazement at seeing a supposedly fiscally-conservative Congressman claiming as his main achievement a whole bunch of earmarks, I really doubt that he had more than "most" freshman Democrats (since that group got $237 million in earmarks, and freshman Republicans got only $36 million) -- maybe he did, though, because the district has so much land. Hopefully Mountain Goat has the research on that tucked away somewhere.
At this point the meeting got a little uglier. One woman behind us complained about everyone having an "entitlement mentality" and wondering why the government had to help people at all, especially people who were hit by natural disasters. Congressman Sali admitted that he thought that there were things the federal government probably should do to help people in that situation. (He didn't mention the actual unspoken reason that the elites decided long ago to help people down on their luck -- that it's much better to make sure everyone has enough to eat than to drive them to desperation, where they end up robbing people like the woman who complained about her tax dollars going to help "undeserving" people.) Another woman in the row behind us then started to quiz Sali about his salary and benefits; her point seemed to be that people who work for the government shouldn't have pensions or health care. Poor Congressman Sali tried to protect himself from the onslaught, and I felt so sorry for him that I spoke up and said that I thought I had earned my government pension. The woman was gathering herself up to keep going when SubBasket turned and asked the woman if she thought that having to go through 4 six-month separations didn't maybe mean I'd earned something. The woman behind us didn't say another word. After that, a woman complained about the state of education in the country; Congressman Sali replied that one of the problems is that we can't even hire all of the foreign students who get advanced degrees here. Apparently, he supports the granting of more H-1B visas; interestingly, he doesn't mention that on his campaign website.
Towards the end, Congressman Sali got philosophical, and admitted that he hadn't really understood when he took office how complicated things like foreign relations were. He also said that he doesn't want to be an "alarmist", but he's worried that our economy could get much, much worse by the end of the year, even worse than during the Great Depression. He seemed much more honest to me than he has in the past; I think he's starting to realize that he really is in over his head. I can admire a man who stands by his beliefs; I just don't want him as my Congressman if he's completely useless. Hopefully, by early next January, Bill Sali will be able to return home -- although he did say that, if he lost, he didn't know where "home" might be, since he didn't want to live someplace that didn't vote for someone like him. I'm thinking ANWR might be a good place for him to put down roots...
Update 2051 13 July: When I was at work today, I remembered an additional piece of information from the meeting. Congressman Sali did seem to suggest that Social Security could be "saved" by the government getting $60 trillion (say it like Dr. Evil for full effect) by having all energy in government lands extracted -- here's another Congressman talking about that. I put this under both the "patently absurd" and "against the laws of physics" categories, in that most of the energy can't be extracted with any current or planned technology, our current GDP is only about $13.3 trillion (so who's going to pay all this money that doesn't exist?), and when you've collected all the money (if it was even possible) you now have no energy supplies left in the country.
Labels: Bill Sali