Fiscal cliff, social issues top list of topics at talk

ESCANABA – U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek and State Rep. Ed McBroom were in Escanaba discussing fiscal and social issues with local residents Tuesday.

According to Benishek, issues with the deficit became severe during the presidency of George W. Bush and continued to worsen under the leadership of President Obama.

“The spending under Mr. Obama is even greater, and that’s one of the reasons I ran for Congress. I just don’t think we should be saddling our children with that much debt,” said Benishek.

Benishek believes social programs, such as Medicare, are responsible for the increase in the nation’s debt.

“Medicare is the main driver of the debt because of the unfunded liability that we have to care for people going forward is growing, because of the fact that, frankly, there’s 10,000 people a day being added to the Medicare rolls and there’s fewer people paying into the Medicare trust fund,” he said.

While not presenting a detailed plan for how to reduce spending, Benishek did suggest cutting costs in areas like Medicare and defense spending.

“No spending to me is sacred. We have to examine all areas of the budget. (All areas) need to be examined to see if we can save money there,” said Benishek.

“I don’t think that defense is completely sacrosanct. I think that the Medicare and the Social Security programs need to be examined to make sure that they can sustain themselves over the long term and are there for future generations,” he added.

The Senate narrowly avoided the Fiscal Cliff earlier this month by reaching a compromise between the two parties and passing a spending bill. Designed to prod Congress into creating a budget, the Fiscal Cliff would have caused across the board spending cuts and tax hikes.

“We passed solutions to the Fiscal Cliff back in May – May, you know, seven months ago. The Senate never acted upon it until 2 o’clock in the morning on the first of January,” said Benishek.

If the bill had not been signed into law within 48 hours of being passed by the Senate, the Cliff would have started and raised taxes for millions of Americans.

“That’s a little bit frustrating for me because I haven’t really been in politics before, so this whole process is somewhat new to me,” said Benishek.

Not limited just to discussing the national debt, Benishek and McBroom also addressed issues raised by local residents including health care reform and gun control.

Benishek believes requiring employers to pay for health services the employer is morally opposed to is a violation of the First Amendment.

“They have mandated the fact that … faith-based facilities have to pay for certain things that are against the moral values of those in that faith, and I just think that that’s wrong. I don’t think, personally, that federal money should be used to pay for abortions,” he said.

McBroom echoed his sentiment and reported legislation was being worked on to make Michigan residents opt-in on abortion coverage if they choose it through a health care exchange.

“We’re trying at the state to nibble at the edges of this the best we can,” said McBroom.

Benishek thinks the mandate may need to be protested by businesses.

“They’re going to be faced with possible arrests for practicing their faith because they don’t believe in those things, and I think that we’re going to have to do that – be placed under arrest so that people realize how bad this is,” he said.

Both Benishek and McBroom agreed recent gun violence was an issue of mental health and that citizens needed their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves.

“I think it’s more of a mental health issue than it is a gun issue. If somebody’s crazy, they can kill you with a knife, or they can run into you with their car. They can do a million different things to inflict injury to people, because they’re mentally ill, not because of the weapon: That’s simply a tool,” said Benishek.