The Transylvania Times -

Meadows Holds Town Hall Meeting


August 10, 2017

U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows held a town hall meeting at the Blue Ridge Community College Flat Rock campus on Monday night. Both supporters and dissenters attended the packed event. Audience members were allowed to write and submit questions prior to entry into the 416-seat Thomas Auditorium while many were left standing outside. Meadows and his staff then picked some of the questions, which were read, and he engaged the person while they stood up.

Questions pertaining to health care, “free market principles,” and jobs in Western North Carolina were answered amidst cheers, praise, accusations and boos. Meadows did all he could to answer these questions, but was more often than not interrupted.

The following are some of the questions picked, while Meadows’ answers have been edited for some clarity and brevity.

What are your plans for providing health care for the citizens of Western North Carolina should the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be repealed?

Meadows: There are two schools of thought. One that has received some cheers in the room is Medicare for all, and another option out there is looking at some of the more free market things. There are two other options — allowing for more association plans to be able to provide their own risk pool. Another would be to increase some of the funds that are there and block granting those in the state, so that way the state…(at that point there were boos in the audience). I find that interesting because many of you who want care for all, want the government to tell you what to charge and what not to charge, and yet you don’t want the state to do that.

The block grant in North Carolina would increase the amount of money that goes to Medicaid. It would augment that because we’re not an expansion state. Some of the states expanded, but 19 did not. One of the things we can look at is the expansion part. Then, it would take the subsidies out there for the ACA and block grant those to the states as well. What that does is allow for the state to develop plans that are designed to actually be what North Carolina would be.

In each one of these plans, the sole focus is to lower health care premiums. In terms of design, a block grant might not work. If you took all that money and moved it to the states and left the ACA regulations in place, you’re just shifting one person who is paying to another. I don’t know if that accomplishes anything that anyone in here would want. The ones picking up the most steam are the block grant option and perhaps the ones that allow the private market to compete alongside the ACA. Our primary purpose has to be lowering premiums and handling pre-existing conditions. I have made a pledge to not support anything that doesn’t lower premiums and cover pre-existing conditions.

Please elaborate on what the Freedom Caucus supports and for whom they support?

Meadows: Many of you know I am the chair for the Freedom Caucus. When we started the caucus it was with two things in mind — give a voice to the forgotten man or woman in D.C. One of things we put forth, to be a member of this, was to be willing to vote with your own party and its leadership and be willing to vote against your leadership. Many times people follow party lines. A prime example is that when it came to the Trans-Pacific Partnership many in my party wanted to support it. I found myself getting all kinds of input to not support it. We decided to not support it and vote with our constituents.

What is your stance on a Convention of the States and term limits now that we see so many problems in Congress and nothing can get done?

Meadows: I am one of the few members of Congress who believes in term limits. We must attach it to something that must pass. There is not really the support on either side for term limits, so maybe you have to grandfather those people in and allow it to kick in later. I was originally against the Convention of the States, but it’s all about making sure Congress works for the men and women here.

When are you and the rest of Congress going to start listening to the majority of people who want Medicare, Medicaid and social safety nets?

Meadows: There are 176 million people who have employee-based health coverage, which has nothing to do with the ACA except tweaking a few rules and regulations. If they lose their jobs, generally speaking, they go back to work for another employer. If they qualify, they become eligible for other safety net programs. I have been steadfast in making sure we have a safety net for those people. Those individuals whose household income is at 350 percent of the federal poverty level have some sort of assistance. The bill passed out of the U.S. House actually has subsidies up to a much higher amount. I felt like it was too generous. Above 400 percent of poverty was helping those who could perhaps take responsibility themselves. We need a safety net for those who need it and not take the value of work away from anybody. We have come to a point where we applaud success, and we hate successful people. Yet at the same time, we have to make sure that what we do is that we help those who truly need a helping hand but not create a situation where we’re taking something from one person and giving it to another. It’s not D.C.’s money. It’s the American taxpayers’ money. Lets talk about Medicare for all. When you look at some of the proposals in terms of Medicare for all, the price tag is just unbelievably high. Some of you were Bernie Sanders supporters and that’s where all this came from, but even with Bernie’s numbers, I can tell you that the cost associated with that is about half of what it will really will be. We are looking at trillions of dollars and not billions of dollars. We are starting to see that it has to be a tax. (Someone in the audience interjected with “a tax on the rich”). If you can figure a way to tax the rich at 100 percent and pay for it, I am willing to consider it. You can take the top 1 percent and tax them fully and it still won’t pay for it. If you disagree, send me the information. Here’s the other problem with Medicare for all — how many of you are familiar with all the problems we have had at Veterans Affairs? When you look at government intervention as a health care provider, it is not the most efficient way to do it. There is nothing we take more personally than our health. One-fifth is being spent on health care. We need to figure out a way to tackle this, but I need the facts and figures to back it up.

What do tax cuts have to do with health care?

Meadows: One of the block grant issues that we’re looking at, when the ACA came in, it came in with all kinds of taxes to pay for it. It wasn’t just one. It was multiple because of the expense of it. Even by mandating it and saying you have to have coverage, there were taxes that paid for it. There have been two different things that have been looked at — either you repeal it and start over, or look at keeping a lot of those taxes to pay for the portion that goes to the state. Nothing is off the table. We are trying to solve this, but the tax component was tied in with the ACA when it passed. One of the reasons is an archaic budget rule. One of the reasons we wanted to do health care before tax reform was that if repealed, those taxes it allowed for would mean a much more aggressive tax cut for the middle class in terms of the base line for budgeting. You have to make up the gap when you cut taxes. Lowering those taxes would make that gap lower. Right now, they’re looking at tax reform without doing the ACA as a prerequisite.

Will you work with Democrats to reform health care? If no, why not, and if so, how and when will you reach across the aisle?

Meadows: The real discouraging part is when we started in on this U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said he wasn’t going to help. When you hear that, it’s clear that this is going to be Republican driven. I went to five Democrat colleagues and I said I understand you can’t back this repeal. We asked for real input. Some of it was put into the House bill that came out. I had along conversation with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, last Friday about prescription drugs and with U.S. Jerry Conley, another Democrat.

Is there any hope that we will get a decent health care plan this year?

Meadows: I believe we have reached a critical point. There’s going to be a whole lot of work that happens even while we’re in recess. The Senate has to show that they can get 51 or 60 votes depending on what happens. I fully anticipate a vote in September and, ultimately, a bill that gets sent to the president in September. The longer that takes, the less likely it will happen. We don’t want a decision in D.C. to create crisis for anyone in health care. It requires us to work diligently to look at all the facts and figures to get it right. I feel a free market approach is the best way to bring down costs. Here’s a prime example. How many of you remember when you were getting phone calls from Sprint, MCI and all the other long-distance carriers? What we did was we took a regulated monopoly and broke it up and said there’s going to be competition. Long distance rates went from $1.05 a minute down to less than $.05 a minute. We also got technology to come in, so we started seeing the advent of cell phones. Now, we carry them around and many of us have gotten rid of landlines. That’s what the free market can do.

What have you done to help the economy in Western North Carolina?

Meadows: There are three things that we have tried to work on with our manufacturers. One is an outreach on the commerce side of things to make sure we are ready and open and willing for business. Part of that is to have federal regulations get out of the way and allow us to put people to work. Good infrastructure is another and not just the roads but high speed Internet. I tell people in D.C. that my house or many houses in the district do not have high speed or that I had dial up. I work with some of our carriers to make sure they serve the rural communities. We’re working with the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has been a partner in some of those. We also have over 1,000 good-paying jobs that we can fill tomorrow. It’s concerning to me that if you could pass a drug test and show up to work, you would get employed. If you have someone that meets those qualifications, I will get them a job within a week. These are jobs that pay $15 an hour or more.

Where in the Constitution does it allow any federal health care?

Meadows: The Constitution does not allow for that. I have a lot of libertarian friends who say we shouldn’t be in health care. In reality, we are in health care because of Medicaid and Medicare and I don’t see those going away.

What is your rationale for supporting gun laws that police officers oppose?

Meadows: I don’t know what I have supported that law enforcement officers have not. I am a strong 2nd Amendment rights guy, but I can tell you this, within 10 days of me going to D.C. as a freshman there was more gun-related violence in that 10 days in a city with some of strictest laws in the country than the last 10 years in the home county I was from. We have to deal with some of the mental health issues, but I will defend your 1st, 2nd and 3rd Amendment rights, and I have a close relationship with law enforcement. But if you want someone who doesn’t support the 2nd Amendment, you probably want a different congressman.

Will you vote “yes” to raise the debt ceiling?

Meadows: We need to get a hold of the fundamental problem that far too much money is spent in D.C. Seven of the richest counties surround D.C. and that’s your tax money going to fund special interests. We will not vote for a ceiling increase that isn’t accompanied with some kind of spending cut or reform that would actually bend that curve down to where we start spending more responsibly. When we talk about a debt ceiling, some people say you have to increase it because you’re spending the money. There is some truth in that, but the full faith in our country doesn’t need to be at risk. But it’s also like maxing out your credit card every month and then calling for an increase in the limit, so you can continue to spend. At some point, you have to have some fiscal restraint. I support the debt ceiling increase if it is accompanied with $250 billion in cuts. That’s over 10 years. The other was to do some structural reforms, so that in the event that appropriations don’t happen is that we allow ourselves to prioritize our debt. The Scheickert amendment would allow us to keep parts of the government open where appropriate.

The president has put forth a regulatory executive order that says you only have one new regulation for every two that you get rid of. There are many who want to do a clean debt ceiling. I believe that could pass with mostly Democrats and a few Republicans. That’s our most viable option at this point.

When will we extend health coverage providers to multiple states to allow for national competition?

Meadows: We believe this is one of the components of driving down cost. That was one of the things we can do real easy. If insurance is cheaper in Iowa, and you can buy it there and it still covers you at Mission, it could help drive down prices. I have been for that. I believe competition across state lines is a good thing. But we get push back from our insurance commissioners in all 50 states. They want to control what the insurance market is doing in their state.

We hear a lot about restructuring the federal tax code. Would you please explain your position concerning reduction of corporate tax rates and closing tax loopholes?

Meadows: I believe we need to be a lot stronger in closing those loopholes. We need to simplify it so that you can fill out your tax return on a postcard. You can have reductions for education, mortgage, charitable and probably some safety net provision for child income tax credit. Beyond loopholes, we can’t continue to pick winners and losers, because every time the federal government does that, it’s a special carve out for this or that industry. Let’s simplify it. Let’s lower the corporate rate, but let’s also lower it for the small business that do the predominant part of employing people. When you do that, you also need to make sure that the individuals who are not part of a small business or a corporation also get it. But it gets back to simplifying the code. You have these things called inversions now where they take their companies off shore. Part of that is because we have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Even with the tax loopholes, the effective rate is still higher.

Although you currently have a national platform, our region has issues that differ from those elsewhere. In your view, what are the priority issues for our region that must be addressed?

Meadows: Jobs is number one. There are some counties that are doing very well, and some that are not. The other that we haven’t talked about tonight is immigration. There are people on many sides of this, so any decision I make I will have 48 percent of the people mad. I was with two farmers today who were talking about the need for agricultural labor. They said they have these jobs and that fruit will fall off the tree if we don’t. So, we have to address that. One of the things that I believe that we start with is that any immigration reform we do has to start with secure borders. It will allow us to deal with a situation on a region-by-region basis. The third thing is with our veterans. We introduced some legislation the other day to help with our homeless vets.

Since you have been in the House, can you give a few examples of what the House has done to restore any individual liberties or remove unreasonable regulations from small businesses?

Meadows: There have been a number removed recently. We put together a list of some 300 regulations that needed modified or changing. There are bureaucrats in the federal government who have one job — to make more rules on tops of other rules. I am all for good regulations, but at the same time we know we can just write things on top of other things. I am not one to say we throw them all out either. We need a process where we review them and do something about it. There was a study done in 2011 that found that for every 5 percent reduction in regulations you create over a million jobs. One of the keys is that whenever you look at streamlining the federal government generally you see things take off. We saw this in the early 1980s as the regulations got rolled back we had an economy boom. As a business guy, I understand that there are regulations that you need and should comply with, but there are a lot of them that you get taxed on that have nothing to do with the output.

Are the Republicans, and specifically the Freedom Caucus, preparing to shut down the government over the budget?

Meadows: No, we are not planning on shutting anything down. We are about to increase the amount of money we spend in the Department of Defense and we will probably increase the amount by well over $100 billion. Now, eventually that adds up to real money. As we start to look at $100 billion increases we need to get a real grip on it. I have been advocating for the need to put the value back in work. On some of the safety net programs, where we have an able body adult with non-dependent children, there needs to be a work requirement for them. I talked to an apple farmer today. He said his biggest challenge in finding workers is that the federal government pays people to stay home. That’s a true statement. For those who disagree with me, what would be a reasonable standard? 20 hours? We believe that at least 20 hours a week is reasonable. You know what happened when Maine did that? Seventy two percent of the people came off the roles.


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