By Eric Swanson
Congressman Tim Huelskamp's constituents are always telling him to leave Medicare alone, he said Friday.
But without major reforms, Medicare will be bankrupt within seven to 19 years, he said.
"Medicare would be over," he said. "There would be an immediate 22 percent cut in Medicare benefits. If anybody works at a hospital, you understand it's already difficult already, and it would be worse."
Huelskamp said House Republicans approved a budget that protected Medicare and Medicaid but did not touch Social Security -- which is expected to be bankrupt within a generation.
But reforming Medicare was not the only topic on Huelskamp's mind during a town hall meeting in the Santa Fe Depot dining room. He also touched on a variety of other issues, including the recent debt ceiling battle and immigration reform.
Reducing the debt
After a fierce battle, that went down to the wire, Congress recently approved a deficit reduction package that cut about $900 billion over 10 years from federal agencies, which will be divided between national security and domestic programs. The new law also raised the government debt ceiling by up to $2.4 trillion in two phases and created a congressional supercommittee to slash another $1.5 trillion from the budget.
During Friday's town hall meeting, a retired teacher named Dave Brown asked Huelskamp how he would have handled the debt-ceiling fight.
"What would you have done differently, then or in the future, to stop members of Congress from what's been described, and I'll quote, from 'playing an irresponsible and dangerous game of chicken with our national debt?'" Brown said.
Huelskamp said before lawmakers approved the deficit reduction package, they were repeatedly warned that the nation would default on its debts unless Congress increased the debt ceiling.
"That would have been a very devastating thing," he said. "But I want to tell you here today -- in my honest opinion -- that was never, ever going to happen. That was never going to happen.
"Because we had sufficient dollars to pay our creditors. It's 8 percent of our revenue, and we can't pay them?"
Huelskamp dismissed those warnings as a scare tactic that struck fear into Americans and rattled the stock market.
The last 20 minutes turned contentious as Huelskamp fielded questions on several issues, including unemployment, abortion and immigration reform.
One woman asked the congressman how he reconciled his belief that government should stay out of people's lives with his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Huelskamp said he believes abortion is wrong and the government should protect unborn children. He added that he opposes same-sex marriage and believes the state has a responsibility to protect traditional marriage.
Another woman asked Huelskamp about immigration reform.
Huelskamp said he does not expect Congress to tackle the issue anytime soon. He also complained that Republican and Democratic presidents alike have failed to enforce current immigration laws.
"I don't see it happening in this Congress, and I don't see the presidents enforcing the law," he said.