By Eric Bernsee
Issues like Internet sales tax, a balanced budget, foreign aid, government handouts and more were raised by Putnam County constituents chatting informally Friday afternoon with Congressman Todd Rokita.
But what definitely dominated discussion during the Indiana Fourth District congressman's hour-long visit to Jackson's Family Restaurant on the East Side of Greencastle was clearly one topic, and one topic alone.
"Obamacare," as the Affordable Care Act has become popularly known.
Rokita, a Republican congressman in his first term in Washington after serving as Indiana secretary of state under Gov. Mitch Daniels, initially sought out a diverse dialogue.
"I'm hearing immigration already, securing the border, doing it well and making the punishment fit the crime," he said, noting topics after his entry into the banquet room on the west side of the restaurant immediately found him surrounded by vocal constituents with questions aplenty.
"Forty percent of illegal aliens are not here because they crossed the border illegally," he told the group of 25 local residents. "They're here illegally because their visas have run out."
Rokita, who just got off the plane to come home from Washington at 12:30 Thursday night, used that summation to allow him time to take a seat among several Republican loyalists.
A brief interlude evolved into disscussion of the Internet sales tax, on which Rokita said has yet to solidify his stance.
"I'm leaning toward supporting it," he told the group, "because no one's proven to me that it's a new tax ... I've not made a decision on it yet, and that's why I come to meetings like this."
That's when the discussion took a right turn into the "Obamacare" issue.
In July, Rokita said, he will be making his 41st vote to repeal Obamacare.
The problem with getting anything done on it and being able to drive a stake through the heart of what has become a monster in the eyes of Republicans and even some Democrats. Rokita explained that no appropriation bill "will or can ever say 'here's the line item for Obamacare, now strike it."
It can't be killed or defunded, Rokita added, "unless we're willing to say, 'Strike Medicare' or 'Strike Medicaid' or 'Strike Health and Human Services,' and we're not willing to do that."
Another difficulty in moving beyond Obamacare, he said, is that the Republicans have not been able to offer "something called 'Republican Care'" as a viable option. Instead of being able to suggest a comprehensive health care plan of its own, the GOP has considered multiple plans and possibilities.
"It's awfully hard to get the bully pulpit to be able to explain all of those," Rokita said.
Under growing frustration with the Affordable Care Act, Rokita thinks it's possible "there's a good chance it could crash and unravel under its own weight."
"Democrats are even coming out now, calling it - quote, unquote - a train wreck."
Letting it unravel, he suggested, in the near term could cause severe pain to people who are counting on it, those who "voted for Mr. Obama under the pretense they were going to get free health care."
Rokita equated the philosophy behind Obamacare with car insurance.
"There's not one auto insurance package on the face of the earth that will pay for your oil change," he said. "They pay for accidents, for catastrophic occurrences, not maintenance."
The situation could cause a "health care train wreck for 2014," the congressman said, stressing that the "tentacles" of Obamacare reach far and wide in their influence.
"If we do a full repeal," he said, "the octopus will die. We can't kill it off by defunding it.
"So many of us want this gone," Rokita continued, "we would do it (kill it) if we could. If we are able to repeal it, it's gone lock, stock and barrel."
The congressman also addressed the $17 trillion national debt and borrowing money from China to fund the budget.
Until America has a balanced budget again, why can't we cut off foreign aid and quit paying United Nation dues, he was asked.
"We should look at our foreign aid programs to see who we're giving money to," Rokita agreed.
"Really though it's a miniscule amount (2 percent of the budget), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look at who we're giving our money to.
"I can't stand that we're giving money to people who are unappreciative or even who attack us," he added.
Rokita took a few more questions before suggesting that even the Tea Party followers in the group need to concentrate on converting two people a week to a conservative viewpoint in order to raise awareness and help reduce the $17 trillion debt.
"It's mission work," he suggested.
"In Indiana," Rokita has stated, "balancing our budget and never spending more than we earn is common sense. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Washington.
"My priority is reining in out-of-control federal spending that is hurting small businesses and family farms, costing Hoosier jobs and stealing the future from our children and grandchildren with trillions in federal debt."
In conclusion, Rokita thanked the constituents for their ideas in conclusion. "I learned a lot today. I'll take this back to Washington with me."