The Salina Journal
Federal deficits and debt, Benghazi and foreign aid all got a hearing Tuesday morning in a town hall meeting conducted by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., at the Salina Bicentennial Center.
Before spending most of an hour fielding questions from people in the audience, Huelskamp, who arranged the meeting in conjunction with the annual Mid America Farm Expo, gave a brief description of the federal government's financial problems.
"Our $16 trillion debt didn't start four years ago, didn't start eight years ago, it's been building for a long time," he said, adding that many in Washington are "excited ... because they think the deficit might shrink to $900 billion."
Even the most aggressively austere budget plans proposed so far this year are projected to take 10 years to get the federal government to where it's not spending more than it brings in, Huelskamp said, "while others in D.C. don't think we ever need to balance the budget."
Meanwhile, he said, the Federal Reserve is adding about $80 billion a month to the supply of U.S. dollars, "which is good for Wall Street, as it means lots of money out there chasing stocks" and pushing stock prices higher -- but Huelskamp said he believes increasing the money supply must lead to inflation eventually.
Every drop counts
The first question Huelskamp took was about aid to foreign countries.
"That's less than $30 billion out of a budget of $3.7 trillion," Huelskamp said, before acknowledging that $30 billion is a lot of money. "It's a big bucket -- but every drop counts."
Huelskamp noted that since being elected in 2010, he has cut his congressional office budget by 20 percent.
"Lots of people in Washington talk about cuts but don't do anything," he said. "One budget I can control is my own office budget."
Huelskamp said that when he and several other members of Congress announced last year that they were each returning $100,000 in unspent funds to the treasury, "a reporter asked me, 'What's the point?' "
He admitted that $100,000 isn't much in the federal budget, but added that cutting spending has to start somewhere.
"What if everybody would think like this" and try to cut somewhere, he asked.
One suggestion he offered regarded the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS recently apologized after it was reported to have spent $60,000 on a 6-minute "Star Trek" parody to show to employees at a conference in 2010.
"It's only $60,000, but it's such a stupid $60,000," Huelskamp said.
He also criticized the Veterans Administration for spending about $100 million a year to send employees to conferences -- often in Hawaii or Florida.
In responding to questions about getting "spanked" this past fall -- a reference to being removed from several House committees, including the House Agriculture Committee, for challenging House leaders too many times -- Huelskamp said he was disappointed at such "crass politics."
His new committee assignments are to the House Small Business Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee.
He denied that being removed from the ag committee left him unable to represent Kansas farmers, saying he is still in regular contact with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
"I still have a voice and I still have a vote," Huelskamp said.
"We are getting a lot more media requests," since he was removed from the committees, he said, adding he thinks the news environment has changed in the past few years, thanks to the Internet.
"With new media, no longer can they tell people to sit down and shut up and in 20 years you can start making decisions," he said. "Ten years ago, you'd have never heard of me again."
What happened in Libya?
Huelskamp also fielded two questions about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya dead.
"I wish I could tell you what happened over there, but I can't," Huelskamp said, suggesting that Congress should establish a committee and conduct hearings on the issue.
Salinan Alan Jilka, who was defeated by Huelskamp in the 2010 election, asked whether Huelskamp had voted against increased funding last year for embassy security.
Huelskamp said he wasn't sure there had ever been a "straight up or down vote" on the issue, but said he would get back to Jilka after looking into it.