GERMANTOWN — Twin Counties residents came face to face with freshman U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado at his first town hall meeting in Columbia County on Saturday.
The public meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd at the Kellner Community Center on Palatine Park Road in Germantown. The town hall meeting was one of several the congressman is holding over the next week.
Issues that came up for discussion included health care, veterans’ benefits, national security, debt, jobs, the environment and the proposed Green New Deal, among others.
Delgado responded to a question about the national debt.
“Such an important question. I want to clap just for the question,” Delgado said after the crowd erupted in applause following the inquiry. “Twenty-two trillion dollars, the national debt, the highest in this country’s history. Twenty trillion dollars is what were at in 2016. Two years later, $2 trillion more added to our national debt. By projections, 2029 will be at $29 trillion. We are adding about, over the next 10 years, a trillion dollars’ worth of deficit on an annual basis. It’s disgraceful. We are bankrupting our young people who are looking at how do we invest, how do we actually do the work to have jobs, protect our environment, educate our young people. How do we do it with all this debt?”
Delgado said we can’t just print money to solve the problem.
“If our ratio of debt to the GDP (gross domestic product) is where it is right now, which is now at 98 percent of debt that makes up our GDP. It was at 73 percent two years ago. We are at levels now that haven’t been seen since post-World War II in terms of that ratio,” Delgado said.
He was critical of the tax bill adopted by the Republican majority in Washington that “added a trillion-and-a-half dollars to our deficit, just like that,” Delgado said. “We are giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us.”
Green New Deal
There was mixed reaction to discussion over the Green New Deal, a set of proposed economic stimulus programs and ideas that seek to address climate change. The concept has drawn criticism from conservatives but also skepticism from some leading Democrats.
Delgado has not voiced support for the Green New Deal and at the town hall defended his position, stating what he hopes to do with regard to climate change.
“I don’t want to diminish the severity of the problem. It is a crisis and if you think about what the president just did, one can make the argument, down the road, for someone else to claim that what we are going through, I would argue, is a lot more of a crisis,” Delgado began, referring to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in an attempt to obtain funding to build a wall on the United States’ southern border.
“But the notion that it [the Green New Deal] is the only way, the notion that it is abundantly clear — these are things that are not that clear to me, and, I think, to a fair amount of people,” Delgado continued. “What are the specific things I can do, the concrete steps I can take, to actually move the ball forward to get carbon emissions down, to shift away from the fossil fuel industry.”
“We share the same vision and the same goals,” he told the audience member who posed the question. “We are on the same team. I have a commitment to make sure we unlock the climate change crisis and actually develop a green economy.”
Several questions were posed regarding the Green New Deal, with some supporters trying to push Delgado to commit his support. Delgado responded that he is looking for concrete steps that would bring about change and a solution. The Green New Deal, he implied, was unclear and not specific in what it proposes to do.
“The problem I have with a lot of this conversation, particularly on this issue, is we are now living in a time when we live in headlines. When you put something out there and you are not clear about what it actually is, in this environment, people put in it whatever they want and then throw it on you. I would rather tell you what I am for and how to get there, than say I’m for something that, which, in this climate, can mean anything,” Delgado responded, adding that he is for a call to action and doing what can be done, in specific terms, to invest in green jobs, reduce emissions and so on.
“Concrete, practical, pragmatic steps towards a bold vision. That is what I am for,” Delgado said.
Cairo resident Mary Finneran asked that Delgado look into investigating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with regard to issues such as the commission’s use of eminent domain and gas pipelines.
“People are having eminent domain forced on them, when so much of the energy the pipeline is putting through is going to international markets and will continue to go to international markets,” Finneran said. “Eminent domain is only supposed to serve the people of this country.”
She urged Delgado to convince Congress to hold investigative hearings to put a stop to the practice.
Another resident asked about the separation of families attempting to cross the southern border with Mexico, and how those families would be reunited.
“The president said he would no longer support that policy, he is on the record saying that,” Delgado said. “We have to reunite those children. That’s why an investigation is absolutely warranted to figure out what is being done, what resources are being put in place to make sure we reunite those families. That’s why it’s important to have individuals in power on these committees who will prioritize that kind of seeking out of information. That is a priority of the Democrats and something our committees will be looking into.”
Veteran Steve Pechacek spoke of his experience in dealing with obtaining his disability coverage. He asked that federal officials look into the time it takes for decisions to be handed down.
“Some of these cases are going 530-something days. Myself, in two months, I’ve lost $3,000 to take care of my family. I’ve lost health care for my children. You used to be able to call the regional office, but it’s not that way anymore. It’s a call center and you can’t get through. That’s where we need to call on you,” Pechacek told Delgado, asking that the congressman provide support to veterans who are having difficulty in obtaining their benefits.
“We need to put more investment into the VA (Veterans Administration),” Delgado said. “I am with you. I have a veterans’ advisory board and I want to do everything I can in my power – I am on it, and whatever I can do to get away from this trend that makes it more complicated, for those who sacrificed so much for this country, to get the help that they need. We have to change that dynamic.”
Following the town hall meeting, several audience members were supportive of Delgado and his answers.
Pam Kline, of Livingston, appreciated Delgado’s responses and the issues that he addressed.
“I think he hit on all the hot topics – the environmental issue, health care, veterans. I was really pleased with everything,” Kline said.
Cliff Hallmark, of Germantown, agreed.
“I thought he did a good job. I think he will really do a lot of good work – I was happy with what I heard,” Hallmark said, adding that veterans, health care and the economy were at the top of his list of concerns.
The town hall at the Kellner Community Center was the first of six such meetings Delgado has planned over the next week. The next one will be held Monday, Feb. 18, at Otsego County Town Hall in Cooperstown, followed by meetings in Delhi, Oneonta, Canajoharie, Tannersville and Ellenville.