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Kind listens to frustrations

August 31, 2011
In The News

La Crosse Tribune

By Chris Hubbach

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind apologized for the rancor in Washington when he met with several dozen constituents Tuesday, but there was plenty of it back home, too.

There were complaints about the tax system, concerns about Social Security and the costs — monetary and human — of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But the overwhelming sentiment at the listening session — one of seven in the district — was frustration.

“Our federal government … is sick and broke,” said Mike Banashak, a retired businessman and organic chicken farmer from Holmen. “Everything is politicized. You can’t get a factual answer on anything anymore, and when you don’t have facts you don’t have trust.”

Banashak, who described himself as a center-right independent, said all elected officials should be under oath even in listening sessions like this one.

“I think virtually all of the trust is gone,” he said.

Distrust threatened to boil over when it came to President Barack Obama’s health care reform. Kind, who’s represented Wisconsin’s Third District since 1996, rattled off a list of unfunded Bush-era policies — tax cuts, two wars, a prescription drug program.

“Health care,” someone interjected.

“Health care was completely paid for,” Kind said.

“Stop lying!” one man shouted.

“The Congressional Budget Office analyzed this six ways from Sunday, and they said it will reduce the budget deficit $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.”

“How are we supposed to believe you clowns?”

“Don’t believe me,” Kind said. “Believe the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office whose sole responsibility is to score these bills and keep us honest.”

That brought scoffs.

Dave Vetrano complained that both parties have ignored the middle class and favored corporations and the ultra-rich.

“I think everybody in this room has a sense of complete and total frustration with the process that’s occurring,” said the retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor. “I understand that you may not agree with what I’m suggesting or what I want. That’s fine. But it seems like it’s stacked now. If you’re not a lobbyist, if you’re not wealthy, you don’t have a voice.”

Several people pushed a plan to do away with the income tax system and replace it with a flat or consumption tax.

Kind said he was studying the option but wants to make sure it’s fair.

“We do desperately need to simplify the tax code,” he said, adding it has been “lobbied to death” through the years.

Another common concern was Social Security. Kind re-iterated his opposition to privatization.

Kind said the government needs to focus on health care and defense if it’s going to bring spending under control. Medicare and Medicaid should pay based on outcome, not volume of care, he said. Meanwhile Congress should stop funding weapons programs that the Pentagon no longer wants.

“We need to continue to drawdown our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

That’s not fast enough for some of the more than 55 people who attended the noon event.

Kind apologized for the recent standoff that led up to a deal to raise the federal government’s debt limit.

He was one of 95 Democrats and 174 Republicans in the House who voted for the budget compromise, which raised the debt limit by $2.5 trillion in exchange for $900 billion in spending cuts and the creation of a special committee to find another $1.5 trillion in cuts.

“You deserve better from your elected representatives,” Kind said. “It was not democracy’s finest hour. There was too much gridlock, too much acrimony, not enough listening to one another.”

Joel Lazinger voiced concern over the “super committee,” the 12 members of Congress tasked with finding the $1.5 trillion in cuts.

“It’s an example of the failure of our democracy,” said Lazinger, a retiree from Bangor. “Basically, Congress and the people have been cut out of the decision making.”

Kind acknowledged the frustration and vowed to work on improving the economy.

“I know we’re going through a tough time right now in this country… there’s a lot of dissent and dissatisfaction out there. A lot of it is justifiably so,” he said. “There’s too much shouting going on and not enough listening. If we can get back to that place, there is common ground to be had.”