Hostile, skeptical East County residents peppered him with questions about runaway deficit spending in Washington, D.C., coercive health care legislation and an expensive energy plan to fight global warming, among other issues. Their verbal jabs were met with applause from many in the three-quarters-full City Council chambers.
Garamendi, who supports increased federal spending and regulation, voted for the House health care bill and supports legislation to curb greenhouse gases, stood his ground throughout the two-hour meeting. He listed a variety of national woes in his introductory remarks, but said his main focus for now is helping reduce the nation’s 10-percent unemployment rate.
“There are a lot of things going on in America: issues of wars, the environment, what are we going to do about climate change, health care,” he said. “All of those are critically important to all of us. Also important is the issue of jobs. My immediate goal as your member of Congress is to get the economy moving long term, and short term, putting people to work.”
In addition to continuing to fund the extension of unemployment insurance and the COBRA health insurance subsidy for laid-off workers, Garamendi supports re-enactment of the Great Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps program to provide government jobs to the unemployed for public works projects.
He also supports spending more on infrastructure projects such as widening Highway 4, bringing eBART to Antioch and building a ferry terminal in Antioch. Only 4 percent of the $787 billion federal stimulus passed in February went for infrastructure, yet that spending has accounted for 25 percent of the jobs created, he said. Spending $60 billion more for such projects would create more than 1.5 million jobs, he said.
But Tom Young, the first resident to speak, provided a simpler, less expensive formula for reducing unemployment: “To put people to work all you need to do is cut the corporate income tax to 10 percent, shorten the permit time to get businesses going, start building nuclear plants – drill, baby, drill – and get the heck out of the way. Because America will put itself to work.”
Another speaker, Richard Weaver, voiced concern about the proposed $500 billion cut to Medicare in the Democrat-sponsored health care legislation. Garamendi responded that the only thing being cut is the subsidy to insurance companies for Medicare Part D coverage. An Antioch nurse criticized the health bill for making it tougher for doctors to receive adequate compensation, an assertion that Garamendi denied. He also told Betty Beck, a senior concerned that the Democrat plan would lead to health care rationing, that she has nothing to fear.
One man urged Garamendi to reign in federal spending, pointing out that the national debt is currently $12 trillion, the health care bill might add another trillion dollars to the debt, and annual payments to service the debt are projected to increase to $700 billion in eight years as the debt rises toward $20 trillion. “Washington needs to live within their means,” he said to big applause.
Garamendi responded that he has problems with the way some of the hundreds of billions of dollars were spent in the bailout of Wall Street firms, but he pointed out that it helped keep the economy from collapsing. “We are seeing some growth in the American economy, although not yet in the jobs area,” he said. “Do we stop and hope that things improve? Or do we continue to stimulate the economy? My take is we continue to stimulate the economy.”
But that answer did not satisfy an Oakley woman who said, “I feel like I’m on the Titanic and the only ticket I’m allowed to buy is in steerage. I applaud the people before me who addressed spending – it is crazy. I think that we better slow down, take a step back.”
Another contentious issue in the two-hour discussion was the cap-and-trade legislation that Garamendi supports to fight global warming. Virginia Costanzo believes global warming is a hoax and that increased regulations on energy to fight it would drive up prices and increase unemployment. “Do you still fall for the (warming) myth?” she asked. “Are you drinking the Kool-Aid? We have been scammed for 20 years.”
Garamendi responded that “there is overwhelming evidence in the scientific field (for global warming). Leave aside the great debate of whether it’s human caused or not. We’ve become more reliant on energy from the most dangerous places in the world – that is not good policy.”