District Eight Congressman Jim Marshall (D-Macon) defended his recent vote in favor of a bill which expanded the federal government's authority to spy on American citizens without court-approved warrants at a town hall meeting Friday morning.
Critics of the bill - which was signed into law by President George Bush on Aug. 5, have said it violates the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
Proponents of the bill say it is a necessary part of the government's War on Terror. Critics however warn that there is no guarantee that the new powers won't be abused and used for purposes which have nothing to do with the search for terrorists.
Marshall - speaking before a gathered crowd at the Newton County Library - said that Congress only extended the new powers for six months after which time they will sunset unless they are ratified again.
"I don't think any great violence has been done to our Constitution as a result of it," said Marshall of the new law.
Covington resident Ed Mumford accused Marshall of trampling the Fourth Amendment by voting for the passage of the bill.
"There's no safeguards to other searches," Mumford said of his opposition to the law.
Friday's town hall was hosted by the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce. At the beginning of the event Marshall was honored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and given its Spirit of Enterprise award for voting in accordance with the chamber 73 percent of the time during key chamber votes in the second session of the 109th Congress in 2006.
"The local Chamber of Commerces do an incredible job," said Marshall in accepting the award for the first time.
Before a gathered crowd of approximately 30 Newton County residents - which included locally elected officials and civic leaders - Marshall answered questions ranging from his views of Congressman John Linder's (R-Georgia) Fair Tax legislation (he's against it) to his stance on the immigration debate and the War in Iraq.
A self-described blue dog Democrat, Marshall said he has worked with other fiscally conservative Democrats to push through pay-as-you-go legislation to turn the tide of spendthrift pork barrel politics which have ruled Congress for so long.
"You're not simply going to run red," Marshall said of the new PAYGO policy.
Unfortunately this means that there will likely not be any program benefits for Newton County and other Georgia farmers suffering from the effects of a two-year drought unless funding is cut elsewhere.
"It's just too expensive, that's the bottom line," Marshall said. "We know that it's going to tie our hands in terms of the Farm Bill, but it's the right thing to do."
In response to a question on the state of the Federal Highway Trust Fund - which the Georgia Department of Transportation receives the majority of its funding from - Marshall said he was aware of no bill in Congress which would allocate additional funding to the trust before it completely runs out in 2008.
"I'm just not on top with that issue," said Marshall who does not serve on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. "We do foresee shortages."
On immigration, Marshall said he has voted in favor of building a border fence on the Mexican border to stem the tide of immigrants crossing into the U.S. illegally. However Marshall said he sees the key to enforcing U.S. immigration laws is to come down hard on American employers that knowingly employ immigrants illegally.
"Those who are arguing that this should be tolerated are entirely wrong," Marshall said.
Marshall said he has authored a bill, which would impose harsher penalties on businesses that employ immigrants illegally.
On the War in Iraq, Marshall - who recently returned from a classified trip to Afghanistan where he visited the Pakistani border - used an analogy of a football game to defend his continued support of the War in Iraq.
Just as football teams sometimes don't like their coach or the calls that he makes but still have to follow his commands, Marshall said the American public should continue to follow the wishes of the military and its commanders.
"So long as there is a reasonable chance of success, I'm not going to vote for anything that's going to hurt our chances," Marshall said.
Friday's town hall meeting is one of 56 that Marshall will host throughout his district during his summer recess from Congress.
Marshall will be host a second question and answer session for Newton County at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 21 at the Mansfield Community House at 3158 Ga. Highway 11.