Immigration and healthcare were the top issues on the minds of attendees at a crowded town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Jim Marshall (D-District 8) Wednesday afternoon.
On his winter break from Congress, Marshall has been on a tight schedule traveling around his district these past two weeks visiting with some of the smaller communities which make up Georgia's Eighth Congressional District.
Speaking before a sizable crowd at the Porterdale City Hall, Marshall called the U.S. healthcare system "utterly broken."
Responding to a question from Newton County resident Joyce Jackson on the state of healthcare in the nation, Marshall said he believed it would be up to the next president to fix America's healthcare system as Congress was too polarized to make significant headway.
"I think it's going to take a strong, savvy president to fix the problem," Marshall said. "It's got to be the executive because Congress is too divided."
According to the National Coalition on Health Care, a Washington-based nonprofit working to improve the nation's healthcare, there are approximately 47 million Americans or 16 percent of the population who are without healthcare.
According to NCHC, in 2005 (the latest year data was available), total national health expenditures rose 6.9 percent - two times the rate of inflation - to bring total gross domestic product spending on healthcare to 16 percent. At the same time many other industrialized nations are spending much less on healthcare including Canada (9.7 percent GDP), Germany (10.7 percent GDP) and France (9.5 percent GDP).
At one point Marshall verged on the emotional as he lamented the sorry state of the nation's healthcare system.
"We bankrupt people for getting sick in this country before we help them," Marshall said.
In an earlier interview with The News on Wednesday, Marshall defended his September vote against expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program. After several rounds of negotiations, Marshall was the only Democrat in Congress to vote against the bill which was later vetoed by President George Bush.
While he did vote to extend SCHIP until the debate over its expansion had been settled, Marshall said he did not agree with the funding source proposed by Democrats to pay for SCHIP's expansion which was an increase in the federal tax on tobacco.
"It really stuck in my craw that we were going to pay for that with the tobacco tax," Marshall said, adding that he believed the tax increase on tobacco would have disproportionately hit poor people in his district. "A tobacco tax is about the most regressive tax you can have."
Marshall said he did not believe the increase in cost would cause many smokers to stop smoking.
"Some would quit but the vast majority would continue to smoke and that would eat into their budget," Marshall said."
Marshall said he proposed that the expansion of SCHIP be paid for with an increase on the federal tax on wine but that that proposal got nowhere with his fellow Congressmembers.
Responding to several questions from the audience on how he proposed to fix the country's immigration problem, Marshall said he was in support of putting in place a tamper-proof identification card program state by state as developed by the Department of Homeland Security.
All American citizens would carry a card. Anyone without one of these ID cards would be unemployable, according to Marshall, and any employer caught hiring individuals without the cards would face stiff penalties.
"I really think that the cost-effective solution is to cut off the jobs," said Marshall to a smattering of applause from the audience. "These guys will leave if they don't have a job. That's the solution."
Balancing the budget
Former mayor of Covington, Sam Ramsey, asked Marshall how Congress proposed to pay for the costs of the Iraq War.
"How in the world are we going to pay for this under present conditions," Ramsey asked, noting that there has been no corresponding tax increase to pay for the war but rather tax cuts.
Iraq War spending thus far stands at $485 billion according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan organization which analyzes federal spending.
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt, as of the end of year the nation's public debt stood at $9.14 trillion.
"We're going to have to consider those costs to be emergency costs," said Marshall of the costs of the Iraq War.
Marshall noted that he and other Blue Dog (fiscally conservative) Democrats had forced through Pay-As-You-Go spending in an effort to balance the budget when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007.
Looking ahead to this fall, Marshall seemed confident that he would be re-elected, noting to The News that his Republican opponent, retired Warner Robbins Commander Rick Goddard, has to contend with earlier statements he made while campaigning on behalf of Marshall's 2006 challenger, Mac Collins.
According to Marshall, Goddard encouraged voters to vote for Collins by saying that Collins was the more experienced Congressman with more terms under his belt and also came from the majority party in Congress.
The reverse is now true for Goddard said Marshall, noting that he, Marshall, was now the more politically experienced of the two candidates and also came from the majority party in Congress.
"Why are you trying to break something that isn't broken," Marshall asked, noting that he has the support of many conservative voters in the district. "He's going to have a hard time pulling that vote away from me."