Pointed exchanges about tax cuts, entitlements and “class warfare” bubbled over in the audience during a visit by Congressman Hank Johnson (D-District 4) to the Olivia Haydel Senior Center on Monday.
The congressman was part of a panel with experts who gave information and answered questions on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veteran’s Affairs services to the more than 100 senior citizens that packed into the center.
The most heated moment came during a discussion on the debt ceiling. Johnson said the debt ceiling was an artificial limit imposed by Congress for routine debts already incurred and that it created a manufactured crisis.
“This country does not have a debt crisis,” said Johnson.
Conyers resident Patricia McGuire, 66, blurted out, “Oh, baloney.”
Johnson continued that the country was facing a jobs crisis.
McGuire replied, “We have a spending crisis, then. Let’s turn it around.”
Conyers resident Jean Duncan, 72, said “Tax breaks for the rich, that’s our biggest problem… What they’re doing is unpatriotic… The economy is not going to get better as long as we take away jobs from American citizens.”
McGuire said, “It’s class warfare. That’s what all this banter is about.”
Duncan later commented that “People who talk about less government, they’re very secure.”
Johnson also said some of the discussion on Social Security included raising the retirement age or implementing means testing.
“There are those of us who have pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare against assault. I’m one of them,” said Johnson.
He said he supported government spending on infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, to create more jobs.
“Trying to balance the budget on the backs of working men and women is not fair,” said Johnson.
When a suggestion in the audience was given to start by looking at cuts in politicians’ salaries and benefits to help balance the budget, Johnson said he needed the $174,000 he’s paid to “make ends meet.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I make good money… but it’s not big money,” he said.
“I don’t want it to become… where only millionaires and billionaires can run for Congress.”
Other information shared by panel speakers included changes in the Medicare Part D coverage. Rhonda Hunter, external affairs representative with the Center for Medicare Services, said seniors who fall into the “donut hole” of coverage will now receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic drugs.
Lamuel Cox of the Social Security office in Covington shared questions he frequently encounters, such as why are paper checks not issued. He said it saves more than $1 per senior citizen per check to use direct deposit.
Numbers to call for more information include:
Georgia Cares: 1-800-669-8387