Congressman Pete Olson hosted a town hall meeting in Clear Lake Saturday morning and I attended, joining a couple of hundred of my neighbors at a local intermediate school. The mostly older crowd signed in and found seats, clutching the printouts of the slide presentation we were to see, some filling out questions for the promised Q&A session.
I was surprised to see a young lady in front of me wearing a crown, and struggled to remember where in the Constitution it forbids royal titles. This was Rachael Turner, Miss Houston, here to lead us in the pledge to the flag and the national anthem. After that newly-elected Harris County Precinct Two Commissioner Jack Mormon introduced the congressman. I’d never seen Commissioner Mormon before; I don’t think anybody had before he tagged Sylvia Garcia with the distinction of being the first county commissioner since reconstruction to be defeated in an election. Was it her gender or her Spanish surname that did her in? A low turnout by the usual voters? Or maybe a big get-out-the-vote effort by bicycle-peddling LDS missionaries, who can tell?
Congressman Olson announced that this meeting was going to be all about the deficit and the National Debt, and then he put up the ‘glossary’ slide to make sure everybody knew the difference. He went on with his talking points about the “Tidal Wave of Debt.” One audience member interrupted, indignant at the bogus numbers on the screen, and asked Olson where he was when Bush was doubling the debt? Olson side-stepped this challenge and asked the audience to show respect for those in attendance by holding his remarks for the Q&A session. I felt that the audience was being disrespected by being fed phony numbers straight from the GOP think tanks. Nobody asked him why, if balancing the budget is their goal, their first priority was to extend the Bush tax cuts for top-earners. No doubt his response would be that tax cuts and de-regulation spur the economy and create jobs, though there was little evidence of this during the Bush years.
For example, his pie chart showed the 2010 Defense outlay at $692 billion, roughly equal to the cost of Social Security that year. However, adding in Defense-related spending for Federal law enforcement, NASA, the Energy Department (for atomic weapons,) Homeland Security, the State Department, Veterans Affairs and the interest costs on all this, the total almost doubles to $1.2 trillion.
Olson deplored the recent ban on Gulf drilling, but of course didn’t mention the decades of lax regulation that led to disaster there, and didn’t note that domestic crude production has been rising in recent years, ban notwithstanding. He spoke of energy independence, like we could replace the 70% imported crude we use every year by drilling in Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Fracking is no threat to groundwater in this alternate reality, the EPA is part of an environmentalist conspiracy, climate change a hoax, and nuclear power our future.
If nuclear power is such a great deal, why doesn’t the private sector build it, and private underwriters insure it? If taxpayer subsidies were available for green power like they go to nuclear plants, we’d all have windmills and solar panels at our homes!
The Teabaggers in attendance were all for ‘drill baby drill,’ one calling for Congress to de-fund the EPA. Olson said that the House was working on legislation to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and that he wanted to stop NASA from doing climate science, “because fifteen other Federal agencies were already doing it.”
Despite their ire at interruptions from folks they didn’t agree with, this crowd was rowdy at times, no more so than when the subject of immigration came up, proof of the success of the GOP’s divide-and-conquer scapegoating strategy. The other red meat for this crowd was the prospect of shutting down government operations when the current Continuing Resolution runs out. “Shut it down” people called out, making me wonder how these folks will feel when their Social Security and Medicare payments are interrupted. Some in the crowd barked about General Electric not paying any taxes last year, but Olson sympathized with GE, saying they need consideration because our tax system put them at a disadvantage when operating overseas. He must have learned that while GE lobbyists were convincing him to vote for their alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.
Congressman Olson, while trying to lay the blame for our troubles at the feet of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, couldn’t really deny that the economy ran into the ditch under President Bush. He did praise him for going to war to make us safe, noting that there had been no successful attacks on us since 2001. He did not go on to claim that Bush kept us safe from volcanoes and asteroid strikes, though those claims would be equally logical.
In answer to a question, the congressman said that he was in favor of term limits, but he qualified that saying that he didn’t want them for just his party, claiming that Joe Barton lost the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee because of time served as ranking minority member. This was a whopper; the GOP dumped Barton because he’d become an embarrassment.
A funny thing, at least twice when discussing Senate politics, I heard him use the word “we;” Is this just a hang-over from his days as aide to Senators Phil Gramm and John Cornyn? Or does Pete Olson have dreams of higher office? Frankly, I don’t think he has the chops to hold the one he’s got. He was re-elected over an unknown candidate from the Lyndon LaRouche cult. His mainstream republican positions will leave him open to sniping from the right-wing nuts that vote in the GOP primaries, and the next change in the mood of the electorate, or a big draw at the top of the ticket, could make him vulnerable to a Democratic candidate.
Meanwhile Speaker Boehner has a reliable vote from District 22. And what is their agenda? Here’s the Republican budget plan I was handed Saturday morning:
-No changes for those in or near retirement
-Fulfill the mission of health and retirement security
-Lift the crushing burden of debt
-Spur economic growth and a path to prosperity
A little light on specifics isn’t it? I would say the real plan is to run the country into the ground and hope the voters turn to them in 2012. Cynical.