U.S. Congressman James Comer concluded a series of town halls in Carlisle County on Wednesday. Speaking to a group of about 60 people, Comer outlined his position on foreign affairs, tax reform, healthcare and Medicaid.
Audience questions included funding for rural EMS services, criticism of the GOP healthcare plan, lifting the Cuba embargo, veterans aid and food insecurity.
Comer reiterated his support for recent actions in Syria (striking a Syrian air base) and Afghanistan (dropping the 'MOAB' on an ISIS group). "What the president did was demonstrate a new type of leadership, send a message, I don't believe that was an act of war," he said. He said further action, like sending troops to North Korea or Syria would require an act of Congress.
On tax reform, Comer said he's seeking input from the 'big employers' of each county. He said a goal is to reduce taxes. "If you reduce taxes for working people they're going to spend more money and it's going to hopefully grow the economy. The same with corporate taxes. But when you reduce taxes you either have to cut spending or raise revenue to offset that or you're going to have an even bigger deficit."
He said President Trump is planning for cuts in spending and proposing a border adjustment tax. He said he supports Trump's goal to increase manufacturing jobs. "I just want to make sure that when we do a tax reform bill there aren't any unintended consequences... Mexico is taking a lot of our manufacturing jobs and I don't like that, but Mexico buys a lot of our farm products. A lot of the grain grown in Carlisle County ends up in Mexico. So from an agricultural trade standpoint, Mexico and Canada in the NAFTA agreement have been very beneficial to American agriculture and American farm families." He said he wants to make sure a proposed border tax doesn't end up hurting area farmers. "I want to reduce taxes but I want to make sure we don't do it at the cost of losing jobs in the first congressional district."
An audience member asked Comer if he'd be looking at loopholes under tax reform, as he suspects some big corporations don't pay taxes. Comer said special interest money has poisoned Washington D.C. and supports closing the loopholes. "Right now the tax burden for the federal government is on the backs of working Americans and that's not right."
Comer said healthcare is "the biggest issue in America." He said the system is on the verge of a "major catastrophe." He said he blames Republicans for suggesting the government completely gets out of healthcare because it was "perfect before Obamacare." However, he said he believes in the idea that the private sector could create jobs and build competition in the healthcare market. He mentioned, though that Anthem is the only provider in much of the first district and "always threatens" to leave and could charge whatever they want.
On Medicaid, Comer said he supports children, people with disabilities and low-income individuals on the program, but said too many able-bodied people on the system puts a burden on tax payers and expanded Medicaid could "bankrupt" Kentucky once federal subsidies end.
A member of the Carlisle County Ambulance & Extrication Service said Medicaid is presenting a problem for rural EMS. Unlike doctors, rural EMS has to answer 911 calls. The work requires a paramedic and two EMTs. An 'Advanced Life Support' run (using drugs, monitors, defibrillators, etc) could cost $600 when filed on Medicaid, and the return is $95 dollars, with the rest a loss, he said. Kentucky faces a paramedic shortage since once a paramedic is trained, they tend to go to Memphis or Nashville for higher pay. Since none of the four river county services are partnered with fire departments, potential grant money is difficult to obtain. He said a $50,000 annual grant with no strings attached would greatly help.
A person in the audience concerned about the Republican healthcare plan said she would like to see Medicare offered for people younger than 65 for a higher premium. She said she is in a "job lock," working 10-hour days, to cover healthcare needs for her and her husband. He has a small business and she would like to leave her job to help his business, but feels like she cant because of healthcare. Comer said he has heard complaints about the GOP plan from people between the ages of 60 and 65 who are in similar situations.