Sen. Reed speaks at the ’Ganny
The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce began its winter speaker series with a meeting at the Narragansett Café last week, and approximately 40 people were on hand as the series opened with an appearance by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.
Mike Swistak, who arranged the speaker series, said that getting Reed to speak required just one phone call to his office. Reed, who lives in Jamestown, last appeared a number of years ago when the speaker series was in its inaugural year.
“He’s one of us,” said Swistak. “He’s a neighbor. He’s a customer for our chamber people. We have a little hometown advantage getting him to appear, and with all the stuff that’s going on in Washington, he’s the guy. He’s got a lot to say.”
Reed began by tracing a history of sequesters. The federal spending cut has been in the news lately, and can take effect this week if Congress is unable to compromise with President Barack Obama. The sequester will result in billions of dollars in budget cuts and a major loss of jobs nationwide. According to Reed, the impact on Rhode Island is expected to be profound.
Reed said the elements of the sequester were put into place in an attempt to force a compromise on the limit issue of the debt ceiling. Republican members of Congress had threatened to vote against an increase in the debt limit, he said, and the result would have been a default on the government’s financial obligations. It would also downgrade the nation’s credit standing, and in all likelihood cause another recession.
The idea of the sequester was born out of an effort to allow the president to raise the debt ceiling while responding to Republican calls for budget cuts. The cuts that are called this time around include major slashes to defense, housing and education spending. These reductions are thought to be so draconian that members of Congress decided to attempt to find a solution rather than allow the sequester to take place. To date, after several delays, that hasn’t happened. The sequester is expected to go into effect on March 1, says Reed.
Reed proposed several solutions that will raise revenue while reducing the debt. They include the closing of oil and gas company tax loopholes, and an end to tax deductions for companies that ship jobs overseas. The end of the war in Afghanistan will also result in major savings. He said that the debate going on in D.C. is not theatrical because the parties are still far apart on the issues.
Following the sequester discussion, Reed turned to the jobs issue. He pointed out that there are 12.3 million unemployed people in the United States, many of them long term. He mentioned infrastructure projects as a way to put Americans back to work, pointing out that the austerity measures that have been introduced in a number of European countries have not worked.
According to Reed, the nation’s $5.6 trillion projected budget surplus in 2000 has been decimated by the cost of two unfunded wars.
Reed was asked why Congress adjourned with the threat of the sequester looming. He said that Congress had worked overtime in December in a successful effort to put off the sequester, and that there are certain people who don’t want to reach a compromise. He added that most deals are done at the last minute, and expressed the hope that it would be the case this time.
One problem, according to Reed, is that House Speaker John Boehner is unwilling to reach a compromise until he is sure that a majority of the Republican House caucus supports it. This is an effort to reach out to the right wing of his party. Reed said that redistricting has resulted in districts being either solid Republican or solid Democratic. That means representatives no longer have to be concerned with swing voters.
The issue of gun violence has been on the minds of many people since the incident at Newtown, Conn. Reed said 1,000 Americans have been killed by guns since Newtown. He supports universal background checks, and bans on assault weapons and large magazines. Reed said that 19 states do not provide information to the federal gun owner’s database. He expects that gun legislation will come to the floor as a comprehensive package that may then be divided into separate bills. He predicts the legislation will get votes in the Senate.
In response to Obama’s State of the Union address, where the president introduced the idea of designated tech hubs, Reed said he had written a letter to the president seeking to have Rhode Island designated as one of the hubs.
The breakfast ended with a discussion on transportation and the inability to properly fund it with the existing gas tax. Reed said that cars are now more fuel effi- cient. Because of that, he says, the loss in revenue makes it harder to fund transportation infrastructure. He said that alternatives are being mulled, including the idea of incentivizing the private sector to take on infrastructure projects.
The second event in the winter speaker series will take place on March 15. The speaker will be U.S. Attorney Peter Norohna. The final speaker on April 12 will be data specialist Jon DiOrio. Both meetings will take place at the Narragansett Café at 7:30 a.m. Cost of the breakfast is $10 for members, $15 for nonmembers.
“It’s an all-Jamestown breakfast series this year,” said John McCauley, the chamber’s executive director. “It’s nice to have local guy.”