Eshoo focuses on woes of poor, middle class
More than 9,000 participated in wide-ranging telephone town hall
Washington's lackluster efforts to represent the interests of America's poor and middle class was the focus of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo's telephone town hall meeting last week.
Mountain View and Sunnyvale residents got robo-calls asking them to participate in the Wednesday evening town hall, an annual event for Eshoo since 2008. Eshoo's office reported that 9,000 people listened in on all or part of the discussion.
During the discussion Eshoo made statements in support of policies and reforms to help most Americans, which included tax hikes on the rich, cuts to military spending, decreasing the costs of health care and education and making lower-cost loans available to those who are about to lose their homes to foreclosure.
Eshoo said that stopping the country's foreclosure crisis was key to an economic recovery.
"I've seen so many people losing their homes who thought they could pay their mortgages," said a woman named Adrian from Sunnyvale.
"It is a horrendous and catastrophic situation," Eshoo sympathized.
Eshoo said she wants to allow people to refinance their homes with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans at the current low rates — near 4 percent — and allow those who are "underwater" in their mortgages to only pay on the principle of their loans.
She and other California Democrats have written a letter pushing President Obama to implement those reforms, encouraging him to use his executive powers to bypass Congress.
"Imagine if everyone could refinance at that low rate, what that would mean," Eshoo said. "I think the (Obama) administration really underestimated what this meant to the national economy. I don't think the national economy is going to make the comeback we're all hoping and praying for unless this very issue, the housing foreclosure prevention, really takes place."
As it becomes clear to many that America's income gap is widening, two callers pushed for America's wealthy to pay more taxes.
"Get the dang Republicans to loosen up and pay some taxes," said one older man named George. "In our day everybody was happy to pay their taxes every year. Our country needs the tax money and these guys are just trying to sink Obama."
Another woman said recent history shows that giving tax breaks to the wealthy "just doesn't work, our economy is not improving."
"I think the American people are really on to this," Eshoo said, noting that polls show more than 60 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for wealthy people.
"I don't think we should come across as being punitive if someone is successful," but the "people who have done the best are at the top of the economic ladder," while "the middle class has slipped downward. The poor get it coming and going."
Unless the wealthy pay a higher proportion of taxes "the middle class and the poor among us will have to carry that on our backs and I don't think that's fair," Eshoo said. "I don't think that is who and what we are. I think we are a better people than that."
In the same vein, another caller pushed for cuts to military spending, a place where the federal government could find billions in savings. "It angers me when our secretary of defense scares us out of any reductions in defense spending," said the caller. "I think we could cut defense spending by 10-30 percent, and we'd still be the biggest defense spender in the world."
Eshoo agreed, saying there were plenty of areas where military spending was "unnecessary" and pointed to her voting record. She noted that military spending has swelled from $356 billion a year to $856 billion in recent years.
Several older callers were concerned about whether they could count on their Social Security income during retirement. Eshoo assured the callers that Social Security was well funded in the near future and that those who say Social Security is "broken" and "unsustainable" are being "reckless" with their words.
"I think that's a reckless description of Social Security," she said, adding that it is "singularly the most successful program in the modern history of our country."
Eshoo supported President Obama's jobs bill, which aims to create jobs through the construction of new infrastructure and education projects. But she noted that the Republican-controlled House has not even considered the bill.
"They don't seem interested in it, which hurts our country," Eshoo said of Republicans. Republicans also "have not brought a jobs bill to the floor since they took over the House of Representatives in January of this year. And it's now November."
A nurse from Mountain View named Mary said she was concerned about health care. "We can't have a strong country unless everybody has health care. Unless you have health, you don't have anything," she said.
"You stated the case pretty eloquently," Eshoo said.
Eshoo praised President Obama's healthcare reforms, noting that some would have preferred a single-payer alternative, but "there weren't votes for that."
"I think history will write that it was landmark legislation and that for the first time in the history of our country we started to shape the healthcare landscape," Eshoo said. She noted that people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be discriminated against, while those under age 26 can now be covered under their parents' health care plans. "We're making progress," she said.
A caller named Bob from Sunnyvale noted a large problem of campaign finance, which has created a situation where "a politician's first job is fundraising" and "their second job is politician."
Eshoo clearly agreed with the caller, saying there is now a massive amount of money flowing into politics, which is "corrosive and corruptive." Eshoo called for public financing of political campaigns.
"I think the American people are going to have to rise up against this and send a very direct message to whoever is in Congress," Eshoo said. "This system is simply undemocratic. Can you imagine if money were taken out of politics what kinds of decisions would come out of Congress?"
She also called for a reversal of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which allowed corporations and unions to spend as much as they like to support or attack political candidates.
The amount of money entering politics "has increased to tsunami levels" and is "hurting our country," she said.
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