In a room packed with constituents of North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, United States Congressman Robert Pittenger was met with supporters and opponents at the town hall event he hosted in Richmond County on Wednesday afternoon at Rockingham City Hall.
The discussion for the 90-minute long event mainly focused on government spending, tax reform, Medicaid/health care, and the treatment of veterans.
Arguably, the most dominant issue discussed was health insurance and health care. Congressman Pittenger said in reference to the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, that “regretfully, what the House passed in 2009 has fiscally failed.” The Congressman was adamant that a competitive market would be beneficial to the American people, forcing insurance companies to keep costs down to compete with their counterparts.
The idea of an open competitive market for health insurance has largely been supported by President Donald Trump, and one attendee asked specifically, “Do you support the President and his policies?” Congressman Pittenger quickly replied, “I think his policies are right on.”
The same attendee attempted to cut the Congressman off mid-sentence several times while he tried to answer the questions posed to him from other constituents, to which the Congressman remained poised and calm. The same citizen continued to interrupt, asking, “So you support how Trump has grabbed women in the past?”
A younger, 22-year old citizen of Ellerbe who identified himself as Hispanic and a “proud Republican”, said in response that he, “felt it disrespectful to cut off the Congressman and not allow him to answer the questions.” He then noted that, “I am a Hispanic young man who supports the policies President Trump and Congressman Pittenger represent, and I feel it is disrespectful to try to cut off the Congressman from speaking.”
The Congressman went on, saying, “As I look at the American economy today, here is a President that believes in policies that will restore the economy. President Obama’s policies put your nation at risk more than it has ever been before. When it comes to terrorism, President Trump will call terrorists out and by name. In all, we have a President that is committed to this country.”
The town hall continued, with questions still focusing mostly on health care. With the House’s health care plan having passed and moved on to the Senate, one citizen was concerned that her severely handicap son and his health care could be significantly affected by the new health care legislation if Medicaid was cut as a result of new laws. She asked the Congressman, “How will adjustments be made to those who really need Medicaid?”
Congressman Pittenger replied, “The funding is there for the program, we have to simply create accountability in the Medicaid program. There are nearly 60,000 Medicaid providers in North Carolina, and some know how to exploit the system.” Congressman Pittenger went on to cite that around “15 to 20 percent of fraud is inside the system” and there “just has to be some accountability.”
Pastor James Brigman, father of Lauren Faith Brigman, who recently walked to Washington D.C. to bring awareness to potential cuts the Medicaid waiver program could face as a result of new health care legislation, attended the town hall event and noted in a post-town hall interview that Congressman Pittenger had been “very receptive” and that when he arrived in Washington D.C. after the 400-mile walk, the Congressman “sat down with us for around two hours and he was concerned about her (Lauren Faith) needs and what we needed specifically for her, and what other children like her needed as well.” He also said that Congressman Pittenger and his staff “met with us two times in D.C., and then since then he has opened his office up to gather information on something that will be beneficial to all children and adults like Lauren.”
While the topic of health care proved to be the most lengthy discussion of the day, one man in the front row was most concerned about the national debt, saying that something “must happen to solve excessive government spending”. The Congressman agreed and noted that the House has “just passed a balanced budget”, and that while it will take time for the budget to balance (usually around ten years), that it was an important step because “we need a fiscally accountable government.”
In response to a subsequent question about tax reform, Congressman Pittenger stated, “We have a very complicated tax code, longer than the Bible without the good news.” He continued, “It needs reform and our goal is to pass that reform in the fall session before Thanksgiving.”
Another concern of some attendees was the treatment of veterans, particularly in Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics. One attendee stated that “veterans feel deserted sometimes.” The Congressman replied, “We (Congress) have a moral and constitutional obligation to veterans. Very commonly veterans have been subject to bureaucracy of the government…we don’t want a VA system that protects jobs of those working for the VA, we need a VA system that protects veterans.”
Congressman Robert Pittenger left for Laurinburg shortly after the conclusion of the town hall event. He hosted a total of four town halls today, and will have hosted a total of nine this week by Thursday. Of the 435 congressman in the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Pittenger has held more town hall events than any of his colleagues in the last year, and the congressman who is second on that list has held less than half of the number of town hall events held by Congress Pittenger.
Congressman Pittenger will be running again in 2018, and one of his challengers on the Democratic side, Christian Cano, was also in attendance at the town hall event in Rockingham. Congressman Pittenger, by Friday, will have held a town hall event in each county of the ninth congressional district this week alone.