Health care, budget dominate Labrador town hall meeting

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Congressman Raúl Labrador highlights the increased costs to the Medicare system as more people in the United States will become dependent on the national health insurance. Labrador held a town hall meeting Tuesday at North Idaho College to share his insights on the national medical insurance debate to hear concerns of area residents.

COEUR d'ALENE - Reflecting on difficulties faced in his career as a doctor, Norman Leffler had a dark prediction on Tuesday night.

"I tell you what's going to happen under Obamacare. Doctors like myself in their 50s and 60s, if doctors are forced to take Medicare and Medicaid kids, they're going to quit, and you're not getting younger doctors coming in," Leffler said, shouting into a microphone in the North Idaho College Student Union. "I advise my kids against going into medicine because of what's going on."

Responding to the Hayden man's words, Idaho's District 1 Rep. Raul Labrador said he hasn't supported the Affordable Care Act, either, because it doesn't address health care costs.

"We need to do whatever we can to reduce the cost of health care," the congressman said.

Complaints and distresses were passionate on Tuesday night at a town hall meeting with Labrador in Coeur d'Alene, which roughly 60 attended. Members of the public spoke of their expectations for immigration reform, fiscal responsibility and kicking the current president out of office.

The new health-care reform was also a heated topic.

Biron Larsen of Coeur d'Alene asked if it was possible to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

"We've got a Supreme Court judge who just said that it's constitutional," he said.

Labrador said it is possible, but not with a method that works quickly.

"Now we can only deal with it at a legislative level," he said. "The way we get rid of Obamacare is by making sure we have a House and Senate who will pass the repeal of Obamacare, and that we have a president who will not veto it."

Jill Jurvelin said she has witnessed an individual lose state child care assistance because of receiving a bonus at work.

"The bonus became a penalty," she said. "Can we get graduated unemployment benefits, so it behooves them, instead of them losing all their benefits when they get a job?"

Labrador agreed the welfare system needs to be remedied.

"That's one of the reasons I ran for Congress, though I don't have an answer for you," he said, adding that he hoped to see states receive block grants to develop their own welfare systems.

He emphasized that the nation's leading problem is its $16 trillion debt.

Cutting spending is the solution, he said, and he criticized other congressmen who have promised not to trim certain programs' funding.

"When people tell me, 'Please don't cut my program,' I say, 'I'm sorry, I'm going to cut your program and I'm going to cut everyone else's program, even if it doesn't get me re-elected,'" he said, garnering applause.

Cheryl Stransky, running for district 2A state rep, asked specifically what he plans to cut.

Labrador said he is a proponent of the proposed "penny plan," that would trim 1 percent of the government every year.

"Within 5 to 10 years, we'd get to a balanced budget," he said.

Labrador expressed frustration when asked about Obama's executive order allowing individuals who immigrated illegally to the U.S. as young children to remain in the country temporarily.

He would like to see a return to the Bracero guest worker program, he said.

Kootenai County resident Donna Montgomery agreed that the program had worked.

"People came and worked, and they didn't bring their children, and they got their money and they left," she said.

Bill Condon expressed his belief that Obama has been acting extra-constitutionally.

"Why can't you bring him up on impeachment?" he asked the congressman.

Pursuing impeachment would be a politically detrimental move at this point, Labrador said, and Republicans are focusing on removing Obama in the November election.

Labrador had elaborated on some politically heated topics earlier on Tuesday, at a visit to The Press office.

A balance of spending cuts and modest tax increases is not what's needed to cut back on the nation's debt, he said.

"The problem is that we have way too much spending," he said. "When you say that what you need to do is both, what you're really saying is you don't want to cut spending."

Labrador criticized the Affordable Care Act for not doing enough to control the cost of health care and how people consume it, and it doesn't create true state health-care exchanges.

"I think everybody should go to health savings accounts," he said.

He said some big businesses are contracting with local providers.

"Not everything in the bill (Affordable Care Act) is a terrible thing," he said. "But the reality is we need to be honest with the American people about what the costs are."

As for the presidential race, Labrador said he'd like to see Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan be chosen by Mitt Romney for his vice presidential running mate.

"I think Paul Ryan is probably one of the brightest minds that we have in the Republican party right now," Labrador said. "I would love to see a debate between him and (Vice President Joe) Biden."

He said Romney seems comfortable with Ryan, who understands budgets, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

"We need forward thinking visionaries who understand the cliff that we're on and how to avoid it," he said. "He's a guy who's probably smarter than most people in Congress, but he doesn't condescend."

He acknowledged that he hasn't taken up a challenge by his Democratic opponent Jimmy Farris to release a decade of his federal tax returns, as Farris has done.

"I don't think it's valuable," Labrador said.

He said a lot of his personal information is released each year, including information on his investments.

"You'll know that I'm one of the poorest guys in Congress," he said. "I think at some point you have to decide that you need to have a little bit of privacy."

At the evening meeting with the public, though, Labrador was encouraging after Spirit Lake resident Steve George accused the congressman of making several times more money than him.

"What you just did and what you're all doing is holding me accountable," Labrador said, adding that he hopes to see the same if Republicans fill the federal branches next year. "What I need you to do is hold me accountable, and make sure I'm doing everything that's necessary to protect this country."

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Dr. Norman Leffler, a retired physician from Florida, expresses his frustrations regarding Obamacare and the concerns he has for physicians facing higher costs and decreased payments due to the insurance initiative.

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