BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Conversation with Congressman Phil Roe during Tuesday's teleconference "Town Hall" centered largely on two major concerns in this region: health care and the economy.
Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, opened with an expression of appreciation for the 54,000 votes he said he received from the 1st Congressional District in last week's uncontested primary race for re-election.
The two-term congressman then dived right into the nationwide budget, noting the mounting national debt.
"We are borrowing about 40 cents out of every dollar we spend," he said. "The future generations -- we're mortgaging their futures."
However, the current Budget Control Act, with its $1.2 trillion dollars in automatic cuts to discretionary spending (such as defense and education), is not the proper path, Roe noted.
He expressed concern that such cuts would decrease the size of the U.S. armed forces substantially.
Numerous callers expressed their frustration that a budget has not passed through Congress in three years, with the government instead relying on continuing resolutions to temporarily hold off the budget requirement for a few more months at a time.
Such a resolution will come again before the end of the year and would extend the budgetary continuance through March 1. This, Roe said, will give Congress the opportunity to take action based on who is president.
Should Republican nominee Mitt Romney take office, Roe said the tide will likely also shift in the Senate to become more evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats, improving the chance that a budget will pass.
"The United States Senate has not passed a budget since before the iPad existed," Roe commented.
Even though budgets have been approved by the House, they continue to stall in the Senate, he said.
President Barack Obama did formulate a budget for consideration, but it did not make it through either the House or the Senate, Roe added.
"If I ran my household like that, I'd be standing out in the middle of the street," said one listener who was identified as Jerry, from Kingsport.
Roe agreed and said that he supported a constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass a budget each fiscal year.
He noted that Tennessee has such an amendment, as does Johnson City, where he once served as mayor. Moreover, he said, every individual has a budget.
Until after the elections, however, Roe said he does not anticipate any progress on the budget.
This is Roe's first presidential election year in Congress, he noted, and what he has seen indicates no likely progress before elections because everything is "a lot of politics."
"It gets almost just silly during an election year when you have people just posturing," he added. "It is frustrating."
Progress on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes referred to as ObamaCare, is also unlikely prior to the elections, he said.
Many local individuals questioned how the ACA would impact their lives as a veteran, as an elderly person, or as a medical care provider.
Roe responded to each with reassurance that he shares their concern and is working with fellow House Republicans to craft an alternative bill for presentation should Romney take office.
Meanwhile, he said the House has twice passed a bill calling for the repeal of the ACA.
"[The House bill] sits in the U.S. Senate with Harry Reid doing absolutely nada -- nothing," he said.
"I don't know what they do in the Senate," he later added. "It would bore me spitless to be in that place. I don't see that they're doing anything."
Other topics from the teleconference included:
* energy independence, which Roe said should be possible within the next eight years;
* the economic recession, which the congressman indicated is a result of uncertainty in health care and the tax code, pointing to what he said is the need for tax reform and simplification; and,
* education, for which he said the country needs to focus on motivating students, improving funding, developing quality teachers, and involving parents.
For further information, or to request help with an issue, citizens are asked to contact his office in Kingsport at 247-8161, or in Morristown at 254-1400.