New York Congressman Bill Owens held one of his periodic telephone town halls with constituents Wednesday evening.
This was the first district-wide town hall meeting Democrat Bill Owens has held since he announced he would not run for re-election to his House seat.
He began the hour with an overview of Congressional actions, noting the debt ceiling increase, passage of the farm bill, and a resolution to the 2014-15 budget. “We will of course be going through an appropriations process during this year as we get ready for 2015. But things are lining up to work, I think, a bit more smoothly through the end of this year. It’s a little unclear whether we’ll move ahead with things like immigration reform, tax reform. Unfortunately we still have some level of discord in that respect. But generally speaking, I think we’ve done some significant things in the last few weeks.”
A recurring theme from a number of callers, whose last names were not noted, was the minimum wage. Ernie from Potsdam asked if there was any possibility of an increase passing in the House. Owens responded “I think it’s quite unfortunately unlikely in the House at this point. But some businesses are now starting to do that on their own.
The moderator then turned to Joe in Galway. “I would like to know why you’re supporting the raise in minimum wage instead of supporting a program where we support the people through better education, getting a trade, etc.”
Owens responded “This has got to be a multi-faceted approach. And I fully agree with you that we should be devoting dollars to training people for the jobs that are available.”
The next question came from Denneah. “In regards to raising the minimum wage, have there been any thoughts in regards to people who are already making that wage and how it’s going to affect them? Are there any mechanisms in place that’s going to increase everyone’s income and not jut the minimum wage?” Owens said yes. “People have thought about that. What economists tell us is that this will cause those who are making the minimum wage after it’s been adjusted to see their wages rise as well.”
Several callers asked for help on personal or state-related items. Topics ranged from reforming the tax code, cross-border business, the Trans-Pacific Partnership to food stamps. In Fort Edward, Anson was concerned about basic spending “Can we get the infrastructure rebuilt?” Congressman Owens replied that one proposal does address that need. “The Camp proposal to retool the tax code includes over a hundred billion dollars for infrastructure spending.”
Linda in Greenfied Center posed another jobs-related question. “I just wondered if there’s been any more discussion about the unemployment extension.” Owens said efforts have been unsuccessful. “The Senate has tried a couple time to get a bill through. I certainly support the extension of those unemployment insurance benefits. But I’d like to tweak that so we get people trained for the available jobs.”
Several callers expressed regret that the Democrat will not return to Congress, including DeMilt from Potsdam, who pleaded with Congressman Owens to change his mind. “You have the characteristics that are really necessary in this government that is so polarized, like reasonableness and sensibility and saneness. To lose that is a tough thing to go through. So, I wonder if you might reconsider?”
The Congressman thanked him for his sentiments. “It was a tough decision and this was really a family and very personal decision. I’m hopeful that whoever follows me will take that demeanor to Congress of listening and trying to be reasonable.”
Constituents were asked two poll questions. 45 percent responded that the economy was the most important issue to the caller and their family. 31 percent said tax reform is the most important thing for Congress to address over the next several months.