WHALLONSBURG - Politics was the topic of discussion at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall Oct. 9 as Congressman Bill Owens stopped in to meet with local residents.
The town-hall-style meeting, sponsored by the Essex County Democratic Committee, drew roughly 40 residents from Essex and neighboring towns to hear Owens address questions directly from his constituents.
"Bill believes meetings like these are beneficial for the attendees and himself for the same reason - he represents a big district, about 14,000 square miles, and there aren't a plethora of opportunities to visit with folks from every county weekly," said Sean Magers, spokesman for Owens. "Meetings like these provide the opportunity for Bill to stay informed about the issues that matter most to Essex County."
Questions to Owens touched on a wide-range of topics, the foremost of which dealt with economic policy and the need to address unemployment.
"The critical piece missing from the economy is demand," Owens explained, noting there is still more to be done to encourage growth of demand for American goods and services.
One thing Owens said he would like to see is the institution of an "infrastructure bank," a federal program backed by President Obama that would use billions in federal dollars to encourage private investment, both of which would be used to fund several infrastructure projects in the next 10 years or more.
Owens also pointed to a letter he co-signed and sent to leaders in the House of Representatives offering what he called a "compromise" in regards to the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year.
Whereas Republicans have called for extending all the tax cuts and Obama has proposed extending only those cuts that would benefit individuals making less than $200,000 annually, the plan Owens offered is to support Obama's plan while additionally extending current tax rates for certain capital gains taxes and a one-year extension for individual and joint filers with $500,000 in yearly income.
Owens said his plan would be more favorable to preserving income for the middle class, a necessary step to increasing demand.
"We need to do something about the Chinese currency," he added, noting an effort to allow more tariffs for Chinese goods, thereby raising the value of Chinese money in comparison to the U.S. dollar. Owens claimed such a program could restore as many as 500,000 American jobs, despite potnetially raising the cost of some goods to American consumers.
In the meantime, Owens said, the U.S. should focus more on an investment in infrastructure, especially clean energy projects like one he's supported for a biomass power plant to supply energy to the Fort Drum Army Base near Watertown.
That project, he said, could add as many as 100 permanent jobs to the area.
"It also takes Fort Drum off the grid," he said, "and from a national security perspective, that's very important."
Other topics included the future of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, to which Owens said he favors the assessment of military leaders to wait until early 2011 to reassess the need for continued presence there.
Essex resident Katherine Preston asked Owens if, as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, he would support further development of a food distribution network that would favor local farms.
"It's interesting, because nobody ever talks about farming as a national security issue," Owens said in response. "The control of our food supply is extremely important."
Owens said leaders of the Agriculture Committee are working to have a new farm bill ready for consideration in 2011, well in advance of 2012 when the current farm bill is set to expire.