Gun control, Obamacare and food stamps were among the issues discussed during a Washington Area Chamber of Commerce forum with state and national officials last week.
The annual government forum at Washington Presbyterian Church featured heated comments from State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.
Nieves said any bad gun control bills brought to his committee in the Missouri Legislature would be “dead, dead, dead...”
This statement drew applause from the audience of about 70.
Below is a list of some other topics that were addressed by the politicians and their spokespeople:
One audience member commented that the Affordable Care Act has caused workers’ hours to get cut in small businesses.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, has never thought it was a perfect bill but said it was the right move to bring more equality to the country’s health care system, said her spokesman, Brendan Fahey.
The goal is to make sure all Americans have access to affordable, quality health insurance, Fahey said.
Fahey added that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs for the states the first three years, then the states will have to pick up only 10 percent after that.
But Nieves said whether the money comes from the federal government or Missouri it is all taxpayer dollars. Moreover, Nieves questioned how the state could afford to expand Medicaid.
“I don’t think there’s much hope for Medicaid expansion to happen in the state of Missouri,” Nieves said, adding that even moderate Republicans oppose it.
It is a falsehood when people say that if Missouri does not use the federal funds to expand Medicaid then those dollars will go to other states, Nieves said.
“When Gov. Nixon says that, he is either showing you that he is willing to lie to you or he doesn’t understand how this all works,” Nieves said.
State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said expanding Medicaid has not been put into the House version of the state budget. This drew applause from the audience.
“It’s not going to happen as far as the House is concerned,” Hinson said.
But he said the House is looking at two proposals to reform Medicaid. He said one of the proposals would save the state about $160 million a year.
“I think everyone will agree we need to reform the system,” Hinson said, adding that it is broken and there is much waste.
With federal budget cuts proposed to take effect in March, Hinson said he does not think the U.S. government will have the money to pay Missouri its current Medicaid dollars.
Gun control measures being considered by the president and Congress also were lively discussion topics for the panel.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Missouri, has urged the president to give “thoughtful consideration” regarding gun control.
Luetkemeyer’s spokesman, Dan Engemann, said the congressman is “deeply disappointed” that the president signed executive actions dealing with gun control. Luetkemeyer would have liked those issues vetted by Congress instead of the president handling them unilaterally, Engemann said.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, is working on a mental health initiative, said his office manager, Emily Romines
Nieves said he is happy that all of the gun bills being brought up in the state House and Senate will go through the General Laws Committee, which he chairs.
Gun ownership is a “God-given right” that is “enshrined in our Second Amendment,” Nieves said.
Hinson said a House bill that would make it a felony to possess, purchase or sell any assault weapon or large capacity magazine will be “dead on arrival” to the House Crime and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs.
Blunt has sponsored a balanced budget amendment in Congress, Romines said.
“It has been 1,400 days since we have had a budget,” she said.
Congress recently passed the No Budget, No Pay Act, Engemann said, noting that it requires the U.S. government to pass a budget by April 15 or salaries would be frozen.
The U.S. House will produce a budget that should be balanced within 10 years. Engemann said.
The House also passed a bill called the Require a Plan Act, Engemann said. He said this would require the president to produce a balanced budget by April 1. If the president cannot do so by the deadline, then he would be required to say how long it will take, Engemann said.
Federal regulations also are stifling business, Engemann said, pointing out the pressure the Environmental Protection Agency is applying to coal-fired power plants.
Engemann said the only bright spot in the state’s economy appears to be agriculture, which is the state’s largest industry.
“Ag looks good, but beyond that (there’s) not much optimism out there,” Engemann said.
In terms of economic efforts going on in Missouri, State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said the state is not maximizing tax revenue from Internet sales.
“We have to level the playing field between Internet sales and sales that are taking place in grounded businesses,” Curtman said.
Curtman also addressed tax credits, saying they can put small businesses at a competitive disadvantage against larger enterprises.
This is because larger businesses benefit from tax credits while smaller operations are stuck paying the tax bill, Curtman said.
State Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said uncertainty from Obamacare is striking fear in small businesses.
“It’s the unaffordable care act,” said Schatz, a small business owner. “We’ve seen nothing but escalating costs.”
Obama’s administration has not even shown businesses how to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, Schatz said.
“There are so many things looming as a business person,” Schatz said. “I can tell you we are in a holding pattern. I think for the most part as a small business owner, we’re looking at how do we survive the next four years.”
Congress’ inability to pass a budget, uncertainty in tax laws and Obamacare are pushing small businesses backward, Nieves said.
Curtman said he supports drug testing food stamp recipients.
“Right now, we need a lot more accountability in that whole program,” Curtman said. “When there’s not accountability, what we’re doing is subsidizing drug habits.”
There is a bill in the Missouri House that would require a photo ID on electronic benefits transfer cards to ensure that the person using the card is the one who has been issued the benefits.
“This is just sound financial policy,” said Curtman, who chairs the Downsizing State Government Committee.
Hinson said he filed a bill in the House that would restrict the use of electronic benefits transfer cards in casinos, adult entertainment establishments and liquor stores.
The 1-cent transportation sales tax is a big initiative that Hinson and Schatz are working on in the state Legislature.
If the bill passes, voters would likely decide in November 2014 if they wanted to impose a 1-cent transportation tax for 10 years.
If it passes, the tax would generate about $7.9 billion over 10 years to improve highways and bridges.
This is the only way that rural Missouri is going to get enough funding to improve roads and bridges, Hinson said.
The country’s monetary policy is “horrible,” Curtman said, adding, “We have a Federal Reserve that constantly prints more money. Our dollar is not backed by anything.”
Therefore, he urges the Legislature to pass a resolution asking Congress to audit the Federal Reserve.
Curtman also is working on another bill that he said would lower the income tax for middle class families in Missouri.
Missouri residents who make $9,000 or more per year are in the state’s highest tax bracket, which is 6 percent of income, Curtman said.
The rest of the Midwestern states around Missouri tax the middle class about 3.5 percent, Curtman said.
This puts Missouri at a disadvantage in terms of finding people to move into the state, he said.
Curtman said he has introduced a bill that would adjust current tax brackets for inflation.
Only after making about $133,000 a year, not $9,000, should Missouri residents be in the highest tax bracket, Curtman said.
If it passes, the majority of middle class families in Missouri will get about a 2 percent income tax reduction, Curtman said.