COUDERSPORT, Pa. -- The state troopers’ Tasers stayed holstered, nobody yelled, and nothing seemed embarrassing enough to warrant posting a video-clip on the Internet.
Indeed, even the requisite jousting with angry activists from the opposition was downright civil at a town-hall meeting here Wednesday with Sen. Pat Toomey (R.,Pa.), a fiscal conservative freshman recently named to the congressional super-committee charged with figuring a solution to the federal deficit and national debt.
In this summer of public discontent, with the Gallup approval rating of Congress below 20 percent, many senators and representatives around the country have declined to hold no-holds-barred forums with voters that are a fixture of the August recess.
“My question to you, sir, you support corporate loopholes and not cutting them,” Dan Haney, an activist from the MoveOn.org-affiliated American Dream Movement, who drove up from Philadelphia to confront Toomey. “I want to know what you’re going to do to stop the tax breaks” that help companies send U.S. jobs overseas.
“That’s a very fair question,” Toomey responded. “I happen to think our tax code is a complete disaster…that makes us less competitive because it is driving investment decisions.” He said it was “indefensible” that General Electric, a profitable U.S. multinational, paid no corporate taxes recently; A tax on bringing cash home from foreign subsidiaries, after it’s already been taxed by foreign governments, is keeping about a trillion dollars from being invested at home, he said.
“It’s maddening, it’s crazy,” Toomey said. He said he wants to work on an overhaul of taxes as part of the supercommittee’s agenda.
“We could go after the spending in any number of ways….and there is a reasonably broad consensus among my colleagues in the senate that the tax code is costing us growth and jobs.”
A resident of nearby Tioga County asked Toomey why he would not support a “modest” tax increase on the very wealthiest individuals, who used their 2001 tax breaks to “spend it all on the Hamptons, yachts, overseas travel and furs.”
Toomey said that government’s share of the gross domestic product has crept upward at an unsustainable rate, and he believes that increasing taxes to close the deficit would give the government an excuse to keep spending.
“If we say we’re going to keep raising taxes on some Americans to make them pay for this ever-growing share of government we’re going to have slower economic growth,” Toomey said.
Afterward, Toomey said he agreed with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.,Va.), who prompted a furor earlier this week when he said that federal spending in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Irene should be offset by cuts in other programs.
“It's not as though we're unprepared for this situation,” Toomey told reporters. “We know that at any time in this great country of ours there are storms, there are floods...” He said it is “reasonable” for the federal government to respond but money for that should be budgeted upfront or savings found elsewhere, given the deficit-spending crisis.