Republican Defends Bill to Abolish the EPA
By Glynn Wilson –
MILTON, Fla. — Freshman Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz faced protesters and supporters at his first day of town hall events since the election, defending a bill he put forward with three cosigners in the House to abolish the EPA.
The Florida Panhandle Progressives, local Democrats and other groups turned out more than a hundred protesters to fight his proposal to abolish the Environmental Protection agency.
“I feel like it’s an attack on human beings on every living thing in this entire country,” said Sarah Coutu with the Florida Panhandle Progressives. “I think the entire nation needs to know this person in district one, as a congressman, affects the air and water quality and the environment.”
The crowd was split between those who support and those who vehemently oppose the plan by the Trump administration and the Republican congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
The new conservative Republican with long-standing family ties to state politics, a questionable driving record with DUI’s in the past for which he paid no price, somehow managed to obtain plum committee assignments after only one month in office. He will serve on the Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the powerful Budget Committee with virtually no experience other than a law degree.
Gaetz made light of his driving record and welcomed protesters to his events.
“We haven’t combated protesters, we’ve invited and included them,” Gaetz said at every stop, defending the plan to get rid of the federal agency regulating the environment, and the Department of Education. “I think that protest is a key element in a healthy democracy. So, I’m grateful for everyone who would take part of their time and come out and share their ideas and opinions.”
About 100 demonstrators held protests in Milton Thursday at Grover T’s BBQ restaurant and later at the Santa Rosa County Administration Offices building, where Gaetz conducted one-on-one meetings for more than two hours with constituents who sought help with claims on veterans benefits, social security, Medicare and other federal matters.
About 500 people, many of them opposed to eliminating the federal agencies, packed Oops Alley in Pace for the last event of the day, many carrying signs defending the need for clean air and water, hoping to have an impact by changing the congressman’s mind about eliminating the EPA. He did not seem moved.
“My belief is that the $8 billion we’re currently spending on the EPA is not appropriately utilized to be able to really get in and punish polluters,” Gaetz said, facing the hostile crowd mixed with supporters at every stop. He defended his plan to take $8 billion from the EPA and give it to the states, not explaining how that would save taxpayers money or countering legal experts who disagree with the Fort Walton Beach Republican by arguing that eliminating the agency would incite statutory chaos and result in devastating impacts to the environment and human health.
Critics and opponents say transferring the money and the power to the states would not work.
“Our water supplies don’t all come from Florida,” Coutu said. “They also come from Georgia and from Alabama and from Louisiana and from other states in the north. I also think that our state is doing an insanely terrible job.”
Gaetz is supporting President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, and to make changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Many in the crowd vehemently expressed their support for those programs along with conerns and objections to messing with their health care and retirement benefits, issues that were once called the “third rail” of American politics. Politicians were once loath to touch such popular programs, fearing electoral retribution from voters. Not so much anymore.
Many retired constituents, including veterans who voted for Gaetz, openly criticized the congressman. One took him on for holding his final town hall meeting of the day in a bowling alley.
Gaetz responded to questions about proposed changes to Obamacare, claiming he would not support discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions and he would favor allowing dependents to stay on parents’ plans until age 26. But after pledging to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, the first federal law ever to regulate the health care industry, Gaetz says the solution lies in allowing private insurance companies to sell policies across state lines to foster more competition. It’s not clear how that would work on the Florida border with Georgia and Alabama.
Gaetz also took questions about supporting the move to get Trump to release his tax returns, which many people are advocating even after the campaign is over because of what the documents could reveal about Trump’s business ties to Russia.
“Let me say right here, right now, absolutely Donald Trump should release his tax returns,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz also expressed his support for Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, deporting undocumented immigrants and recruiting predominantly-Muslim countries as allies in the fight against the ISIS, the Islamic State.
Gaetz came off as a politician who may have a bright political future, taking a more open approach than other Republicans in Congress such as Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who have decided to hold town hall meetings in conference calls rather than in person. Rubio said the meetings would not be productive since they would only be attended by “angry liberals.” Gaetz also seems more open than President Trump, who does not allow critics to question him, even banning major news organizations who ask tough questions from White House briefings.
“I do not hold town hall meetings just to chat with folks who agree with me,” Gaetz said at every stop. “So if you’re here with criticism, if you’d like me to do something differently, you are welcome. I am glad you are here.”
Gaetz is one of a new breed of politicians who are tapping into white, working class anger and following Trump’s lead in creating a new kind of conservative Republican with patriotic appeals to nationalism, a movement some are calling populist that resulted in the United Kingdom pulling out of the European Union. It is also making itself felt in places such as Canada, France and Germany, threatening to upend many years of international agreements promoting fair trade around the world.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.