Republican Congressman Rob Wittman visited the University of Mary Washington on Friday, Feb. 19, and held a town-hall style meeting in the Great Hall.
The UMW College Republicans hosted the event and invited students from all political stripes to attend and ask the congressman questions.
Before taking questions, Wittman addressed many of his own key issues, including the economy, taxes, small businesses and new technologies like Facebook and Twitter.
“Borrowing money, tax structure, national debt, regulations,” Wittman said. “There is a lot of anxiety out there.”
Wittman specifically addressed the current healthcare debate in the U.S. Congress. While he agreed that the rising costs of healthcare are unsustainable, Wittman maintained that the bill currently under consideration is inherently flawed.
“We wish we had started on a level playing field,” he said. “The process hasn’t necessarily brought all the ideas to the floor.”
After his introductory remarks, Wittman took questions from the more than 30 students in attendance.
Senior James Martin asked Wittman if Social Security or Medicare would be cut in order to decrease the national debt.
Wittman responded that to lower the debt effectively without cutting costs, it would take a 60 percent increase in taxes, something he refuses to consider.
He said that instead both Social Security and Medicare must be seriously looked at and ultimately fixed.
“They are not sustainable,” Wittman said. “Medicare runs out of money in 2017. Social Security runs out in 2037. We better get in there and fix it.”
Senior Joe Buonannata asked for Wittman’s opinion on the Tea Party Movement, as well as former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo’s comments at the Tea Party Convention that Obama was elected because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.”
Wittman expressed his distaste for Tancredo’s comments and reinforced the idea that pointed criticism can be effective, but must be respectful.
“Those kinds of comments don’t make the process any more open,” Wittman said. “You have to back off from that. It’s good rhetoric, but you have to encourage folks to vote. You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Junior Michael Gardner asked Wittman about his opinion on abstinence only versus safe sex education in school systems.
“I don’t have an issue with them,” Wittman said.
Wittman went on to say that the type of sexual education offered in a school should be decided by the school itself and the students’ parents.
“I think school systems ought to have the ability to choose,” Wittman said. “Parents should be in on this. I think these decisions are best left to the community.”
Sophomore Cara MacDonald asked Wittman to comment on his stated disapproval of a public option in the current healthcare legislation.
Wittman responded with his own question, directed at MacDonald.
“How does that lower costs and provide competition?” he asked.
Wittman went on to decry the involvement of the federal government in providing insurance, as well as requiring businesses to pay a tax if they cannot provide their workers with insurance.
“Government would determine who goes into the insurance,” Wittman said. “You pay an 8 percent payroll tax if you don’t provide care. Who pays for it?”
At the end of the meeting, the students in attendance seemed satisfied.
“I think the congressman is very knowledgeable about the current issues,” former Mary Washington student Ben Miller said. “Not just for the district but the nation.”
Senior Andrew Luton, president of the College Republicans, was grateful for Wittman’s interest in student opinion.
“We’re so glad he could make it,” Luton said. “He’s a great friend of the club. He’s so good about this.”
Wittman also was positive about the town-hall meeting.
“The students are an important part of the electorate,” Wittman said. “[Mary Washington] is part of the district. We’re here to keep our ears open and listen.”WittWW