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U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy explains his vote on fiscal cliff deal

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin's 7th District points to a graph showing what he says is the trajectory of the national debt if current spending policy isn't changed. The congressman held a town hall session late Monday afternoon at the Hudson House Grand Hotel.1 / 2
Jamie Johnson, a Hudson attorney and candidate for the school board, asks Congressman Sean Duffy what changes he would make to Social Security. Duffy said he would reduce payments to wealthy people for those age 54 and younger.2 / 2

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy opened a town hall meeting in Hudson late Monday afternoon by explaining his vote against the measure that prevented the country from going over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 257-167 vote on Jan. 2. The measure preserved the income tax cuts adopted during George W. Bush's presidency for individuals with annual incomes up to $400,000, and for couples making up to $450,000 a year.

It also cancelled $1 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts over the next decade.

Economists predicted that the country would slip back into recession if tax rates returned to the previous level for most Americans, coupled with the sharp government spending cuts.

Duffy was one of three Republican members of the House from Wisconsin who voted against the bill.

He told about 30 constituents who attended his town hall meeting in a second-floor room of the Hudson House Grand Hotel that locking in lower tax rates for middle-class Americans was a good thing.

He said that avoiding a "dairy cliff" that some predicted would double milk prices for consumers also was good.

"But on balance, it didn't decrease spending at all. It increased spending," Duffy said, raising his voice for emphasis.

"We extended unemployment insurance. That is going to cost us $30 billion. We didn't pay for it. The (budget) cuts that we negotiated a year and a half ago, they don't go into effect. They're being kicked down the road two months to be renegotiated. So you have the tax portion that is being addressed, but the spending side hasn't been addressed at all."

The congressman noted that national debt stands at $16.4 trillion and is growing at a rate of $1.1 to $1.2 trillion a year.

"Some think we can go down this path forever. I don't think we can go down it much longer," he said. "When you borrow and spend this way, it never ends well. It always ends in catastrophe. I think we are going to find ourselves in a debt spiral that we can't get out of."

Duffy said it will take a couple of decades to get to a balanced budget, but if the country doesn't start on that path, the future will be like what is happening in Greece now.

"I'm willing to do reasonable things to fix it," he said.

St. Croix County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer of North Hudson moderated the meeting. People wishing to ask a question wrote their names and the topic of their question on slip of paper and gave it to Standafer.

Hudson Middle School social studies teacher Michael Yell addressed the gridlock in Washington, D.C., and encouraged Duffy to do what he can to end it.

Duffy was sympathetic with Yell's frustration, but blamed the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama for the standstill.

He said the president wants $50 billion in stimulus spending in 2013.

"My view is that the president doesn't want to reduce spending, or reform spending," he said. "Then it is very challenging to come to a compromise."

Duffy signaled that Republicans will use the debt limit the federal government is expected to reach toward the end of February to force President Obama and Democrats in Congress to accept budget cuts.

"I think you are going to see a huge, huge fight on spending," he said.

A New Richmond woman encouraged the congressman not to compromise on principles.

"I hear compromise, compromise," she said. "I think compromise is why we are where we are at."

In a rambling statement, the woman said the United States isn't a democracy, but a republic, and that she had given up on Social Security.

She blasted the Affordable Care Act, saying it compromised religious liberty by forcing churches to provide contraception for women through health insurance plans.

Duffy was sympathetic. He allowed that Obama came up with a compromise that prevented churches from having to directly pay for contraception, but said the act still is "an affront to the First Amendment like you've never seen before."

He faulted the Catholic Church for not more firmly opposing the Affordable Care Act.

Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill asked about a proposal to take away the tax-exempt status for bonds financing local government projects. He said that action would cost local governments a lot of money.

Duffy said the proposal isn't currently on the table.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp., encouraged spending on the nation's transportation infrastructure, including Interstate 94 running through Hudson and St. Croix County.

Duffy said he supported federal investment in highways, but in a planned, balanced way. He said President Obama's stimulus bill had dumped money on projects without proper consideration.

Julie Novak asked Duffy about gun control proposals in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Duffy indicated he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and opposes any effort to limit gun ownership.

"We have to be sensitive, but I'm concerned when politicians take advantage of a tragedy to advance an agenda," he said.

He said what happened at Sandy Hook was an issue of mental illness.

Jamie Johnson, a Hudson attorney and candidate for the school board, asked Duffy what he would do to shore up Social Security.

Duffy said he would restrict payments to the wealthy for those age 54 and younger. He said he didn't support raising the eligibility age, or the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax.

John Marnell asked him to give examples of how he would cut the federal budget.

Duffy said he favored making Medicare a premium support program for those age 54 and younger.

Jill Berke asked Duffy about his opposition to a proposed new farm bill. Duffy said his main concern isn't with the agricultural part of the bill, but with the food stamp component.

Responding to a question from another woman, he said he supports the government helping people who truly need it, such as the disabled.

"My concern is that we have so many people jumping into the safety net," he said. His problem, he said, is with people receiving free phone service, free food and free housing.

"The media is against you," a speaker told Duffy after congratulating him for his appearance on the Huckabee Show on Fox News.

"Yeah," the congressman agreed.

Jamie Schultz of North Hudson asked Duffy when he'll run for president.

He indicated he was flattered by the question, but perfectly happy with his current job.

Earlier in the hour-long meeting, he told a questioner that he supported a limit of 12 years on service in Congress.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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