Isakson visits Bainbridge College

Published 6:26 pm Friday, June 1, 2012

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), at left, takes a moment from meeting and greeting with citizens at a town hall meeting held Thursday night to pose for a picture with Bainbridge College President Richard Carvajal. Isakson spoke and then took questions from an audience in the solarium room at the college’s Kirbo Center.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) held a town hall meeting with about 50-60 people at Bainbridge College’s Kirbo Center on Thursday evening.

In a speech he gave before answering the audience’s questions, Isakson focused on three points: reduction of the United States’ debt, reigning in of federal government spending and reform of the federal tax code.

The senator said he believed only about one-third of every dollar the federal government spends is on the traditional programs and services it provides (such as defense, education, commerce regulation, etc.). Two-thirds of every dollar the U.S. government spends is on entitlements, he said.

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To fix the ever-growing U.S. debt, which is nearing $16 trillion, the senator offered his opinion that cuts need to be made to federal government programs and entitlements need to be re-calibrated and, in some cases, eliminated.

Isakson distinguished between two different types of entitlements. There are two entitlements which he said the U.S. government has “made a contract” with its citizens to provide in perpetuity: Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security retirement benefits.

However, there are a number of entitlements which he said only apply to people in specific circumstances and have been added on without the same inherent “guarantee” that they will always be available. Those types of entitlements include Social Security disability benefits, Supplmental Security Income (SSI), temporary assistance (welfare) and food stamps.

Isakson said he believed that both types of entitlements have “grown out of control” and Congress should act to contain them.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

With regards to Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security retirement, Isakson said he did not suggest “taking away” the benefits altogether. He suggested that the government could replace Medicare’s “fee-for-service” reimbursement program by instead giving beneficiaries health insurance “vouchers.” The vouchers, which would have a capped premium value, could either be used to purchase standard Medicare coverage or obtain a private insurance plan. If the voucher was used to purchase a more expensive private plan, enrollees have to pay all of the added cost themselves. If they choose a plan that is cheaper than the voucher’s value, they could pocket the savings.

The voucher idea would potentially cap Medicare’s growth in spending, Isakson said.

In regards to retirement benefits, the senator said Congress may again have to raise the minimum age at which benefits can be collected, to perhaps 70 years of age.

“That won’t affect anyone currently receiving benefits, just those like our grandkids, who won’t miss them anyway because people are overall living longer and healthier than they used to,” Isakson said.

The senator also said he liked an idea suggested by an audience member, who noted that a person currently only has to work 10 years to receive partial retirement benefits.

“Ten years may be too short of a period to become vested in a program that is meant to benefit people who have been working most of their adult life,” said Isakson, who said he might be in favor of increasing the qualifying period to 15 or 20 years.

Isakson said that after cutting spending and reducing the debt, Congress should focus on reforming the federal tax code.

“It’s become way too complicated and contains all sorts of exemptions for businesses to do all sorts of things in specific situations,” he said. “Take the increased revenue you get from eliminating tax incentives and lower the marginal rate from the top down. That will lead to businesses making more capital investments and help our economy rebound.”

“We are in a crisis situation in which the amount of debt we are producing equals our nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” Isakson said. “We have reached the point where we are essentially buying our own debt from other countries to fund continued government spending …  the world markets won’t allow us much longer to fix this problem, and we will get to the point no one will give us any more credit.”