North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones (R-Dist.3) addressed a number of controversial topics, including health care and military spending, during an appearance at Pollocksville Town Hall Wednesday evening.
The event, which was billed as a “national issues discussion,” included remarks from Jones followed by a question-and-answer session with audience members, which included Jones County residents as well as town and county officials.
Jones began his remarks with a discussion of the national debt, which he said had risen from $5.8 trillion to nearly $20 trillion since 2000. Jones said both Republican and Democratic lawmakers were equally to blame for the increase.
“Both parties are spending more money than we bring in from your taxes and other revenue sources. To me this is a critical problem facing our nation,” Jones told the audience. “We’re spending about a billion dollars a day just to pay the interest on the debt. How much longer can this go before we all start financially strangling?”
Jones said one of his biggest concerns was the influence of outside money on federal policy decisions. Jones said he considered Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that prohibited the restriction of corporate campaign spending, “a horrible decision.”
Jones said he was currently a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that seeks to limit the influence of super PACS.
“In 2016, lobbyists spent $3.1 billion, an average of $5.8 million per lawmaker,” said Jones. “I told a group recently ‘Your congressman Walter Jones ain’t worth that much money, I promise you.’”
Jones was also critical of the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan.
“It’s not worth one pint of blood or one dollar bill from the taxpayers,” said Jones, who was flanked by enlarged photos of three young girls attending military funerals for their fathers who died in Afghanistan.
“This doesn't hardly make the news, but we had two soldiers from Fort Bragg a month ago who were killed by IEDs in Afghanistan. ... How about protecting for our men and women in uniform who are in a foreign country that we will never change. Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires; we can’t win there.”
Jones said he opposed President Donald Trump’s proposal to send more troops to Afghanistan, pointing out the many instances where Trump had previously been critical of military intervention in the region. He said he was also “very mad” with House Speaker Paul Ryan for not allowing Congress to hold an authorization of military force meeting.
“The last time we had a debate of any substance on Afghanistan was 2001. That’s the last time,” said Jones. “It’s our Constitutional responsibility to debate sending you or your sons or daughters to give their lives for this country, and we haven’t done it and it upsets me.”
Jones said many of America’s overseas conflicts are perpetuated by war profiteers.
“It’s because of the influence of money. ... When 59 Tomahawk missiles were sent into Syria about two months ago, each missile cost $1 million,” Jones noted, “That’s $59 million that evaporated in about an hour. Well, somebody that made those missiles made some profit.”
Jones also criticized Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
“I voted against a bill that included money for the wall that Mexico’s supposed to pay for, which is a joke too. They’re not going to pay for it,” said Jones. “The total cost to build the wall is well over $23 billion.”
Jones characterized the first seven months of the Trump administration as “one of the most chaotic I’ve ever seen.” His hope, he said, is that current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly can work to temper Trump’s impulsiveness.
“I hope Mr. Trump will listen to John Kelly. Time will tell but I hope he will,” Jones said.
Jones also didn't hesitate to voice his opposition to his party’s recent health care proposal, which he voted against. Jones said he would have preferred for the House and Senate to hold hearings around the country to receive input from citizens before crafting a bill.
“Instead they tried to jam it through in six or seven weeks because I think they wanted to try to embarrass the former president Obama,” said Jones. ”I don't agree with the Affordable Care Act but there is a way we can try to fix this system to make it better for all of us. But you can't jam it through.”
Jones said he hoped the failure of the Republican health care bill would force lawmakers to work to reduce premiums and prescription drug prices.
Audience member Olivia Willis, who suffers from diabetes, told Jones she had faced problems trying to buy insulin pumps through her insurance plan. Willis said she fell into the insurance “doughnut hole” that creates problems for so many elderly residents.
“This is life and death for me. This is not fun time,” said Willis. “I’m still fighting, I have gotten supplies today for the first time since April 12.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Jones said if lawmakers were unable to fix the Affordable Care Act, some form of expanded Medicare or single payer healthcare system may be inevitable.
“At some point if we cannot fix the problems we have with health care, in 10 to 15 years or maybe sooner there will be an alternative that will look like Medicare or the single payer system,” he said.