Freshman Congressman Tim Huelskamp is billing it as the "Continuing the Tradition" tour.
He stopped at the Front Door in Great Bend for a town-hall meeting Wednesday afternoon as he continued his first swing through in the Big First District. He came from Dodge City and planned stops in La Crosse and Greensburg before the day was over.
"This started with Keith Sebelius," the Fowler Republican said of the tradition behind visiting all the counties in the expansive Congressional district. Sebelius and Pat Roberts had 50 counties, but when Jerry Moran took over in 1996, it had increased to 69. By week’s end, Huelskamp, who replaced Moran who won a Kansas Senate seat, will have held 14 meetings.
Starting the tour during the coldest cold snap to hit Kansas yet this winter, he said his goal has been to have more people present than the temperature outside, and that hadn’t been a problem. But, the thermometer read 11 degrees Wednesday in Great Bend and there were only eight in attendance.
Nonetheless, those present warmed the inside of the conference room with talk of repealing health care reform legislation and balancing the federal budget.
"It is humbling for this farm kid from Fowler, Kansas," he said, describing his first weeks on Capitol Hill. But, the large freshman class in the House is getting to work. "We’ve been doing exactly what we said we’d do."
The Republican-controlled House passed a largely ceremonial repeal of the health care reform act which will likely die in the Democrat-dominated Senate. The representatives also passed a 5-percent cut in the House budget.
"We have to lead by example," he said. "Times are tough."
Saying all elected officials are the employees of the voters, he asked the crowd what they would do to make a difference. The so-called Obamacare was the first response.
Huelskamp said the health care bill was said to save $2.7 million, but instead, it will cost much more. "We have given direction to the committees to go to work on real health care reform," he said. This could include more state control and tort reform.
"We still don’t know everything that is in the bill," he said. There are 722 one-year exemptions extended to such entities as the American Federation of Teachers that are uncalled for.
Then, talk turned to the deficit and the $14.3 trillion national debt. "This is about future generations," the congressman said. "We can’t keep continuing to barrow money," which is the direction the White House is headed, he said.
"There’s so much waste," said audience member Paula Carr from Larned. "We’re spending stupid."
Carr said we must be willing to cut and save, not only nationally, but individually. But, what attendees believed to be a over-taxed entitlement system quashes the desire to succeed and causes a reliance on welfare.
"We have to address the culture of spending," Huelskamp said. It has been a lot of years since there has been a balanced national budget, and it is not just a Republican or Democratic problem. But, he said, he would only vote to raise the debt ceiling if budget-cutting concessions are made.
With 9.4 percent national unemployment and some policies that seem unfair to small businesses, "we are in a pretty stagnate economy," he said.
His opposition to No Child Left Behind and the green-house-gas-reducing plan known as cap and trade, returning more control to the states, the need to enforce existing immigration laws, and possible changes to farm programs were also discussed.
"We have to work together on this," he said, referring to lawmakers and constituents.
Huelskamp announced he serves on the Agriculture, Budget and Veterans’ Affairs committees.