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On Wednesday morning in Sedalia, Senator Claire McCaskill (D) held a town hall meeting in the Parkhurst Commons, Stauffacher Building on the campus of State Fair Community College. Our previous coverage:

Senator Claire McCaskill in Sedalia – May 27, 2009 – part 1

Senator Claire McCaskill in Sedalia – May 27, 2009 – part 2

The continuing transcript:

Senator McCaskill: Sure, sure…Yes sir.

Question:  I’m concerned about the gas prices. Since January the fuel, the gas costs in this area have gone up almost fifty per cent. We saw what it did last summer, go up to almost four dollars, a little over four dollars a gallon. Remarkably, just before the election it got back down. But now since [crosstalk]…

Senator McCaskill: Really, after the election is when it happened.

Question: Just shortly after, yeah.  But, it’s going back up again. And this isn’t a commodity like a television where you can go to K-mart, if you don’t like the price there you can go over to Wal-mart or you can buy a different brand. It, it’s not a competitive market like that. Exxon raises their price ten cents a gallon up to two twenty-nine a gallon, BP does it, Shell does it, all the [garbled] stations. It goes up fifteen cents a gallon here, you can go to every gas station on town, it goes up fifteen cents a gallon. It just smacks of price fixing. Also, earlier this year, on the evening news there was a statement made that Exxon had a full loaded tanker sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico. They weren’t bringing it in because they didn’t want to flood the market with gasoline. That sounds like price manipulation, like, you know, “We’ve got the fuel here, we’re just gonna manipulate it so we can get our money.”  We’ve seen that the oil companies have no shame when it comes to their greed. We, we regulate electricity, we regulate natural gas for our homes, I don’t like regulating business, I like the free market like you said, but it’s obvious that some companies who kinda have us in a stranglehold here. We have no control of this. I mean, we can’t go to another station, someplace else, to another brand and try to get a lower price. It doesn’t happen…

Senator Claire McCaskill (D).

Senator McCaskill: Well one of the reasons that, and, and I agree that we’ve got to continue to stay focused on the problem of gas prices. That’s why when gas prices go down we have to make sure we don’t lose our political will to get off our dependence on foreign oil. And one of the reasons why gas prices are going back up now is when gas prices were so high, guess what happened? Demand dropped. People started driving less. People started using a smaller car if they had that option when the gas prices were so high. So people started buying less gasoline. And when they bought less gasoline, the price went down. Now, great, gas got a little cheaper and all of a sudden it was okay, let’s go ahead and gas up.  I, I just was at the lake over Memorial Day weekend and, and I can tell you that it’s still not back to where it was in terms of those big gas hogs on the lake, but they’re better than they were last fall when the gas prices were so high, in terms of how many people were out there in those big boats. So, I, I think supply and demand had something to do with it, but most importantly, we’ve got. It, our domestic, Exxon, the domestic supply they have? Is this much compared to OPEC with this much.  OPEC, we can’t tell OPEC  what to do with their oil. They, foreign countries that, frankly a lot of them are not our friends, control the vast majority of the oil supplies in the world. For our national security, and for the, the health of the consumer’s ability to buy gasoline, we need to make sure we continue on our march towards getting out from underneath the dependence of foreign oil. Which is one of the things that was in the stimulus, the funding for the power grid that will allow us to transfer the energy of wind and solar into use in peoples’ homes. Getting of that, the foreign oil.

The, the automobile manufacturer’s, for the first time, instead of fighting new fuel standards, agreed with the President about two weeks ago that we’re gonna continue to raise the fuel standards on our automobiles so they are more and more gas efficient. [applause] So, I, I don’t , and by the way, there are some laws that are weird in Missouri.  I don’t [garbled] putting pressure on Representative Aull here, but there is actually a law in the State of Missouri that gas stations are not allowed to undercut the actual price of gas they’re selling. In other words they can’t do a loss leader. A gas station, by law, could not say, “You know, I’m gonna knock down my price fifty cents a gallon to get all the customers in here. ‘Cause I’ll sell ’em a lot of chips and coffee and soda.” And all the stuff we shouldn’t be eatin’ if we’re gonna reduce diabetes. [laughter] They can’t do that in Missouri. They actually passed a law to make it illegal for them to undercut the market price in terms of selling gasoline. So, I’ve always thought that was a weird law. And we shouldn’t have ever put that on the books in Missouri. So, that’s one thing that Representative Aull can take a look at, maybe go to work on it. [laughter]…Yes.

Question: I’m from a small town in southwest Missouri, four hundred and seventeen people. And I’ve been on the council for about five or six years. And it’s really interesting to hear you talk about big cities and what needs to be done and stuff like that. But with a small community we have problems, too, but we can’t seem to get any of the money at all for like drinking water, things like that, which is very important to us even though we are very small communities. So I was wondering what we can do to get some of this money. I mean, I’m not talkin’ about millions of dollars. I’m just talkin’ about few thousands to help us out.

Senator McCaskill: Well I think what, that is exactly, if you look on that map, you’ll [garbled] that. Because there’s money going to all kinds of sizes of communities, very small communities. And I would recommend that you talk to my staff when the meeting’s over, make sure we get your name, so you’re aware of what’s out there. ‘Cause there is help, through the state, through D and R on drinking water projects for those very smallest communities. There is also the regional planning folks, can also help you. They can be helpful with that. And I think there are some things that we can, we can look at, for, in the smallest communities.

Question: Yes, and I understand that. I’ve been on the board for about five years and D and R came in and said we needed two water towers, which we definitely agreed. And so you’re talkin’ about a half a million dollar project. And it took us four years to come up with the money. And thank goodness that they helped us through some of that. But, you know, we’re talkin’ about a community that don’t have people hired to work five days a week, forty hours.

Senator McCaskill: No, I understand and, and it’s communities like that where we want to try to be helpful, because you can’t hire a lobbyist.

Question: No.

Senator McCaskill: You know, you can’t hire somebody to come up to Washington and find you money and an earmark. And all that. It’s not, that’s not reasonable or realistic for you. And so that’s why we need to help you identify what’s there, and maybe we can be the one that can do that as opposed to you having to hire so
mebody to do it for you. And it’s for those small communities we particularly want to reach out to ’cause they don’t have that infrastructure, full-time help to help ’em. Okay? You bet. Glad you came.

Pull one from the bottom…

Question: [garbled] Miss McCaskill, I was curious why you feel compelled to print, spend, and borrow our children’s future away in relation to growing big government? And from the perspective of, that endured throughout the history of man, recessions of all different types of countries have never ever done well with spending in a recessionary period.

Senator McCaskill: That’s just not true. And, and, now, I will agree that Japan, it didn’t work. But you know what Japan did when they did stimulus spending? [crosstalk]

Question: [garbled][crosstalk]

Senator McCaskill: They raised taxes. [crosstalk] Yeah, but a lot of those countries, that, you know. Econ one-oh-one does say that when an economy is retracting stimulus spending can work as long as you’re not raising taxes. If you’re cutting taxes and doing a shot of stimulus spending, and by the way, it is working. It is working. We already see a, it is much better today than it was six month ago.

Question: What is, we spend up front, we’ve got to cap the tax again. There’s no way around it. [crosstalk]

Senator McCaskill: Well, well, let me just say this. I think there are ways that we can be more responsible with spending. I am not somebody who, my auditor background had a lasting impact on the way I view the spending of money. And that’s why I worked so hard to get this contracting subcommittee.

We grew government, big time, in the last eight years. It is a huge growth of government in the last eight years. Most of it is secret, because it was through contracting. They didn’t add employees. They added contractors [applause] on contractors and contractors. Almost fifty cents out of every dollar that was spent, discretionary domestic spending was spent, on contractors. In Iraq alone, I went over to Iraq to look at the contracting, I conservatively estimate, as an auditor, conservatively estimate through waste, fraud and abuse, we went up in smoke, over a hundred billion dollars of our money. Through contractors. I mean…[crosstalk]

Question: We’re talking about seven hundred eighty-seven billion dollars here.

Senator McCaskill: Yeah.

Question: That’s more than twice the cost of the Iraq war.

Senator McCaskill: Well, here’s the, but forty per cent of that was a tax cut.

Question: Well, tax credits. That’s different [crosstalk]…

Senator McCaskill: No, no, tax cut. No. tax cut. We’re happy to get you the information. You know, I understand the, the point of view you have. And I, I respect that you believe the stimulus was the wrong thing to do.  I will tell you, that we are, I am hyper focused on our deficit. You know, over the last eight years it was a spending spree. Earmarks, I mean, talk about taking ’em to an art form. I mean, literally. At the height of it, in two thousand and six, they did twenty-seven billion dollars just of earmarks.

Question: It’s not just the last eight years. It’s the last one hundred days.

Senator McCaskill: Well, I will tell you it is…[crosstalk]

Voices: No, no, no.

Senator McCaskill: …believe me, believe me, the habits that Washington is in were not habits that were learned in the last hundred days. The habits that got us in this trouble have been around for longer even than eight years. [applause] It has been goin’ on for a [garbled]. And we gotta work to change it…

Question: Good morning. And thank you for coming.

Senator McCaskill: You bet. My pleasure.

Question: First of all, I wanted to thank you for being part of the not spending the billion dollars for Guantanamo Bay. Because I do think there has to be a plan…

Senator McCaskill: It was eighty-one million…[crosstalk]

Question: Eighty-one million…

Senator McCaskill: …not a billion.

Question: …not billion.[crosstalk]

Senator McCaskill: You know, pretty soon those Bs start flyin’ around, it was eighty-one million. [laughter]

Question: I just automatically think billion when we’re talking. I’m just wondering if people in Congress grew up the way most of us did. With a balanced budget. And I’m just concerned, is that in the plan to try to balance the budget? I see constantly spending of, of stimulus and all these things that you brought up in your very first statement. That we’re spending so much more and how can we spend so much when it’s end up gonna come out of Mr. and Mrs. citizen. Because it, I understand that you’re talking about tax cuts, but you end up, still, it’s not government money, it’s our money.

Senator McCaskill: I agree.

Question: And so, how in the world do we spend trillions of dollars in a budget and it not come out of our pocket in the long run? So, what is the plan for balancing the budget?

Senator McCaskill: Well, as I talked about earlier, the most important thing we need to do is get a hold, where the growth is right now in our budget that is unsustainable, is in the entitlements. And the major two entitlement programs in this country are Social Security and Medicare. Now let me see a raise of hands of people who think we should do away with Medicare. All right. Let me see a raise of hands of people who think we should do away with Social Security. Okay. Okay, we got two or three that want to do away with Social Security. Brave. Brave people. Three people that want to do away with Social Security. So, I mean, now we all understand that everyone in this room except these three want to have Medicare and Social Security. That is the vast majority of the growth in our budget that we cannot afford, are those two programs. So how do we do this without stopping Social Security and basically abandoning Medicaid, Medicare? Well, we do it by controlling health care costs. And literally [applause] if we can control our health care costs, even in a modest way, you will see us back. We had surpluses. We had surpluses in this country. We still had debt, but we had surpluses in this country less than ten years ago. [crosstalk]

Question: Well, I, I’m blaming both [crosstalk]…

Senator McCaskill: We can get back to that. We can get back to that if we work on this health care costs. Because that will be the ticket that will allow us to reduce that entitlement spending that ultimately will put on a more firm, foundation as it relates to our finances…

Question: Yes, Congressman McCaskill, I’m…representative to, to the district for the Cherokee Nation. And I want to know what the stimulus package offers for us as the oldest and the smallest minority in the State of Missouri and what you’re gonna do about our better recognition, and what Jay Nixon has done, cutting us out of making a living off of our heritage, off of our arts and crafts.

Senator McCaskill: Well I’m not aware of what Jay has done, the Governor has done, in relation to that. But I’m happy, if you will stick around afterwards, make sure we get your, we’ve got your contact information. We’ll contact you directly. I’m not aware of any specific thing in the stimulus as it relates to the Native American community, but I’m happy to look into it.

Question: We’ve been fighting for federal recognition since nineteen seventy-eight. What can you do to push for better recognition?

Senator McCaskill: Well I’ll, I’ll have to look into it. I do not kno
w right now, I’m going to be honest with you, I do not know.

Question: Okay.

Senator McCaskill: Okay?

Question: Thank…[crosstalk]

Senator McCaskill: Thank you. Thank you for being here…

…Hi. Hi. I love this. Every time we call on a couple they let the women talk. [laughter] What’s up? Uh, I love Sedalia. Yes.

Question: Thank you for coming.

Senator McCaskill: You bet.

Question: I come out of the manufacturing sector. And I’ve been seeing jobs leave this state for twenty years. We need some manufacturing.

Senator McCaskill: I agree. And we, I was just on the phone this morning with the people at Fiat, who will take over Chrysler, after bankruptcy and we’re working to try, we have a state of the art plant in St. Louis sitting idle right now. We need to get those jobs back. We need to make sure we keep our industrial base in this country because it’s important for our national security. Which is why I’m working so hard to make sure that those, what Boeing builds in this state, because first of all, it’s cost effective and on time, on budget, and they’re cheaper than what the military is proposing to use otherwise.  Working really hard to keep those manufacturing jobs, and then importantly, are all the small manufacturing facilities around our state. And making sure that we work to support them with some of the small business stuff we’ve done in terms of loss carry back and changing inventory rules at it relates to the tax burden on small businesses. But, I’m worried about it, too. I want us to still build stuff in America, I don’t just want to sell stuff…and you know, as, and, and before I call on…

Question: Close. You’re close. [laughter]

Senator McCaskill: you know, let me just say, one of the hardest things to figure out is when government should stick its big nose in and when government should take its nose out. It’s a hard, hard thing. And let me just give you a good example. I have a very dear friend of mine who is wildly conservative. And he called me on the phone about a month ago and he said, “You know, if you all would stick your big nose somewhere else. Let the free market thrive. Let capitalism reign supreme. Because that’s what built this country. It wasn’t government telling businesses what to do or how to do it, it was somebody with a good idea that worked hard.”  Now, I said, “You know…I completely understand what you’re saying.” And then about five sentences later he said to me, “Would you explain to me how you all let this happen?” [laughter] I said to him, “Did you just hear what you said?” You said you needed to stay out of it, but then you wanted to blame government ’cause government let this happen. We unhooked the investment banking world from regulation about twenty-five years ago. We decided commercial banks, they’re all fine in your community, the banks that you know, the banks where you do business, they don’t have a problem. They’ve had government oversight since the depression. Various layers of government oversight. They have state bank examiners, they have federal bank examiners, they have the FDIC. They have all kinds of oversight and they’re all fine.

It was the investment banks that almost caused a complete meltdown in the global world as it relates to finances. And it’s because we, you know, one of the reasons it happened, greed, inappropriate leveraging, all kinds of things, letting people sell loans and close loans when they didn’t have skin in the game. You shouldn’t be able to get somebody to get a loan unless you’re gonna suffer if they don’t pay it. That’s why a lot of people got loans, they didn’t deserve ’em because people who were closing those loans didn’t care if they paid ’em. And the people who were buyin’ those and securities didn’t care. So, you know, how do we go back in and provide basic regulation in the investment banking world without going too far? How do we help manufacturing without government having too big a role? And that’s the hard part. Is finding that balance. And there is a balance you have to find. I’m not big for, government doesn’t have the answers. The people of America, the American public have the answers. Not government. But, government needs to be there to provide some kind of regulation and some kind of, hopefully, support to encourage the kind of capitalism and free market entrepreneurship that, that has made our country so great. So, that’s, that’s part of the problem with, with helping manufacturing is not getting government so much in it that government becomes business. We don’t want that. Okay…

The transcript of the town hall will conclude in a subsequent post.