August 23, 2013 10:08:41 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
A packed Lowndes County courtroom greeted Mississippi 1st District Congressman Alan Nunnelee for a town hall meeting Thursday evening.
The second-term Republican fielded questions ranging from the 2012 Benghazi attack to a farm bill currently before the House that also has language relating to food stamps, but the two topics people wanted to hear him speak about most were the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) and immigration reform.
Monica Smith, one of a large contingent of the Tupelo TEA Party in attendance, asked Nunnelee if he would "do everything it takes to de-fund Obamacare."
"I have voted 40 times to de-fund, repeal, to dismount Obamacare because I think it's a bad law," Nunnelee said. "I think the problem with Obamacare started when the (then) leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said 'Let's pass it now and we'll find out what's in it later.' The more we find out what's in it, the less we like it."
Nunnelee said even the law's strongest supporters said it would be a "train wreck" when it's implemented.
"The president said, 'Let's delay enforcement of Obamacare on businesses that have 50 or more employees. I don't know if he had the legal authority to do that, but I agree with his assessment. I don't think it went far enough," he said. "I think we ought to also delay implementation for businesses with 50 or less employees. We also ought to delay implementation as it relates to individuals. We need to delay implementation as related to seniors. We need to delay it all."
Several people voiced concerns that the new law would pose negative consequences and he wasn't doing enough to build more Congress traction against it. When Nunnelee referenced suggestions he'd heard from people to shut the federal government down altogether, many in the crowd began to clap their hands.
"When they put together the Affordable Care Act, they did it in such a way that the funding does not flow across my desk," he said. "The result is some people are saying we need to close down the government. If we shut down government, Obamacare will continue to be funded."
Attendees also disputed that statement.
"We don't want Obamacare," Smith said, before ripping in half a copy of a registration certificate.
Nunnelee also voiced opposition to a Senate bill that he said would create a special path for illegal immigrants to citizenship, to which he gained more favor from the crowd.
"I don't know that anybody would argue that our current system is working when we've got 11 million people in our country that are here illegally," he said.
Two steps that must be taken are stricter border patrol and enforcement of people who come into the country legally but overstay the time limit of their visa, he said.
"We've got to start with border security, and we're not doing a really good job with that right now. What keeps me awake at night is if people can come across our Southern border in search of low paying wages, there are those people that hate us that know that know that border is porous, and they know they can walk across that boarder with weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Forty percent of the people that are here illegally actually came here on a legal visa. They just overstayed the time limit of their visa ... America is a melting pot. We're a nation of immigrants, but we're also a nation with respect for the law. The problem I see in the Senate bill is it took those 11 million people that are here illegally and shoved them to the very front of the line in front of those people that have gone through the legal immigration process."
After the forum, Tupelo TEA Party members Grant Sowell and Ruth Hammerman said Nunnelee should be more active in weakening the new health care act as much as possible.
"I'm asking him if he will sign the Congressman Mark Meadows pledge to de-fund Obamacare," Sowell said. "On this particular issue, I would say he's out of touch with the Mississippians who are in the first district because he seems to have a strategy that seems to favor the bureaucracy of Washington D.C. more than he does American patriots. He'll want to do whatever John Bohener and the establishment wants him to do."
"He had his formatted answers and he was just making his answers long so he could get through the hour," Hammerman said. "I appreciated the people bringing him back to Obamacare. That's the biggest issue right now. He doesn't seem to know the powers he has. He said only 25 percent of the bills cross his desk. Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes. He's Congress. It doesn't say 25 percent. We already the know the U.S. Supreme Court has already deemed that Obamacare is a tax."
Nunnelee's stop in Columbus was one of several he will make in the state over the next two weeks.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.