Growing frustration and worry was palpable among participants in a town hall meeting that Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa conducted by telephone Tuesday night from her Washington office.
Hanabusa said she organized the call to address growing concerns from constituents about the reliability of Social Security and Medicare payments. Officials including President Barack Obama have raised the possibility that federal payments may not being made if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2.
The deadline marks the point at which officials say the federal government may default on its payments. U.S. House and Senate leaders are scrambling on Capitol Hill to seek approval for plans to avert such a default.
Thousands of people connected to Hanabusa’s conference call, with a peak of about 900 on the line at any given time, according to a spokeswoman.
For much of the hour-long call, the freshman congresswoman was doing damage control. She assured one caller that interest payments required on a fixed-rate mortgage would not skyrocket, even if the federal government defaults.
“The default will affect interest rates, (but) things like your mortgage interest rates are contractual,” Hanabusa said. “Whatever is in your contract will have to be abided by. Depending on whether you use your credit card and you don’t pay it off and then you have interest rates on it, that interest rate would go up. But that’s not something that would be retroactive on your mortgage if you do in fact have a fixed rate.”
She assured others that their Social Seurity and Medicare checks would reach them no matter what happens.
“Social Security is a trust fund, not monies that you take from the government,” Hanabusa told callers. “It is solvent to at least the year 2036. There is no reason why your check should not be issued. It is actually your money that the government holds. I think it’s unfortunate that Social Security and making seniors feel uncomfortable is all part of this debate when, in my opinion, it should not be.”
Expressing her view that Social Security should not be on the table in debt negotiations was the closest Hanabusa came to criticizing Obama’s approach. Not surprisingly, many callers appeared to be Hanabusa supporters who used the opportunity to vent about Republicans’ role in the debt impasse. Hanabusa repeatedly criticized the GOP for holding “hostage” a routine debt-ceiling increase to get their way.
When one caller asked Hanabusa whether she believed the Democrats were also using a “stonewalling tactic” to promote their ideology, she said that she and others in Congress aren’t privy to higher-level debt negotiations. Many of the discussions are taking place “above where we’re viewed in the structure” of government, she said.
Hanabusa appeared comfortable with the idea that the president could opt to resolve the issue unilaterally, and raise the debt limit without congressional approval.
“When you think about this, I think it’s responsible on the part of the president to say that he will not be held hostage by what he considers to be a ploy to do things to entitlements, especially Medicaid or Medicare or all these cuts,” Hanabusa said. “If he chooses to exercise his power, I would have to say that it probably is a sign of leadership. Whether it’s correct or not, it’s the third branch of government that’s going to make that decision — that’ll be the courts — and I’m sure it’s going to end up there.”
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