Members of a number of local organizations, including Saugerties Democrats, Working Families Party and various political groups, as well as local union members, turned out first to protest outside and then to join a constituent meeting with congressman Marc Molinaro on Wednesday at the Cedar Grove firehouse in Saugerties. Molinaro’s district also includes Broome, Tompkins, Cortland, Chenango, Delaware, Sullivan, Greene and Columbia Counties and part of Otsego County.
While Molinaro promised that he would oppose any cuts to Medicare or Social Security, he did not specify where the funding would come from. Several in the audience pressed him on this issue, but he responded that President Biden and Congressional leaders would be working this out. The audience included some 30 people who had demonstrated outside of the firehouse in opposition to cuts in Social Security or Medicare and in favor of increasing taxes to fund the programs.
Susan Dworski commented that it was not surprising to see so many signs among audience members: “You have upset many of your constituents with your votes.” She asked whether Molinaro would oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Molinaro assured the audience that he opposes any such cuts in benefits, but he said he would adamantly oppose any increase in taxes to pay for the programs. The payment method is still being worked out among members of Congress. Molinaro acknowledged that a solution Congress could agree to might include some tax increases or cuts to the programs; a final deal might include some provisions that he does not agree with, but in general, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Ideally, he said, “I want Social Security and Medicare to be studied by a bipartisan commission to find a long-term solution. These two trusts should not be part of the budget, but rather in a separate fund.”
In an opening statement, Molinaro stressed his local experience as a member of the Tivoli Board of Trustees, Tivoli mayor, New York State assemblyman and Dutchess County executive. He is a member of the House Problem-Solvers Caucus, which he said gives him an opportunity to discuss issues with Democrats — an unusual forum in the federal government. As a member of the Agriculture Committee, he said that he supports farmers, and recalled benefiting from the Food Stamps programs as he was growing up. He also serves on the Infrastructure and Transportation and Small Business Committees.
President Biden’s infrastructure legislation, which Molinaro said raises taxes more than he would support, should benefit smaller communities, such as Saugerties and others in his district. Too often, this money goes to the cities, leaving rural communities out, he claimed.
Asked if he would support a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling — that is, with no conditions attached — Molinaro said that he supports having a bipartisan committee work with President Biden on a clean increase. “I support paying our current debts,” he said, comparing payment of the federal debt to an individual’s paying his credit card debt. “We can’t keep spending at this level going forward. We have to bend the curve on spending. If we don’t cut spending, we have a problem.”
Asked about the decision to pay depositors who lost their money in the failure of the Silicon Valley Bank and the Signature Bank, Molinaro said that many of the depositors in these banks had more money than is covered by government guarantees, and that those who take risks should not expect to be bailed out. “My main focus is ensuring that the issues facing these banks do not spread to Main Street,” Molinaro states on his website. “I’m in communication with the leadership at banks in New York’s 19th Congressional District. It’s crucial we protect the deposits of local families, farmers and small business.”
One question concerned the Norfolk Southern derailment near East Palestine, Ohio last month, which spilled vinyl chloride, a highly toxic chemical. Molinaro said that this district is vulnerable to the same risks of water and soil contamination. “We need to understand what the railroad did wrong and what is missing in the regulations,” he said. The responses and the decision to burn the chemicals also need further study.
In response to a question about so-called solar farms, Molinaro said that the location and quality of soils needs to be taken into account. Building on fertile land takes that land out of food production. Regulations should encourage building solar installations on land that is not suitable for food production. Soil fertility should be part of the decisionmaking process when locating solar arrays. In general, it is easier to develop housing or industry on open space and flat land, Molinaro said, but farmers are often forced to make difficult decisions: whether to keep farming the land or sell out to development interests. It is important to preserve the farmland for food production.
Drugs, imported largely across the border from Mexico, are one of the most serious problems facing us, Molinaro acknowledged when the question was raised. The border patrol can catch only a limited number of illegal crossers. A particular problem is the importation of drugs, especially fentanyl, which is produced from components made in China, but much is imported through Mexico.