WESTFIELD - Congressman Tom Reed took part in a round of town hall meetings in the region Saturday including Hanover, Westfield, Frewsburg and Olean.
Questions for the Westfield meeting were submitted prior to Reed's talk, and his aide said four questions came in on one issue: gun control. One he read said, "Please, let's use common sense on gun control," and another stated, "I'm concerned regarding the proliferation of guns in this country, especially rapid fire, military-style guns."
Reed began by telling the crowd, "I believe in the second Amendment. I believe that it's a Constitutional, fundamental right, and once you go down that path of restricting those freedoms, it's a slippery slope, and we can go down there very fast. So I'm very sensitive to those proposals that restrict those freedoms."
The discussion quickly became lively, and many opinions were shared on the topic.
One woman in attendance had several questions for Reed, and began by asking, "How many guns do we need before we are safe? ... And if the Second Amendment means we can have all the guns we want, then why can't we have hand grenades or bazookas or tanks?"
"And I think there are people who might dispute what the Second Amendment really says," she concluded.
Reed replied, "I appreciate that, and there is another issue which you touched upon which I'm very interested in as having as part of this conversation. When we talk about the guns, and the way we promote the guns, I would take it a step further than that. We promote violence in our society. ... and I'm guilty of it," and explained he bought a video game system for his children and found the games to be violent in nature. "I look at the games that are out there, and they're pretty graphic," he said.
The woman replied, "I think we need to consider that other countries have those games. Other countries see those same violent movies ... but the difference between those developed countries and the levels of violence they have is the access to guns."
Reed agreed that what he called "a culture of violence" was part of a problem, but other audience members had different viewpoints.
"These guns (used in mass shootings and other crimes) are bought illegally, by criminals," said one man in attendance during a lengthy reply. "They are being used by people who legally cannot have them. Our governor, in the same sentence said (he wants) to decriminalize marijuana possession, and take away Second Amendment rights in the same sentence," he lamented.
Another area Reed targeted for cuts was Medicaid. After a question submitted by an attendee, who asked for reforms to welfare and Medicaid but to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, Reed spoke of his plans. Cutting "waste, fraud and abuse" he said was a key to reducing Medicaid costs, but he also said current Medicaid guidelines in the state create dependence. "In New York, we have a Cadillac Medicaid plan," which he said is "unsustainable" and invited Assembly member Andy Goodell to elaborate.
"Medicaid exceeds the coverage you get in private health insurance, so when people get a good job with health care, they lose benefits (compared to those they received on Medicaid). It's unfair to people," Goodell explained, and said he is pushing for reform which brings coverages by Medicaid down to levels similar to private insurance.
Reed said he agreed with Goodell's strategy along with finding and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.
The phrase "waste, fraud and abuse" was one Reed repeated for emphasis as part of his overall strategy, but said it is only a start to solve the country's financial problems. "I'm not going to blow smoke. Even if we seek out and eliminate every bit of waste, fraud and abuse, it still doesn't solve everything," and referred to the pie chart, saying reform may only reduce Medicaid costs by around a third.
"We have to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse. ... But if that's the end of the conversation, we're going to be a trillion dollars in the hole every year for the foreseeable future."
He added, "You can't tax your way out of it."
One audience member said he liked the bullet points in Reed's handouts, but said, "Most of this won't happen for a long time. What can you do right now? ... Why doesn't the government lower gas prices?"
Because gas prices are determined by commodities markets and production versus demand, not the government, Reed asked, "How do you propose to do that? Subsidize it?"
"Well, I guess so, for a while anyway," the man replied, which received groans from several in the crowd who supported spending cuts in earlier parts of the discussion.
Reed was asked if he is working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer.
"We will work with everybody and anybody who wants to do it," Reed replied.
Another man in attendance said he also agreed with many of Reed's ideas, but asked, "What are the chances any of this will get passed?"
"Well, that's going to be uphill all the way," Reed replied.