LUMBERTON — Rep. Robert Pittenger brought his town hall tour to Lumberton on Wednesday and got an earful from people who took him to task on health-care reform, race relations, tax policy and Hurricane Matthew relief.
About 75 people attended the question-and-answer session in Lumberton’s City Hall. It was one of nine town hall meetings Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte who represents District 9, scheduled across his district.
Pittenger said he stands behind President Donald Trump, and wants to replace the Affordable Care Act; believes corporate tax cuts and deregulation of financial markets will stimulate the economy and drive up wages; condemns white supremacists; and supports Lumbee recognition.
When it came to the slowness of federal money needed to help repair the lives and property of victims of Hurricane Matthew, Pittenger had few answers.
Health care dominated the evening’s discussion.
“Insurance companies are pulling out of the market and premiums are going up 22 percent,” Pittenger said. “The Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral. If you read our bill, you may change your perspective.”
To a question about rural hospitals that might suffer severe financial damage or closure from the proposed Republican health-care bill, which would reduce Medicaid and take as many as 20 million people out of health insurance pools, Pittenger said the Congressional Budget Office is biased and did not examine all aspects of the bill.
“I am seeking a market-driven plan not a taxpayer-supported one,” Pittenger said. “What we are going to do is what it takes to help people in need in this country. We want a system that works.”
Pittenger said several times that opening state lines to health care insurers will drive prices down. Giving states block grants to fund Medicaid will increase accountability and reduce fraud, he said.
To a question from Fordham Britt about covering pre-existing conditions, Pittenger said, “We are addressing pre-existing conditions by giving states the option to access $135 billion to cover them.”
On funding Planned Parenthood, Pittenger said he could not support an organization “that dissects and sells body parts.”
To groans of disbelief from the audience, he responded, “I’ve seen the video.”
“I am not in favor of giving taxpayer dollars to any organization that provides abortions,” Pittenger said. “I favor the life of the baby.”
He does not favor raising the minimum wage, which would be a “job killer,” the congressman said.
“I am for raising the standard deduction,” he said. “This would raise the income level on which people pay taxes. People living in poverty are hurting.”
Victims of Hurricane Matthew also hurting, Lumberton Councilman Chris Howard said.
“I have toured the affected areas and visited the county many times,” Pittenger said. “I am on your side. I am disappointed. I am trying to focus all the resources I can, and I’m sorry it takes so long.”
Pittenger said he has met with numerous local officials, but Tiffany Powers noted that his meetings lacked diversity.
“I saw one of your meetings (at a local restaurant) with 10 men and no women, no African Americans and one Native American,” Powers said. “Can you name one African American you have met with?”
Lumberton Councilman John Cantey, who is black, chimed in.
“I missed you,” he said. “I suggest the next time you meet with the mayor, you meet with other councilmen.”
On Lumbee recognition, Pittenger won his first applause of the night, although he stopped short of offering hope of passage.
“Sen. (Richard) Burr and I are working on this together, and I support recognition, heart and soul,” he said. “I think it’s right, and it will ultimately win.”
Pittenger recently stirred up controversy with his comments about Charlottesville, which he said were misconstrued by the media.
“I condemned white supremacy and Nazis,” he said. “I called them out from the start.
“The media does not always give an accurate representation of what we say,” Pittenger said. “I believe that relevant organizations on both sides who perpetuated violence need to be looked at.”
Pittenger did not go into detail about President Trump’s comments on Charlottesville, but he clearly supports the president completely.
“I have tremendous respect for his leadership and moral clarity,” he said.
Pittenger’s remaining town hall meetings are at:
— Fayetteville City Hall at 9 a.m. today. City Hall is at 433 Hay St.
— Cape Fear Farmers Market at 1:30 p.m. today. The market is at 106 Martin Luther King Drive in Elizabethtown.
— Providence High School in South Charlotte at 7 p.m. today. The school is located at 1800 Pineville-Matthews Road in Charlotte.
For directions or additional information, call Pittenger’s office at 704-362-1060 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.