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Bonner covers wide variety of topics during meeting

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
United States District 1 Representative Jo Bonner covered a wide variety of topics during Thursday's Town Hall Meeting at Atmore City Hall. The following questions were asked of him during the hour-long meeting:
The building tensions with Iraq and the
possibility of war:
"President Bush has been very generous with his team on this issue," Bonner said. "Over the past two weeks, he has met with the freshmen class of Congressmen at least three times. I can't tell you what is in a man's heart, but I can tell you what was in his eyes, and this is not a president with an itchy finger on the trigger. If at all possible, he wants peace.
"But the President is also getting the best information possible. He's not going to let us wake up one morning like we did on Sept. 12, 2001 and wonder what we could have done to avoid such a tragedy. He is going to do whatever is necessary to protect us from such attacks.
"The President is not a man who wants to send your sons, daughters, neighbors and friends off to war. But Sadaam Hussein is not someone you want living next door to you. He's killed his countrymen, friends and family, and he has biological weapons capable of causing much more damage and death than the Sept. 11 attacks. These are some pretty serious times, and the President is getting good information and ready to take steps to protect Americans, both abroad and here in the United States."
On President's Bush's proposed dividend tax cut:
"The President proposed a number of tax cuts during his State of the Union address," Bonner said. "One was the dividend tax, which is a double tax. There are a lot of double taxes in our system, and the estate tax is another.
"Part of the American Dream is to work hard, invest and save and then leave something for your family, your church or for some charity. As it stands now, anyone who inherits an estate or a business has to give up 55 percent of the proceeds in taxes. That's just not right.
"The first piece of legislation that I introduced was to make the tax cuts of 2001 permanent. Opponents say that the tax cuts are for the rich, but over 50 percent of Americans now have some type of investments. What the President has talked about is long-term tax cuts.
"We are beginning to come out of the recession, but it is still shaky. History shows us that if you do nothing to stimulate the economy, then you run the risk of slumping back into a recession that is worse than the one you are coming out of.
"I think we will pass some of these tax cuts, but I don't know if all of them will pass. I think we'll probably pass about 80 percent of the cuts, but I don't know if the dividend cut will make it."
On Turkey's request for economic aid in exchange for allowing troops to come into the country to protect it from a potential Iraqi attack:
"I'm hopeful that Turkey will be there for America with no strings attached," Bonner said. "It frustrates me that so many countries that we have helped liberate now don't consider us as ever being their friends.
"You don't buy friendship, but you also don't burn a bridge. We need Turkey, and they need us. In the long run, I think they will need us more than we will need them. We're the only country with the military might to provide security to other countries.
"And I think what the United Nations is doing – especially when you consider what we've done for the United Nations – is frustrating. I don't understand why or how we can do so much for other countries over the years and now they don't even remember us as being allies or friends. I also find it appalling that Turkey is asking for money.
"One thing in our favor is that the President has the best foreign affairs team I've seen in my lifetime. Whether you support the President or not, I think you can feel secure knowing that Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell are the two main men leading the way and advising the President."
On the situation with farmers and the agriculture industry:
"Because of the lame duck Congress and the transition into the new Congress, this issue was not addressed in the 107th Congress," Bonner said. "We started addressing it on Jan. 3, the day for the 108th Congress.
"There have been terrible losses in cotton, peanuts, soy beans and other crops in this area. The bill the Senate passed called for $3.1 billion in emergency aid, but it was going to pay people that had suffered no losses. That's not what emergency relief is to me.
"The House reworked the bill to make it cost less and give relief to those who needed it the most. To be honest, I voted for the bill. It's not a perfect bill, but it will help. We will continue to address this issue with future bills."
On possible cuts in
funding to the Veteran's Administration:
"Funding has not been cut," he said. "In fact, it has increased by 59 percent over the past eight years. The problem is in making sure that benefits get to the recipients.
"The money is not getting to the people who need it. One reason is that our government is too big. In 1789, when the first federal offices were created, we had 39 federal employees, all in the Treasury Department. Now, we have 2.6 million federal workers. I would say that about 95 percent of those are good, honest, hard-working people, but we just have too many layers of bureaucracy right now.
"It's wrong that a veteran has to come to his or her Congressman just to get the benefits they are entitled to. The same is true with disability benefits. It's a shame that people have to go through all this red tape just to get their benefits. You're either entitled to them or you're not, and it should just be that simple."
On Medicaid/Medicare fraud and possible reforms:
"This is an issue that members of the freshman class are championing," Bonner said. "When you have fraud, you deny benefits to the people who deserve it.
"If you have a neighbor that is in need, then you reach out and help them. That's just what people do, help their friends and neighbors.
"The problem with federal government is that it doesn't have a heart and can't put compassion into a situation.
"I maintain that if we can cut some of the fraud and bureacracy out of the system, then you won't have to raise taxes or cut benefits. In fact, you could return some money to the taxpayers, which is where it belongs.
On education funding:
"If you look at funding over the past few years, you would find that defense spending has increased by 48 percent, health and human resources funding increased by 69 percent and education funding increased by 132 percent," he said. "I don't think anyone else's income or budgets have increased by those amounts.
"I contend that education is a local issue. I don't believe anyone in the federal government is more concerned about the education of Atmore children than the citizens of Atmore are right now. But we've got bureaucracies and special interests deeply entrenched into the system right now, and that bogs things down and keeps funding from getting where it needs to go.
"It's not going to be easy to change the system, but we need more common sense in our federal government."
On helping small
businesses:
"To me, the President is genuinely concerned about the economy," Bonner said. "Small business is the backbone of our economy, and the President realizes that.
"That's why the President has proposed a long-term economic stimulus package, which will help small businesses. Included in that is a growth package that will also help. Personally, I intend to build a very strong partnership with local and state leaders to help all businesses in the State of Alabama.
"But there is no magic potion. If there was, I'd use it to help relieve some of the economic pressures in this district. I think some good indicators are being seen, such as low inflation and low interest rates, but it is going to take some time to come out of this and there is no magic wand to wave or button to push to make it happen."