Tom Reed at Ithaca College

Tom Reed speaks at a previous town hall-style discussion at Ithaca College. 

On the dreary morning of Sept. 3, Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23) held a town hall meeting in the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library in which he talked about the myriad issues impacting the future of Social Security.

Or at least, that was the stated intention of the town hall. But that was only half of the conversation as numerous residents who turned out to the town hall had different concerns on their minds. The event would start with a social security focus but then jumped to single-payer health care to gun violence/gun control issues. 

Reed began by talking about the problems with social security, citing the desire to keep social security around for future generations. According to a study he cited from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University (which, its important to note, is heavily funded by conservative icon Charles Koch), with the continued trend of Americans living longer and stagnant wages, the current 2.9 workers per retiree is going to continue declining. That amount could drop by two workers by the year 2030.

Residents felt that a bill co-written by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders (and presidential candidate) regarding Social Security should be allowed to pass but Reed argued it will cause tax increases, something he has long been opposed to. Throughout his work on social security reform, Reed has found that most social security legislation will involve tax increases but he wants to fight against any forms of taxation in proposed legislation because it could prove to have unintended consequences. Reed has been leading the Social Security sub-committee at the federal level from the Republican side. 

“What we also want to demonstrate is that we are dedicated to solving this problem for Social Security and making sure that Social Security is here for generations to come,” Reed said. “Now, there’s going to be some debate, as you saw here even today. Some people want to fix it by raising taxes. I’m going to fight raising taxes. Eliminating tax increases to the extent possible is something we need to do because the taxes have negative consequences.”

Other discussions centered on how a workforce that has been doing blue-collar factory work for years will lose their skills should computers and artificial intelligence take over those jobs. He responded by saying this is something to look into as there have been marked improvements in workforce development training.

Several questions were asked about single-payer healthcare with Reed saying he is opposed to this due to how it would increase government control of healthcare. As he has at previous town halls, he said that market-driven solutions would be better for the problem of Americans lacking healthcare.

Finally came the issue of gun control, a passionate issue for those in attendance. Several residents felt there should be an assault weapons ban put in place, theorizing that it would keep people from committing malicious acts like those in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas last month.

Minor controversy was stirred from Reed saying he is against an all-out assault weapons ban because there are so many different ways state laws define assault weapons. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an assault weapon is, “any of various automatic or semiautomatic firearms.” Reed advocated for research into alternatives to gun bans, and that federal research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can help guide the issue. He did speak to some of the questions he felt need to be asked in this kind of research. 

Obviously anything that shows who’s committing these crimes, where are the weapons occurring, is there a rural/urban distinction, and where are the indicators for gun violence in America,” Reed said. “I think by having that information, having that in black and white, from federal researchers could guide us to the ‘who’ solutions that can bring people together to sign the legislation into law.”

Residents in attendance were unclear as to how Reed could support this position, which he explained as support for the Second Amendment. He spoke to why he feels an assault weapons ban could be harder to accomplish, especially considering the varying definitions of the term. 

“When I hear that [assault weapons ban] and, we were articulating that in the town hall, obviously, if you ask the question the right way to a poll, you can get a high number like 80 to 90 percent approval,” Reed said. “The question then breaks down, when you say you support an assault weapon ban. What do you mean by that and as you heard today, the consensus of the group was that the Second Amendment was passed when guns only had one bullet in one musket. So all guns that carry more than one bullet should be respected under the Constitution. You present that, to the American public, you are not going to get 80 or 90 percent approval of banning those types of weapons. That is the trick in any poll, is how do you peel back the onion to find where the consensus is?"

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