U.S. Rep. Bill Owens responded to about a dozen questions on local and national matters from people throughout his district in a telephone town hall Tuesday night.
The first question came from Dean - last names were not used - who asked if Owens condoned the National Security Administration spying on American citizens.
"I did not vote for the extension of the Patriot Act, nor the Pfizer Courts, and the reason I didn't was because I've been very concerned about these issues," Owens said. "Unfortunately they didn't come to the floor, other than through Mr. (Edward) Snowden, who has done something that is not in the best interest of our national security, and that's a balance we always have to be looking at."
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens
Snowden is a former CIA specialist and NSA contractor who disclosed to the press the details of top secret United States, British and Israeli government mass surveillance programs. Snowden was charged with espionage and theft of government property by U.S. authorities and is living under temporary asylum in Russia.
"One of the things that really troubled me about the Snowden situation is that the NSA did not know that he downloaded that information," Owens said. "That tells me that they do not have adequate controls in place. I'm looking to come up with that balanced approach, I haven't seen it yet, that we clearly need to be making sure that we have adequate security in place so we can protect ourselves from foreigners, but as for people in the United States, American citizens, we should only be looking at their data with probable cause."
Daniel from Glens Falls asked Owens what he's done to keep American jobs from being shipped overseas.
"I have voted innumerable times to take tax breaks away from companies that ship jobs overseas," Owens said. "What we're really looking for is to bring manufacturing back to the United States. Many businesses are looking seriously at returning and certainly are looking more seriously at not continuing to (do business) offshore because they're finding it is not as effective. I think what they're also learning but don't want to say is we have this great American workforce that produces higher quality goods than they do anywhere else in the world."
Owens added that consumers can support the cause by only purchasing products made in the United States.
Nanette from Plattsburgh said Owens frequently mentions raising more revenue for the federal government and questioned where that revenue will come from. Owens said he wants to make the tax code simpler and get rid of some deductions and credits given to corporations
"I'm talking about lowering tax rates but increasing revenue through the elimination of deductions and credits," Owens said. "You can't have a company like GE making $14 billion and not participating in funding the government."
General Electric might take issue with that statement. According to www.opensecrets.org, it contributed $2,250 to Owens' campaign in 2012.
Nancy in Massena asked what Owens thought should be done about Americans who lost their health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.
"I think people need to go out and get accurate information about the plans that are out there," Owens said. "Just because the insurance company says they're canceling your plan doesn't mean they aren't going to offer you something better, and if you go on the exchange, you may find something very similar and potentially at a better cost."
Owens said President Barack Obama made a misstatement when he said everyone would be able to keep the plan they are on, and added Congress is working toward fixing flaws in the program.
Michael from Saranac Lake asked about the nation's infrastructure and questioned Owens about improving roads and increasing funds for rail transportation in the Adirondacks. Owens said that would cost money but needs to be done.
"Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, came up with a very interesting idea," Owens said. "There's a lot of conversation about the dollars that corporations park overseas in foreign subsidiaries, and getting that money back here. He wanted to bring those dollars back at a lower tax rate and then take those dollars and specifically earmark them for infrastructure spending, specifically money for roads, bridges, those kinds of things. That to me is an intelligent, reasonable compromise to fixing a serious problem in our part of the world."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.