Roe fingers key issues at meeting

Gary B. Gray • May 31, 2016 at 3:57 PM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, couldn’t help himself.

“We have a presumptive presidential nominee (Republican Donald Trump) with a 65 percent disapproval rating,” he quipped Tuesday in front of 200 guests at the monthly Rotary Club of Johnson City meeting at the Johnson City Country Club. “Some of us in Congress wish we had a number that high.”

Roe — having no time to waste in what typically is the Rotary Club’s very tight guest speaker window — launched into the subject of national debt and the economy.

“We’re adding up an enormous debt,” he said. “Almost 70 percent of every tax dollar is spent on mandatory, rather than discretionary spending. This is mainly Medicare and Social Security. The biggest two discretionary items are the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.”

He said he was appalled last week at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald’s comments comparing wait times at the VA to those at Disney. In about 10 years, the VA budget has grown from $99 billion to $180 billion.

“There’s enough money there to serve the veterans who need care, but it’s not being managed properly,” Roe said. “We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order. We have to reform Medicare and Medicaid. Over 70 percent of Americans think the economy is going the wrong way. Only 20 counties in the U.S. make up the majority of the economic recovery. We need regulatory reform, and we need to do away with over-regulation.”

He also talked about immediate global concerns.

“I’ve been in a lot of different countries, and it’s not Obamacare that’s going to kill us overnight,” he said. “I’m concerned with Iran developing a nuclear weapon. That relatively recent agreement (between the U.S and Iran) give Iran the opportunity to develop a nuclear weapon within 15 years. I fear what could happen in that part of the world. And I will tell you, Israel will not put up with this without a fight.”

The four-term congressman and former Johnson City mayor also talked about the Department of Labor’s decision to change overtime laws. He said that decision will add 2 percent to every student’s tuition within the University of Tennessee system.

He also warned about opioid addiction.

“It is a huge problem in the U.S.,” he said. “In Tennessee, there were 1,600 overdose deaths (in a year). That’s higher than vehicle accident deaths. When you have a hospital here with a prenatal department set up to pull babies off addiction … we basically have a public health problem.”

Audience members got a chance to play the lightning round, as well — a very brief question and answer session, before Roe wrapped things up.

Early Monday, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol said in a tweet: "There will be an independent (presidential) candidate — an impressive one"

“I don’t think this will happen,” Roe said. “I think it will end up being Clinton and Trump. I think it’s going to be between ‘A’ and ‘B.’ ”

He also was asked about term limits.

“I still believe in term limits,” he said. “We’ve had a 75 to 80 percent turnover in the House since I got there. It takes years for congressmen to put together and eventually pass bills. It’s a very difficult job, and I don’t think you’re going to see people staying 20-30 years anymore.”

Roe told the Johnson City Press during the 2008 campaign for his first House term, that he would serve no more than five terms. Should he win again in November, he would be serving out his fifth term.

Email Gary Gray at ggray@johnsoncitypress.com. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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