U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, D–Hawaii, held a town hall meeting at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at the Binhi At Ani Filipino Community Center in Kahului. About 150 people showed up, including Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and Councilmembers Stacy Crivello and Kelly King.
The air was humid with only an occasional breeze when Schatz stepped forward to the microphone. Before he even opened his mouth everyone there stood and gave a thunderous applause.
The town hall lasted about 90 minutes. People asked about climate change, North Korea, possible federal spending cuts, the potential for impeaching President Donald Trump and college tax credits. On the issue of the Republicans’ failed attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, Schatz was happy to say that after the final vote, “nobody’s afraid of President Trump anymore.”
Councilmember King asked about the proposed budget cuts that have been put forward by White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin. “Despite Mick Mulvaney’s budget proposals, all of them were ignored,” Schatz said. “I will tell you just as an example, Mulvaney proposed massive cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. Not only did we not implement those cuts, but we raised funding for the CDC and NIH.”
This drew considerable applause. Schatz then explained that the proper way to cut any major government programs requires a slow process of communication and interagency cooperation before demanding specific cuts. Instead, Schatz explained, Mulvaney and Mnunchin simply outlined their wish list of cuts and sent it to Congress.
On the subject of North Korea and possible future conflicts, Schatz said that North Korea would probably produce a working Intercontinental Ballistic Missile sooner rather than later. “The problem is we are no longer talking about decades away,” he said. “If everything goes right for them [North Korea], we are talking about years.”
Schatz did add that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (whom Schatz voted against in January), was pursuing diplomacy in an aggressive manner using NGOs (non-government organizations), possibly the first steps to a stable resolution to the current situation. Schatz also said China would most likely not intervene in the situation in favor of the United States. “They are not going to do our foreign policy for us,” he said. Instead, Schatz said, the U.S. must pursue both diplomacy well as a strengthening of missile defenses around Hawaii.
It wasn’t a surprise when a resident asked Schatz for his thoughts on the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which lays out a procedure for removing the president when he’s “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Schatz quickly insisted that “impeachment originates from the House [of Representatives],” which is presently controlled by Republicans.
But in responding to a question about expanding the tax credit for parents sending their children to college, Schatz clearly struck a chord with the audience.
“Tens of millions of dollars are going to for-profit, online institutions and they are not graduating more than 10 percent of their kids, and most kids who graduate have a degree they will soon find to be worthless,” Schatz said. ‘There are colleges that pulled in between two and two and a half billion dollars from the federal government and their graduation rate is three percent.” Schatz argued that federal spending on student financial aid was the highest it’s ever been, and that the problem lay in delivery to institutions that simply negated the rise in aid by raising the cost of tuition. The problem, Schatz said, isn’t access but acceptable cost.
Photo: Hawaii County/Flickr