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Questions surfaced on topics ranging from President Obama’s integrity to costly EPA regulations as U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) met with two groups in Caroline County on Feb. 20.
During a town hall-style meeting at the County Line Baptist Church, which dates back 229 years, a man in the audience asked what was going to be done about the Internal Revenue Service and the scandal surrounding it over conservative groups that applied for exempt tax status.
“I want to make sure someone at the IRS will be held accountable,” Wittman said, adding that no one so far is being held responsible. He noted that the same thing goes for the scandal involving the delayed military response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed.
Wittman, who was elected to Congress in 2007, told the group he would like a thorough investigation of Benghazi. “What happened? How it happened? Who allowed it to get this way? Everybody in the chain of command should be held responsible, including the president.”
“I have zero trust in the man (President Obama),” the man said.
“I hear concerns everyday like this,” Wittman said. Members of Congress “have an obligation of oversight.”
“He can take a law and not uphold it,” the man added.
“History will say if this was the greatest example of executive over-reach,” said Wittman, 55, who opposed the Affordable Care Act. He said President Obama’s power has limits because “Congress has the power of the purse and we can take back money so those things can’t be put in place” that the president was planning to do.
Jeff Sili and Jeff Black, members of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors, helped bring about Wittman’s visit, which was his third in the past 12 months. Virginia Delegate Buddy Fowler, who represents most of Caroline County, attended Wittman’s meeting with residents of Lake Land’0r.
Sili asked about the federally mandated storm water management program and how it was hurting county budgets. The Environmental Protection Agency wrote the regulations of the program to reduce run-off of nitrogen into waterways, especially rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Sili said local resources are limited for implementing measures to meet the regulations of the program.
Wittman said federal regulators used to go to states for advice on writing regulations that affect local government. “Now regulators say, ‘We will just put this together ourselves.’ ” He noted that it will cost York County $40 million to meet the regulations. He noted that an EPA official at a local meeting was quoted as saying, “Cost does not matter to us.”
Wittman, a former Virginia state delegate, mayor and county supervisor chairman in Westmoreland County, said, “Congress needs to be careful what authority we grant to these agencies. If counties don’t have the resources to do this, what can you do? You can’t get blood out of a turnip.
“Federal requirements have to be reasonable,” the congressman added. “We’re all about improving water quality. Regulations have to be reasonable and within our resources. It’s a frustrating process. We continue to work with the EPA and ask them to be reasonable.”
A man in the audience told the congressman, “Defund the EPA.”
Wittman smiled and said. “Power of the purse.”
Another question to Wittman concerned national energy. “We want to be able to drill off-shore” from Virginia for oil and natural gas, the congressman said. It would create 25,000 new jobs for Virginia.
However, “the Department of the Interior won’t allow us to drill—just do studies,” Wittman said. Few companies are willing to invest in doing studies that have no promise of leading to drilling.
George Spinner, a Frog Level resident, asked the congressman about immigration. Wittman said there is debate in Congress over allowing certain illegal immigrants to have their citizenship, but “they can’t vote and can’t have Medicare and Medicaid.” However, “some say that keeps them as a second-class citizen.”
Immigrants in the past came to America in “an orderly way and they had a host family and they became a part of the American way of life.”
There is concern over what will happen at the borders if the federal government allows amnesty. “We’ll never have zero leakage at the borders.”
Robert Wilson asked Wittman about delays in development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation fighters under development to perform air missions with stealth, as well as ground attacks and reconnaissance. It has variations, such as the F-35A, which has conventional take-off; the F-35B, with short take-off and vertical landing; and the carrier-based F-35C.
Allies of the United States are part of the development program, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Turkey. Japan has ordered the aircraft, and so has South Korea. The United States plans to buy 2,443 F-35s.
However, there have been problems with the aircraft, said Wittman, who serves on the House Arms Services Committee. “The program is over budget. But we are back on track. We need that aircraft. Our allies have agreed to buy it.”
Some estimates say each aircraft will cost over $160 million. It’s America’s most expensive weapon’s program, and the Pentagon plans to spend $392 billion. The aircraft has had problems with the fuel system, the air conditioner and the wing buffet, and software development has been behind schedule.
Another question was about military families that have needed to rely on food stamps. Military bases have housing for military families and commissaries with discounted products. “The unit leaders should ask why a military family is on food stamps and find out what can be done so they don’t have to be on food stamps,” Wittman said.