LIVE BLOG: Perlmutter telephone town hall on federal stimulus legislation

Rep. Ed Perlmutter is holding a telephone town hall to discuss “economic challenges, relief efforts and recovery proposals in Congress” from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday night. It’s the fourth time the Democrat has used the technology to talk with thousands of constituents simultaneously.

Before the town hall, Perlmutter’s office sent post cards and e-mails to 50,000 constituents in the 7th Congressional District letting them know they’d be getting a call and could participate by pressing some buttons on their phone.

We’ll be live-blogging the town hall, which should include remarks from Perlmutter, several instant polls asking listeners to make selections on their keypads, and then a question-and-answer session. In December, Perlmutter spoke with a record 3,000 constituents at one time during a telephone town hall on the financial crisis and bail-out efforts.

Stay tuned — we’ll be blogging live at 7 p.m.

7:00 p.m. – It’s a snowy night in Colorado’s 7th Congressional District (in fact, across the Denver metro area), so plenty of folks should be home in front of their telephones.

Perlmutter is welcoming participants. The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be a main topic tonight, as well as other questions about the economy, including the bank bailout measures unveiled today by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

The United States has to focus on jobs, Perlmutter says, because there has been tremendous job loss since September and it’s been accelerating in the last three months. The stimulus bill passed the House last week, the Senate passed its version today. Three members from each chamber will negotiate a compromise and send it to President Barack Obama.

Major elements to stimulus: first, construction, including new energy grid. Second, research, development and manufacturing designed to create “new energy economy. Third, assisting states by “backfilling” revenue shortfalls because of job losses — maintain jobs for teachers, firefighters, etc. Fourth, significant tax cuts for middle-income individuals and small businesses. Fifth, immediate assistance with Medicaid, unemployment insurance and, potentially, food stamps. Purpose is to revitalize economy, build jobs.

Major difference between House and Senate version: House bill has $16 billion to reconstruct schools, $6 billion to build higher-ed campus, $79 billion to state. Senate cuts all funding for K-12 school construction, reduces by $40 billion the money that would go to states. Senate bill adds tax credits, including $15,000 tax credit for new-home purchase, and adds budget to build new Veterans Administration hospitals. This could help plans to build new VA hospital at Fitzsimons in Aurora.

Congress is also working on bank capitalization bill so banks can operate, credit can flow. Effort is intended to make federal funding of banks “transparent” and make sure the funding turns into loans available to customers.

7:13 p.m. – A poll question. “Do you believe measures taken by Congress recently to restore financia stability are sufficient to turn the economy around?”

1. yes, sufficient
2. no, more will be required
3. government shouldn’t spend tax dollars on stimulus

7:15 p.m – The questions begin. A man wants to know about jobs. NAFTA promised jobs and didn’t deliver. We’re not on a level playing field with other countries. Also, will jobs created go to American citizens.

Perlmutter: All the jobs are in the United States. For instance, an interchange at Colfax and I-225 to go into Fitzsimons. Under the House version, U.S. citizens and legal immigrants — not undocumented workers — are the only ones who can work on these projects. The purpose is to get Americans working, keep them in jobs to avoid further layoffs. Colorado is in a better position than most states to come out of recession, including new-energy investments already in place.

There are roughly 1,600 phones on the call, Perlmutter announces.

7:18 p.m. – Results of the first poll:

“Do you believe measures taken by Congress recently to restore financia stability are sufficient to turn the economy around?”

1. yes, sufficient – 24 percent
2. no, more will be required – 41 percent
3. government shouldn’t spend tax dollars on stimulus – 35 percent

7:19 p.m. – Some technical difficulty connecting those with questions. Two in the queue get dropped. Time for another poll question while the kinks iron out.

“From what you’ve heard, what are your biggest concerns about the stimulus package?”

1. Too much spending, not enough tax cuts
2. Not learge enough to make a difference
3. Too many tax cuts, not enough investment
4. Will increase deficit too much

7:21 p.m. – A man from Lakewood gets through but has “more of a comment” than a question. He’s been talking to customers and they are concerned government work is finite. Entrepreneurs create jobs — why aren’t there more tax cuts going to the people who “handle the business of America?” Second, he hopes efforts to “get away from foreign oil” includes drilling.

Perlmutter: Tax cuts have stimulative effect if an economy is moving along. But there’s been a “tremendous contraction” in the private sector, businesses and consumers are “pulling in their horns.” Everybody’s stopped spending for a number of reasons, so government needs to “jolt the economy” to create jobs, restore confidence the economy will move ahead. The goal isn’t to have the government prop up the economy, it’s to get it going again so business can carry its share.

More Perlmutter: Has to be a “full menu” of energy sources, including oil and gas, more efficient coal, solar, wind, biothermal, and “in some cases” nuclear. This will also restore more stable balance of payments so money isn’t flowing overseas.

7:25 p.m. – Answers to the most recent poll question.

“From what you’ve heard, what are your biggest concerns about the stimulus package?”

1. Too much spending, not enough tax cuts – 26 percent
2. Not learge enough to make a difference – 10 percent
3. Too many tax cuts, not enough investment – 21 percent
4. Will increase deficit too much – 43 percent

7:27 p.m. – Dropped another question. An Aurora man who works in information technology wants to know about closing tax loopholes for companies that send work offshore.

Perlmutter: This is the second time in two days he’s heard about a local IT company sending jobs overseas. The bill includes a plan to create electronic medical records, which will help the IT industry. The smart grid proposal is based on software to conserve energy use — “some $4 billion” — and Colorado is well positioned to take care of that. The bill is designed to create jobs in the United States, and some other bills will address the question of tax havens for jobs moved offshore.

7:31 p.m. – A man from Aurora wants to know how we’re defining “middle class” in this bill.

Perlmutter: Lots of work to construction workers, both skilled and unskilled. Big part of bill upgrades multifamily housing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Money to upgrade 500,000 houses for energy efficiency. Construction rebuilding roads, transit and electrical grid are also good jobs. State government jobs will also be funded. Tax credits are for people earning $100,000 or less — perhaps $150,000 for couples. Small businesses also get tax credits, including the chance to carry back a loss this year against profits in prior years.

7:34 p.m. – A woman calling from Applewood — Perlmutter’s neighborhood — wants to know about professors and students at colleges and trade schools. “There doesn’t seem to be any value in the research” coming out of higher ed. She is cut off mid sentence so Perlmutter starts his answer.

Perlmutter: There is Pell Grant funding for students, and state funding could go to — this is a familiar litany — teachers, firefighters, police officers — and could pay college instructors too. New energy research should also flow to higher ed, especially in Colorado. Lots of money for science, including research funding for the Centers for Disease Control.

7:38 p.m. – A man from Arvada who works in the energy business says the “rig count” has dropped from 2,000 in September to 1,300 drilling for oil and gas. The government is creating a problem — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is “dropping the rigs” in Utah and offshore, and this will damage the economy.

Perlmutter: As a young lawyer in the ’80s, the congressman cut his teeth on bankruptcy law with oil and gas companies after the boom-and-bust following the oil crisis at the end of the 1970s. Most of the oil and gas production, and renewable energy research, was wiped out. Lately oil and gas prices have had a dramatic spike, which hurt lots of industries. The price has dropped again and it’s going to “wipe out” domestic energy production. We’ve seen this before — it’s not economic to drill wells and it’s not economic to do renewable energy research at these low oil prices. We have to develop a way to not be at the whim of the Middle East when they raise or lower prices dramatically.

7:42 p.m. – A Lakewood woman wants to know how the HUD money is structured in the bill.

Perlmutter: There are grants to public housing authorities, and Neighborhood Stabilization, a plan to buy up and rehab vacant or foreclosed homes so those homes don’t become a blight on neighborhoods.

7:45 p.m. – Another poll question. “Out of options, in what way has the economic downturn affected you the most?”

1. Home foreclosure
2. You or someone you know has faced a job loss
3. You or someone you know has debt or inability to access credit
4. You or someone you know has inability to pay health care costs
5. You or someone you know has inability to pay education costs

7:46 p.m. – A woman from Aurora has a question about foreclosure problems. She’s excited about the $15,000 credit for homebuyers. She’s heard credit scores have to be better these days. Not really a question, so Perlmutter jumps in.

Perlmutter: The homebuyer tax credit will “get the housing market stirring again.” Credit scores of 700 and up should qualify for home loans. But credit is loosening up a little bit. Credit in big investment banks has caused more of the credit crunch than bankers. Congress is demanding they start extending credit, but not in a “foolhardy way.”

7:50 p.m. – About 500 people on the call now, 2,700 at any given time.

Answers to the last poll queestion, “Out of options, in what way has the economic downturn affected you the most?”

1. Home foreclosure – 7 percent
2. You or someone you know has faced a job loss – 43 percent
3. You or someone you know has debt or inability to access credit – 15 percent
4. You or someone you know has inability to pay health care costs – 23 percent
5. You or someone you know has inability to pay education costs – 12 percent

7:51 p.m. – A man from Lakewood wants to know how much stimulus will go to Fastracks to construct the light rail lines heading through Lakewood to Golden.

Perlmutter: A lot. RTD and Fastracks is further along than others across the country so should get a good share. RTD was just awarded $308 million, the West line is moving ahead. The rest of the funding should help other lines. RTD has been in a double bind — when revenues were strong, construction costs were high; now that revenues have fallen, so has RTD income from sales tax.

7:54 p.m. – An Arvada man hopes Perlmutter hasn’t missed his dinner. Probably get a hamburger after this is over, the congressman says. His question: What’s the effect on small business when construction contracts — for highways, larger projects — are awarded? Restrictions on government contracting set a high threshold with bonding, insurance requirements, so how will the money go to mainstream businesses and not just the largest companies?

Perlmutter: The multifamily upgrades lend themselves to smaller contractors. All business should have a chance to compete. Some projects will be too small for major contractors, and there could be an opportunity for subcontracting. There are preferences for veterans and other things like that. Promises to do what he can to make sure it’s available to smaller contracters and not just “loaded up for the big guys.” Says he has to do his homework.

7:58 p.m. – Total attendance 2,741 tonight, about 400 people on the call and 30 questions waiting. After the call, callers can leave their questions in a voice mail system and Perlmutter’s staff will call back with answers in the next couple days.

7:59 p.m. – A Lakewood woman whose connection dropped earlier gets another chance. She’s heard banks have a market-share fee and real estate agents plan to become banks. How do we keep people from undermining what we’re trying to do?

Perlmutter: Not sure he knows what she’s talking about. Bigger problem though, as money flows into economy and restores confidence, how do we prevent fraud, even negligence? Laws are in place to regulate mortgage brokers, banks, credit unions. Bigger problem has been with giant banks in New York, our local banks have been doing “a pretty good job.” Have to make sure mortgage brokers aren’t “con men” or issuing “phony loans.” Regulators will keep an eye on this.

8:02 p.m. – Winding things down. The next Government at the Grocery, where Perlmutter talks to constituents in an informal setting, is 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 28 at the King Soopers, 4850 E. 62nd Ave., in Commerce City. “It’s a time were we’ve all got to pull together,” Perlmutter says. His sleeves are rolled up.

UPDATED: Perlmutter posted the audio from his telephone town hall to his congressional Web site Tuesday afternoon.

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Ernest Luning

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