Economy, bank bailout, war, and oil spill among concerns discussed
By Miriam Raftery
June 22, 2010 (Rancho San Diego) – Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) had a breakfast meeting with members of the Rancho San Diego-Jamul Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors yesterday morning at the Press Box Sports Bar & Restaurant to discuss the business climate and provide an update from Washington D.C. for Chamber leaders.
The tight lending climate emerged as a major concern among local business owners. Chamber president Valerie Harrison expressed concerns that small business continue having difficulties obtaining Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
Hunter faulted the federal government for punishing small lenders such as local credit unions along with large banks that “needed to be regulated.” He criticized TARP, the bank bailout bill (passed in 2008 during the waning days of the Bush administration) as “the dumbest thing Congress has ever done, probably,” noting that Congress failed to provide itself with oversight abilities for the program. “We screwed up with almost a trillion dollars,” added Hunter, who voted against TARP.
He expressed concern for people losing homes. “People are being foreclosed on and Bank of America, the big banks are not giving a damn,” he noted. “We;’ve got to get private lenders freed up again. It wasn’t the local credit unions that caused the problems.”
He also called for a reduction in taxes, noting that Russia last week dropped its capital gains rate to zero for long-term investment. “So the former Soviet Union, the bastion of communism, now has zero capital gains tax while we’re going the opposite way,” Hunter said.
He expressed concerns over proposed "card check" legislation that would make it easier for employees to unionize through signing cards in a non-secret ballot processs, but predicted that the measure would not pass this year. He also said Congressional Democrats would not pass a budget this year, but would instead fund programs at least year’s levels via continuing resolution to avoid deficit-related controversy in an election year.
Following a recent visit to Afghanistan, the Congressman expressed reservations over President Barack Obama’s announcement that he plans to withdraw troops in July. He voiced concerns that “our enemies are lying low” and may be waiting to attack when they believe withdrawal is imminent. He said that General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, has indicated that the deadline is flexible and that if more time is needed, he believes the Obama administration will comply. But Hunter observed, “We know it’s not a hard and fast deadline, but the bad guys don’t…The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not as nuanced.”
He said countering insurgents is crucial, noting, “When you have murderous thugs out there, they have to be killed.” At the same time he said the U.S. does need to befriend the “good guys” in Afghanistan.
Hunter, who has supported offshore drilling, also commented on the Gulf oil spill disaster. “The government can’t fix it. It's too big for that," he said. Hunter faulted Obama's handling of the crisis and said the President should have called in private companies for help immediately and sought out the “smartest minds and smartest engineers in the world” instead of relying on BP. Hunter also criticized some government interference with people trying to help. “The Coast Guard shouldn’t be stopping barges with booms,” he said. Hunter added that he was impressed by actor Kevin Costner, who invested in bringing oil-separating centrifuges to assist with oil cleanup in the Gulf.
Area business leaders also shared their perspectives with the Congressman. Several indicated that their businesses have stabilized or shown improvement in recent months, indicators that the economy is slowly beginning to improve.
Among those citing an improvement was Ramsey Saleem, owner of Press Box. “Business is growing,” he said. “We brought something new to the community, not only a sports bar, but also good food.” On that point, everyone present could agree.