GENEVA — About 35 protesters turned up at U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren’s Geneva office Monday to urge the congressman to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“This is what we want taken off the table,” said John Laesch, co-chairman of the Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice group, from a make-shift table outside of the Republican congressman’s 14th District office. Laesch, a Democrat from Aurora, is a former Congressional candidate.
Laesch held a placard with President Obama’s proposed $400 billion Medicare cuts and another with the Republican proposal to cut Social Security payments. He said the Republicans also are talking about extending the eligibility age as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations under way in Washington.
The group said Congress would do better to remove these as bargaining chips in the negotiations of the fiscal cliff, and instead cut the “absurd” defense spending and corporate “welfare” programs and raise tax rates on the wealthy.
They said the country needs to invest in job creation and social safety programs.
“If we have everyone working paying their taxes, we won’t need to raise the taxes as much on the wealthy,” said protester Steve Bruesewitz. “To cut people at the margins is absurd — it is a morally bankrupt argument.”
Tom Kolavo of Geneva, a 35-year federal employee who now is retired, said the wealthy 2 percent “should pay their fair share.”
Retired educator Patricia Herrmann of Wheaton said employee pensions have operated for decades, but suddenly it is acceptable to reduce the pensions of retired workers.
“The only reason this is a crisis is because the meltdown of the economy is an opportunity to take away the pensions of old people,” Herrmann said.
Bill Scown of Geneva, a self-described “recovered Republican,” said the fiscal cliff is propaganda to unfund the safety-net programs.
“As a Democrat, I am deeply disappointed and angry that our president has put us on the table as part of the menu. It is just an outrage,” said Mary Shesgreen of Elgin, co-chairwoman of the Jobs With Justice group. “This crisis was manufactured to provide justification for an attack on these programs.”
While the protesters were waiting outside, however, the congressman was in Washington.
Laura Finch, Hultgren’s communications director, said the offices belong to the people of the 14th District and constituents are always welcome to reach out to staff to either schedule a meeting with the congressman or pass along a message to him.
“Our staff member was happy to take note of the constituents’ concerns and pass them along to Congressman Hultgren,” Finch said. “Constituents that left a name and address with us this morning can count on a written response from our office.
“The congressman will always listen, even if he doesn’t agree.”
After about an hour’s time in the frigid weather, the group went inside Hultgren’s office, where they were invited to sit around a conference room table and direct their concerns to a staff member for Hultgren.
“I am wondering how Mr. Hultgren can hold his head up as a Christian when he has not stood up for the average person, but for corporate America to the detriment of the average person,” Pam Verner of St. Charles said.
“He has used his religious (beliefs) during the campaign. If he is going to use that, then he can be held accountable,” Verner said.
Jennifer Mesmer of Geneva handed a placard with a photograph of her grandmother to give to the congressman that read: “Don’t balance the budget on the back of my grandmother.”
Mesmer said she, too, would like to receive her Social Security when she retires.
“I have been paying into it for 27 years,” Mesmer said.
The group said they intend to encourage Hultgren to adopt a position supportive of protecting the programs and at the least clarify what his position is on the proposed cuts and supporting a tax on the top 2 percent.
“We are hoping the congressman will make a public appearance to voice his position on these issues,” Laesch said.