ALEDO, Ill. — For a short time Friday, Aledo City Hall seemed a little bit like the halls of Congress.
The federal stimulus, health care reform and Medicare all got a rousing debate. There were charges of socialism and corporate greed tossed about. And in the end, there still was a lot of disagreement.
The setting for the debate was U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling’s town hall meeting, a summer ritual for lawmakers on recess across the country.
If the hourlong session was any indication, the freshman Republican from Colona who upset Rep. Phil Hare last year is in for bumpy ride going into his own 2012 re-election bid.
The congressman got it kicked off by reading an email suggesting the Rock Island County Democrats were trying to pack the hall.
From there, he and a Democratic activist from Augustana College in Rock Island traded accusations over the House’s Medicare plan and the stimulus, while members of the audience broke out into their own debates.
Fiscal issues were the sole topic of conversation here. There were no foreign policy debates.
The congressman defended his vote for the Medicare plan drafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. He said it was necessary to save the program.
“The CBO has come out and said Medicare ends as we know it in 2020. It’s out of money,” he said, referring to the Congressional Budget Office.
Schilling accused Democrats of trying to scare seniors by saying Republicans are trying to kill the program. With 10 children, he said, he has no incentive to do that.
“We’re trying to save Medicare,” he said.
The GOP’s Medicare plan would give people who are now less than 55 years old a premium support payment when they’re eligible for Medicare. It would be used on private health plans.
Democrats have criticized the plan, saying it would end the entitlement program Congress created in 1965 and shift greater costs to beneficiaries.
Republicans say something must be done to keep the program solvent, and Schilling said private companies will be more efficient at rooting out waste.
The Medicare trustees reported earlier this year that its hospital insurance trust fund is on track to run out of money by 2024, five years earlier than last year’s estimate, after which annual revenues would be sufficient to pay only partial benefits.
The parts of the program covering doctor services and prescription drugs are adequately financed, however, the report said.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted it would be 2020 when the hospital fund is exhausted, forcing it to rely on annual revenues.
There was a roughly even division among audience members on questions about the stimulus and health-care reform, with some objecting to being told they had to buy an insurance policy, a requirement of the new law.
Another audience member complained that not enough money was spent on the stimulus to give the economy a sufficient boost.
Schilling has been critical of the stimulus law, which was enacted before he was elected. But he said Friday more of the money should have been devoted to infrastructure projects.
“If the government would have taken a lot bigger chunk of that money and put it into infrastructure, we’d be doing a lot better today,” he said.
At one point, in a free-ranging debate over the direction of the country, Jason Soseman, an Aledo businessman, objected to the government having a larger role.
“I don’t want to be a socialist,” he said, later adding, “Capitalism works. Socialism doesn’t.”
That led Ron Maynard, an Arizona man visiting people in town, to respond: “Capitalism works until you get the greed factor in there so bad.”
He complained taxes on the wealthy had been cut so much over the years that the burden was being pushed too heavily onto the middle class.