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Akin and Luetkemeyer double-team their dislike of the federal stimulus

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 16, 2009 - U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, is proud of his conservative credentials.

Even so, the 9th District congressman joked at Thursday's small-business forum at St. Charles Community College that the man seated to his right on stage -- U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country -- is a bit to Luetkemeyer's right politically as well.

During the almost 90-minute forum, for example, 2nd District congressman Akin said that he had his doubts about claims of global warming and, even if true, whether there was anything governments or mankind could legitimately do to stop it. (Akin noted the alternate term of "climate change,'' and observed dryly that "It's April and I like the climate to change.")

But jokes aside, the two congressmen made clear to several hundred attending the almost 90-minute forum that they hold common views on such issues as:

-- Both oppose the federal stimulus bills and the related budget proposal, which the congressmen decried as adding several trillion dollars to the nation's federal debt.

-- Both believe that the federal government needs to cut spending overall.

-- Both oppose the Obama administration's plans to increase taxes (or end tax breaks) on higher-income people, estates, dividends and capital gains.

Akin contended that the first three months under the new Democratic president have been "toxic to small business."

"If you were to say to me, 'What things can we do to mess up small business?' I'd say, 'We're doing a lot of them,' '' Akin said,.

Luetkemeyer used less volatile language, but emphasized that he shared the concern that the nation's small businesses would bear the brunt of the federal government's financial missteps.

"The taxation that these people will have to endure will be very cumbersome,'' Luetkemeyer said after the forum. "And these are the people that make this country work."

Robert Morgan, chief executive of Clean Earth Technologies, helped open the forum by offering various statistics on the importance of small business to the U.S. economy. Among other things, he said small businesses employ 70 percent of American workers and make 97 percent of the nation's exporters.

For all of that, Morgan said that very little of the federal stimulus money is aimed at helping small businesses. "I hope today marks the beginning of the 'What can be done about it' phase,'' Morgan said.

Most of the written questions from the audience spanned the range of financial issues, from health care and unions to illegal immigration and home foreclosures.

Both congressmen supported change in the nation's healthcare system, but neither indicated support for Obama's effort to provide universal coverage. Akin and Luetkemeyer said their aim was "universal access.:"

One businessman explained how his small business has had its insurance dropped -- and he can't find a replacement -- because he has diabetes and his children have asthma.

Akin said he supported "portability,'' where people could retain their health-care coverage -- as long as they paid for it -- after they left their job.

Both agreed with the audience that more needed to be done to discourage illegal immigration, although Akin said he supported proposals to allow legal immigrants to come in seasonal permits to handle such work as landscaping and fruit-picking. Now, he said, such businesses are hurting because they can't get such legal immigrants.

The only discord at the forum took place when Akin emphasized his opposition to the union-backed Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to unionize if a majority sign cards. Akin supports a secret ballot, which is now required.

He told the crowd -- which generally agreed with him -- that the Act amounted to "the erosion of liberty.'' But then two people stood up and accused Akin of mischaracterizing the legislation. Both said there's nothing in the bill that bars a secret ballot and that it's up to the employees.

Akin said that there are different interpretations of the proposal.

In any case, the congressmen and the moderator quickly moved on to another topic. 

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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