HELENA – U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte met with Helena business leaders Friday to talk tax cuts – but also engaged in a wide-ranging exchange on issues from guns to welfare programs to health care.
Gianforte, a first-term Republican and Montana’s only U.S. House member, touted the GOP’s federal tax-cut bill enacted in December, saying it’s already leading to more investment and higher wages.
“The whole idea with this plan was just to put more money into people’s pockets, lower the rates, make America more competitive – and we’re starting to see it show up,” he told a meeting of members of the Helena Chamber of Commerce. “I firmly believe that wealth is not created by government programs. … Mostly government should just stay out of the way.”
The bill, effective this year, dramatically cuts federal corporate tax rates and also cut rates for most individuals as well.
U.S. Bank executive Jeff Arbizzani said the bill led the bank to raise wages for many lower-earning workers, from $12 to $15 an hour, and hand out bonuses in January.
Gianforte said he’s heard many similar tales as he’s traveled the state since the bill’s enactment.
But chamber members also peppered Gianforte with questions about health-care policy, workforce shortages and gun control, among other things.
Jeff Kurtz, the manager of the LaQuinta Inn and Suites in Helena, said he wondered whether it’s time to consider restricting the ownership of certain high-powered firearms, or at least have better tracking of who’s stockpiling certain weapons, in the wake of the deadly school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.
Gianforte said “we’re all grieving” over recent mass shootings like those in Florida or Las Vegas, but that he doesn’t believe any new federal regulations on firearms are the answer.
“We’d like to think there is a magic wand that we could wave to make all of our schools safe,” he said. “I don’t know what that is. … It will be hard for any new regulations at a federal level to make our schools safe.”
On workforce-shortage issues, Gianforte briefly mentioned training and education programs, but then segued into the effects of methamphetamine addiction and over-reliance on government programs.
“We have to figure out a way to make people self-sustainable and not dependent on the government – in a compassionate way, in a way that provides a safety net for those who can’t take care of themselves,” he said.
Gianforte, the co-founder of a software development firm that was sold to Oracle Corp. in 2012 for $1.8 billion, said many states have experimented with programs that required able-bodied people to work or volunteer before getting assistance.
“In states that have implemented this, the tenure on these programs has dropped dramatically, from years to weeks,” he said. “It encourages people to get back in the workforce.”
John Doran, an executive with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, also asked Gianforte whether he would support steps to “stabilize” health insurance markets for individual policies, such as restoring federal funds that help insurers subsidize policies for low-income customers and for a reinsurance pool to defray high-cost claims from individual plans.
Gianforte responded by criticizing the 2010 Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – for not delivering on promises of lowering health-care costs and health coverage.