KINGMAN - U.S. Sen. John McCain was treated to a packed house of feisty Mohave County residents Friday afternoon at the County Administration Building. Most of the comments centered on the economy and healthcare, but McCain also spoke of the troops, the Fort Hood shooting and Social Security.
"We Republicans have to reestablish our conservative principals to the American people," McCain said. "I see a degree of activism, a degree of involvement and a degree of anger out there that I've never seen before in the years that I've served. When you have this kind of anger, this kind of frustration and this kind of activism, it will bring about change inside the Beltway whether we want it or not."
Howard Melendez challenged McCain's statements on the downfall of the housing market and the economy.
Melendez was passing out information on Jim Deakin, who plans to run against McCain, after the meeting.
Government loan policy resulted in people moving into homes they couldn't afford, leading to the housing market collapse, Melendez said. He also said McCain signed the letter authorizing the stimulus bill.
McCain told Melendez that he fought against using the stimulus bill to bail out the big banks, he fought to reform the housing loan system and he would be happy to provide Melendez a copy of his voting record.
"The reason why I have these meetings is so that I can hear from the rest of the constituents, and I think that's the most important thing I can do," McCain said. "I appreciate your viewpoint and I appreciate your candor and your passion."
Another resident asked if McCain was prepared to pull out all the stops and fight the proposed healthcare bill that had passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was now being considered by the Senate.
"I will fight with every fiber of my body," McCain said, adding that his greatest fear is that today's children and grandchilder won't be able to afford healthcare.
The 2,000-page bill would mean more regulation and mandates, he said. People wouldn't be able to keep the coverage they had. It would also increase taxes and the cost of Medicare, he said.
The bill claims to save $500 billion in waste from Medicare, he said.
"I don't think so," McCain said. "I think it's going to cut it."
He encouraged audience members to cut up their AARP cards and send them back. The organization endorsed the measure approved by the House.
The government needs to focus on medical malpractice tort reform, allow insurance to cross state lines, create risk pools for people with existing conditions, allow small businesses to create pools to purchase healthcare and allow people to create health savings accounts.
"We have the best health care in the world, but the cost is unsustainable," he said.
Third year medical student Chad Freedal asked if the government should really be supporting big or small businesses. Shouldn't the government just stay out of the market, he asked.
McCain countered by telling of meeting a man in Flagstaff who had lost his appliance shop because the bank had yanked his loan. Should the government really cut off support to someone who is trying to start or keep a small business, he asked.
McCain asked Freedal what he thought of the American Medical Association backing the healthcare bill.
"No one appears to be looking at it from the doctors' point of view," Freedal said, adding there was too much red tape in the bill. "I would like to treat patients as I see fit instead of practicing defensive medicine."
Another resident asked if McCain would try to get a cost of living increase for seniors on Social Security.
Congress agreed to tie Social Security cost of living raises to inflation, McCain said. There was no increase in inflation this year; therefore there would be no increase in Social Security checks. McCain said he would stick to that rule.
His No.1 priority was to get the economy back on track, he said. Arizona was the second hardest-hit state in the downturn. McCain also noted that approximately 43 cents of every dollar spent by the government was borrowed from another country.
"No government can continue to spend like this," he said.
He also spoke out against the recent decision by the U.S. Attorney General to try several 9/11 conspirators in civilian instead of military courts.
"I strongly disagree with this. They are not common criminals. They're war criminals," he said. "Can you imagine us trying the Nazi war criminals in civil court? Of course not."
He also called the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, an act of terrorism.
"Our service men and women should not be subject to attack on our own bases," he said. The government must not allow political correctness to interfere with the safety of the troops.
After the meeting, McCain told the press that he always enjoyed holding town hall meetings.
"It's what more of us need to hear," he said.
When asked about former vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin's new book, McCain said the losing campaign always seems to make mistakes, while the campaign that wins always seems perfect.
"I'm proud of our campaign and Sarah Palin," he said. He even received a signed copy of the book, but hadn't read it yet.
"I've moved forward," he said. "My priority is to help the people of Arizona."