Lively debate

Published 1:25 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sen. Richard Shelby answered questions from Chilton County residents ranging from the economic stimulus package to Afghanistan during a community meeting Wednesday at Helen’s Place.

The meeting was Shelby’s 1,500th since he went into office, and he usually meets with residents in every county each year.

“We had a very spirited group today,” Shelby said after the meeting. “We usually have a very good group for our meetings here in Chilton County.”

Though the overall economic situation nationwide has appeared bleak, Shelby has tried to stay as positive as possible. He began talking about how 155 million people have jobs.

“We’re not half-empty. We’re actually pretty full,” Shelby said. “I want to be as positive as I can, but you have to be realistic.”

On the bailout package, Shelby said one of the positives is that 15 percent of the more than $800 billion stimulus package will go to infrastructure, but Shelby isn’t optimistic that President Barack Obama’s plan will rescue the economy.

“The stimulus package won’t turn the economy around. If it does, it will only be marginal,” Shelby said.

One meeting attendee was a little confrontational when asking Shelby what he was doing to stop the bank and housing market problems from happening and about why Shelby hadn’t supported seniors more in getting low-priced prescription drugs, but the Tuscaloosa senator responded to the question. The resident then shook hands with Shelby, thanking him for the response.

Shelby responded to the bank question by saying that he didn’t support what these banks were doing. The banks, he said, were using poor lending practices.

On the prescription drug issue, Shelby said he has supported competition to help drive down the cost of prescriptions instead of government intervention.

One person asked about how Detroit said they wanted to boycott Alabama because Shelby didn’t support the automotive bailout package.

“I guess I’d better not be flying over Detroit any time soon,” he joked with the crowd, drawing a laugh.

Shelby said he hopes the Big Three do turn their businesses around, but he doesn’t want the government to do it.

“I don’t think we should do it with taxpayers’ money. That’s almost becoming a little socialist,” he said.

In Afghanistan, Shelby hopes enough troops are sent to make a difference if any soldiers are sent to the country. He also said he hopes the U.S. can get some allies to go as well.

Shelby said he also believes the country must change its strategy when it performs any military action.

“In Afghanistan, we didn’t have an endgame,” Shelby said. “In any future conflicts, I hope that we will go into a place with such an overwhelming force that the conflict will end quickly, and we need to have an endgame of how we will get out of the country.”