We're live from Congressman Phil Gingrey's town-hall meeting at the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce. Gingrey, a Republican, represents Georgia's 11th District, which stretches west and north from Marietta, including much of the area slammed by Wednesday night's storms. The planned focus of the meeting was the federal budget. You can follow the action on Twitter (@DallasPatch), and we'll post the tweets here a few minutes later for further reading and comment.
7:37 p.m. And that's all, folks.
7:37 p.m. Gingrey: There should be no connection between what private insurers pay and what Medicare and Medicaid reimburse to providers.
7:35 p.m. Gingrey: We're looking at allowing providers to charge above the reimbursement rate only for those who can afford it in exchange for seeing patients who can't afford it.
7:33 p.m. Gingrey: We are working on some things. There are about 23 health care providers in the House and four in the Senate. We have a caucus.
7:30 p.m. Gingrey: I would love to come back and talk about nothing but health care. In regard to the question of provider reimbursements, the law is such that in regard to reimbursing providers, folks like doctors, ... if you go beyond a certain amount, a formula is applied that cuts the amount paid to providers. Congress has the ability to mitigate that process, but that creates a bigger and bigger hole in Medicare. To catch up now, it would be a 34 percent cut in provider reimbursements Jan. 1, 2012.
7:28 p.m. One more question: Is it the fear of spending that is keeping the Medicare reimbursement rates down and cut over the years? Why are we continually putting Band-Aids on the problem since 2005 and never changing anything?
7:26 p.m. Gingrey: You still have money coming in, and you meet your debt obligations and your entitlement costs. You wind up holding off on discretionary spending, and the world goes on. He says Congress then can force the White House to reform the system in order to get the debt ceiling raised.
7:24 p.m. Gingrey: "I'm a no as I stand here today. I sense some of you want me to be a heck-no." He doesn't believe it will cause Armageddon to refuse to raise the debt limit.
7:22 p.m. Asked the consequences of not raising the debt limit, Gingrey says the scenarios paint a picture of Armageddon. He's asked if that's true, and others in the crowd shout out, "No."
7:21 p.m. Gingrey: Also, should I vote to raise the debt limit? The immediate response is a cascade of "no."
7:20 p.m. Gingrey: Let me ask you a question. It's about the oil and gas depletion tax credit. The president wants to eliminate that, saving $1 billion. What do you think?
7:18 p.m. Gingrey: We took steps to stop cap-and-trade before we left Washington. He also speaks against EPA, FCC (Net neutrality) and "czar" regulation of things in general.
7:16 p.m. New questioner: Bring out-of-control agencies like the #EPA under control. "That's what makes people mad. Get rid of the EPA." He gets applause.
7:13 p.m. So he's working on other efforts, broadening the tax base and setting the top rate at 25 percent.
7:12 p.m. Gingrey says he's convinced by the Fair Tax, but he sees a lot of opposition to a national sales tax like the Fair Tax. And he recognizes the difficulty of repealing the constitutional amendment that created the income tax.
7:11 p.m. Gingrey: I didn't see any real enthusiasm when we had the majority under President George W. Bush. There was more affection for a simpler, flatter tax.
7:10 p.m. New questioner: What can be done to get the Fair Tax passed?
7:10 p.m. Paulding Board of Commissioners Chairman David Austin is here, is recognized and is leaving.
7:08 p.m. Gingrey: The Senate agreed to have up-or-down votes on the House bill to end Obamacare and to defund Planned Parenthood. Both votes went against the House bills.
7:07 p.m. New questioner: Can't we just take this apart piece by piece, one-page bill by one-page bill, and no more czars?
7:05 p.m. Gingrey expects the Supreme Court to hear the case before the 2012 election, and he believes the law is unconstitutional.
7:04 p.m. Gingrey: We have asked the Supreme Court to expedite its decision on the health care insurance mandate. The high court denied that.
7:04 p.m. Questioner: One more thing: Why still playing footsie with this health care thing. Make it unconstitutional and cancel it.
7:02 p.m. Gingrey: "I'm not standing up here trying to make excuses," but please understand that the GOP controls half of one-third of the government.
7:01 p.m. Questioner continues: This is 1995-96 all over again, and I don't feel good about. "This is BS. ... I'm embarrassed in front of the world."
6:59 p.m. Gingrey: But we only had about $600 billion of nondefense discretionary funding to deal with, so it's a bigger chunk we cut.
6:58 p.m. Gingrey: That's why I voted against the budget-cut deal.
6:57 p.m. Next question: It's embarrassing that the budget cut was only about 1 percent. I don't feel good about it.
6:56 p.m. Gingrey: I don't know. But he thinks it will be done.
6:55 p.m. Next question: Will the GOP caucus drop a bill to end the moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and fast-track leases?
6:54 p.m. Gingrey: Despite Three Mile Island and Japan and Chernobyl, I believe in nuclear energy. The biggest problem is it's very expensive.
6:53 p.m. Gingrey: We have 103 nuclear power plants, totaling about 20 percent of U.S. electrical output. France probably gets 80 percent.
6:52 p.m. Gingrey: There's a lot of natural gas. It's cleaner than coal and oil. There's a chance for that when we finally reach the "grand compromise."
6:50 p.m. Next question: What about using more of our natural resources, including clean coal and natural gas? He also says the government owns too much land.
6:49 p.m. Gingrey: But it will be awfully tough to get anything like that through the Senate.
6:47 p.m. Gingrey: It is possible. Many agencies are duplicative, unconstitutional and/or just plain useless. The questioner cited, and Gingrey agrees, that the Departments of Education and Energy are part of the "useless" category.
6:46 p.m. Next question: There are entire departments we'd like to see gotten rid of. Is there any chance in the world that the House would do that?
6:45 p.m. Gingrey: I voted no because we could have done better, but "certainly it put us on the right track."
6:44 p.m. Gingrey: In the final analysis, the number was closer to $60 billion.
6:44 p.m. Gingrey: There was an expectation of cutting $100 billion from the 2009 levels of discretionary spending.
6:43 p.m. Gingrey: We had an opportunity in November to pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year, but we didn't.
6:42 p.m. First question: Can you explain the numbers in the 2011 budget?
6:41 p.m. Gingrey: Some say the GOP plan goes too slow to reach balance. He wants to know what the people think.
6:39 p.m. Gingrey: "We criticize Greece and Ireland and Italy and all those countries on the verge of being kicked out of the European Union because of their debt," and the United States is on the path of having a debt by midcentury equal to nine times the size of the economy.
6:37 p.m. Gingrey shows a slide that projects the federal deficit to exceed 25 percent of GDP by 2050, whereas the GOP plan would balance the budget in about 2030.
6:34 p.m. Gingrey: The difference in spending between the Obama plan and the House GOP plan over a decade is $6.2 trillion. He says President Obama's budget keeps government spending between 23 percent and 25 percent of GDP per year, while the GOP budget would cut that to about 20 percent of GDP.
6:30 p.m. Gingrey: "If we don't do anything to Medicare within a short period of time, it's going off a cliff." He says the Republican budget would avoid the program running out of money in 2020, and he emphasizes that nothing would change for anyone 55 or older. Medicare now is a defined-benefit program; the GOP plan would change it to a defined-contribution plan.
6:26 p.m. He doesn't expect the Democratic-led Senate to pass this budget.
6:24 p.m. The majority-passed budget, the Paul Ryan, GOP budget, is called "The Path to Prosperity." Gingrey: "This is what we say we need to do."
6:23 p.m. He says the 111th Congress didn't have a budget. "You can’t operate a business like that, especially a $3.5 trillion business."
6:22 p.m. Gingrey is presenting a PowerPoint presentation on the 2012 budget.
6:20 p.m. Gingrey: Members of Congress from the other side of the aisle are not "ogres."
6:19 p.m. Gingrey: "I need to hear from you." He says Congress is working a schedule of two weeks in D.C., one in the district.
6:18 p.m. Gingrey had a chemical peel Monday as part of his treatment for a low-grade skin cancer, so his appearance is a little off.
6:15 p.m. Gingrey steps to the lectern.
6:13 p.m. Ashworth: Dr. Gingrey appears to be the only elected official here. Now he's introducing the congressman.
6:12 p.m. Jim Ashworth, the Paulding Chamber's chairman of the board, is offering the invocation, focusing on the storm victims.
6:08 p.m. About 30 people are here for the Gingrey town-hall meeting.
6:05 p.m. Rep. Phil Gingrey is in the house.
6:03 p.m. Still waiting for the congressman so we can start the meeting. Plenty of room if you can make it to the meeting tonight. Rep. Gingrey also will hold a town-hall meeting Friday at 10 a.m. in Cartersville at the Clarence Brown Conference Center.
5:57 p.m. About three minutes until the scheduled start, we have about 20 people but no congressman yet.
5:45 p.m. About 15 people are here in the basement meeting room of the as we await the arrival of the congressman.