NORWICH – From student loans to the Iraq War, 24th District Congressman Mike Arcuri addressed a range of issues Saturday – receiving both cheers and jeers from a packed house at The Coffee Connection in Norwich.
Arcuri (D-NY), the former Oneida County District Attorney, told the crowd that the first three weeks of his inaugural term have been incredible.
“At 47, I figured out what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, drawing laughter among the roughly 75 supporters and constituents. “It has been incredible.”
Arcuri cited early success in helping pass a decrease in student loan rates, and gaining bi-partisan house – but not senate – approval for an increase in the federal minimum wage. He also garnered applause for contending that alternative energy legislation would be a top priority in Congress when it reconvenes.
However, the pleasantries subsided when questions shifted to Arcuri’s position on the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush’s use of executive power.
“Philosophically I do not support the war,” the congressman said. “But I have a real problem saying that I won’t support funding.”
Arcuri said he’s not a military expert, and argued he doesn’t want to make a decision that could expose soldiers to further danger. When asked why a full military withdrawal was not an option, Arcuri responded, “I don’t know that it’s quite that easy,” resulting in pockets of disdain from within the audience.
The Utica native said he’s open to supporting a phased withdrawal, adding that National Guard troops should be the first to come home.
“I believe we are dramatically over-extending ourselves,” Arcuri said. “He (Bush) presupposes that we have no other options. That’s not the case.”
As to questions of Bush’s use of power, historically Arcuri said allowing exceptions to the rule is not unusual.
“It is not all that unusual in our history to give the executive branch some extra power,” he said, citing Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson as examples during the Civil War and World War I.
Morris resident Irving Wesley Hall told Arcuri that Bush has thus far supplanted the legislative branch’s authority, and is going to “force Congress’ hand” to either accept it, or begin impeachment proceedings.
“The problem, Mr. Arcuri, is the president has said to you, ‘I don’t care what you do,” Hall said. “You (congress) are the only people in the world with the power to stop him – you must step up to the plate.”..