Shuster challenged by Tea Party

It was contentious, but U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster Monday demonstrated that his positions are mostly in line with those of the Blair County Tea Party, which had invited him to the Ramada Altoona Conference Center for a town hall meeting.

The main difference, as it unfolded in front of a yellow flag with a coiled snake and the legend “Don’t Tread on Me”: Shuster takes a pragmatic approach, while the Tea Party takes a principles-at-all cost approach.

In the midst of the back-and-forth, Shuster gave a hint as to his eventual longevity as a Congressman.

The difference between guest and hosts was evident when Tea Party members challenged Shuster on linking a continuing resolution to fund the government after Sept. 30 with the defunding of Obamacare.

He said he has voted 30 times to defund Obamacare but won’t be party to shutting down the government to achieve it because that would mean the elderly, veterans and active military wouldn’t get their checks on time.

Moreover, if Republicans exercise that strategy, it would give President Obama political ammunition to hurt them, he said.

“We’ve got to figure out a winning strategy,” he said.

Tea Partiers, who numbered about 200, hooted in favor of a shutdown anyway.

The difference was also evident when a Tea Partier challenged Shuster on the deficit.

Shuster told them he favors a 10-year plan, and that it will take both cuts and growth.

Cutting the entire Department of Defense wouldn’t even suffice, he said.

But reasonable reform of entitlements – including Social Security and Medicaid – must be part of it, because they’re two-thirds of the budget, he said.

The difference was also evident when Tea Party members challenged Shuster on illegal immigration.

Shuster favors tightening the borders, and he rejects amnesty.

But when Tea Partiers talked about police action to deport all the estimated 14 million illegals, he balked.

That would leave time and energy for nothing else in law enforcement, he said.

And when a Tea Partier wondered what was wrong with the old visa system, fully enforced, Shuster talked about the need for biometric modernization.

That way employers who need immigrants to do jobs that Americans won’t do can obtain their services legally, and the immigrants – as many actually want to do – can go home after their legal tenure is over, he said.

He cited a dairy farmer in his district who needs Hispanics to milk but who confesses himself unable to distinguish between valid and fake documentation.

And it was evident when Tea Partiers challenged Shuster on defunding Obamacare.

Shuster and the Tea Partiers were more aligned on education and Benghazi.

The federal government should let state and local government handle education, Shuster said.

And it needs to hold former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accountable for the “terrible failure” in Libya, for which the media has granted her a “free ride,” he said.

Shuster and a good many of the Tea Partiers, however, were diametrically opposed on Edward Snowden, the leaker of secrets.

Tea Partier Lee Thomas called him a “whistleblower.”

“He’s a traitor,” Shuster snapped.

“Not really,” Thomas said.

When moderator Chris Forshey asked for a show of hands – hero or traitor, about a third of the 200 in attendance went for hero.

Those in attendance also learned – when WRTA-AM radio station owner Dave Barger asked whether Shuster planned to make Congress a “career” – Barger mentioned 30 years – that he doesn’t plan to stay indefinitely.

Shuster, who’s been in office 12 years so far, said “Do I want to do another 15-20 years? No way.”

Asked afterward when he planned to end his run, he was coy:

“When the time is right.”