Rep. Pete Stark answers a question during a town hall meeting Tuesday night in Fremont while being filmed by Minuteman Steve Kemp, who the congressman infamously asked in a YouTube video, “Who are you going to kill today?”

By Steven Tavares

FREMONT, Calif. – Worries about rising unemployment and diminshing personal income are a common concern among Americans. A month ago, Rep. Pete Stark tried in vain to touch upon these issues while a raucous, angry group of residents at a town hall meeting in Hayward drowned him out. Tuesday night in Fremont the issues facing many were discussed this time around supported by a larger showing of Stark’s more understanding constituents who flashed signs that read, “Thanks, Pete!”

The economy and the nation’s increasing deficits was on the minds of many at Fremont Seniors Center. While Stark attributed much of the ballooning deficit on the Bush tax cuts, which he says he does not favor extending, and the continuing wars in the Middle East, he says he is amendable to cuts to social security for a limited time if it is needed to help shrink the deficit. “I could live with a cut in Social Security for short term,” said Stark, who mentioned a 1-2 year time frame.

Stark was also queried on unemployment benefits, tax cuts and the state’s annual budget mess. The meeting was a reversal from recent town halls that focused solely on Stark’s controversial comments on immigration and his quip to a Minuteman asking him “you are you going to kill today?” While there were brief moments of angry discourse Tuesday night, it was nothing in comparison to the constant vitriol thrown around by Stark and last month’s audience.

With unemployment benefits slated to again expire in November, Stark says he is hopeful Congress will extend benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans. “My hope is with the kind of unemployment we have, we won’t have a choice,” he said. Twice in the past year, Senate Republicans have put the issue on hold to the consternation of many Democrats, including Stark. He also believes a new Congress next year will generously support renewing benefits as gesture to voters.

When a constituent asked Stark how the state’s Legislature might pass a new budget, he guffawed and said, “I don’t want to touch that!” He later said part of the gridlock in Sacramento revolves around the precept of a two-thirds majority to get anything done. He then criticized some of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts to programs affecting children. “He is taking his suggestions out of the hides of children,” said Stark. “This goes against my instincts.” He also is hopeful federal dollars will begin to flow to education and MediCal programs in the state.

Stark will hold a second town hall tonight, 7 p.m. in San Leandro at the Main Library.