Jeb visits OTOW

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Campaign comes to Ocala

By Mike Wright
Citrus County Chronicle
Former Gov. Jeb Bush may be languishing in the polls, but he looked and sounded like his old self among faithful Monday afternoon.
About 400 people crammed into the Circle Square Cultural Center in Ocala’s On Top of the World community for a town hall meeting during which Bush spoke of supporting military veterans, senior citizens, the mentally ill and having the gumption to destroy the country’s most serious terrorist threat.
He criticized President Barack Obama, spoke of his success as a two-term governor and made veiled references to billionaire Donald Trump, who has left many Republican contenders for president behind in the polls.
Referring to a recent exchange of compliments between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said: “Anybody that (says) Putin is a great guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This guy is not someone to be respected or admired.”
A few minutes later, Bush — again without uttering Trump’s name — said: “If you want to have someone who’s a great talker, we did that for seven years. It hasn’t worked out.”
Bush never mentioned any of his Republican adversaries by name, but did call out Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He said Clinton has proven untrustworthy in her handling of classified e-mails while secretary of state and could not be trusted as president.
“I don’t believe Hillary Clinton has a service heart,” he said.
Bush explored a variety of policy issues close to the hearts of those in attendance, based on their questions: veterans’ benefits, protecting the military, the future of Social Security, health care costs and the national debt.
Some highlights:
n Bush would reduce the federal work force based on need and job performance.
“There should be no lifetime employment in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We should pay people when they do a great job and we should fire them when they don’t.”
n He promised to make the Department of Veterans Affairs more accessible to veterans by cutting costs. He said the Army Corps of Engineers could build VA facilities at a small fraction of what the VA spends. Patients should be able to choose their doctors and the VA should have centers of excellence to treat patients with long-term disabilities, he said.
n Asked a question about Social Security reform, Bush said his advisers say there will be a 25 percent cut in benefits by 2030 if nothing is done.
“Doing nothing is not the answer,” he said.
Bush said by 2023, he would begin extending out the retirement age — now 66 or 67 to receive full benefits, depending on birth year — by one month every year.
He said that Social Security is not the supplement it was designed to be and the minimum benefit is 80 percent of the poverty level. He would raise the basic minimum to 125 percent of poverty level while lowering payments for retirees with higher incomes.
n To lower the $18 trillion national debt, Bush believes repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a consumer-driven system will save billions of dollars.
n Asked about protecting law enforcement, Bush said the Obama administration doesn’t make that task easy.
“Washington does not have the back of law enforcement,” he said. “In 99.99 percent of the time they’re trying to keep us safe. They’re doing the right thing.”
As the town hall concluded, supporters swarmed Bush for selfies and autographs.
Maureen Buch and her sister, Gail Carroll, both of Oak Run in Ocala, said they are big Bush supporters. But they said Bush is being drowned out in the crowded Republican field because Trump is getting much of voters’ attention.
“I wish he was more forceful,” Buch said.
Both said he hasn’t fared well in the Republican debates.
“He’s trying to be overpowering and it makes him look soft,” Carroll said. “He’s getting lost in the shuffle.”