by Curt Yeomans
U.S. foreign policy issues rose to the top of the minds of residents who attended a town hall forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., on Thursday.
Two foreign issues in particular got attendees talking during the meeting at Suwanee City Hall -- ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Iran's nuclear program. Residents questioned the congressman about the status of both issues, which have gained media attention in recent months.
Woodall said the attention to foreign policy issues at the forum could be seen as a sign that the economic concerns of recent years are easing up.
"For years, it's been all economy and jobs," Woodall said. "People can't figure out how to pay the bills, so they don't care what's going on on the other side of the world. Finally, we're starting to see some rays of sunshine on the economy, and it turns out, while America was struggling with domestic jobs issues, the world became a really scary place."
The two foreign issues were not the only topics residents questioned Woodall about during the meeting. There were the occasional inquiries about the FairTax and fixing the Internal Revenue Service, but trade and national security generated more questions.
Woodall told attendees the nation has vested interests in seeing a fair trade agreement negotiated with the other 11 nations involved in the Pacific partnership. The port of Savannah, for example, exports goods to other nations and would benefit from an agreement which allows more American goods to be exported to the other nations involved in the negotiations.
He also said there could be a cascading effect if President Barack Obama includes several items that require additional changes to American law.
"Nothing in the trade agreement implements law," Woodall said. "Let's say the president negotiates a deal that says, "You know what, minimum wages are bad over in Thailand and Japan, and we should have international minimum wages that are $20 an hour.'
"I don't think that's the best way to grow the American economy and I don't think that's the best way to negotiate a trade agreement," he said. "If he were to do that, not only would Congress (likely) reject the trade agreement, but I would also have to change the law to change the minimum wage."
Buford resident Ray Ray Rodden said he has some concerns about the trade agreement and the Iran situation. The trade agreement, for example, should be vetted publicly so Americans can ask questions about specific points.
"It's the content and the attitude that we should just trust the government that is a problem," Rodden said.
Rodden had similar concerns about the Iran issue. Those concerns boil down to the way bullet points on negotiated terms were released for public vetting after they were tentatively agreed to by the nations involved.
Sugar Hill resident Jay Zeman said he approves of the job Woodall is doing. He said there are possible risks of appearing to work with a president who is unpopular in the eyes of many conservative voters on issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
"I think he brings up some salient points and I think the biggest concern could be (appearing to be) working too closely with the president," Zeman said.