BETHANY - If he had to make the decision today, Rep. David McKinley said he would vote against authorizing a military strike against Syria.
During a town hall meeting in Bethany Tuesday evening, McKinley, R-Wheeling, said he needs to see a "smoking gun" that proves Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of his own people before he would consider voting to risk American lives by intervening in that nation's bloody civil war.
Despite President Barack Obama's warnings to the Assad regime that use of chemical weapons would result in dire consequences, McKinley said the Constitution charges the government with protecting the United States against attack. While he acknowledged his stance is "still emerging," he doubts the situation rises to that level.
"I want to know what the facts are. ... I don't feel threatened yet," McKinley said. "Maybe I should."
More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict to date, "and we did nothing," McKinley said. He believes military intervention could set a dangerous precedent, and he cautioned the country needs to learn from recent experiences.
"These are not easy decisions. ... What happens if the president broadens the conflict after we're there? It happened in Libya," McKinley said.
About 50 people attended Tuesday's town hall meeting at Bethany Memorial Church, roughly half of them town residents and half Bethany College students, with Bethany Mayor Jay Eisenhauer reading questions submitted by the crowd.
Topics ranged from spending and health care to immigration reform, the Postal Service and energy policy. Even McKinley's membership in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity - which has a chapter at Bethany - while a student at Purdue came up.
Of particular concern to many in attendance was the president's health care reform law, and McKinley heard from those on both sides of the issue.
One man said he hasn't had health coverage in years, and he's looking forward to life under the health care law. But others worry that the Independent Payment Advisory Board created by the law - an appointed, 15-member panel tasked with controlling Medicare spending - will limit their access to needed care in order to save money.
"Us old people are going to be done for," one woman said.
Now that the Obama administration has said it will delay implementing key components of the health care law until 2015, McKinley said he hopes Congress will be able to use the additional time to "clean up" the law and come up with a workable alternative.
"It's a noble idea," McKinley said of the concept of access to health care for all. "But let's make sure when we implement it, it's right. ... We don't want to go back to the old way of health insurance."
Although the Syria issue is at the forefront today, McKinley said key issues in Congress this fall will include trying to pass a budget and deciding whether to raise the nation's debt limit once again. He said he will fight for further spending cuts as the U.S. national debt approaches $17 trillion.
Senate Majority Leader "Harry Reid is continuing to say we're going to go back to the same level of spending we had before. No, we're not. We're going to stay with the spending reductions that we've had, and we've achieved. ... We borrow 43 cents out of every dollar we spend, and that's why we've got to get this under control," McKinley said.