Social Security payments and federal government payments to the U.S. auto industry are just some of the issues weighing on Barbara Stagg’s mind these days.

Social Security payments and federal government payments to the U.S. auto industry are just some of the issues weighing on Barbara Stagg’s mind these days.

Stagg, an Independence resident, says that as a taxpayer, she “doesn’t want to be in the banking industry,” referring to the government’s willingness to help in restructuring General Motors and Chrysler Corp.

“We’ve got no business in private industry,” Stagg said. “I think this country’s private industry has gotten us to where we are, and we don’t need to be bailing them out.”

Stagg, who is a member of the Independence affiliate of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, was among about 30 constituents present during Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s coffee talk Saturday morning at Dave’s Bakery & Deli on the Independence Square. Cleaver spoke of issues affecting U.S. automakers, including the possibility that GM will file for bankruptcy.

“It scares me to death,” Cleaver said. “Some of you will say these guys operated their companies poorly, so let them go out of business. They did it themselves.”

Cleaver, however, defended the government’s actions, saying that allowing the automakers to collapse would create “a rippling effect” throughout industries, including those in Independence.

“The people who are going to be impacted are not the executives,” he said. “They’re the people who live down the street from us who’ve been working at these plants for most of their adults lives, and all of a sudden they’re without a job.”

In recent weeks, U.S. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner has stated that the economic downturn might be easing, despite hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost each month.

“Anybody who says they know for sure that we have bottomed out has told other lies,” Cleaver said. 

Despite some claims that the economy is in an upturn, Cleaver said many financial experts say it may be unfelt during the next 12 to 18 months “because of the fear that it hasn’t bottomed out.” 

“Companies are not going to immediately begin to rehire. It’s going to take companies a year and a half, two years before they feel comfortable in gearing up because no one wants to go out and hire 10 people only to turn them lose again in a few months,” Cleaver said.

In April, Cleaver spoke during the Independence Chamber of Commerce’s monthly legislative briefing and stated that Congress approved the Troubled Assets Relief Program last October strictly to make funds available for purchasing toxic assets. Congress’ goal was to purchase assets such as worthless mortgages and then restore investors’ confidence in the stock market, he said.

Henry Paulson, secretary of the treasury at the time, decided to allow the funds for banks in need, Cleaver said. So, why haven’t members of Congress members cried out and stated that’s not what they approved?

“Because it turns out that Paulson and his boss made a decision that if they looked at the language in the law, it doesn’t prohibit it,” Cleaver said. “Any time you pass legislation, there’s always a danger that people can misuse it. If you read the language of that 800-page bill, this is not even arguable. I will resign from Congress if that’s not true.”