Democratic candidate for U.S. House (18th district)
Responses to our questions
The U.S. government is now $20 trillion in debt. To address that historic level of public indebtedness, the country would need to raise revenue and/or decrease spending. What is your position on the budget and debt?
Why Abandon the Idea of Revenue Neutral Tax Reform Now? Anyone serious about addressing our country's debt doesn't dramatically cut federal revenues and then say, "We need to raise the defense budget to $700B and spend that much on infrastructure, too." But, this is the Republicans 'plan.
The majority of the deficits from the Republican tax reform comes from corporate tax cuts. U.S. tax rates for corporations needed to be lowered to keep global U.S. companies competitive. Over a couple decades other countries have lowered their corporate taxes. However, these countries have replaced those revenues with other taxes — usually Value Added Taxes. Republicans have lowered corporate taxes and replaced those revenues with debt. This is not a better idea.
The initially proposed border adjustment tax was defensible in the context of other countries' tax systems. But large Republican donors insisted this not be used to offset corporate tax cuts. Revenue neutral tax reform has been the foundation of every tax reform proposal for the last seven years. Republicans should have stayed with revenue neutral reforms.
A Revenue Neutral Corporate Tax Reform
I support a revenue neutral corporate tax reform that shifts the tax burden from corporations to the shareholders.
The proposal cuts the corporate rate to 15% (almost that of "tax haven" Ireland) and ends preferential tax treatment for dividends and capital gains. (Taxing dividends as ordinary income is easy to justify; capital gains are a little trickier.) The main merits of this approach are: 1) It does not create deficits. 2) It is bipartisan. It is the product of a joint effort of the Tax Policy Center (somewhat progressive) and the American Enterprise Institute (conservative).
I agree with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who says for any "big policy change to be successful, you need to have bipartisan buy-in". We need stability and predictability in our tax code. That is best achieved with bipartisan legislation.
A Comprehensive Approach to Deficit Reduction
To effectively tackle deficits takes a comprehensive, package approach — not considering line items in isolation from a larger package. The Bowles/Simpson plan of 2010 is still the gold standard in deficit reduction proposals. It was bipartisan (equally hated by both parties). It ended many deductions (150), means tested others, cut tax rates, taxed dividends and capital gains as ordinary income, ended baseline budgeting, moved to chained CPI, raised the motor fuels tax, cut the federal workforce, and even tackled military spending and Social Security. This is basically the approach I would advocate to address deficits.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
I will use this space to continue my deficits response. Military Spending Any serious attempt to control deficits has to restrain spending for defense. The low hanging fruit for reigning in the defense budget is ending spending for political purposes. Former Republican Senator Tom Coburn included several military expenditures in his "Wastebook" of government spending: unwanted transport planes manufactured and then mothballed in the desert, tanks the army doesn't want, "spare" jet engines the Air Force doesn't want. The defense department still has to operate military bases is says it doesn't need.
Perhaps the hardest nut to crack in restraining military costs is military procurement. Former Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, says our military procurement system is broken. Of course, the F-35 strike fighter is the poster child for design, procurement, and cost overrun failure. Perhaps production costs may eventually come down to $100 million per jet. It comes with very high maintenance costs and the whole project may eventually approach $1 trillion. The fault is not only with defense contractors. Procurement officers issue unending change orders that increase costs and delay production. The F-35 is a very high end example. But Secretary Leman says this, more often than not, is standard operating procedure throughout our military.
Social Security Changes to Social Security are needed to make it sustainable. Changes should not be used to pay for corporate tax cuts. The Reagan/Greenspan reforms of 1983 were based on FICA taxes being collected on 90% of our country's income. Presently, FICA taxes are collected on 85% of our nation's income. Returning to collecting FICA on 90% of national income (the way Reagan designed Social Security to work) would mean raising the caps on income taxed for Social Security faster than the CPI rate. Estimates are that caps should be raised to about $190,000 by 2020. Other reforms include benefits for the highest wage earners growing slower and benefits for the lowest earners growing faster. The national retirement age would be increased (again) to 69 by 2075.
Medicare and Medicaid costs continue to spiral. How can these programs be restructured to control costs and avoid collapse? Be specific about your willingness to change or reduce future benefits.
Whenever we try to address our country's healthcare, the elephant in the room is how much U.S. healthcare costs relative to the rest of the world. We spend more than 17% of our GDP for healthcare. (We spent 5% GDP in 1965.) We spend twice as much per person ($10,000) as many countries who have much better indexed outcomes (e.g. Germany $4,500).
I am not advocating for a single payer system, but other countries with single payer or highly regulated approaches spend far less with better outcomes. Our free market approach prior to 2010 has not worked to keep costs affordable. Government involvement is needed when it comes to healthcare markets.
Medicare It is a familiar complaint, but the low hanging fruit to cut Medicare costs is negotiating lower drug prices. Republicans put that off limits when they created Medicare Part D in 2006. Similarly, investors can but the rights to low cost generic or low margin drugs and increase those prices by many multiples of their cost.
It appears there is bipartisan agreement to prevent this. Why it continues is very disappointing. Representatives from both parties have supported shifting Medicare to "adjusted payment" models to reward careful spending and high quality care. "Bundled payments" (as opposed to fee-for-service) pilot programs were becoming well established through the ACA for various treatments after years of trial and error and research. They were saving money (30% on some cancers) and improving outcomes. Un fortunately the Trump HHS halted the shift to advanced payment models and is re-embracing the old fee for service model.
Like "bundled payments", progress in controlling Medicare costs can come from delivery innovations. The ACA established the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Medical providers work together with Medicare to innovate high quality, lower cost healthcare delivery. If there are savings, they are shared between the providers and Medicare. Some of these efforts have successfully lowered costs. Congress must allow these pilot projects to continue to develop.
Medicare only spends 2.5% on overhead (Private insurers spend about 30%). Medicare needs to spend more on combating fraud. Insurers are very motivated to write Medicare policies. Expanding competitive bidding for Medicare Advantage programs should move more seniors to those policies. Medicaid As I have said regarding Medicare, we need to see how new approaches perform in the field.
The Social Security Act gives HHS authority to approve experimental, demonstration operations of Medicaid. Indiana and Rhode Island began pilot programs a couple of years before the ACA. The goal is to slow Medicaid growth without cutting eligibility or services. Over 3 years, Rhode Island has saved $3 billion.
Since expanded Medicaid, Texas, Colorado, and heavily Democratic New York are innovating cost saving delivery of Medicaid. Texas has different programs for unemployed and disadvantaged recipients relative to those who are low wage employed recipients who have no hope of affording healthcare in our costly healthcare system. This is actually the direction some Republicans want to see Medicaid go and I agree.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
I believe the fundamental argument for free enterprise: that free markets are the most efficient means to allocate scarce resources. But this is not like a law of physics that is true in every instance. Free markets without government parameters do not work for healthcare.
Some people will go without adequate healthcare in a totally free market. Also, we can't rationally shop for healthcare when we are sick as we would for most other consumer goods. (Even if we are not sick, there is no price transparency or price coherency.) Yes, we can shop for insurance when we are not sick, but that is where we need the government.
Normal insurance underwriting does not work for healthcare. Not only will a person with a serious preexisting condition be denied coverage, but any previous health problem an otherwise healthy person may have had will be "excluded" from coverage. Anyone over 50 who shopped for insurance on the individual market before the ACA knows this first hand.
We can't complain about this too much. This is what insurance companies do. Their actuaries are very good at gauging their risks. This is why government must be involved in regulating insurance for healthcare.
Our Current Situation With the Republicans' inability to provide their own partisan way forward, I don't see any broad healthcare overhaul in the near future, and health insurance needs help in the near future. At this point, any progress on healthcare is, most likely, going to be accomplished piece by piece.
For the immediate future I have hope in and support the evolving Alexander/Murray proposals in the Senate to at least stabilize the healthcare markets, including cost share payments to insurance providers. (This refusal, by some, to do anything to help the ACA work better — even in the short term — is just toxic.)
Beyond the near term, a bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus is working on solutions — piece by piece. There is a certain genius to moving slowly (albeit very inefficiently) — piece by piece: It is easier for partisans to compromise on incremental steps instead of compromising on some big comprehensive measure.
Some "incremental steps" I support:
- Raise the threshold to 500 from 50 on the number of employees at which an employer is required to provide coverage. I would eventually want to end the employer mandate.
- Raise the threshold to 40 from 30 hours for the ACA's definition of fulltime worker. - Direct HHS to issue regulations to allow states to enter into compacts to enable insurers to sell policies across state lines. This is already allowed under the ACA.
- Expand competitive bidding for Medicare Advantage programs. I, also, propose allowing people 55 and older to enroll in Medicare Advantage. This could be seen as a hybrid type of a public/private option.
- I support the so called "Cadillac" tax. It is not really a tax. It is a limit on the level of healthcare expenditures that the government will give preferential tax treatment to (i.e. a deduction).
Economic growth has been steady but wage growth is slow. Are you content with the state of the economy? What is your recipe for enhancing American prosperity?
A simpler tax code gives a degree of support to economic growth. Compliance costs are real. The recent tax reform has created a much more complicated tax code. A recent WSJ article detailed the forms of "gaming the tax code" that the new pass through rules will encourage. Individuals and businesses will restructure themselves simply for tax reasons and no other business purpose. Lower tax rates will promote growth. With our current national debt, reforms just need to be revenue neutral, not increasing the deficit.
We must find a way to invest in public schools and universities. Workforce development should be available in high schools and community colleges. There should be opportunities for people to enter the workforce at multiple skill levels (e.g. A nurse should be able to begin nursing somewhere without a B.A.)
Of course, infrastructure promotes growth (including internet access and the power grid). I support raising the motor fuels tax. We must combat anti-competitive behaviors and regulatory capture (too many regulations for a small or beginning business to navigate) that make it difficult to start new businesses. Unproductive regulations need to go.
Our immigration procedures must be structured to welcome immigrants who seek economic opportunities. We still have green card barriers to immigrants trained in important fields educated in this country. We miss out on the talent, the contributions, the innovations, on consultations with so many people around the world because our visa processes are so restrictive.
If you could fix longstanding problems with this country's immigration system tomorrow, what would you do? What is your position on the future of DACA and the Dreamers?
The tenets of the DACA executive order should be codified into law ASAP. Dreamers should get legal status with a path to citizenship. If the president insists on funding for a border wall, fine. Do it. DACA is that important. We will never actually build a substantial border wall, anyway. We need border control but a very extensive border wall is a terrible project simply from a cost/benefit viewpoint.
The most important step to addressing illegal immigration is to establish a visa system that works. Certain U.S. industries are dependent on immigrant and migrant labor. They use many undocumented workers because the current system is so nonresponsive and hard to use. Fixing the visa system will go a long way to solving some border problems. We need border control to combat drug and human trafficking and terrorists. Relatedly, I support moving the administration of agricultural worker visas from the Labor Department to the USDA. Apparently, Labor will never understand how critical ag worker visas are.
Of course, the tough decision here is to determine what to do with undocumented residents and workers now in the country. President Trump had said last winter that we would just be deporting the "bad hombres". It was not long before anyone without good documents was being swept up, detained, and deported. (A private company has been contracted to build and operate five detention centers across the country. The one I know about is in northern Indiana.) I support a path to legal status for those in the country with employment and no criminal record. I do not support a path to citizenship ahead of people who are going through the very long legal process.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program represents a direct threat to the security of the United States and its Pacific allies. How should the U.S. confront or contain Kim Jong Un's regime?
In the near term North Korea is not a problem to be solved. It is a regime to be deterred. This is not a country that is a threat to invade its neighbors. It is not even clear that it wants to, or would be able to, invade South Korea. That was Kim Il Sung's aim in 1950. This is not 1950. North Korea is an impoverished country. South Korea is the world's 11th largest economy.
The Kim regime does want to remain in power at all costs. They have seen what can happen to countries who abandon nuclear weapons (Iraq, Libya, Ukraine) China's freeze/freeze option is a viable first step — North Korea verifiably freezes nuclear development. The U.S. stops joint military exercises with the South. Then we talk. We should be talking now. This is nuts not to be talking even informally. We apparently barely have a skeleton diplomatic team in place to direct this.
The most optimistic end goal would be we talk for 10 or 15 years while North Korea gradually dismantles its nuclear weapons and the U.S gradually leaves the peninsula. The world needs to make clear that they want a prosperous North Korea integrated with the worldwide family of nations.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
Our priorities are supporting certain forces (not any opposing force) that oppose ISIS. It is important to push for fair treatment of Sunni populations that may desperately turn to ISIS if they badly oppressed. At home I support the Patriot Act, and surveillance approved by FISA courts. Another attack will mean another war.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
We should if there are no violations by Iran. Fewer sanctions at the moment gives the regime one less excuse for economic problems.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
We should be encouraging talks with the Taliban.
Do you support a unified, federal background check system for gun sales? Do you support magazine limits or a ban on certain rifles? Describe, briefly, your position on how to balance safety with the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court has affirmed that the 2nd amendment confers a right for citizens to possess guns. Most people agree that is not an absolute right. Most people agree we don't want unstable or people with violent backgrounds to have guns. Until someone comes up with a better way than background checks to achieve that, we need background checks. I support no exceptions for background checks except for exchanges between family members.
Everyone draws a line somewhere as to what weapons a person should have access to. No one should accept people parking a tank in the driveway or hanging grenade launchers in the garage. So where is that line? I don't support people having access to highly lethal guns. The metrics for that determination comes down to firing capacity and caliber. Something that is arguably a military type weapon, I do not support. That said, this is a very, very technical matter when you try to nail it down.
The fact that we did nothing with gun control after the Newtown shootings speaks volumes about the politics involved in this. I suggest we do something we can agree on like ending the prohibition on the CDC collecting and maintaining data on gun violence so that we can at least have an informed discussion about the issue.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
I would support a revenue neutral carbon tax.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
I am an avid tree planter.
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.