Democratic candidate for U.S. House (14th 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?
In order to start paying off our our national debt we should do what we did after World War II. Over the years the government has excessively cut the taxes on the wealthy to the point where we now have a huge debt to pay off. It is interesting to follow the changes in the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans over the last 100 years.
The top tax bracket was 25% before the Great Depression. Due to the depression and World War II the U.S. ran up a huge debt. By comparison, our debt is now at about 105% of GDP, almost as large as it was after World War II when it was at 119% of GDP.
To pay off this debt, the highest marginal income tax rate was raised in stages up to 94% immediately after WWII and then varied around an average of about 90% between 1946 and about 1964. At that point, it was reduced in stages to the point where President Reagan reduced it to a low point of about 28% in 1988. This was when the debt, which had been reduced from 119% of GDP after WW II to 31% of GDP in 1981, started to increase.
President Clinton increased the tax rate back up to 40% in the 1990's and we had a balanced budget for a short time during his presidency. In 2002 the second President Bush reduced the tax rate to 35%. It was increased back up to 40% in 2013. The debt relative to GDP has been growing since 1981. Our present debt level is almost as large as it was after WW II and we need to follow the example that our government set seventy years ago to start reducing it again.
Unlike trickle-down economics, which does not work as has been proven again recently in Kansas, raising the tax rate on the wealthiest has been shown to have no negative impact the economy. In addition to this, we also need to look into ways of reducing expenditures on a case-by-case basis.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
I don't think that there are any major expenditures or programs that should be outright eliminated. Each program needs to be looked at on an individual basis.
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.
In order to control medical costs, the U.S. needs to combine all health care programs into one providing us with the same great, inexpensive universal coverage health care systems that Canada and the European countries already have.
Based on studies such as that done by the Commonwealth Fund, these countries all have much better systems than we do and pay about half of what we do for healthcare. Their average cost for healthcare per person is about $4,000 to $4,500 per year (2013 data) and ours is about $8,500 per year. This is because their systems are so much more efficient than ours. They are all also universal coverage systems; we are one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have universal coverage healthcare.
It should be noted that the health coverage systems in the countries studied are all run differently, with some being a combination of public-private systems and some being government run or single-payer systems, as is the case in Canada. We would need to determine which one would be the best model for us to use.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information being spread around by people who don't want the change the status quo when it comes to healthcare. We need to do a better job of marketing the real facts about health care systems to the American people, especially those who are still not on-board, to finally get our healthcare situation fixed and allow the U.S. join the rest of the developed world.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
The government needs to make sure that everyone in the country has health insurance and pays as much as they can afford to pay for it to minimize supplemental government funding. This was one of the points behind the ACA.
Overall, polls indicate that 60% of Americans now feel that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for all, and that number is growing.
Everyone needs to have health insurance because no one knows when they will get sick. It should be mandated that everyone obtain health insurance, even the young and healthy. To a certain extent, in the end, we all pay one way or another. The inability to pay medical costs is the biggest reason for person bankruptcies in this country. This is also why we need to go to a more efficient, lower cost healthcare system like they have in Canada and the European countries, as was discussed above.
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?
I am not content with the state of the economy. Our GDP growth has been stuck at around 2.5% since 2010 because the majority of our wealth is concentrated with the very few richest Americans who do not spend a large portion of what they have. Based on history, wealth does not and will not "trickle down".
My primary platform item is bringing prosperity back to our struggling middle class. I will accomplish this by allowing EVERYONE to benefit fairly from our economic system. The basis for accomplishing this is what I call the employee/shareholder balance. CEO's, who work for the shareholders, have been pushing the benefits of our increasing productivity towards the shareholders and away from the employees as both benefits and pensions have been disappearing over the past two decades.
This is leading to a number of major problems:
- Our middle class is struggling as it has not in decades.
- We have a retirement crisis coming up where most people will have to work into old age.
- The shareholders who are benefiting from our increasing productivity represent the very few and about 25% of U.S. stocks are owned by foreigners.
To solve these problems, we need an active, open-minded government to develop policies that are based on facts, economics, and science. We also need to develop a fair tax policy. Finally, we need to strengthen our unions so that they can assist us in pushing the employee/shareholder balance back to where it was when most in our country was prospering.
Regarding retirement, we need to assure the strength of our existing Social Security system into the future. But Social Security is a safety net and not a retirement plan. We need to replace, in some form, the pensions which have all but been eliminated, but which provided a secure retirement for previous generations. We need to develop a new portable, mandatory retirement system which improves on the 401(K) and includes specified employer contributions to supplement Social Security. Right now only about 45% of Americans even have a 401(K).
In addition to this, we need to raise our minimum wage. Between 1970 and 1980, it was equivalent to about $10 per hour, adjusted for inflation to present day dollars. Today's minimum wage provides a standard of living about $8,000 below the poverty line for a family of four. It needs to be increased to $12 per hour. 73% of people on government assistance are working at low paying jobs but cannot make ends meet.
However, raising the minimum wage will, no doubt, increase the rate at which automation is implemented. This is another urgent problem that we need to address. Our government needs to make sure that the benefits of automation, a huge issue on the short-term horizon, are realized throughout our society and not just by the shareholders. Studies indicate that 38% of jobs will be replaced by automation in the next twenty years. It is important to remember that automation is actually a good thing as long as the benefits are fairly distributed. However, this is not now the case, as companies benefit from cheap AI or robot labor and employees get laid off. The Europeans are already looking into how to fairly distribute the benefits of automation; we are not.
I will also fight to provide access to good jobs through better education and vocational training. We have about six million jobs out there waiting to be filled right now. We need to better fund vocational training, especially in fields where there is a shortage of workers.
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?
My parents were immigrants from Europe. We need immigrants to keep our economy growing. And immigrants are responsible for less crime than native-born Americans. We need to develop a structured, organized immigration policy that allows the right people to legally migrate to this country based on the availability of jobs. These immigrants then need to respect and abide by the principles that made this country great. The DACA program must be continued for those already in this country.
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?
We must try to avoid a war on the Korean peninsula because of the deaths that it would cause and the potential for a further escalation with China and Russia. If the U.S. is attacked there is no question that we would respond. But we need to do something. Many people in North Korea are living terrible lives or in labor camps. Given the state of the people in there, I would propose expanding the effort to get the people in North Korea to overthrow their government. Some South Korean groups are already sending in balloons carrying flash drives and CD's with information about the outside world. This should be expanded. We also need to continue the worldwide sanctions against North Korea.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
We need to fight terrorism using all of our intelligence gathering capabilities, we need to fight ISIS in the Middle East, and we need to monitor those with potential mental illness or patterns of hate in this country. But we need to keep things in prospective. The chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are much less than being killed by being struck by lightning. Our present administration has taken extremist views and gone overboard with the things that they are doing, such as travel bans.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
Yes, we should continue to pursue every diplomatic avenue of keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran. This includes keeping the present nuclear agreement.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
We will likely need to keep some U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan for a long time to assist their military in keeping the Taliban in check. We have already paid such a high price for getting that country stabilized as much as it is. We need to do what we can to strengthen the government there so that they can eventually control the country themselves.
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.
Yes, I support a unified, federal background check system for gun sales. In order to balance safety with the Second Amendment, we need to do what is getting to be known as "common sense" gun reform based on what the majority of gun owners support. 85% of gun owners favor universal background checks. Gun owners also overwhelmingly support a federal database of gun sales, and barring people convicted of domestic violence or with mental illness from buying guns.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
We need to regain our leadership position in driving for the quick resolution of climate change. The average CO2 level in the atmosphere are now above 400 ppm, higher than it has been in the last 400,000 years and above normal climate cycles. Indications are that climate change is occurring faster than models are predicting. Luckily, solar power is 75% cheaper now than in 2009 and both solar and wind-produced power is cost competitive with fossil-fuel produced power, and the cost of clean energy is continuing to go down. Because of the dire consequences of global warming, we need to expedite the transition to clean energy.
The best way to do this is to implement a carbon tax, which is a tax placed on fossil fuels based on their carbon content. This accomplishes several objectives: It puts a value on pollution which drives the highest polluters to go to cleaner sources of energy rather than imposing more regulations. It also offers another revenue source for the government. Canada, Australia, Chile, and many of the European countries are implementing such carbon taxes. We are again falling behind the rest of the world because carbon taxes at the federal level are being blocked by Republicans. However, some states are beginning to look into implementing their own programs including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and others. California has had a program in place since 2006, and it works great with 69% of Californians approving of it.
Another issue is that rooftop solar power is taking off around the country, but some power companies are adding fees to home solar customers to limit the use their grid. Here again, we cannot allow anything to stand in the way of a transition to clean power. 64% of Americans are now concerned about global warming and about the same number want to put priority on alternate energy development.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
I am a just-retired chemical engineer. My motivation to run for Congress is that I do not want our children and their generation to grow up in a world where there is no middle class, where the government is broke, and where the environment of the planet is being destroyed. And nothing is getting done!
I feel I have been very fortunate in my life and career. My parents were immigrants from Europe. My father spent his career working on an assembly to provide us with what was a middle-class lifestyle. I had many of the same benefits and opportunities. I cannot say the same for my children and their generation. I plan on changing that.
I will go to Washington to be a citizen legislator which is what the Founding Fathers had envisioned, not to be a career politician. I am not persuaded by ideology or rhetoric. In Congress, I will pursue policies that reflect the will of the people, which also typically aligns with doing things that make sense. And most of all, I will get things done! I will do this by being tough and independent-minded, using data to convince others, reaching across the aisle, and most importantly, by leveraging the power of the people to back me up.
Being a chemical engineer, I will bring a unique prospective to policy-making. Whenever engineers consider an issue, they examine it with an eye towards resolving it. And there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in government! Unfortunately, there are only seven people in Congress right now who identify themselves as engineers.
In May, before I started my campaign, I spent two weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia and Virginia. This was a great experience which reinforced my desire to protect our national parks. It was also refreshing to stop and talk to so many wonderful people along the way.
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.
I am not an incumbent.