Iowa Press Debates: Second Congressional District

Oct 14, 2016  | 59 min  | Ep 401 | Podcast | Transcript


Ten. Going for twelve. Democrat David Loebsack now completing ten years in Congress, campaigning for a dozen. Republican Christopher Peters also wants the seat representing Iowa's Second Congressional District. During the next hour, Loebsack and Peters side-by-side in a special debate edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is a special edition of Iowa Press, the Second Congressional District Debate. From Iowa PBS's Maytag Auditorium in Johnston, Iowa here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Iowa's Second Congressional District, 24 counties, more than a half million residents across the southeast quarter of Iowa, including cities that normally don't consider themselves in southeast Iowa, Newton, Pella and Chariton, for example, joining Clinton, Davenport, Muscatine and Keokuk. But even with that geographic diversity, two Johnson County neighbors are seeking to represent the second district in Congress. Democrat Dave Loebsack, the 63 year old incumbent lives in Iowa City. 56 year old Christopher Peters, a Coralville surgeon, spent nine years in the Army Medical Corp and six years ago he ran unsuccessfully for the Iowa Senate. Congressman Loebsack, Dr. Peters, welcome to Iowa Press and this special edition.

Thank you.

Thanks, Dean.

Borg: I call you neighbors and if you consider the entire geographic spread of the second district you are really neighbors, but you don't live next door to each other.

Peters: No, no I was going to plan on renting a place real close to him now that I know where he's at though.

Borg: We'll see if you're that well acquainted after we finish today.

Loebsack: So far so good.

Borg: I must say this is an Iowa Press special election edition and we have an audience here in Iowa PBS's Maytag Auditorium but they're watching and listening and not cheering or otherwise distracting from our discussion. And we've also expanded this program to 60 minutes in an effort to accommodate additional issues and questions. Across the Iowa Press table today, Lee Newspapers Capitol Bureau Chief Erin Murphy and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, flooding has been an issue in the district you hope to represent. What role, if any, should the federal government play in flood mitigation and prevention?

Peters: I think ultimately what I would like to see if I had control over doing this is more of tax dollars staying in the state so the state can deal with those issues regarding flood mitigation as they need to based upon local knowledge and expertise. I think one of the problems we saw with the recent flooding in Cedar Rapids, at least that I heard a lot of complaints from business owners there, is that they expected a lot more mitigation would have been in place already and that it was held up by the federal government in efforts to get money back to Iowa. So I think it's something that needs to be addressed, but I think one of the fundamental problems we seem to be facing whether it's infrastructure, flood mitigation, etcetera is trying to get money back from D.C. rather than keep it in the state to begin with.

Henderson: So you envision some sort of block grant program?

Peters: I think yes, I think that would be one way of looking at it. But again, it's just more a matter of trying to -- I think ultimately we're going to have to move away from sending so much of our tax dollars to D.C. in the first place and then hoping, bargaining, begging to get the money back when we need infrastructure projects, flood mitigation, etcetera. So I think we need to ultimately drastically change the way we are doing business and allow states to have more power and authority over the things that occur in their borders. I think we have become too reliant on the federal government to be able to be a grand overseer of all of our needs.

Henderson: So under the current program, if you qualify as a federal disaster area for public infrastructure the federal government pays 75% and the state 25%, state and local. You think that is the wrong formula?

Peters: Well, no, I'm not saying the formula is wrong. I think that ultimately at some point what I would like to see is where we don't have the federal government having that 75% to begin with, that is in our state that we can deal with. I think when you have a large disaster that is hard to anticipate then the federal government can have a role to play. But I think too often we are expecting the federal government is going to be a partner in things we should be taking care of on a regular basis ourselves.

Borg: Where does the money come from if you're going to do it locally? What you're saying is, we don't want money from the federal government, we don't want to send it there and hope we get some back, you're saying, we take care of it ourselves. So then tax municipalities and the state in order to get it, is that right?

Peters: Yeah, I think, again, this would be more of a long-term strategic vision but I think we see this in, I've lived in a number of states now, every state I've lived in people have complained about not being able to get federal money back to do this and that or the other thing. So, on a long-term strategic viewpoint I think I would like to see the federal government be more constrained in its powers and its purview and tax dollars not as much to go to D.C. to begin with. So, fewer federal tax dollars and increase state and municipal tax dollars to deal with problems more at home. It fits in with the broader view of what I think the founders intended which is a federalism where the states and the national government have roughly equal powers but different spheres of influence. So I think that is something we will go to. I don't see that happening in the next two years or anything like that. But, again, in my time on this Earth I've seen this be a recurrent complaint in every state I've lived in from Hawaii to Iowa and I think it's ultimately a vision we're going to have to more towards.

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, do you think that's the appropriate approach?

Loebsack: I don't think it's realistic. I think we've got a system in place now and it would take a major undertaking and major convincing of a lot of folks to change the system as it is now. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad way to go but I think it's probably very impractical. I was in Congress when the great flood of 2008 hit and not only did I help muck out basements and all the rest, it's something I thought I should be doing, but I brought George Bush in, President Bush in so that he could see the damage firsthand so we could make sure we did get the kind of money that we needed from FEMA and from community development block grants, from the Economic Development Administration.

Borg: But it didn't happen, Congressman Loebsack, that's why Cedar Rapids had to build temporary restraining areas this time.

Loebsack: Actually, Dean, it happened up and down the district. It didn't happen yet in the case of Cedar Rapids but it did happen up and down the district. That's why Iowa City, just for example, opened Hancher Auditorium and a number of other buildings are going to be open soon. We were able to get hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government in my congressional district. It was on a bipartisan basis. I led the way as the Congressman from that area. But our Senators also were very helpful in making sure we got those funds. So it did in fact, it was successful. But clearly in the case --

Borg: Answer the question, though, Congressman, Cedar Rapids has been unsuccessful because the Army Corps of Engineers has the project but they haven't allocated the money because of a formula that discriminates against Cedar Rapids.

Loebsack: That's right. And it should be said too that the folks of Cedar Rapids have had a lot of difficulty raising that local money too for the match, as you know. And clearly there's no question in my mind that we've got to prioritize what Cedar Rapids needs because we just saw this most recent flood. I think the Army Corps has it wrong in terms of how they prioritize. The two Senators think so as well. I'm more than happy to continue to work with those folks. Cedar Rapids is no longer my district, as you know, but they need help. Plus that water comes down into my district. It eventually meets up with the Iowa River in Columbus Junction and then empties into the Mississippi. I have more locks and dams on the Mississippi in my congressional district from Clinton to Keokuk than any other part of the Mississippi River. This is absolutely critical. And we can talk a lot about the Army Corps prioritizing projects but we have to talk about the Army Corps in terms of funding for those locks and dams and upgrades as well.

Murphy: Congressman Loebsack, let me move to health care now. Under the Affordable Care Act, rural Iowans are having a difficult time finding affordable policies. Businesses are dealing with the challenges of premium increases. What is the single most important thing that can be done to tweak the health care law to help those people who are dealing with increased costs?

Loebsack: This is something that we've got to definitely look at. I don’t think a lot of people anticipated that some of these premiums would go up to the extent to which they did. I think one of the problems that we've seen with respect to the exchanges is that we just don't have as many folks, especially in the younger age brackets, who are part of the Affordable Care Act and that obviously has had some very negative effects on the premiums. It has been the case for the high deductibles that it's a relatively small percentage of the population but if you're one of those folks that does affect you, there's no question. I think we've got to have more competition, there's no doubt about that. We've got to get more folks into that market as best we can. There are some proposals for that. I'm a little bit concerned about some of those proposals. But clearly that's something we have to do. I have been all along open to changes in the Affordable Care Act. I was one of those on the democratic side that led the way to make sure that our small businesses didn't have to file a 1099 form for every transaction of $600 or more. That was part of the Affordable Care Act and we got that out. I was more than happy and I helped sign on to defining small businesses as not those who have 50 and fewer employees, but 100 or fewer employees so that that 50 to 100 range could be exempt from the mandate, the employer mandate. So clearly there are going to be things that we're going to have to look at. We're going to have to be open-minded about this. But I don't want to kick 20 million people off their health insurance, I don't want to kick young folks off their parents' health insurance and I don't want folks with a pre-existing condition to be denied health insurance going forward. So there are things we can do.

Borg: What is the main thing that needs to be improved or changed in the Affordable Care Act?

Loebsack: I think we definitely need to see more competition when it comes to those folks on the exchange who are offering health care plans. I think that's something we've got to be looking at.

Murphy: You mentioned the young people and that's one of the things that has been a problem, there's not enough of the young, healthy people to even out the risk pool. There has been talk, does the penalty for not participating need to be raised? How do you encourage --

Loebsack: I wouldn't be for that, no I wouldn't be for that.

Murphy: So how do you get a more diverse risk pool to help out?

Loebsack: I think we continue on the education front as best we can. The enrollment period I think we could even extend that more than it is now and clearly getting more folks in there in terms of insurance companies to participate would be the right way to go.

Borg: Dr. Peters, I've heard you say in the past, you are in the health care business, you're a surgeon, I've heard you say in the past not disagreeing with Congressman Loebsack that you need more competition in health care?

Peters: Correct. I think you do. In a broad level you need to talk about what that actually means. I think the problems we're seeing with the Affordable Care Act whether that's a provider like myself or as a patient because we all are at some point, are the problems you get whenever you try and design a plan that is supposed to encompass all needs and have careful little pieces that fit in here and there and we find that people fall out of those paths that are designed. For example, I have a very good friend of mine who is in the insurance, health care insurance broker business, so he mostly sells insurance policies to small businesses and larger businesses, not too much in the individual market, and he tells me that it's a common thing where, and this is why a lot of insurance companies are getting into trouble, especially the ones on the marketplace, is people are putting off having anything done until that enrollment period hits, they sign up, they can't be denied for their pre-existing condition, then they get their procedure done or their condition treated and then they drop their insurance immediately after. So they're getting the benefit of getting that subsidized policy --

Borg: So what needs to be changed?

Peters: So I think we need to stop pretending that we can construct as part of a grand plan some design that is going to work the way we anticipate it to. What I would like to see is to have patient center, market-based health care as kind of my way I phrase it. I think more people need to have a financial interest in their own health dollars. So what I would see is most patients that do not have chronic, serious health conditions I'd like to see them have high deductible plans paired with a health savings account so when they go see a physician or go get their prescriptions filled they're asking the questions about do I really need to do this? Is there a less expensive option? What are the options if I do this? What are the consequences, etcetera? The same way we expect people to make financial decisions all the time reading buying a house or buying a car.

Borg: Can that be done under the existing Obamacare or you scrap Obamacare and start over?

Peters: It can be, we're going to have to change some bits of it. For example, my wife and I and our family have had a high deductible plan that we cannot purchase anymore because of prohibition in the Affordable Care Act. It's not available on the markets anyway. If we were to buy a comparable plan, it's not even really comparable, would be anywhere from five to ten times more expensive in premiums that what we're already paying since our old plan is grandfathered in. So we don't have to dismantle the Affordable Care Act completely or defund it, we can make changes to it.

Murphy: Would you be willing, because one of the things that democrats say is we're willing to tweak the law but we don't find willing partners on the other side of the political aisle, would you be willing to work with democrats to make changes to the Affordable Care Act?

Peters: I'm definitely willing to do so and one of the things that I really like about some of the ideas that we have, and they'll be coming out, if they're not out today they'll be out this weekend, some detail on our plan, is we can do this piecemeal if need be so you can make a high deductible plan available again, you can emphasize health savings accounts, you can do these other pieces. I'm a little concerned that when you try and get everything in one big plan that all these little different interest groups, the pharmaceutical companies would be a really good example with the Affordable Care Act, take their pound of flesh. So I think we can do this, we can do it well and it's going to be a bunch of individual pieces that can be put out separately or we can put them together as part of a broader plan. I'd be happy to work with people that are interested in doing that.

Borg: Congressman Loebsack, let's switch to Social Security. Again, I've heard you say the solution to the dilemma of insolvency in the future of Social Security, that is people now in their 30s and 40s not having anything there once they reach retirement age, you've said, the real solution for improving and saving Social Security is to get more people employed, create more jobs, then you'll have more people paying into the system and that will do it. Isn't that a little bit whistling in the dark because it's not working now?

Loebsack: I do want to take a bit of an exception to how you characterized my answer. I didn't say that was the real solution, I said that was one of the solutions. In fact, that may very well be the beginning of the solution. I'll come back to something else in a second. I think it's really important, as you folks all know, over the last several years and really beginning with George W. Bush, when he came out of that election in 2004 and thought he had a mandate he talked about privatization of Social Security. That will is for the most part the primary option out there, alternative out there for a lot of folks, when they argue that's how we're going to save Social Security in the long-term. I don't think that's how we're going to do it because privatization just turns it over to the market and that's the last thing we should do with the Social Security trust fund. And I think generally speaking the American people believe that to be the case too. Or raising the retirement age. I'm not for that. We do actually have to do better by our seniors because we've got a pretty archaic law right now that prevents --

Borg: Right, that's a given, Congressman. How do you get there?

Loebsack: Right, as I was going to say, the other thing I want folks to keep in mind is that Social Security is very personal to me because when my dad died I was able to get Social Security survivor benefits to get me through Iowa State University and when we moved in with my grandmother in the fourth grade we could not have made it had it not been for that Social Security, those benefits she was receiving. Look, I'm very open to doing something about the cap. Right now the cap is at about $118,000.

Borg: That's how much I as a wage earner pay in.

Loebsack: The Social Security tax that you pay, if you earn more than $118,000, at $118,000, $118,500 this year, you don't pay any more into it. I think it makes sense at least to restart that again at $250,000. I think that's something that we need to consider. Whether that would deal with all of the solvency problems down the road remains to be seen. We'd have to look and see if that's the case.

Borg: I'm going to switch over to Dr. Peters as we move along here. Dr. Peters, will that be successful, what we hear here from Congressman Loebsack, because I have heard you in the past say we need to raise the retirement age, we do means testing which means more wealthy people don't even draw Social Security? Am I correctly stating your views?

Peters: Well not quite correctly stating Congressman Loebsack's views, at least from earlier this week, because I remember I was the one that mentioned the cap and not him raising the cap on taxable revenue. So I'm glad he's getting on board with that maybe, that's wonderful. I think that you have to look at this as a math problem. Social Security for the most part has been a pay as you go system, not a savings program. So current workers are paying for current retirees, they're not putting money aside for themselves for the future, which is why privatization you could do that but it would be a drastic change in how you do it, you'd have a mandatory savings account where you are putting money aside for future you. But that's not how we do it right now. Social Security has always been designed that you're working to pay for somebody's current retirement. And with the decline in fertility rates, birth rates, decline in immigration and increased longevity, our population, our demographics are aging. So in 1960, the year I was born, one retiree was supported by five current workers, now that ratio is down to three. So three workers are having to do much more and in another 16 years it's going to be --

Borg: We know the problem. How do you get to the --

Peters: I think the solution or one of the solutions is if we're going to continue with Social Security as planned and not make some more drastic change is to raise or eliminate the cap on taxable rates, so again as I mentioned earlier $118,500 you're taxed at a given rate for Social Security and above that level you're not taxed at all. Taxes for Medicare, for example, have no cap so I'm not sure why we have this artificial limit of $118,500 for Social Security, but raising that would be the single biggest thing we could do to improve solvency.

Borg: Let me just -- Congressman?

Loebsack: I just want to say that I'm glad that we have this format the way we do because we actually can talk about what we plan to do and what we hope to do and the previous format we were in I was not able obviously to get to the full answer, if you will, in terms of how we pay for things and I'm on record of having said for quite some time I'm more than open to raising the cap on Social Security to make sure that we can pay for it long-term. And so I'm very happy that --

Peters: And that's a fair point. We had one minute answers earlier in the week and if you're on record as saying that --

Borg: Dr. Peters, go ahead with your solution then. You'd raise the cap and the Congressman agrees with you there.

Peters: So that's something that is going to affect current workers. Now it's going to affect mostly current workers who are making more than $118,500.

Borg: What about the means testing?

Peters: I think again, I think it's a balance. And so there's got to be some give and take, so something that the current workers are going to give up, which is some more taxes, and something that current retirees, some of them, may have to give up. So means testing means if you have adequate retirement you shouldn't take Social Security. Again, that money has not been saved for you, it has been already spent. So Social Security was never really designed to be a full retirement, it was supposed to be a stop gap in case people didn't have enough money --

Borg: Let me sum up just very quickly. You're for raising the amount that I as a wage earner pay in each year. You're for if I'm wealthy at the time I retire I don't draw anything at all.

Peters: Or be on a kind of a sliding scale if you’re above a certain level or be available for you if you had an economic catastrophe and later needed it.

Loebsack: If I could, I think this is a bigger problem too. It's a couple different things, it's about making sure that our seniors don't fall into poverty when they're elderly and that’s a big part of what Social Security helps. But it's beyond that, it's about making sure that folks take responsibility for themselves. And I'm all for making sure that folks have incentives out there to do more to supplement their Social Security too because it's very difficult to get by on just Social Security alone.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, you have said that the federal government’s subsidies for agriculture and energy need to be done away with. Does that mean an end to crop insurance subsidies and an end to the Renewable Fuel Standard?

Peters: I am concerned any time the government is involved in economic matters in any sector, energy or health care, for example. So things like subsidies or mandates or tariffs, etcetera, always distort the marketplace and they are always going to benefit a select few at the expense of many, what is called concentrated cost and dispersed benefits. Those types of arrangements ultimately are unsustainable, they will change in time, it's just a matter of how long. So I would like to see those, in my ideal world, again, rolled back. In the energy sector specifically, however, anything that is going to be done has to be done so it doesn't affect Iowa farmers, for example, or distillers disproportionally to other actors in the energy sector and it would have to be done so gradually over time to minimize that disruption.

Henderson: So, for instance, if you're a member of Congress, will you vote to extend the Renewable Fuel Standard?

Peters: It would depend entirely on what's on the table. If there is a comprehensive energy bill that is looking to remove subsidies and influence in all energy sectors equally over a gradual enough period of time I could support it. But if it was something that was targeted just for Iowa I would not support it.

Henderson: There is discussion that the next Farm Bill rewrite will start early. Would you vote to end crop insurance subsidies to farmers?

Peters: Again, it's also going to depend upon the content of the bill. I would like to see, again, the farmers I have talked to in the district I should say, most of them have said we would be happy getting rid of the subsidized crop insurance if we could just get rid of some of the regulations that inhibit our business as well. So I think it's something that is really going to have to be looked at. According to the farmers I've talked to they would be okay with that if we can get some relief on like Waters of the U.S. and Diesel Fuel Emissions standards, etcetera. So it's going to depend on the content of the bill.

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, would you vote to continue farm subsidies? And if so, how do you convince urban legislators to join you?

Loebsack: That's a great question. That's why we have to keep the Farm Bill and food stamps, if you will, together. Politically that's very, very important to do that. And farmers who understand what it's going to take to get another Farm Bill through in 2017 understand that we've got to pair those two together. Look, I've never talked to a farmer, and we clearly talk to different farmers, but I've never talked to a farmer who thinks it's a good idea to get rid of crop insurance. We got rid of direct payments and we placed direct payments with crop insurance. That's the backstop, that's the safety net for our farmers here in Iowa and across the country. It's absolutely critical. There are attempts either way at it, there are attempts to get rid of it and the farmers I talk to are dead set against doing that. That has to be part of the 2017 Farm Bill. Those discussions are ongoing as we speak. Already, prior to any formal discussions that are going to take place soon in the agriculture committee, they're very worried, farmers are, that that's going to be taken away, that would be very difficult for them. The Renewable Fuel Standard, essentially what that did is it created a market for biofuels, it created a market for ethanol and for biodiesel and unfortunately in the past several years the EPA has not lived up to the statutory limits or the statutory volumes that the Renewable Fuel Standard sets for actually mandating that we have a certain number, billions of gallons of ethanol and biodiesel sold. And so I have been fighting that fight, along with others on a bipartisan basis, to get the EPA to make sure that they set those volumes at what the statutory levels are. This is very difficult.

Borg: The volumes you're talking about here is the amount of ethanol that overall needs to be blended into regular gasoline.

Loebsack: And biodiesel as well. And it can be first generation ethanol, corn ethanol, it can be second generation as well.

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, another democratic candidate for the Congress, Kim Weaver, was on this program a few weeks ago saying that Iowa farmers need to concede that it's time for federal intervention and regulation regarding Waters of the U.S. and Clean Water in addition to that how much farm chemicals can be applied to cropland. Do you agree with her?

Loebsack: If I could though just for a second too I want to mention the production tax credit because you brought that up in terms of energy. That has created thousands of jobs here in the wind energy industry here in Iowa. And we're going to maybe by the end of the year get 40% of our electricity in Iowa from wind energy. We have set an example for the rest of the country. I'm very proud of the fact that I helped extend the production tax credit for five years and the investment tax credit too. When it comes to waters, that all derives from the Clean Water Act from the 1970s. We have to make sure that whatever we do that farmers are not overly burdened. They're very concerned about the EPA and about the DNR here in the state coming in and regulating all these bodies of water right up to their house and I've listened to those folks and that's why I voted initially the way I did, to send that Waters of the U.S. regulation back to the EPA so that the stakeholders could participate in the process and I think that happened. Now we're still in a position where the courts are involved, where we've got really a lot of folks who are in a big state of uncertainty, we've got the Clean Water Act in place but we have to make sure that we do it so that we take in account local agriculture. So it's more than has been the case in the past.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, you brought up the Waters of the U.S. rule. What are your thoughts?

Peters: I did. I want to go to a couple of things. Number one, I didn't say we should get rid of crop insurance. I think crop insurance generally is a wonderful thing. I think that ultimately we would want to phase out subsidization of same. And I think this is a really neat example, interesting example of how you can see the unintended side effects of a program such as whether it's direct payments for farmers or subsidized crop insurance. Farmers have more of an incentive to plant, for example, more marginal land or to apply more fertilizer than they might need be knowing that there is a backstop in case the crop prices are lower than normal and that result is, again, more nitrogenous waste in our water. So it kind of directly impacts one another. It also provides an incentive to farmers to have a less diversified exposure in their fields. So generations ago, I know from my father-in-law who is in the audience, that farmers more often have had more interest than just corn and soybeans. They had, he raised pigs, for example, once upon a time where there was produce, etcetera. So we have, by our government machinations, kind of created the system that we have here and at this point we have inherited it and we can't ever really imagine being anywhere different from it.

Borg: Dr. Peters, what does that, according to Kay's question, how is what you're saying right now relevant to the current Farm Bill?

Peters: Well, I think it's a good example why we might want to reconsider whether we just want to continue with the status quo. I think that there are people like, and this applies to a lot of people in Congress, not just Representative Loebsack, who are big planner people, they can imagine, they can design a system. I'm very much a market guy.

Borg: Let me get a quick answer from you because we have to move on to other topics. Transpacific program, the trade program, TPP, yes the partnership, are you in favor?

Peters: I have not read the whole bill. It's immensely long. I am for free trade. There's things entirely for free trade. There are some reviews that I've read that have concerned me about TPP and that mostly has to do with extending U.S. intellectual property rights or other types of things to affect the sovereign laws of other countries. But generally speaking free trade is good.

Loebsack: I made it very clear to folks who have come in to see me on all sides of this issue that as it stands now I would vote against it.

Borg: You would vote against it. Erin?

Murphy: Dr. Peters, the federal government is saying there's increasing evidence that the Russians are behind cyber-attacks on hacking into U.S. political parties, election systems in Florida. If the evidence becomes refutable, what action should the U.S. take against Russia?

Loebsack: I think we should just, beyond just making sure our cyber defenses are as tough as they can be and try and forge as many attacks as we can, we're in a very dangerous place worldwide right now. We're poised to get into a proxy war with Russia over Syria. I don't think we want to be dialing up that rhetoric any more than some people already are. So yeah, I think Russia what it has been doing is concerning regarding numerous cyber-attacks, not just the DNC emails, but multiple other ones. I think making sure our defenses are as good as they can be. But that's where we need to be, where we need to go right now and we need to step away from Syria I think. I'm really worried about the movements there and actual physical conflict.

Murphy: We're going to get to more on that. Congressman Loebsack, is there a danger that the results of this election could get called into question by the voters if this continues? And what do you think?

Loebsack: Yeah, no I think there is a danger as a matter of fact and I think the Obama administration has been pretty forthright in terms of the intelligence agencies arguing that in all likelihood the Russians were behind the hacking of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, for example. I don't think there's any question that they've been involved in the cyber security attacks that we've seen.

Murphy: So how should the U.S. respond to that?

Loebsack: It's a very difficult relationship. Obviously we've got to do everything we can in multinational bodies, we've got to do everything we can bilaterally not only to make sure that they know that we're not happy with this but we have to continue to counter then in various parts of the world --

Borg: Respond in kind?

Loebsack: Well, that's a great question because I think there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to nation states and dealing with each other. I think that the Obama administration has made it clear that it's willing to respond in kind when it comes to cyber security.

Borg: Kay, Syria was brought up.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, Syria has devolved, thousands have died. Should the U.S. have intervened earlier in this conflict?

Peters: I don't think so. I think it's a complex issue, it's an emotional issue. It's impossible I think for any American to see the pictures coming from Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria and not be heartbroken of what's going on there. But my short answer is no.

Henderson: So you would not vote to send ground troops?

Peters: I would not.

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, you've taken heat for your approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Explain that vote.

Loebsack: Great. That was the vote to essentially add one more layer of security to the already onerous process in terms of when refugees want to come in from Syria and Iraq. But the American people want to make sure that they're secure and as a member of Congress it's my job I believe to make sure that we are protected from all enemies both foreign and abroad. Now a couple of things, first of all, the administration never made its case sufficiently to me or any number of other folks that somehow by adding another layer of security that that would delay the process interminably. That's not the case. It would have delayed the process but not significantly. If I believe at the time, and I still believe that if we didn't add that layer of security that the very program itself would be jeopardized because if someone gets through that's going to jeopardize that program more than delaying folks coming in. And look, I think we are a welcoming nation. I think we should welcome these refugees. But we have to do it so that Americans are secure.

Henderson: Would you vote to send ground troops to Syria?

Loebsack: No, not today I wouldn't. What I think the President has to do, and he has done this, but he has only done it in kind of a preliminary fashion is come to the Congress with an authorization for the use of military force. He has done that, but this is only a draft. It's not the full thing. And basically Congress has to have the conversation. We have not had that. The leadership in the two houses have not allowed those drafts to come up, that draft to come up for a conversation.

Borg: What did you think when you heard Dr. Peters say get out of Syria? Am I quoting you correctly, Dr. Peters?

Peters: Well, we're not really in Syria to any great degree now anyway.

Borg: But what I heard you say was even to the extent that we are right now in the bombing and otherwise?

Peters: I think there's no good that can come of that.

Borg: Do you agree?

Loebsack: I think what we have are a lot of different interests at stake that affect us in Syria and in the region and clearly the administration has a strategy and it's a limited strategy, it does involve air strikes, it does involve folks on the ground who are training the troops on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. I think we have to be very careful that we not get any further involved in that sense.

Peters: I think we should learn lessons from all of our past escapades abroad from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and now dealing with Syria. We haven't established any functioning democracies in any of these countries and we have left voids of leadership. It's not that a democracy cannot flourish in the Middle East but it has to develop on its own internally, it has got to evolve from the bottom up. We cannot export it and drop it from a Blackhawk helicopter.

Loebsack: I don't think anybody is arguing that. I'm certainly not arguing that and I've never argued that. But the fact of the matter is ISIS is there and they are a threat to the United States, we know that. Now, how far we go, what that balance is, is the question. But clearly there are threats there that we have to take into account that the American people know are there, they do know that those threats are there. So we have to deal with those threats. We can't simply retreat to our borders and hope for the best. And I know that's not what folks are necessarily arguing for but we have to make sure that we recognize that those threats are there. That doesn't mean go off on some kind of escapade as we did in Iraq and other places in the past. I've been to Iraq a number of times, I've been to Afghanistan a number of times. I've never been in favor of nation building. But I am in favor of protecting the American people.

Peters: There aren't many American people over there though.

Murphy: When our troops come home we have a Veterans Administration system that is having some issues, not as much in Iowa maybe as other areas. There is a VA Hospital in Iowa's second congressional district. Is it time to let, Congressman Loebsack, let these veterans get health care, pay for their health care in other hospitals?

Loebsack: No, it's not time to privatize the VA system, it's not a good plan, the medical system. In fact, all the veteran service organizations are opposed to that. That's almost an ideologically driven approach from what I can tell. There are many procedures and many things that are done in a veterans hospital that are not necessarily done in the private sector. It's not to say the private sector can't do that some time down the road. But the veterans who go to the VA medical facility in Iowa City or one of the community based outpatient clinics in our district or the VA hospital here in Des Moines, they will tell you that there are some things that they're more than happy to have done at Mercy Hospital or whatever the case may be. But they want to continue to go to the VA medical center. That's where they feel comfortable, that's where they get great care. It doesn't mean that we can't do routine physicals or blood draws or whatever in a private sector and there already is in place a law that if you're 40 miles away from a VA center, more than 40 miles away, that you can access the private sector. But I don't want to turn it over to the private sector.

Murphy: Dr. Peters, how do you feel about this?

Peters: Interestingly there was a nurse coordinator for exactly that program from the Iowa City VA at a fundraiser event I was at last night and we spoke quite a bit and he talked about how it's a very difficult process, very time consuming to get these things set up through, I can't remember the name of the insurer they use --

Borg: Out in the community?

Peters: Out in the community. So he works with HealthNet I think is what it's called maybe to set up these appointments and make sure it all gets covered and he would like to see that process streamlined. He is also, like I am, a veteran and we both share the vision I think people need to get more of their care in their communities and not less.

Borg: So would you close the VA hospitals?

Peters: No. And I was going to go on the other thing he had and I love this vision, he said, I think we should look at the VA systems as becoming specialized for certain things that soldiers, are going to be common for returning veterans and these can include basically physical and mental impairments related to war. So having specialization in PTSD and depression and prosthetics for amputees, etcetera and having those be the center of excellence, the veterans hospitals be a center of excellence for those kind of problems. They could also be utilized by the civilian sector as well and allowing more the care that is not specific to a veteran be done in the communities.

Borg: Just to summarize then, you are saying that you would somewhat change the current VA health system, yes?

Peters: I would like it changed. I have worked in multiple VA's throughout my training and some are better than others but there's always problems with long, long wait times and unequal care.

Borg: Kay?

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, the candidate you endorsed, Hillary Clinton, has called for raising estate taxes and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. As a member of Congress, is that something you would vote to do?

Loebsack: I do think that the wealthy have to pay their fair share, there's no question about that, and that hasn't been the case up to this point. And we're going to be clearly I think we're going to have to invest more in education. I think we're going to have to invest more in infrastructure. I think that's the way to go to keep this economy moving and deepen the recovery. And we're going to have to find funding for it. And I think the wealthy have to pay their fair share.

Henderson: What abbot the estate tax?

Loebsack: That's interesting. When I first came to Congress I didn't know much about the estate tax. The way I grew up in Sioux City, I grew up in poverty, many of you know that, my mom was a single parent with four kids and struggled with mental illness. I didn't know anything about the estate tax and as far as I was concerned it wasn't a big issue. But then I started talking to folks, small business owners and farmers and a lot of other folks who I would see in my district or they would come visit me in Washington and I think we have done the right thing by lowering it, by raising also the cap on the value of the estates subject to the estate tax. It has gone from I think about $1 million or $1.5 million to about $10 million for couples. I think that was the right thing to do. It's going to be a harder one for me to deal with, let's put it that way.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, you have called for lowering the payroll tax. Wouldn't that increase the solvency problems for government --

Peters: I'm sorry, what payroll tax did you say I called for lowering?

Henderson: The payroll tax that you pay, you have in general called for lowering federal taxes and the payroll tax, have you not?

Peters: I don't recall it, no.

Henderson: Okay. I read it in the Quad City Times. I'll have to --

Peters: It's not like the media --

Henderson: So what would you like to lower in terms of taxes?

Peters: I would like to see corporate taxes reduced --

Henderson: But not individual taxes?

Peters: Not individual taxes. I think we could look at making taxes fairer and more transparent potentially. I do want to see -- I don't want to see any reduction, net reduction in revenue, tax revenue until we're seeing some sizable reduction in our debt. So any changes in one area need to be offset with a change in other areas. For example, I'd like to see the corporate tax rate reduced to keep more in keeping with other developing countries, say in Europe.

Henderson: So 15%, 10%?

Peters: Yeah, 15%, 22% is kind of the OECD average right now and our top marginal is 35%. So somewhere down in that range that would be one incentive for companies to remain in our borders or bring jobs back to our borders. It's not going to solve all of that kind of problem but it would be one. And offset that, for example, with treating capital gains as regular income and getting rid of carried interest deductions and other things. So I'd like to see our tax policy be revenue neutral until we're seeing some significant and sustainable debt reduction.

Murphy: Dr. Peters, and you can correct me if I'm wrong on this, but you have said you supported the immigration reform bill that the Senate worked on in 2013. Is that accurate? And does that mean you support immigration reform that includes a pathway for those here undocumented to earn a path to legal status or citizenship?

Peters: I have not read all the particulars of that bill but from what I understand of it yes I supported it. I was hopeful that they were on track to do something that was meaningful and was sad to see that didn't go forward in the house and then very disheartened when that became such a big issue in the presidential campaign this year. So yes I would support, I would like to see some comprehensive immigration reform. Whatever issue you're looking at --

Murphy: All the way to a pathway to citizenship?

Peters: Some pathway to status or permanent status where people can expect what's going to happen to them. Yes.

Murphy: Congressman Loebsack, this is, as Dr. Peters mentioned, this has become a very political issue. What can you tell us that would give voters any confidence that something meaningful can be accomplished on immigration reform?

Loebsack: You're asking me to solve all the problems of congressional dysfunction right now and tell you how we get past that. Look, I think whatever we do on immigration reform it's got to be right for American workers, it's got to be right for our country, there's no question about that. And we do have to enforce the laws, there's no question about that. What was passed a few years back in the Senate I tried to do my best to get it brought to a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representative and John Boehner simply refused to put it on the floor. I was convinced at the time that it had a pretty good chance of getting passed and signed into law. Now we are where we are. We've got to make sure that we crack down on employers also, that's got to be a part of it. If they knowingly hire illegal immigrants we do have to give them the tools. I voted for e-verification a number of times, for example. We have to give them the tools so that they're not going to go out there and hire folks who are not legal to be hired. And so clearly those are some of the elements that we have to make sure are in any kind of immigration reform.

Henderson: The Democratic Party platform calls for repealing the so-called Hyde Amendment which forbids essentially federal spending on abortions except in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Would you vote to repeal or retain the Hyde Amendment?

Loebsack: I think we've got to have Roe vs. Wade in place. That is what drives me when it comes to any issues that we're talking about with respect to abortion rights and women actually having control over their health care decisions. The problem that we have now is we've got a lot of folks in control of legislatures and governorships around the country who have tried to restrict those rights, gone so far as you know to argue, for example, that women ought to have sonograms if they're pregnant. I think it's just amazing how far these folks have gone. We've got to fight back on any of those kinds of attempts to restrict a woman's right to make her health care choices.

Henderson: So you would repeal the Hyde Amendment?

Loebsack: I think I would, yes.

Henderson: Dr. Peters?

Peters: I am for it. I think there’s a large fraction of Iowans and Americans generally who feel that abortion is an immoral decision, an immoral act. As a medical person, I realize that abortion is not something that you want to have an outright ban on. There are medical indications where sometimes it's necessary to have. But at the same time I think it's morally wrong to expect that people who believe a thing is morally wrong they have to pay for it. So I am for removing taxpayer funding for abortions.

Borg: I'm going to move right along here to the Patriot Act. Dr. Peters, would you vote to reauthorize that? There are people who are concerned about security as it relates to how much personal privacy do we give up.

Peters: So the unpatriotic act, you can get my answer, I would vote to repeal it.

Loebsack: We've got to have changes. We have had changes. For example, the bulk collection of metadata, I voted to make sure that didn't happen any longer. I am confident that while it does take a lot of thought, take a lot of effort we can find a proper balance, we can have security and we can have privacy at the same time.

Murphy: Dr. Peters, I wanted to ask you if there is any gun control laws or gun laws in general that you could support changing gun regulations in this country?

Peters: I think where we're at is probably where we need to be for now. I would like to see the ability for, I'm trying to say who is going to do the evaluation, CDC maybe evaluation of causes of gun violence. I would like to see emphasizing gun safety. I'm a gun owner. We have guns in our home. They're of course all properly secured. I don't really see the likelihood that any ban is going to be effective. And I think there's a lot of people that would want a gun ban that are under the misconception that automatic weapons are widely available, they're not, these are semi-automatic rifles.

Murphy: And I'm sorry, did you say would you be okay with a CDC study of gun violence?

Peters: I would be, yeah, I would be. I think it's important to realize here that although the amount of gun ownership has increased, the actual amount, the frequency of gun violence and gun death, homicides due to guns has dropped markedly since the mid-1990s and as much as people are afraid of mass shootings, I get that, it scares me too, but most gun violence is handguns in our urban areas.

Murphy: Congressman Loebsack, absence any changes in Congress in gun control would you be okay with the next president using executive authority to address gun control?

Loebsack: I want to make sure that Congress has the first say in this and that is why I participated in the process on the floor there when we were not getting votes even to the floor to expand background checks, something that 90% of the American people want, a majority of gun owners want. Look, we can talk all we want about terrorism and security, it makes no sense to allow a terrorist to buy a gun. So I think the legislation that was not brought to the floor, no fly no buy, makes eminent sense. I'm all for that legislation. We have to keep guns, weapons out of the hands of the bad guys who want to do us harm.

Peters: But if people are a terrorist, why are they out on the streets at all, if we know them to be terrorists? There's something we have called due process, the idea of putting people on a no fly list where they can't fly and they don't even know they're on the list and they can't really know how to get off the list, that's unconstitutional to begin with. And then to add a second violation to the constitutional rights of Second Amendment onto that I think is completely indefensible.

Borg: Congressman Loebsack?

Loebsack: Yeah, look, the bill that I'm talking about, there were concerns that I had that I expressed publicly about due process. But the problem was that the republican leadership was not even allowing a vote on the floor of the House on that particular bill. We can have our conversations about how to fix that bill but we've got to make sure that we keep those guns out of the hands of those terrorists or potential terrorists in the first place.

Peters: So we've got to pass the bill and then fix it?

Loebsack: We at least have to allow a vote which the republican leadership refused to do.

Peters: I think they were right in doing so.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, would you vote to amend the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget?

Peters: Yes I would.

Henderson: Why?

Peters: Because I think we have shown we're not very capable of doing it on our own. So I think some external constraint is going to be useful. So yes I would.

Henderson: Congressman?

Loebsack: It would be very difficult for me to do that mainly because the legislation, mainly because the legislation is brought forward really puts folks in a straight jacket when it comes to making the hard decisions. It's really up to Congress to make these decisions and the President. That's why the process that we have called regular order, it has been so difficult, we haven't really been through that for the past several years if not two decades and Congress has to make the hard decisions, not just have some kind of easy way to go about this, but has to make the hard decisions and that's why I have a lot of concerns about that.

Borg: Dr. Peters, in the current campaign a lot of discussion about financial reform and it comes down to breaking up the big banks that are too big to fail. Would you favor that?

Peters: I would potentially favor that because I think there is a problem. I think we are poised with a high likelihood to have another severe financial crisis within the next two to five years. I think we have done no fundamental reforms to our financial system since the last time, since 2008.

Borg: How should that be done?

Peters: I think there are a few things that are really fundamental. I think it's important to look at incentives. I'm less interested in trying to give people rules they have got to obey rather than making sure that they want to obey those rules even not knowing them. So, for example, if financial institutions didn't expect that they were going to get bailed out in the future they have an incentive to invest more wisely. If they have a larger financial stake in their own companies, so they have their own personal equity in it, they've got skin in the game, they are again more likely to behave more wisely in their investments. I think that is far more important than things that happened with the Dodd Frank Act which tried to direct their behavior afterwards. Let's make sure that they have an incentive to behave wisely to begin with rather than telling what their behavior should be.

Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, supporters of Senator Sanders are very upset that big banks were not held to account by the Obama administration. What do you say to them who point to the Dodd Frank Act and say clearly it's not working?

Loebsack: Actually I understand their concerns because a lot of these banks, some of them are bigger than they were before. But there are provisions in Dodd Frank that would allow for breaking up the banks, there are provisions there. Beyond that it is the case now too because of Dodd Frank that banks are much more heavily capitalized than they were before. A big part of what happened that led to this collapse is that banks didn't have a lot of capital backing up the obligations that they had and that was a big part of why we got into this problem in the first place. It goes back to the question of moral hazard saying, basically do whatever you want and you're going to get bailed out. But now, of course, what we have is a situation, it's not perfect, but we have a situation where those banks have been forced to be capitalized so that we can't get into that situation. I'm not saying it's perfect, but at least it is better than it was before. The big problem we have is with the community banks who are being held to the same standards as the big banks and I've done everything I can to make sure that they're exempted from that as they should have been by Dodd Frank.

Murphy: Congressman, this has been an intense campaign season, particularly at the presidential level and there are divides even within each political party, certainly on a larger scale within the country. Regardless of who wins the presidency, who controls Congress, if you're elected after this election what role do you play, what can you do to help unify not only your party but the country as well to move forward?

Loebsack: I think a lot of people are wondering about that because it has been so divisive. What I can point to is my tenure in office working with folks on both sides of the aisle. I just looked recently and of the over 400 bills I believe it is I put my name on, 45% of those bills were offered by a republican in the first place. I work with both sides of the aisle. I got broadband bills passed, I got one bill just passed recently, it's now the law which allows nursing homes to have more available funds of the existing budget in the federal government to upgrade their broadband service. I've worked with republicans in a number of cases. I think that there are a lot of folks in, there are some folks in Washington who would like to work together but it's a problem right now not only in the presidential race but at the leadership level too.

Henderson: Dr. Peters, you announced this week that you will vote for neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. Do you feel comfortable in the Republican Party going forward?

Peters: I do. I certainly have, as you might imagine, gotten some feedback, both positive and negative, on balance it has been about equal. So that has been kind of interesting. Some people have berated me for being treasonous against the party or whatever, a little strong use of that term, but many others have said I was principled and it took guts to do it and all that stuff.

Borg: Would you support Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House?

Peters: Yes.

Borg: And what would you, if you were looking back over the past record of the House of Representatives, what was passed would you have voted against?

Peters: Over how long a period of time do you want me to go back?

Borg: This past session.

Peters: I'd have to think about that a little bit more. I'm sorry, Dean.

Henderson: You raised the balanced budget amendment. Just very quickly, there are republicans who were unhappy with the budget deal that emerged last December. Is that something that you would have opposed?

Peters: Yeah, I think that's something we need to, and Representative Loebsack to his credit mentioned that too, I think we need to change how the budgeting process is done. I think we maybe need to look at budgeting over a two year timeframe so we have a longer time horizon. That is why I think a balanced budget amendment would be something and it's useful to have some structure to say you've got to stay within these confines.

Borg: I have confines too. Thank you, gentlemen, for sharing your insights with us today. And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today for this special edition of Iowa Press.


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