Conversation With Pete Buttigieg

Iowa Press | Episode
Jan 18, 2020 | 57 min

Iowa PBS Presents Conversations With Presidential Candidates Hosted by DMACC centers on the candidates’ platforms, concerns and future plans for our state and our nation. Each forum features a single candidate in one-on-one conversation with David Yepsen, who engages in an unbiased and impartial discussion on the economic future of the country, followed by questions from the audience.


IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC has been funded by Goldman Sachs, which is delivering its 10,000 Small Businesses program in Iowa to help entrepreneurs across the state create jobs and economic opportunity. Additional funding has been provided by the Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund, a fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, established by a gift from the estate of Arlene McKeever. And by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.     


The future of the American presidency and our nation's economy are key factors in the 2020 race. In Iowa, the nation's first test for presidential aspirants, candidates face questions directly from voters searching for answers impacting the lives of students, small business owners and everyday Iowans. From Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC. Here is Iowa Public Television's David Yepsen. 


Yepsen: Welcome to the latest edition of our Conversations with Presidential Candidates, an in-depth focus on issues relevant to the future of our country and candidates seeking the democratic nomination for president, all hosted here at Des Moines Area Community College. We'll dive into a series of issues, many dealing with ways to improve the economic lives of Americans. Our goal is to help people make a crucial choice in the days ahead. The questions will come from me and from Iowans seated in our audience of students, business owners and Iowa caucus goers. We're joined now by democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. He is the former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and served as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan. The former Mayor joins us today for this conversation on Iowa PBS. Mayor, welcome, it's good to have you with us.

Buttigieg: Thank you, good to be with you.

Yepsen: We're just days away from the election, from the Caucus. Many caucus goers, polls show, are looking for somebody who can beat Donald Trump. Why are you the democratic candidate best positioned to get to 270 electoral votes?

Buttigieg: Well, I think in order to beat Donald Trump we have got to be ready to turn the page and I don't think we can defeat him with the same political approach that has brought American to this point. I come from outside of Washington, my experience in government was gathered not in committee rooms on Capitol Hill but on the ground, solving problems side-by-side with residents in a city that was facing some of the toughest economic and social issues that come before Americans. I will be able to speak to a President who claims to care about what he calls the forgotten men and women, middle America and the American Midwest, but from what he has done to farmers to the economic policies that are really for corporations and the wealthy has always walked away from those very same Americans. I'm from an industrial Midwestern community. I served this country. And I'm not afraid to point out the difference between honoring our troops by ensuring that they are never sent into a conflict that could be avoided and the actions of this President who thinks it is somehow pro-military to overthrow military justice and pardon war criminals. I am ready to take him on but also, even more importantly, I'm ready to run a campaign that is not all about him. We win when the election is about us, is about you, and we are not going to allow him to change the subject as he always does because we're the ones trying to get you a raise, we're the ones ready to secure health care for the future, we're the ones ready to do something about climate. That is a winning message and that is how we will win. Remember, every time my party has won the White House in the last 50 years certain things have been true about the nominee. It has been somebody who is new on the national scene, somebody who either didn't work in Washington or hadn't been there very long at all, somebody with a message that was focused on values and somebody who opened the door to a new generation of leadership. That has been true literally every single time we have won in the last 50 years. So I would argue the greatest risk we could take would be to rely on the same Washington style politics that this President took advantage of in order to get elected.

Yepsen: Mayor, democrats also don't win the White House without a big vote from African-Americans. Polls in South Carolina show you're not doing too well with them. What do you do about that? And what do you say to African-American voters around the country who for some reason aren't supporting you?

Buttigieg: Well, the most important thing to say to African-American voters is that we are never going to take your vote for granted. Black voters have every reason to be skeptical, not only having been often abused by republican politicians but sometimes feeling taken for granted by democratic politicians and especially in the South where folks who are relatively new on the scene, even African-American candidates for President have struggled to get out of the low single digits with an electorate that has every reason to be skeptical. So what I'm offering is not just a set of policies designed to dismantle systemic racism that have been praised as the most comprehensive policies to do that, we call it the Douglass Plan, but more importantly talking about how I've been working on these things throughout my time in public service, again, not from the comfort of a television debate or a legislative argument, but on the ground where we cut dramatically the rate of black poverty in our city, where we cut unemployment for black residents, where we empowered residents with things like an incubator for minority-owned small businesses on our city's west side and housing policy to invest in the very neighborhoods that saw such disinvestment that they were wondering whether the city cared about them at all. And it hasn't been perfect and we've had tremendous struggles in my racially diverse and largely low income community too. But we have seen what can be achieved when we work side-by-side together and I think it's why I'm getting the most support among minority voters from those who know me best here in the Midwest.

Yepsen: We've got a lot of issues we want to cover today so I'll start. Income inequality, big problem in America. What do you do about it?

Buttigieg: Well, sometimes they talk about these problems like they're the result of mysterious cosmic forces in our economy. And to be fair there's a lot of complicated things going on, globalization, automation, sure. But, we're here because of decisions that were made in corporate board rooms and in Washington, D.C., starting with the refusal to elevate the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, which means in effect the minimum wage is actually going down compared to what it used to be. In fact, there is not one county in the entire country where somebody working full-time on minimum wage can afford a two bedroom apartment. But it's not just folks at the minimum wage level, it's people who have to cobble together a living. I always think about a guy that in Bettendorf has a full-time job, explained that he has to drive for Door Dash too because he said, everybody needs a side job these days, as if we were living in a time of economic hardship and not a time of plenty. So we need to make different choices. We need to make sure that wherever you are in that economic ladder that you are protected as a worker and for the future that includes gig economy workers and people who are more or less falsely called contractors by employers. We need to make sure that we are supporting, not attacking, labor unions. Right now with things like right to work it is harder and harder for workers to be able to organize for good wages and good working conditions. We need to make sure that there are supports for people to thrive through education, not just making sure that it's more affordable to go to college, and we have a plan to make sure that cost is never a barrier to go to college, but also recognizing that you should be able to prosper in this country whether you went to college or not. And that means ensuring that we invest in apprenticeship programs, in community colleges, in career and technical education that starts perhaps as early as middle school. And just make it more affordable to live in this country. We've got to make sure that when wages do go up we also look at the cost side, the price side of the cost of health, prescription drugs, the cost of saving for retirement, the cost of getting ready for long-term care. We can do something about that and if we invest in those areas then we can also attack income inequality.

Yepsen: Part of this income inequality issue is what is called the racial wealth gap. People of color are not doing as well economically as other Americans. What do you do about that?

Buttigieg: Here's the thing, this will not get better on its own. It's not like you can just cross out centuries of racism, replace it with a bunch of policies that are neutral, and expect equality to arise because the harms that were perpetrated not just in terms of the generational theft of wealth that enslavement brought, but also policy decisions made within living memory, things from the FDR era that actually made neighborhoods more segregated and made it hard for black families in particular to take advantage of federal housing subsidies, exclusions that meant the GI Bill didn't really reach a lot of African-Americans who had served. It's going to take intention and it's going to take resources to do something about this and that is why in the Douglass Plan I am proposing that we take steps like federal co-investment in minority-owned businesses that have the best track record of building wealth and creating opportunity for employees who are often employees of color who have been excluded. We've got to reform a credit system that disproportionately keeps credit away from those businesses. And we've got to make sure that we are investing in historically black colleges and universities that are building up the skills for the future professional classes of black doctors, black business leaders and employers and also political figures. This is something that we've got to look at through every part of our society. Housing, most of our wealth, a lot of our wealth in the middle class is in houses and this is one of the biggest areas where we see a huge gap. As a matter of fact, African-America home ownership is at near its lowest level since the Fair Housing Act was passed in the first place and it is why we have got to intentionally invest in the home ownership in families that have been often redlined into a neighborhood only to find that as soon as the neighborhood becomes desirable they're going to be gentrified right back out of it. I'm proposing a 21st century Homestead Act that reverses that effect and allows people to build equity in the neighborhoods that they have lived in. My overall point is this, in the same way that if you save a dollar over time that compounds just because of interest. In fact, one dollar over 150 years becomes $1,000 for your descendants if you just left it in a bank account with 5%. If that's true for a dollar saved, it's also true for a dollar stolen. That is why we have a racial wealth gap and it will not get better on its own. We have to put intention and resources into addressing it.

Yepsen: Do you have a price tag for this? And where would the money come from?

Buttigieg: Yeah, we have issued pay force for everything I'm proposing whether it is the housing policies that we have proposed which will also have to include about $400 billion in building up affordable housing and getting new units built but also dealing with these backlogs or whether we're talking about education infrastructure health. All of it can be done if we're willing to raise the revenue. And let's face it, there are a lot of folks and certainly a lot of corporations that are just not paying their fair share. If a company like Amazon or Chevron can make billions of dollars in profits and pay zero in taxes, a lot of times they're actually paying negative tax rates. Just think, we're sitting here, individuals in this room as a general rule have paid more in federal income taxes in dollars than Amazon did last year. It makes no sense. And I'm not talking about going back to the tax rates of the '50s and '60s. We don't even have to go that far. We can have common sense tax reform on capital gains taxes, on corporate taxes, on individual income taxes for the wealthiest, and if we do that there will be enough funding not only to do all of the ambitious things we're proposing, but also to finally reduce a deficit that my party should not be afraid to talk about because we're actually the only ones with any track record of doing the right thing on it. And generationally I think that my generation is very likely to be here when some of these fiscal time bombs go off if we don't act to make sure that we are reducing the deficit too.

Yepsen: I want to get to some of those questions a little bit later in our interview. One of the focuses that we're trying to put on issues here with this series is small businesses and their unique challenges and problems. What do you say to small business owners, what would you do for them?

Buttigieg: Well, first of all, we've got to level the playing field. Again, if you're small business owner you don’t have armies of lawyers to figure out how to park your profits off shore or do other maneuvers to get to that nice negative income tax rate that your giant competitors seem to face. So we've got to have a level playing field. It's also why we've got to act on benefits with more support at a national level. Think about this, one of the values of, the virtues of creating what I'm proposing we do for health care, called Medicare for all who want it, is that people are more free to go start a small business because you wouldn't have to be afraid of leaving your old employer and losing the health care that they provided. And there would be an option for your employees if you're not at the scale to feel that you can provide health care on your own. That's true around other benefits too. We've got to make sure that it's a more user friendly world for the folks who are creating these kinds of small businesses and that means making sure that  the federal government looks at how our processes work from paying taxes to how you can get support from the SBA and actually focus it where we know it can do the most good which is those who are creating jobs and opportunities from minority communities in big cities to rural areas too.

Yepsen: We've got a question about climate change from our audience.

Hello. My name is Sarah Freedman. I'm a high school senior and I'm actually from St. Louis. I'm with a group of teachers and students that drove up here to learn more about campaigning in Iowa in action. So my question is, given the current administration's lack of regard for climate change, what policies would you put back in place or improve on if elected President? And to what degree would you prioritize actually acting to reduce emissions and re-implement pro-environmental policies?

Buttigieg: So this is the issue of our time. I consider it to be the global security issue of our time because this really is a life or death issue and it's everything from river cities in Iowa or where you live in St. Louis or in my own hometown of South Bend where we've now had once in a millennium floods twice in two years or whether you're looking across the world to a place Australia where there are literally tornadoes made of fire. We can no longer talk about this as a theoretical possibility or something far off in the future. It is here, it is now and it is going to get worse. So what do we do about it? Well, needless to say we've got to reverse disastrous policy decisions made under this administration. For example, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. That is something we should be ready to do on day one. But that's just the beginning. I've got a plan to make sure that we take the steps immediately and in the longer run so that by the middle of the century we are a carbon neutral economy and that is critically important because of what science tells us about what we have to do to stop the greatest disastrous effects. That means more investment in renewable energy and energy storage, it means making sure that we are empowering cities and local communities, and it also means making sure that we enlist everybody to be part of it. I have a national service program for volunteering national service opportunities, one of the biggest parts of that would be a climate corps for people to volunteer on climate related projects. I want farmers to be a huge part of the solution. Iowa is rightly very proud of the Green Revolution, how Norman Borlaug and other researchers here created the innovation that helped feed the world and end famines a couple of generations ago. Now we need to take equal pride in a national project to create more opportunities for carbon negative farming. Science tells us that soil can take more carbon out of the atmosphere than the whole global transportation sector puts in. The reason I'm mentioning these particular parts of a very big plan is that the biggest thing of all is not the technical specifications of our plan, I've got one to get us carbon neutral, so do all of my competitors to be honest. The real question is, is any of it going to get done? Or is it going to get multiplied by zero like a lot of the other great plans that have come through across our lifetime? I think the difference can only happen if this is a national project, if we have presidential leadership ready to summon the energies of the entire country including folks like industrial workers and farmers who have sometimes been made to feel like accepting climate science would be a personal defeat for them, we need to demonstrate how the three million net new jobs we're going to create will benefit some of the very same people who have been given reasons to fear doing the right thing. If we do that we'll not only tackle this issue, but in rising to meet that national project that we have to do and leading the world in doing something about it, we can also recover a measure of credibility as a country and pride as a people.

Yepsen: Let's flesh this out a little bit because you're right it is an important issue. Part of this a carbon tax of some sort?

Buttigieg: Yes.

Yepsen: How would it work?

Buttigieg: So the way I would set it up is we would assess a tax on the price per ton of carbon and it would escalate over time. But, this is really important, my plan would rebate it back out to the American people because this is not about taking money out of the economy. We'll rebate it out on a progressive formula so that most Americans are more than made whole. This is about making sure that the prices you see in the economy reflect the true cost of the things that we are purchasing and that's why it needs to also escalate over time toward the real cost of further carbon emissions. It helps us get the economy right without harming individuals because it's more about rearranging what is happening in the economy than trying to restrict its growth.

Yepsen: What do you do about all the people who are now working in the fossil fuel industry? You're right, farmers and some of these people, they hear this and think they're going to be out of work. What do you say to a coal miner, for example?

Buttigieg: We are certainly going to need to invest in making sure that we support those who will be facing career changes. But we've also got to be recruiting people whose very skills in today's carbon heavy industrial economy will be just as urgently needed in the future whether we're talking about, for example, in our own community we saw a UAW worker get jobs making electrical vehicles who had before been making vehicles that consumed a lot of gas. And when we talk about green jobs I think sometimes we picture these really new-fangled futuristic jobs and some of them will be like that but a lot of what we're talking about these are jobs that are perfectly easy to picture right now. I'm thinking about union glaziers and insulators and carpenters and electrical workers who we're going to need just to do the retrofits that have to happen on a lot of our buildings to make sure that they are consuming less energy. So if we get this right this will create opportunity and we have a responsibility to make sure that those who are most impacted whether we're talking about people working in fields that are changing, like those that are more intensive around coal, also those who have most experienced environmental injustice, disproportionally black and Latino families who have experienced the harms of a lot of policies in the past that pushed contamination in their direction and for a lot of other reasons meaning that they are likely to be most vulnerable to climate change. We've got to make sure that our policy can tell the difference and supports those that we need to support first.

Yepsen: All the democratic candidates are saying similar things, so help a caucus goer out. Can you differentiate your plan with some of the other candidates? They're looking at trying to decide on a winning candidate but they're looking at somebody to help them sort out why you over another candidate on the issue of climate change?

Buttigieg: So look, I could point you to the white paper, you could look at why we think 2025 is the right year to double the energy --

Yepsen: Okay, give us the website.

Buttigieg: Definitely check it out. There's also a donate button, feel free.


Buttigieg: But the white paper is there, I promise. So my point, on there you'll see things like how we believe that we can double the amount of renewable energy going into the grid very quickly, by 2025 as well as a timeline for how we start by getting light vehicles to be electric, then eventually heavier transportation and ultimately industry as a whole. But again, I think this is not only about making sure we get it right technically, it is about making sure that we change the way American feels about tackling this issue. Right now I think when most of us think about climate the main emotions we feel are guilt and doom. These are paralyzing. I think it's part of the reason why even though people have been saying the right things about climate since the '90s, shockingly little has actually happened, especially in Washington and the steps we have taken seem like they have always been too little too late. That is why I believe we need to not only have the right technical dimensions of the plan, and of course I think mine are the best, but also making sure that this is something that every American sees where they fit whether you work in coal, whether you are a farmer, whether you are an academic, whether you are a graduating high school student who could participate in that national service program. We've got to get to where this is something that, like the moon landing, like winning in World War II, is understood to be a national effort and when we lead the world in doing something about it at a moment when our credibility is dangerously tattered it would be good for us to be seen as a nation to be leading the way on that too.

Yepsen: You mentioned rural America, a specific question. You have called for a higher minimum wage, $15 an hour. A lot of people in rural America say jobs in rural America, small businesses in rural America say we can't afford that, it would put us out of business. So what do you say about that?

Buttigieg: Well, we're going to, we will phase it in in a way that a small business can handle. But let's remember, we don't have to wonder what might happen when you raise the minimum wage because our country has done it dozens of times. The problem is that we have not been keeping up. The minimum wage is actually down if you look at inflation from what it was before. And we have seen that raises in the minimum wage are compatible with economic growth and with small business growth. We're putting more money in people's pockets that they will then turn around and invest and spend in those very same communities, especially the rural communities that are hurting right now. We've got to make sure that we boil down what is going in our economy from the very complicated things that we're talking about to some of the really simple things of which the biggest is that people are just plain not getting paid enough in this country.

Yepsen: Another enormous issue in this campaign is health care. Many caucus goers say that's the most important issue. So talk some here about health care and what you want to do about that problem.

Buttigieg: Well, of course there's a lot of debate about coverage. My plan is we call it Medicare for all who want it. The idea is we create a Medicare-like plan, a public plan, and anybody can get in on it. Now, one difference in our plan from some of the others is I trust you to decide whether you want it. We're not going to force everybody onto that plan. After all, if I'm right and it's the best one, which I think it will be, then everybody will naturally make their way toward it. And if that proves to be true eventually it becomes the single payer. If on the other hand other plans prove to be better, at least for some people, then we're going to be glad we didn't kick them off of that. So that's how we solve the coverage issue, that way there's no such thing as an uninsured American and  we allow people to maintain and preserve their choice. But in all of the controversy over coverage I'm afraid that the debate has missed a lot of very important other issues around health. We've got to look at the cost of health, especially prescription drug costs. It's why we've got to make sure Medicare can negotiate drug costs, it's why we've got to make sure that we hold drug companies accountable when they raise the prices on drug, some of which you need in order to live not because they have to but because they can. And it's why we've got to make sure that we are investing in innovation for the future. Costs also coming from hospitals, which is why we've got to control surprise billing. And I'm proposing a monthly out of pocket cap. Here's why it matters that it's monthly, which is different from the other plans, many people have been in the situation of having to delay a procedure or filling a prescription so that it happens in the right month because of when you hit your cap on your insurance plan. It makes no sense medically. Most of us don't experience the economy on a yearly basis, it's monthly, that's when the bills come in and so should the monthly cap which I'm proposing be $250 and of course support for low income folks so that they're not paying out of pocket if they can't afford to do so at all. So we've got to look at costs. We've got to look at mental health and addiction and that is everything from working aggressively to increase the number of mental health providers to funding community oriented mental health plans to something bigger that is more cultural which is a President willing to talk about mental health so that it's not in the shadows. Most of us, either we or somebody we love or somebody we work with, has experienced an issue with addiction or mental illness. So we've got to bring this out of the shadows and be as comfortable talking about something like bipolar disorder or addiction as we would be talking about a relative fighting cancer or getting a hip surgery and we've got to bring it into the daylight. So mental health and addiction need attention. We've got to deal with racial inequity in health outcomes. Recently a woman in Milwaukee, Tashawna Ward I believe was her name, lost her life after going to the ER with symptoms of a heart attack and the truth is one of the reasons why there is a big gap in things like maternal mortality for black women is that they are less likely to be believed when they describe being in pain. It is one of many issues that we need to tackle directly when it comes to racial inequities in health. So my point is across all of these areas we can't only, the coverage part is very important, it's necessary but not sufficient to tackle some of the other challenges that we face when it comes to getting health care right in this country.

Yepsen: How soon, how long will it take you to implement some of these things? Could you do it by executive order as President or would you have to go to Congress?

Buttigieg: We'll need legislation to get the Medicare for all who want it done. But this is a good example of where most Americans already want it to be done. Similarly in order to make sure that we structure the right steps on prescription drugs, some of this can be done on an executive basis, but a lot of the work has to be done with Congress. Now here's the good news about Congress, and that is a phrase that I use advisedly, even though especially when we're looking at the republican Senate there has been just an incredible level of obstruction. Even they have been more responsive to the people than you might think when the people speak up and force them to be. And a great example of this is the life of the Affordable Care Act. I was on the ballot in 2010 as a new statewide candidate in Indiana. That was a tough year to be a democrat largely because the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare was considered a toxic issue for democrats. By 2017 and '18 republicans who promised up and down they were going to repeal it couldn't actually do it when they got to the Senate. Why is that? Because folks saw the difference it was making in their everyday lives. My mother-in-law fighting cancer was able to get, a small business owner who never would have been able to get insurance otherwise, her life literally depends on the Affordable Care Act. Chasten and I are on the ACA right now, it's how we're getting our insurance now that I'm a retired mayor. And so it's an example of how on issues like health care and others we can do well even in the unfortunate event that we're dealing with a Mitch McConnell led Senate by going directly to people who understand how these choices are affecting our personal lives rather than letting it get caught up in the ideological game.

Yepsen: Mayor, I've got way too many issues and not enough time so I'm going to switch gears. Foreign policy. We're in the longest war in history. How long do you think Americans can keep sacrificing? Is it time for an American President to say to the American people we're going to be in this for a long time? We've still got troops in Japan, we've still got troops in Germany. Is this now going to be true in the Middle East? Talk about that a little bit.

Buttigieg: Just because we have ongoing relationships and troops in places like Japan or Germany doesn't mean we should just accept that endless war will be the norm for future generations. I thought I was one of the last troops in Afghanistan turning out the lights on the way out when I left and that was years ago. We can't go on like this. We can't have an open-ended commitment of ground troops. And this is not just an issue of the White House failing to bring this war to a close, this is also an issue of Congress not stepping up and asserting its war powers. That is starting to change and that is a very encouraging sign. One thing I would do as President is in the event that I am forced to commit troops, and I hope this never happens, but if I have to go to Congress for an authorization to use military force I will make sure there is a three year sunset in that authorization, that if there was ever a need to renew it, you'd have to involve the American people through Congress and taking an up or down vote and debating whether we ought to continue. If troops are able to summon the courage to go overseas on multiple deployments then our elected officials ought to have the courage to take up or down votes on whether to send them there. And what we have right now is this drift, we're seeing it in Afghanistan, meanwhile we're seeing all of these steps toward the brink of war with Iran at a moment when we need to be reducing, not increasing, our exposure to these conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.

Yepsen: I mentioned your military service. You've been under fire, correct?

Buttigieg: Yeah, when the rocket alarm goes off you've got about three seconds to get down.

Yepsen: I remember a conversation I had with Bob Dole one time about there is some value in having a President who has been shot at. So what goes through, what goes through your mind before you send other young Americans into harm's way? Is that a value too?

Buttigieg: Yeah, I think it is. And let's be clear, I'm not a Navy Seal, but we took a lot of rocket fire on bases where I was. I know how it feels to have your hands grip on a steering wheel when you're outside of the wire responsible for getting people from point A to point B alive and you're worried about whether somebody or something you see fits the pattern of a suicide bomber. This is very real for me. And I do believe there is value in someone in the Oval Office understanding what is at stake, understanding at a personal level what is at stake when decisions are made that could send people into a conflict because the reality is our troops will do whatever is required of them. I recently just a few days ago by chance ran into someone I served with, hadn't seen since she was injured in an insider attack while we were both deployed in Afghanistan. And just to give you a sense of the spirit that the folks who serve us have, she's still active, she's still in the military, she's wearing a Wounded Warrior t-shirt that says, some assembly required. And when I asked her how she was doing she cheerfully picked up her knee and tapped on the prosthetic from where they couldn’t save her leg. And she is looking forward to her next deployment because it's her job. She deserves a President who would never allow her to go into harm's way if there were any alternative. And that perspective is needed in the White House, especially when we've got a President who thinks that strength is the same as the chest thumping of the loud-mouth guy at the end of the bar. A lot of times strength is in judgment, it is in restraint, it is in seeing through the consequences of a decision that is made, to feel comfortable with the impact on my friends who are being deployed again and again, of the decisions, for example, the President's decision on Iran. You'd want to believe certain things were true. You'd want to believe that he carefully and thoroughly read the intelligence before making a decision. You'd want to believe that he consulted members of Congress from both parties to ensure that this is not being treated as a partisan issue or decision. You'd want to believe that as much as responsibly possible he would have engaged our allies who have life or death relationships with us. And you'd want to believe that he carefully thought through every consequence of every move and counter move that could happen. Does anybody think that is what Donald Trump did when he made these latest decisions? I don't feel that way and it's one more reason why somebody who understands the gravity of these choices ought to be in the White House.

Yepsen: Another issue in this campaign is immigration. What do we do about it?

Buttigieg: Well, first of all, we've got to recognize that immigration is good for America. I until recently was mayor of a city that was described as dying just a decade ago largely because of losing population after the factories closed and now it's growing, not by a huge number, but it's a big deal for us. If it weren't for immigration that wouldn't be true at all. And our original growth came about through immigration. And so we need to recognize that we're talking about the life blood of the country in addition to the moral imperative of ending the humanitarian catastrophe at the border of things like family separation or for-profit detention facilities for children, something that will not exist when I am President. But it's also about fixing an overall system that can lift up our communities. I've seen it right here in Iowa. The Fourth of July parade in Storm Lake, not an area of Iowa that is probably known for being super progressive politically, but folks there absolutely understand the importance of immigration. They have a parade of nations with more than 20 floats of the different countries of origin of the people who are helping keep the rural economy going.

Yepsen: But Mayor, what do you say to a voter who says, you're right, immigration is important to this country, it's important to our economy, but we're just getting so many and the borders are too wide open? What do you say to those voters?

Buttigieg: There's this idea that you've either got to be for kids in cages or for open borders and it's just not true. Look, one of the reasons why we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in American is that our economy needed 11 million more people than our rusty immigration system was capable of processing and taking in lawfully. It didn't just happen. There was a need for people in our economies and in our communities that I think is actually especially well understood in parts of the country though they are conservative where we are not just hurting for jobs, more than anything we're hurting for population. And that is why we've got to fix the system and most Americans agree, most Americans understand that we need to create a pathway to citizenship, that we've got to fix lawful immigration, like how my dad got here, that we've got to fix in particular create citizenship and protections for dreamers who are here, who this is the only country that they know, and who have so much to contribute and that we've got to make a lot of refinements to the economics of it all. In other words, what I would do is instead of having to go back to Congress, which you only apparently get to do every 30 or 40 years because they hesitate to act, let's have a two year timetable for reviewing things like work-based visas so that we're having the right level of flows that make sense from an economic and a national population and security perspective. We can handle these things without continuing down this status quo that doesn't work for anybody. And let's remember one other thing, I think about this a lot as we're building up population in our city, what you might call an immigrant you might also call a taxpayer and when we create a pathway to citizenship we are making it easier for people who are already living among us, contributing to our communities, to fully contribute to as well as benefit from citizenship in the United States and there is more than enough room for us to have a healthy level of immigration continue as we have at our best moments as a country.

Yepsen: Another issue on the table is trade. What is next, Congress has passed the USMCA Trade Act, what's next?

Buttigieg: What we've got to do is have a strategy for trade that actually puts American workers and farmers and consumers first. It's hard to believe there's any strategy at all in the President's trade wars, calling Canada a national security threat --


Buttigieg: It just doesn't make sense. Poking China in the eye to see what will happen and of course what happened is they poked back and that came down on the backs of American soybean farmers, consumers who are paying more for our products at a time when we need to be finding more export markets for the best in the world things that we grow and produce here in America.

Yepsen: But how do you keep the Chinese from stealing our intellectual property?

Buttigieg: Well, that's a big problem, intellectual property issues, also the state subsidies. Look, they have a fundamentally different system than we do and they're not going to change it just because we asked. We've got to find areas of overlapping interest and we've got to recognize in other areas we probably have to disentangle a little bit because unlike Canada there really is a security concern when it gets to things like components going into our electronics and wireless systems or things we need as part of our pharmaceutical supply chain relying too much on China for that. So it has to be smart, it has to be strategic. We don't have to choose between free trade and shutting out the entire world. We've got to do it in a way that is actually going to benefit folks at home who just want to know that we're going to continue to have economic opportunity. But one other thing, we cannot have that conversation in a vacuum. If China is behaving in a way that is anti-democratic, suppressing protests in Hong Kong, rounding up people just based on their religion or ethnicity in a place like Xinjuang, then we have to make clear that our silence cannot be purchased just because we're working on a trade deal. That is the message this President said. And the reality is we should never be afraid to offer at least moral support for those who are aspiring to freedom and we also shouldn't be afraid to have that be a consideration in our economic and diplomatic relationships with countries like China.

Yepsen: Mayor, we've got another audience question. This one is about affordable housing and homelessness.

Bambi Helm: Hi. My name is Bambi Helm. I'm a native Iowan, live here in Des Moines now I'm a small business owner myself, I'm a realtor here in Des Moines. And homelessness is a growing challenge across our country. You've talked about some affordable housing plans but it has become more difficult across both urban and rural areas. Specifically thinking about homelessness, what are your plans and how do you plan to address the affordable housing and issues for homeless people?

Buttigieg: It's an issue that is becoming more and more of a crisis in more and more places, not just the well-publicized experiences of some of our biggest cities, but smaller communities in the Midwest where we have chronically unhoused people. And so we've got to act with intention to do something about it. What does that look like? Well, we can get 7 million more families access to affordable housing if we're willing to make the investments. I'm proposing $430 billion go into areas like making sure that we end the backlog for getting support on everything from low income housing tax credits to the vouchers that are needed to access affordable housing and that we build 2 million more affordable units as a country. Now, we've also got to recognize that housing is part of the equation, but in a lot of areas where housing prices would be considered low, and again the west side of my own city is a good example where people from the coasts look at me funny when I tell them what a house costs because to them that's the cost of a parking space. And people still can't afford it, which means we've also got to talk about the income problem that I was mentioning before. Until we raise incomes affordable housing will be a struggle no matter how many houses we build. And then we've got to recognize that there are some who are unable to participate in mainstream services for the homeless and that is where a strategy called Housing First has become so important. Put away the idea that you have to have somebody conquer all of their mental health issues and addiction issues before we can get a roof over their head. Instead we need specialized support, what is called permanent supportive housing, which we expanded in my city and has made a tremendous difference for people who frankly just weren't ready to access mainstream services, some of the people I would find myself personally as a mayor sometimes asking on a cold night like tonight under a bridge if they wouldn't come inside and recognizing what they are up against and refusing to give up. We can do that. And that speaks to our moral fiber as a country just in the name of compassion but also to the fact that our communities are better served when people can get back on their feet and are in a position not only to thrive but to contribute.

Yepsen: Is this an issue where rural America has a lot in common with urban underserved areas? Is it just a one size fits all plan that you have to deal with affordable housing? Or are there nuances to this?

Buttigieg: So again the solutions and the problems look a little bit different in a community like mine where you can get a decent house on the west side for $30,000 versus a place like Oakland where again that doesn’t even get you a parking space. But we also know that some of the patterns are similar and the value of things like permanent supportive housing, income support, subsidies and the expansion of the building of affordable housing units will matter. But one pattern you're going to see across a lot of my proposals, and this is one example, is that there is a lot of flexibility for locally designed solutions but crucially federal funding to make those solutions work. In other words, not all of the answers have to come from Washington but more of the money should.

Yepsen: Another issue that relates to economic growth as well as empowered women is child care. What are your thoughts about programs to help provide more child care in America?

Buttigieg: Well, it's clear that child care has become unaffordable for so many in American including right here in Iowa. We've seen evidence that a typically family might face up to 40% of their income if it's a single parent household going into child care. I've met people who are, women in particular, who are professionals who find that they are working, all of what they earn goes into the child care that they have in order to be able to work. And this makes no sense. The best estimates on what amounts to an affordability threshold for child care is that it ought to be 7% of your income or lower. And so we're going to set that as the benchmark, that child care ought to be free for those living at or near poverty and should not rise above 7% of the income of somebody who needs it. How do we deliver that? Well, that's where we've got to make sure that we have federal funding, tax credits and voucher support, going into the ability of families to pay but also making sure we deal with child care deserts where there aren't that many providers to begin with. Why aren't there many providers? Well for one thing people aren't getting paid enough. We know that people with that critically important job of providing care or education even for children in their earliest years are not getting compensated at a level that would even keep them far from the poverty line. It's why we need a higher minimum wage overall but also we need to create more career pathways for people in that field to build it up as a profession. And we need to support the development of increased quality as well as expanding the number of seats so that we have a system that can truly support every child even as we make sure the funding is flowing into it so it's affordable for parents.

Yepsen: Another huge issue in America and it seems to be an intractable problem is gun violence. What are your thoughts about what to do?

Buttigieg: Well, I'll tell you as a mayor often your darkest moments are when you are consoling loved ones of people who have been lost to gun violence. And it is dispiriting to see how this problem has persisted and grown in our communities. Mass shootings that shock the conscience that we see on the news and just as many as we lose in those mass shootings, more in fact, being lost to everyday gun violence in our communities. Plus I think it's time to name gun suicide as a form of gun violence because that is something that other countries don't experience at this level. What do we do about it? Common sense. Look, this is a great example of how broken our politics are is that not only most democrats but most republicans, most gun owners, agree that we should at least be doing background checks and closing loopholes like the Charleston loophole that let somebody get the gun anyway if the background check is late. We've got to enact red flag laws, be able to disarm domestic abusers and take action when loved ones identify that somebody that they know and love could be a danger to others or themselves. And there are weapons that are disturbingly similar to the kinds of weaponry that I trained on in the military, they have no business being sold for profit anywhere near an American school or church or a mall. We've got to take these steps and America is ready for it, it's just that a majority of the American people can't seem to be reflected as a majority in the American Congress. As a matter of fact, this is an example of one of many issues that at least as far as background checks go passed the House and Mitch McConnell's Senate is killing it. A president who is determined to make sure that that happens would not allow republican Senators to get away with killing a piece of legislation that is not only in line with what I as a democrat think we ought to do but what their own republican constituents expect of them because this is moving beyond a partisan issue, especially on the basic common sense steps we have to take. Some will say, well it wouldn't have prevented this incident or that shooting or this tragedy. But that's not a reason or an excuse to do nothing. We can save thousands of lives every year with these common sense measures and shame on us if there is yet another generation experiencing school shootings.

Yepsen: Another issue looming in American is the growing amount of student debt. How do we reduce it? What is your plan?

Buttigieg: Yeah. This one is pretty personal. I'm married to a teacher and as a household we have six figure student debt ourselves. And I've seen how this is restricting the opportunities of people to pursue prosperity in their own lives. There are several things we need to do on the front end and after the fact. Let me start with after the fact. We need to expand the generosity and the user friendliness of things like loan forgiveness for public service. It exists but the program is so hard to take advantage of that more than 90% of people who try find that they actually don't get the loan forgiveness that they were hoping for. So we've got to make sure that that program is made much more user friendly and that we expand what counts as public service. For example, to me if you're a mental health provider in a rural area that doesn't have enough, that's public service, even if you're not technically working for government or a non-profit organization. And so as we do that, that will create a clear route for relief on debt as well as supporting things like income-based debt repayment and relief for those who are unable to pay. But let's make it more affordable in the first place. I've got a plan that would make public college tuition free for the first 80% or so of Americans. Now, I do believe that if you're in those top income brackets you ought to be able to pay your own tuition. I'm still wishing you well, I just think there are other uses for those tax dollars than covering your tuition. But for those for whom it could really be a barrier, we're going to take that barrier away. And we've also got to recognize this isn't just about college tuition, this is about college completion and the cost of living can make it harder for people to complete college, just being able to get food and transportation and housing and other things you need while a student. That's why we've got to expand Pell grants and supports to make sure that those who are enrolled in programs succeed there, especially minority students and first income students who are up against more hurdles. The worst situation you can be in is to have debt and not have a degree and far too many have been left in that situation either by unscrupulous for-profit so-called colleges or by a system that wasn't ready to make sure that people succeed.

Yepsen: We've talked about a problem at one end of the age spectrum with student debt, I want to go to the other end and talk about Social Security and private pensions now that are looming, seem to be under some stress. What do you do about Social Security and private pensions?

Buttigieg: We've got to make sure that every American can retire and thrive and that is what Social Security was supposed to be about. Now, there is this idea going around that Social Security won't be there in the future. There's no way to save it, it's going to be insolvent unless you cut benefits. And it's just not true if we're willing to raise revenue. How do you do it? Well, lift the cap on income over $250,000 and collect Social Security taxes on that too. That and a couple of other minor moves that have nothing to do with cutting benefits get you there, get you there to where it is at least solvent into the 2050's when I expect to be collecting Social Security. So I've got a selfish interest in making sure we get that done too. Now, on top of that Social Security layer I'm also proposing that we create a public option 401K, health care is not the only place you can do a public option that will make a difference, that has an employer match at 2 to 1 and allows people to build both a rainy day savings account and savings for retirement so that they can thrive over and above that baseline, that bedrock that Social Security has to be.

Yepsen: Why don't you eliminate the Social Security tax on say the first $20,000 of income or $25,000? It has been done before in this country. Wouldn’t that empower a lot of people at the lower end of the spectrum?

Buttigieg: Well I think there are a lot of steps that we've got to take in order to make sure that people with lower incomes are more supported, everything from our tax structure to what I'm proposing we do with wages will help with that. But I also think it's important to remember that Social Security is, even though the word entitlement gets thrown around a lot, this is something that everybody buys, everybody pays into and that is part of what keeps it stable and well supported across America.

Yepsen: Private pensions though, elaborate some on that. There are many businesses that are going to be dumping their pension problems on the pension benefit corporation.

Buttigieg: Right, this is why legislation, pending legislation like the Butch Lewis Act are so important that reinforce these especially multi-employer pensions and benefits. Look, we're talking about folks who did the right thing, did what was expected of them as employees and now face the risk of having the rug pulled out from under them. We can't allow that to happen and it's why we've got to make sure that funding and legislation promotes stability for those multi-employer pensions.

Yepsen: We've got just a few minutes left. Debt and deficits, it seems like that was a big issue a while back and now nobody seems to talk about it.

Buttigieg: Glad you asked. I love talking about it. And here's why. First of all, I'm a millennial and I'm old enough to remember when republicans in Congress talked about deficits all the time. And then they revealed that they don't actually care when it comes time for legislation. Under this President there is a trillion dollar deficit so it means that I think my party really needs to own this issue and for whatever reason my party has been a little allergic to talking about the deficit. But we've got a better track record on it to begin with and it's one of the reasons why if you stack up all of my plans, all of the spending I'm proposing that we do, I'm proposing revenue as well to make sure that at worst what I'm doing will be budget neutral and over time it will actually reduce the deficit. Here’s why it matters and here's why it should matter to progressives. First of all, we see debt service crowding out other important things we could do like child care and infrastructure and health. Secondly, we see it reaching a level where it's going to be an issue for stability in the long run. And third, there are times when you need deficit spending especially when you go into a recession. But we've got such a big deficit already that there's going to be very little room for maneuver for the next president facing that kind of economic problem.

Yepsen: And why do you think the Chinese will continue to loan us money if we get into economic trouble?

Buttigieg: Well, that's a good question too and I'd rather not be relying on the Chinese for that given that we could be making better choices.

Yepsen: Doesn't your party share some of the blame for this? We had some what appears to be old fashioned log rolling. Republicans got tax cuts and democrats increased spending and off we go.

Buttigieg: Well, certainly there's some blame to go around. But let's be clear about this. I believe it's the case that every democratic president in my life has seen deficits go down on their watch and every republican president in my life we've seen the opposite. So certainly at the very least the idea that the GOP is the more debt responsible party just doesn't hold up to the facts.

Yepsen: So what do you want to do about tax policy?

Buttigieg: Well, what we've got to do is make sure that we are paying for what we propose to offer. Sometimes people talk about taxes in a vacuum, just what should the tax level be, which to me is like going to a car dealer and just looking at the prices but not the car that goes with each price. We've got to talk about these things together. Taxes are what we are forced to collect in order to fund the things that we seek to do and that is why there's a match in my proposals on why we're raising the revenue and then what we plan to use it on. Now, within that we have choices, very real choices over who pays and how much. And the bottom line is that the wealthiest are now paying less proportionately than working class and middle class folks. It makes no sense and it's got to change. That's why we need a higher marginal income tax rate for the top brackets, it's why we need greater enforcement on the tax laws that are on the books, it's why corporations need to be held accountable and it's why we've got to roll back the Trump tax cut that mainly benefits corporations that was not needed and that contributed to this spectacularly large deficit.

Yepsen: We've only got a minute left. What have I overlooked? Is there anything here that --

Buttigieg: One minute to go around the world.

Yepsen: What do you want caucus goers to remember about you as they head out on caucus night?

Buttigieg: So to me more than anything else it's about the day after Donald Trump. Hopefully I've already made the case for why I'm the best nominee to beat him. But also remember by definition this is a contest for who is going to be the president to lead us into the era that will come next, a time when these issues will be more burning than ever from climate to gun violence to racial and economic inequality, and a time when we're going to be even more divided as a nation than we are now. I'm running to be the president who can help pick up the pieces, who can help unify a country that is more grounded in our values than you would know from looking at places like the United States Senate and making sure that we get Washington to respond to us and our values and our priorities rather than the other way around. I know that it is exhausting to watch the news right now, especially the national news, things going to the Senate talked about like a foregone conclusion. But the beauty of 2020 is it is up to us and I'm ready to make that a reality.

Yepsen: And I have exhausted all our time. Thank you, Mayor.

Buttigieg: Thank you. Good to be with you.


Yepsen: I want to thank Pete Buttigieg for joining us on our latest edition of Conversations with Presidential Candidates here on Iowa PBS. For our audience of Iowans and our entire Iowa PBS crew here at the Des Moines Area Community College, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC has been funded by Goldman Sachs, which is delivering its 10,000 Small Businesses program in Iowa to help entrepreneurs across the state create jobs and economic opportunity. Additional funding has been provided by the Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund, a fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, established by a gift from the estate of Arlene McKeever. And by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.