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Representative Dave Loebsack

posted on January 25, 2008

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Borg: Assessing crises. Just back from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan Iowa's Second District Congressman Dave Loebsack is facing emergency legislation for stabilizing a wobbly economy. We're questioning Congressman Dave Loebsack on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Iowa Bankers Association for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; and by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grassroots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at; by Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities, where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, January 25th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: You might say Iowa's Second District Congressman Dave Loebsack is spending January in crisis mode returning from a quick trip to Afghanistan as a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He's now facing a vote on legislation setting a speed bump to conquer accelerating declines in the nation's financial stability. Both issues are getting priority status. Like the declining economy U.S. control in Afghanistan is slipping. As a long-time Cornell College political science professor Dave Loebsack knows well the meaning of being a freshman. With issues such as we've just described there's been a steep learning curve for Congressman Loebsack, he's just a year now into his first term. Welcome back to Iowa Press and I hope you don't mind the analogy of a freshman.

Loebsack: That's perfectly fine, thank you Dean.

Borg: Across the table Iowa Press journalists Radio Iowa New Director Kay Henderson and Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover.

Glover: Congressman Loebsack, as Dean mentioned you're just back from a trip to Afghanistan. What have you learned?

Loebsack: Well, basically I learned that it's the forgotten war. Unfortunately, as you know, when we invaded Iraq some years ago I think a lot of us believe and I think many of the American public believe that we kind of took our eye off the ball in terms of Afghanistan really being the central front in the war on terrorism. After all this is where the 9-11 attacks emanated from when the Taliban were in power and Osama Bin Laden and Al Quada were located there. So, essentially this time I went there so that obviously I could talk to our troops and hear from them what they had to say about the situation, the generals on the ground, ambassadors, other folks but also to do what I could when I come back to make sure that we have a re-commitment to the effort in Afghanistan and not take our eye off the ball and not keep our eye off the ball in that sense.

Glover: And what did they tell you when you were there?

Loebsack: Well, they said that over the course of the last year or two, and you've probably been reading about this yourselves, we've seen a real resurgence in activity on part of the Taliban. They have been very active in the southern and central part of Afghanistan, even in the west to some extent. There has been an increase in the number of terrorist attacks not only in Kabul but in cities all around the country. And we've got a basic problem in the sense that we really don't have enough resources to counter what we've seen in Afghanistan over the course of the last couple of years. So, I'm fully committed myself, I think we've really got a bipartisan majority forming in the Congress and I think it's also the case when you listen to whether it's Democratic or Republican presidential candidates I think that there is a renewed commitment on the part of folks in Washington, D.C. to put more resources into Afghanistan.

Glover: And the problem with Afghanistan is diverted resources to Iraq.

Loebsack: Well, I think that's how it began, that's right. And now, of course, with Iraq we've had 160,000 or so troops in Iraq, that's where all the attention seems to be, most of the attention at least. Our political leadership in this country essentially believes as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated recently at a hearing that I attended for the Armed Services Committee that we do in Iraq what we must and we do in Afghanistan what we can. Those are his words. And, of course, that reflects the administration's policy. I'm not sure that's the right way to go, in fact, I'm not convinced at all that's the right way to go because, you know, we do believe after all that Osama Bin Laden is either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan near Afghanistan and this really is the central front of the war on terrorism. So, we've got to commit more troops there. We are sending 3200 Marines this spring on a regular seven month rotation. And they are going to be training Afghans, they are going to be engaging in some counter-insurgency activities and I think this is the right move. None of us is happy that we have to commit more resources to Afghanistan but it's necessary at this point.

Henderson: Is 3200 enough? Do you think more troops should be re-deployed? How many boots should be on the ground in Afghanistan?

Loebsack: What's happening right now, the good news I guess from the standpoint of putting more attention on Afghanistan, is that the administration is carrying out a political as well as a military strategic review. Folks are looking at that right now as we speak and that's the good news I guess in that sense. I think it remains to be seen just how many troops we end up sending to Afghanistan and for how long. Again, it's a long process to sort of -- we don't want to take our eye off the ball in Iraq, obviously, but we do have to I think make a re-deployment of whatever number of forces remains to be seen at this point but we're just now beginning to look at this in a very serious way.

Henderson: And how involved should the U.S. military be in stopping the opium trade?

Loebsack: The opium trade, as you know, this is a huge problem in Afghanistan. About 90% of all the heroin in the world emanates from Afghanistan. There are real questions as to how we ought to attack that problem, aerial spraying versus manual eradication. I think we need to do what we can in terms of manual eradication and our European allies agree with us on that. Aerial spraying creates a lot of health problems. The Afghans are not happy about that themselves. We need to devote resources to that as well, though, in terms of eradication, there's absolutely no doubt about that. But we also have to make sure that the security situation is such so that the farmers on the ground don't face reprisals from the Taliban and from the drug lords. It's the same kind of problem that we've had over the years in Columbia.

Glover: I'd like you to talk for a second about the politics of this whole conflict issue in Afghanistan and Iraq. You were elected largely because of public dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and yet Democrats seem to have a problem coming up with an alternative to what the President is doing there. What are the politics?

Loebsack: Well, I think I was elected for a lot of reasons and not perhaps even primarily because of the war in Iraq, after all, my opponent at the time Congressman Leach and I didn't disagree on the war in Iraq. I think I was elected because the people of the second district felt that we had to have a new set of priorities in Washington, D.C. and that meant, of course, pulling out of Iraq, disengaging from Iraq hopefully sooner rather than later and then putting those resources here back at home in terms of education, healthcare, all kinds of other domestic pocketbook priority issues. I can't say what's going to happen this year. The President is committed to keeping those troops in Iraq. The American people don't want that any longer. The people of the second district don't want that any longer. We in Congress want to change the mission. We're going to continue to press forward on this and if I could I'd just like to mention one thing at least that I've achieved since I've been there. The national defense authorization act that we just passed I did offer an amendment and it was part of it that at least begins the accountability process so that every three years, we changed the law, every three months, excuse me, Ambassador Crocker and General Portrayis are required to come to the Congress to report on the status of the war in Iraq at the moment until that war, until that conflict is ...

Glover: Put yourself in the shoes of voters of your district. They elected you probably if not totally but in large part because of the dissatisfaction with Iraq, they want the Iraq war ended, they put Democrats in control of Congress and that's not ended. What do you say to voters?

Loebsack: I really think that the voters understand that we've got a divided government, that the President has a veto power, that we might have 232 Democrats in the House of Representatives but when we pass legislation, as we have passed legislation, with a timeline the President has vetoed that. That did pass both the House and the Senate. Veto proof majorities require two-thirds, as you know, in any vote. We don't have two-thirds at this point. I think the people of the second district and people around America who wanted to see us change direction in Iraq, I think they understand that, I think they get it and I think that's why they are focusing more and more as I get around the district on 2008, on the presidential election and the congressional elections for 2008 so that we have a majority and a president who believes that we do need to change the mission.

Borg: Help me to reconcile two things that you said in the past few minutes. You said we don't want to commit so many troops to Afghanistan that we take our eye off the ball in Iraq. But you also said just a few minutes after that we need to be pulling out of Iraq sooner rather than later. How do you reconcile that?

Loebsack: Well, no, as I've said all along I think the American people want us to remove our troops from Iraq because our presence in Iraq has made us less safe at home and abroad, it has stretched out military almost to the breaking point and I hear this from generals in the Army, in the Marines, in the military. So, what we've got is a situation where in Iraq there is not a political solution as far as I can tell on the horizon. The surge has laid the ground work for the Iraqi politicians to solve their problems internally. They have not taken advantage of that. The American people are frustrated with that. The American people would like to see us leave Iraq over the course of the next twelve months or so. In the process we'll be bringing those troops home when that decision is finally made to change the mission. My argument is that while we should be bringing the vast majority of those troops home, the more the better as far as I'm concerned, it's probably going to be the case that some of those troops will have to be re-deployed to Afghanistan, the number yet to be determined.

Borg: How does Pakistan figure into all of this and our policy toward Pakistan?

Loebsack: Pakistan is a very delicate situation, as you know, because on the one hand President Musharraf has been an ally of the United States for a number of years. At the same time he has his own domestic situation which, as you know, is extremely delicate, extremely fragile now especially in light of the assassination of Benazir Bhutta. There are a lot of folks in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan in those federally administered tribal areas, they're called ...

Borg: What does that mean to us?

Loebsack: What it means is it's very difficult for us obviously to convince President Musharraf to do everything we want him to do and we need him to do to monitor what is happening in those areas that are on the border.

Glover: So, it's beyond our control?

Loebsack: No, I wouldn't say that. I think we have to continue to work with him. And, by the way, we should have -- they should have free and fair elections in Afghanistan as well sooner rather than later. It's unfortunate that they have delayed those elections. It's understandable in some ways.

Borg: In Pakistan.

Loebsack: In Pakistan, excuse me.

Henderson: Let's shift from foreign to domestic policy. Dean mentioned the stimulus package. House leaders, your House Democratic leaders have agreed with the White House to do a tax rebate. Democrats in the United States Senate want to add more things. Where do you come down on this issue?

Loebsack: Well, first of all, I really want to commend not only the House leaders but President Bush as well, Secretary Paulson, I think this is really a package that we can be proud of. It doesn't do everything that I want it to do. I would like to see, for example, I'd like to see us extend unemployment benefits, I'd like to see more food stamp assistance go into the hands of folks who need it most in this country. I think that would provide a lot more stimulation. But I think it's important that our leaders came together in a bipartisan way and at least crafted a package that will provide the stimulus. Now, where it goes from here remains to be seen. I'm not totally happy with this by any means. I can't say what's going to happen in the Senate but at least it's a good start.

Henderson: States are also petitioning world money, Governor Culver this week said he'd like states to get $12 billion, half of it to be used for Medicaid. Do you think that's a worthy goal?

Loebsack: I do, as a matter of fact, and in fact, there are many less who pressed for that, pressed our leadership to include that as part of the package.

Henderson: Do you think it will be included in a separate piece of legislation?

Loebsack: I think this is very tricky because we have to deal with President Bush and obviously he is not going to be happy if we add on a number of things that were left out so that we could have a compromise. Look, when I was elected I talked about how the American people are telling me, the people in the second district are telling me that they want to get something done, they want to change the direction of the country. To me this is a success story, if you will. We haven't had very many of those the first year that I've been in Congress because Congress, the President have been at loggerheads. This is an example of where my leadership took the initiative to approach the President and Secretary Paulson and they worked out a deal. The American people want to get something done so in that sense I think it was a success story.

Glover: Well, the real question, Congressman, is will it work? It's a relatively small package when you compare the size of the stimulus package to a trillion dollar national economy. Will it have the impact that people are talking about?

Loebsack: It's going to have some impact there's no doubt. It's just the beginning. And, of course, we have to be looking long-term as well. But in the short-term it will have some effect. I'm hopeful that it will get us back on track, again, maybe help prevent what appears to be an oncoming recession, however you want to define that. Clearly we're in an economic downturn. We can't just sit on our hands and do nothing. And, again, as I get around the district and talk with folks, you know, whether it's a single mom at the Casey's restaurant or a recently unemployed worker, whatever the case may be and we've seen people, for example, Victor Plastics in North Liberty who are losing their jobs, they are hurting, people are hurting. They want something done, they want us to do something in Washington, D.C. and they were hurting long before the stimulus package was agreed upon.

Glover: And if this is the first step what's next? If this is what you do short-term, what do you do long-term?

Loebsack: Some of the things that I've been working on my first year in particular education. I think all of us can agree across party lines that education, again, it's long-term in some ways, but education is really the key for economic development, it's the key for folks to get ahead in this country. That is one of the things that I've been working on a lot this year. We did pass re-authorization of Head Start legislation for children and families of limited means. We did also pass the largest financial aid package since the GI bill. The President signed both of those. We did, in fact, a college cost reduction on access act. We're going to increase programs dramatically. We're going to cut interest rates for students who take out certain federally subsidized loans. We're going to put students in college who maybe thought it was out of reach before. And that is, I think, a very important way not only to enhance economic development in Iowa and other places but also to help folks get ahead in the long-term.

Henderson: Let me be the skunk at the picnic as Chuck Grassley would say, but when it comes to this economic stimulus package there are those who argue the federal government given the debt and given the deficit has no business allotting this much money.

Loebsack: Yeah, I think that is an interesting argument that is a plausible argument to be made. We are over $9 trillion in debt and much of that to foreign countries and none of us likes that. And we have our rules in the House of Representatives, we have our pay as you go rules. If I were to introduce a piece of legislation tomorrow, right, that had a price tag on it I would have to stipulate basically where we're getting that money. So, it's neutral in that sense. At the same time there are times I think in the history of every country where unfortunately we're going to have to add a little bit, you know, in terms of the long-term debt for the greater good. We've got, we're heading into a recession, it appears as though, we've been in a downturn for a long time, people are hurting. That's the important thing I think to keep in mind. So, we have to do something for those who are hurting. And it's a short-term, it's temporary.

Glover: Let's get your take on where the economy is, you've bounced back and forth a couple of times on this show, we're heading into a recession, we're in a recession. What is your take on the economy? Are we already in the recession? Is the recession coming? Is the recession inevitable? How deep is it going to be?

Loebsack: Well, again, sometimes it's a matter of semantics. Clearly, you know, whether you're an economist and you define it in a particular way, whatever, my point is that it's a downturn that we've experienced whether we call it a recession or not and if we don't do something now it's going to get worse, whether it technically becomes a recession or not, it's going to get worse. That is the point. And, you know, again, I didn't just learn about this in the past two weeks since I got back to Washington, D.C. from the holiday recess. I was talking to folks in the district prior to my election, since my election, getting around, hearing what they had to say about this and not just those folks I've mentioned who are in distress.

Glover: Call it what you will, we're in economic trouble.

Loebsack: That's right. And I just want to say that a lot of small business owners I talk to who have been very much affected by this economic downturn, I did a consumer product safety tour and talked to some of the small toy sellers and retailers in the district and at least two of them told me that their sales were down prior to Christmas because of the economic downturn. So, it affects all of us.

Borg: ... argue in favor, though, of extending and making permanent the Bush tax cuts?

Loebsack: Well, that doesn't strike me as logical at this point because those tax cuts end in 2010, as you know.

Borg: But the argument is that if they aren't made permanent it's a hit to the economy because it's a tax increase.

Loebsack: Well, we're going to be talking about that. That's not something that we're doing at the moment. We're talking about a short-term stimulus, a shot in the arm for the economy. And so to talk, in my view, to talk about extending those tax cuts that expire in 2010 that's putting the cart before the horse in some ways and that's something we're going to look at obviously in terms of potential long-term solutions to the problems we face as an economy. But at the moment it doesn't make sense for me for us to be adding that to this package. So, I'm not inclined to go in that direction. Keep in mind, though, we did do some things in the stimulus package in terms of accelerating depreciation for businesses but there are some things in there for small businesses in particular and I think everyone here knows that small businesses are the businesses that generate the most jobs. So, that is part of this package as well and I think that's the way to go. We've got to do that.

Henderson: Let's talk about the 2008 election. You endorsed Barack Obama before the Iowa caucuses. Did you make a mistake? If Hillary Clinton is the nominee and the next President of the United States won't there be retribution?

Loebsack: I don't know about that but I don't think I made a mistake and I don't think that we can go wrong no matter who the Democratic nominee is. I think that no matter who the Democratic nominee is we're going to put this country on the right track. We've been trying to do that this year, we've been stymied at just about every turn by President Bush. When we get a new president and I'm confident that it will be a Democrat whether it's John Edwards or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton I think we're going to begin to move this country in the right direction.

Glover: Congressman, all politics is local, as they say. It would not be unfair to say your election in 2006 was something of a surprise. You defeated a long-time incumbent Republican who we all thought was likely to be re-elected. What do you hear about your opponent in 2008?

Loebsack: Well, I guess I have some opponents. I haven't talked to them myself and I'm not really focused on that as you might imagine. I've only been there for a year and we just sort of celebrated the one year anniversary.

Borg: But how can you say you're not ...

Loebsack: Well, because I'm still learning how to be the best Congressman I can be and learning how to be on these shows and take the heat from you folks.

Glover: But to do that you have to win again come November and that's only 9 months away.

Loebsack: Well, look, I mean, what they say, I mean, the best re-election strategy is do a good job so that's what I'm going to do and I'm just going to keep doing my job and getting around the district as much as I possibly can. And when the time comes that I have to make an announcement I don't know which one of you will be the first to hear about it but we'll let you know when that comes. I mean, I can't get everything done, obviously, that I want to get done by any means the first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. So, I plan to be doing this again. But officially we haven't said anything about that and I'm going to just keep doing my job.

Henderson: You've no doubt heard that Congressman Boswell who, like you, is a Democrat has a primary, a challenger in Ed Fallon, someone with whom you share a kinship on some ideological issues. Who are you picking in that fight?

Loebsack: Well, I've known both of them for a long time as you might imagine. And I have to say that Congressman Boswell has been very good to me, he's been very good to Iowa throughout his term but he's been very good to me my first term. He served as a mentor of sorts and I look up to him in many ways. He's helped me get sort of through the politics of Washington, D.C. and helped me, he actually represented part of my district for a number of years and I'll be supporting him.

Glover: Any ideological problems?

Loebsack: I'm just going to support Leonard Boswell.

Glover: Let's turn to the caucuses. We just had a very heated caucus campaign in 2008. What will the role that Iowa plays, how will that be affected over the next four years? Can Iowa maintain its first in the nation status? And what can you do to protect that?

Loebsack: Well, my hope is that, of course, a Democrat wins and that at least on the Democratic side we don't have to worry much about the caucuses in four years. We'll have an incumbent who I would assume would not be challenged by another Democrat. My hope is that we won't have to think about this for another eight years. But, again, those kinds of issues truly I am not giving them much thought at this point. I want Iowa to stay first, there's no doubt about it. I will do what I can in the process and as a member, I guess, as a super delegate and all of that, I'll do what I can do advocate for Iowa.

Glover: But there is a challenge to Iowa this time, some other states moved up in the process and got away with it and a lot of people think that means that there will be other challenges in the next election cycle and as a super delegate, as a top Democrat, one of the leaders of your party, what is your responsibility to protect it?

Loebsack: Oh, well it is to protect it, that is my responsibility. And I'll continue to do that as best as I possibly can. Principally, obviously, much of that responsibility falls to the party itself and there are a number of us, obviously, in the delegation who will be working on this. Senator Harkin I'm sure will continue to take the lead. Whoever our Iowa Democratic Party chair is, Scott Brennan now, whoever it is in the future will continue to advocate to keep us first in the nation. I'm pretty confident that we can stay there but, again, I'll do everything I possibly can to keep us there, there's no doubt about it.

Henderson: Do you have an easier shot at re-election with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket or with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket? Which is a better shot at ease of elections for Democrats?

Loebsack: Well, again, I personally have not thought about that issue. I chose Barack Obama ...

Henderson: I thought maybe that was the reason why you endorsed him?

Loebsack: No, no. Here's why I endorsed Barack Obama, a lot of reasons why as I talked about when I traveled around with him. But I believe that, personally I believe that any Democrat is going to move us in the right direction. But among that sort of field of wonderful candidates that we've had even though it's been narrowed now down to three officially to me Barack Obama stands out as one who has the best opportunity, the best chance to bring America together. Since I've been in Congress, we all know about the partisanship that goes on in Congress, I prefer to call it hyper-partisanship. I've been frustrated by our inability to move this country in the right direction as people in 2006 I think is why they voted for me. What I do virtually every week at least a couple of times I get out of my chair on where I'm sitting but on the Democratic side of the House of Representatives, I get up and I walk across the aisle which sometimes seems a lot wider than others and introduce myself yet again to another Republican. Barack Obama can do that better than anyone else running on the Democratic side.

Borg: Thanks for that insight but I have to cut you off because we're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Loebsack: Thank you very much.

Borg: Well, that's this edition of Iowa Press and I hope you'll watch next week. It will be the same Iowa Press airtimes, 7:30 Friday night, 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Iowa Bankers Association for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; and by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grassroots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at; by Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities, where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

Tags: Afghanistan Congress Dave Loebsack economy Iowa Iowa legislature politics