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U.S. Rep. Steve King Discusses Health Care Reform in Congress

posted on December 30, 2009

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A line in the sand.  Congressional Republicans rejecting the Democrats' overhaul of the health care system.  We're getting perspective from Iowa's 5th District Congressman Steve King, on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: On Christmas Eve just before recessing for the holidays, the U.S. Senate passed its version of massive changes in the nation’s health care system. Next up reconciling the senate’s version with legislation passed earlier by the House of Representatives. Democrats holding power-wiggling majorities will control that process, but democrats are making major concessions to hold their votes in place because republicans have so far been voting against the legislature. They may be gambling on picking up future support among voters if the health care changes turn out to be unpopular. On that matter and others, we’ll be questioning today Iowa’s fifth district Congressman Steve King, now serving his fourth term representing western Iowa. Representative King, welcome back to Iowa Press.

King: Thanks very much, I’m glad to be back, Dean.

Borg: Fourth term, I’m right on that?

King: I believe that’s right.

Borg: And we’ll be asking you about a fifth year in just a second.

King: It’s amazing how fast this time goes.

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

Glover: Congressman, I think I know where you stand on the health care overhaul package that is working its way through Congress. But put your predictor’s hat on for me. Is this Congress going to pass the health care overhaul bill?

King: Well, I’m turning out all my effort that I can to try to kill this bill, and I want to encourage the people that oppose it to join in that effort. But I will say that strategically and politically, when there’s a bad idea that’s created, the easiest time to kill that is when the idea was created. Every step along the way it picks up momentum. It’s now passed the senate. It looks like there will be a conference committee that will be appointed. It will be appointed by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on the democrat side. It will be loaded with the people that will produce the result that she wants. If they can count votes and twist arms, it’s likely there will be a bill going to the president’s desk. I’m going to do everything I can to stop that, Mike.

Glover: And tell me this, President Obama, then-candidate Obama, spent the better part of two years crisscrossing this country campaigning for the White House and a key part of his platform was universal health care. Why wouldn’t he push universal health care as president? He got elected on it.

King: Well, I want to congratulate Hillary Clinton because she pushed Obama into universal health care as a candidate for president. And he had to get up to speed on health care. She was very much up to speed and tried that in the early ‘90s and it failed. That was what Phil Gramm stood on the floor of the senate and said this will pass over my cold, dead political body. I wish we had that person that could say that today. But he did need to push this agenda. That’s part of it politically. But President Obama, then-candidate Obama, made the point over and over again that we spend too much on health care, so we have to fix it. We have an economy that’s in a downward spiral. We can’t fix it unless we first fix health care, so the solution is if we’re spending too much money – spend a lot more money on health care, it’s almost as if the emperor has no clothes, Mike.

Glover: So Congress passes health care overall. What’s the political fallout from that?

King: I think there will be a price that they will pay in the ballot box of November 2010. I’ve never seen this kind of energy in America, this kind of uprising, especially from the heart of the heartland of America. The Tea Party Patriots and other groups, the Americans for Prosperity, I’ve never seen people come into the streets the way they have, peaceful. They pick up every little piece of litter. They have a constitution in their pocket often, and I’ve seen tears come from the eyes of grown men who are seeing what’s happening to our country and the diminishment of our liberty.

Borg: I’m interested in that statement, “I’ll do everything I can to stop it”. Realistically, what can you do in a republican minority? I mean, it’s already rolled past you. How can you stop it now? You’ve already admitted that it has momentum.

King: Well, of course. I mean, constitutionally, morally I would do everything I can to stop it, but there are other things that – the public opinion that takes a hold – a couple of years ago when we had the comprehensive immigration reform, which I call comprehensive amnesty, the American public shut down the switchboards in the United States Senate twice and were able to kill that bill. There’s still time for the American people to rise up. I’m going to continue to educate the American people. I’m going to ask them give your senators and your congressmen a personal experience and do it so peacefully and respectfully, but go see them if you can. Call them on the phone if you can. Go to their office. You may have to come to Washington, D.C., but the American people are going to have to come up and stop this and I’m going to be asking them to do that.

Henderson: Congressman, it appears that the bomber on a Northwest Airlines flight that landed in Detroit last week had explosive sewn into his underwear. Is it time for the federal government to invest in the kind of technology that at screening points would detect those kinds of explosives in airline passengers?

King: Well, I think we’ve got to take a good look at that, and there are some personal liberties to be concerned about. From my standpoint, if there’s an exception, if you’re willing to undergo a more thorough search rather than walk through the body scanner, then I think that’s fine. But otherwise I think body scanners are a good idea and it is, you know, the ACLU may not think so. But you do have a choice on whether you get onto an airplane or not, and I think the American public will now support walking through a body scanner.

Henderson: There’s also an issue this week, the transportation safety administration who are in charge of those airport screeners does not have a director. There’s a republican senator who has put a hold on that nomination. President Obama put forward a former FBI agent who has been the head of the police departments at the Los Angeles airports. Do you agree that his nomination should have been held up? Do you think TSA is appropriately led right now?

King: Well, it’s also the customs and border protections would be in the same category. And I haven’t looked at the politics of that to see what the leverage is. It’s not unusual to have that happen, but I don’t know if we can imagine that if there had been a director appointed to TSA that this problem would have been solved. I will say that I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been at least public knowledge of a more comprehensive approach to this delivered by the White House. The people I’m talking to – and I mentioned right before the show started that I’ve talked on the phone with Pete King and Pete Hoekstra, the two ranking members that are relevant here. They’re completely locked out of information. We finished the conversation and I wanted to know what’s classified and what isn’t, what can I repeat. And their answer was don’t worry about any of this because we have no classified information. They have directed all the cabinet members, everybody in the administration to direct all communications to the White House and the White House has shut down communications to Congress.

Glover: You just said that you’re opposed and will do everything you can to stop universal health care, republicans blocking the new head of the TSA. You’re opposed to almost everything that’s happening in Congress. How do you react to the label that you’re becoming the party of no?

King: Well, and some have said it’s the party of k-n-o-w. And I’d make that point, Mike, but I don’t think that’s the central one here. We have the most liberal president ever elected in the history of the United States of America. And you have the most liberal Congress that’s ever been seated in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, and they have supermajority in the Senate, a filibuster-proof majority. They’ve proven that. So we have taken – this nation has taken a giant lurch to the left. When they move their agenda – and these people are aggressive. They are true believers. They work hard. They’re well funded. They have deep convictions and they are driving America off the cliff into the abyss of socialism, so I should be for it and any thinking person should be opposed as well.

Glover: No, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be opposed to what’s happening in Congress or wouldn’t be opposed to what President Obama is proposing. What I’m saying is don’t republicans have to say we don’t like what the democrats are doing in Congress, we don’t like what President Obama is doing, and here’s what we want to do, here’s our alternative? I hear that we don’t like what they’re doing. I don’t hear and here’s our alternative.

King: We’ve introduced 42 different pieces of legislation for health care reform, for example. Some of those things that are part of that are buying insurance across state lines, putting an end to the lawsuit abuse for medical malpractice. That’s about $203 billion a year cost in premiums and litigation and paying off the trial lawyers. Neither one of those subjects are brought up or even part of this consideration. There are many other components of this, but we’re watching an assault on our liberties that’s taking place. I’m for health savings accounts, for example. It looks like they end if this becomes law. And I’m for maintaining the funding for Medicare. But it looks like that gets cut by at least a half trillion dollars and more likely a trillion dollars in the first full decade if we let this happen. So we don’t have a chance to be for things because we can’t bring amendments. Nancy Pelosi has shut down the process, but we introduced 42 bills.

Henderson: Back to Mike’s – the crux of Mike’s question about the Republican Party in its opposition to this president. There are some republicans who question whether Obama is an American citizen. What’s your view on that controversy?

King: I looked into that pretty deeply before he was inaugurated and it worked with some people. In fact, I met with them just on their way back from the Library of Congress where they had pulled the Microfiche newspapers out that noticed President Obama’s birth and the date of the newspaper was August 10, 1961. I saw one of those copies of that. That’s all over in public libraries all over the country. I don’t know how you fake something like that and get it into all the public libraries in Microfiche copy and anticipate you’ve given birth to a future president of the United States. I would have thought that about my first born, but I don’t think they called from Kenya.

Borg: One of the reasons that you may be having trouble resonating your call to oppose health care among the general public is that people are thinking about jobs. That seems to be the number one thing on people’s minds. Unemployment at 10 percent, maybe even higher because people have stopped looking for jobs and may not even be counted in that. Has – and President Obama and others say it would be worse if it weren’t for the stimulus program. Do you agree?

King: I think that President Obama has embarked upon the most aggressive experiment in Keynesian economics in the history of the word, and I think that there are – the one thing that could happen with that if you spend trillions of borrowed money, the government doing that, might diminish the depths to which we might have otherwise fallen, with unemployment numbers and the slow of our GDP et cetera. But it guarantees, because you have to service a debt, the interest on the debt and the principal of the debt, it guarantees that the trough that we’re in will be longer and it will take longer to recover. So I think what we should have done is let free enterprise take over. And we would have felt some pain in the short-term, but I think we’d be coming out of this by now and we let the entrepreneurs work our way out of this rather than the government buy its way into this hole.

Borg: Some question as to whether or not doing it privately would have done quickly enough, but to add onto that question –

King: They may do that but we’re being locked into it long-term now.

Borg: There’s some talk also about additional stimulus. You would not support that?

King: I don’t see the need for an additional stimulus. We’ve got just billions of dollars that have not been spent off the stimulus one plan, the $787 billion. And, in fact, I would go back – I opposed the original TARP, the $700 billion in TARP funding. And about through that period of time, we’ve seen eight huge national private sector entities – excuse me, private sector entities nationalized, three large investment banks, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Motors, Chrysler, all of that nationalized or under control of the federal government in one way or another with $700 billion at TARP, $787 billion in the stimulus package, and then you’ve got Cash for Clunkers on top of that. This government has taken over the control, according to the Wall Street Journal as far back as last August, of about one-third of the private sector profits. We’ve got to get back from that, and I’ve asked Tim Geithner to show me his road map, his exit strategy, so to speak. There isn’t an exit strategy, Mike.

Glover: Aren’t you making the same argument that Herbert Hoover made in 1929 in an argument which led to a generation of republicans in Hinterland.

King: Well, I actually studied some of that history of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, I sat in the library and read all the newspapers from the crash of October – in October of ’29 until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, trying to write a paper on how good FDR’s solutions were. But I think what Herbert Hoover did wrong was that he went into trade protectionism, and he thought government could solve the problems. Hoover had never met a problem he couldn’t solve, and I think now if you could ask him, he would look back on those times and say, you know, we really needed to believe in Adam Smith. We had to let the markets establish this and have free and smart trade. Let’s have a global economy that rewards productivity and competitiveness. That’s where we get it. It isn’t about government jobs. This is about increasing our production and our competitiveness so the world economy can flow in a natural way and not a government way.

Henderson: You were an opponent of the energy bill which cleared the House that last year. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa Governor, was in Iowa this past week saying that this affords farmers an opportunity to make extra income. This could be a boon to rural America. Do you disagree with his contention that the cap and trade process could be a benefit to farmers?

King: I saw the graph on this a year or more ago that showed a bar graph that here’s the gross receipts on Iowa corn, here’s the gross receipts on Iowa soybeans, and here’s what we think we can get for gross receipts trading cap and trade with carbon credits and Iowa farmers. What does that produce? I mean, just transitioning in it – and I presume that’s the segway that went on in your mind when you asked the question, Kay. What does it produce when you set up government regulations and you create a false market. I mean, it produces a lot of tax dollars, and about one out of every five actually gets the U.S. Treasury. The balance of that is a burden created by government. It isn’t an increase in competitiveness. So I think there will be some farmers that might gain from a cap and trade plan. But in the end Iowa loses, energy users lose, America loses, and jobs get created in places like India and in China. And I just don’t think that’s refutable, and I’d be happy to have that conversation with our Secretary of Agriculture.

Glover: Let’s go overseas for just a second. In perhaps the first and most important foreign policy decision President Obama made, he decided to insert more troops into Afghanistan to try to make some gains there. Was that the right decision? And is the war in Afghanistan winnable? I’ve seen studies where it’s essentially unwinnable unless you make an enormous effort.

King: And, Mike, I was one of the early proponents of the surge in Iraq. I was there before we used the word surge and promoted the concept that turned out to be the surge. I just came back from Afghanistan within about a month ago. And that’s a hard question in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is closer to the stone age by far than Iraq ever was. It will take a lot longer to come out of that. I’d rationalize it this way. If we don’t have a strong central government in Afghanistan that can project its influence and its power out to the borders, border cities and the border areas, then the stability in Afghanistan will be gone and the vacuum will be filled by Taliban and Al Qaeda. So the answer is yes, I think it was the right decision. It should have been made a lot sooner. And my back channel information, not classified, is that General McChrystal asked for as many as 80,000 troops,, that he projected the prospects of success to be significantly higher at 80,000 and then in increments on down to 40 being the minimum number. McChrystal got 75 percent of his minimal number. They did accelerate the deployment schedule there. I’m not as worried about the military component of this as I am the State Department, the economic side of this. They’re the ones that really have the tough battle, to do something that hasn’t been accomplished in eight years there, to do that in eighteen months, and then start to deploy out of there.

Glover: And you mentioned earlier that the unstable – that’s putting it kind – nature of the government and structure of the country of Afghanistan, is it winnable? Can we send in 30,000 troops and cure a country that’s essentially living in the Stone Age?

King: Well, we can’t do it with American troops out front taking out Al Qaeda and Taliban and pulling out of there and leaving. It’s got to be by standing up to forces of – Afghanistan security forces like we did in Iraq. We’re over 600,000 security forces in Iraq today. We’re trying to get to a number that exceeds 200,000 in Afghanistan, and it’s similar populations. I did meet with President Karzai for about ninety minutes. I think he thinks in English, for one thing, so it was a very quick conversation. He has the capabilities of stabilizing Afghanistan if we have the capabilities of working with him and if we persevere, we could succeed in Afghanistan, but I do not believe we can do that without a solution also in Pakistan.

Glover: And how long will it take? You say that it can’t be done in eighteen months. What’s your timeframe? How long?

King: I’m one of those people that it’s when you announce what time you’re going to be done and go home, that’s when the enemy will decide to come out, the day after you go home. So I think it’s a long battle there, and I don’t think we should put a timetable on it. But it is okay to sit down with Karzai and say here are our bench marks behind the scenes. You need to meet them because we’re going to adjust our policy according to how well you do.

Borg: I want to quickly go back to something you mentioned earlier, and that was how you mobilize people to call in on the immigration issue. Isn’t that an issue now that has really lost momentum?

King: I think that Luis Gutierrez from Chicago doesn’t – doesn’t think it’s lost momentum. There’s significant pressure for them to move the immigration legislation that’s just been introduced in the last couple of weeks. I think they’re going to have a very hard time moving that legislation because of something you mentioned at the beginning of the program and it’s the jobs. We have the most people in America unemployed than we’ve ever had unemployed in history. That’s raw numbers. The percentage has been higher. But we’re up around above 10 percent in unemployment. There are at least 15.4 million people that are registered as unemployed and there are another 5 to 6 million who no longer qualify under the definition of unemployed, and some say those totals now between – I’ll say there are more than 20 million. There may well be more than 30 million. It’s pretty hard to sell expansion of an amnesty program – and that is the bill that’s before us. It’s an amnesty program – when you’re looking at tens of millions of Americans that are unemployed, at least 8 million working illegals in America, every one of them taking a job that an American or a legal resident – lawful permanent resident could take. So I think they’re going to have a hard time making that argument. And I’ll just add to this that we legalize, we give green cards to at least 900,000 people every year for legal immigration. We’re very generous with that, so our economy has to create another 900,000 jobs every year just to keep up with legal immigration. And I think it’s time now for us to slow that down and match that up and index it to our unemployment rate.

Henderson: Let’s turn to the 2010 election. I would guess you’re among the republicans who are predicting congressional gains at the national level. Let’s turn to state level politics. Will you endorse a republican candidate for governor in 2010 before the June primary?

King: You know, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’d like to see them – and I’ve looked across this field and I have the privilege of actually knowing them all. I believe I know them all. Boy, they’re good people. So I’d like to see them fight this out because it tests their vigor and it tests their ability and it also shapes the policy for republicans that will be matched up against the policy that’s been set by Governor Culver. I think Governor Culver is wobbly. I think that he is vulnerable and Iowans don’t really do a lot about – let’s see, Iowans have been pretty good about granting people who are good public servants extra terms in office, so we don’t reject them very often. We did have a little time there during U.S. senators that it looked like one term was all you could get about thirty-five years ago or so. But I think this is the time. I think there will be a republican governor and there are many reasons for it and the budget is the biggest reason.

Glover: Let’s step back and put on your political hat. It wouldn’t be an official Iowa Press show if we don’t talk just pure politics for a second. Give me your take on the health of the Republican Party in Iowa. There are those who suggest there’s a debate and a tension between – let’s call them the evangelical conservative wing of the party and the more mainstream moderate – I don’t know if you’d call them moderate – they’re conservative too – but more mainstream wing of the party. Give me your take on the health of the party.

King: Well, you know, we’ve taken some losses in the polls the last couple of cycles in Iowa –

Glover: You had two really bad ones.

King: -- and nationally. So when that happens, I have been one who said we need to get some fresh faces here and put some new leadership in place and we need to anchor ourselves to our principles. I see that that vigor is coming. When I see young people step up that have decided that they wanted to engage in public service but they wanted to wait until they raised their children and had their pension plan in place, now they’re saying I can’t wait because I don’t want my children to grow up in this and so I’m willing to step out now. So I’m encouraged by the quality of the candidates we have, by the renewed vigor. The American people are going to have to decide and Iowans are going to have to decide do you believe in free enterprise, do you believe in growing the private sector, or do you believe in growing the government sector right – we’ve been growing the government sector here for two and a half, not quite three terms of the governorship. That’s going on at the national level too. Those things index and if you look out into the streets and see the Tea Party Patriots out there and the other groups, it gives you a sense of where this is all going.

Glover: During his opening Dean mentioned that you’re in your fourth two-year term in Congress. Will there be a fifth two-year term for Congressman Steve King?

King: I don’t know if the voters know yet. The Lord only knows then. But I intend to – I intend to be on the ballot in November of 2010. That’s what I’m looking at now. I love this work, Mike. It is a great challenge and no one who has ever had the privilege of representing especially Iowans in the United States Congress, I don’t know how they could ever be a slacker or go lazy. You can – every day I get to choose from a whole series of things I get to learn and work on and I have great staff and it is very, very rewarding. And then, of course, the frustrations are the things we’re constantly working on. You have to score it according to the degree of difficulty if you’re going to measure accomplishments in the minority.

Henderson: It appears that Iowa, based on the latest census data that’s available, will lose a seat in Congress and that there will only be four members of the Congress from Iowa. If you are thrown into a district with another member of Congress, right now do you think you would seek re-election in that environment?

King: Well, right now the answer to that is probably yes, but it’s also down the road into the 2012 election. So one thing is I enjoy really good health. I don’t know why I feel so good, but I do. And it would be a shame to back away from this opportunity of a lifetime to go out and engage in these – especially the national issues that need so much help today.

Henderson: If I could go back to the issue of endorsing, you endorsed Fred Thompson before the republican caucuses in 2008. Is that weighing on your decision in regards to endorse in the gubernatorial race?

King: Well, I learned from that. I think that I should have made an endorsement earlier in the presidential race because even though it was a very useful thing to do from, I’ll say from Fred Thompson’s standpoint and mine – I learned a lot from it. I travelled with him and I went to South Carolina and other places. It was really useful. But you learn a lot about that and I think I owed the people of this state an earlier endorsement than I actually offered. It was December 19 when I made that endorsement, and it was pretty late. So that’s something I learned from that.

Glover: Let’s go forward to the 2012 election. We’re starting to see the first early signs of republicans floating through the estate preparing for Iowa’s precinct caucuses. Give me your take on those people who have been out front as potential republican candidates in 2012. How strong a field is it? How big will it be, how large? How active will it be?

King: That is a really good question. When I look at this, I think that Mike Huckabee has, of course, really good organization here in the state.

Glover: Tim Pawlenty has been here.

King: And Pawlenty – I don’t know that Pawlenty has an organization like Huckabee’s. Although Sarah Palin, of course, is the one that’s got the charisma. She has the momentum. If she decides to come to Iowa, she has no problem drawing a crowd of tens of thousands would be my guess.

Glover: Do you think she’ll run?

King: It looks now like – who knows. You know, I’ve guessed her wrong before. I thought she’d made a career decision that would be hard to bounce back from. It looks like she’s bounced back from it and gone on from there. So she brings some extra talent to the table. Her instincts are good and her philosophy is good. I think she’s been working on burnishing her foreign policy credentials. I think we’ll see her in Iowa.

Borg: And you think she could win the Iowa caucus?

King: I would say that there are a good number of people that could win the Iowa caucus, and I would put her in the top five or so of those that would be in a good position to do so, Dean.

Borg: Thanks for taking time with us today.

King: I’m glad to be with you. Thank you.

Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we’re previewing the new Iowa legislative session with the leader of the senate’s majority democrats. That’s Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs. You’ll see the conversation with Senator Gronstal at our usual Iowa Press airtimes, that’s 7:30 Friday night, 11:30 Sunday morning. And from all of us here at Iowa Public Television, best wishes for a Happy New Year. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

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