Contesting the first. In eastern Iowa's first U.S. congressional district, democratic incumbent Bruce Braley is trying for a third term. Republican Ben Lange is contesting Braley's re-election. We're questioning Braley and Lange on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Today on Iowa Press we're continuing our series focusing on the candidates hoping to represent various districts of Iowa in the U.S. Congress. Iowa's first congressional district covers east central Iowa spanning twelve counties along the Mississippi River including Davenport, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Muscatine. Waterloo democrat Bruce Braley is in his second term representing that district. Independence republican Ben Lang is campaigning to claim that seat for the GOP. Gentlemen, nice to have you here on Iowa Press. Welcome.
Lange: Thanks for having us.
Braley: Thanks for having us on the show, Dean.
Borg: And also at the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Congressman Braley, let's start with you. There's something a little odd going on in the first district in this election cycle. A lot of money, a lot of money is flowing into that district from outside the district and we don't even know who it's coming from. What is going on?
Braley: Well, there's a lot of clear differences between my opponent and myself in this election, Mike. But the biggest issue that is facing voters in the first district is secret donors from outside the state of Iowa who are trying to buy this election for Ben Lange. I think the voters in the first district should be asking themselves why are these secret donors, Ben's secret donors doing so much to get rid of me? Is it because I stand up to powerful special interests every day like the CEO of BP after the top republican on my committee apologized to him after the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history? Is it because I fight hard for working families and work very hard every day to make sure they have a voice in policymaking? But it is the biggest single threat to democracy that we're facing in this election and I think the big issue on people's minds is who are these secret donors supporting Ben and why are they doing it?
Glover: Mr. Lange, you have said in the past that you're not associated with this group that is spending more than $800,000 on your behalf. But there is something you can do. You can say stop, I don't want you to do this anymore. Why don't you?
Lange: I think this is an interesting issue that my opponent continues to bring up. And frankly if we want to talk about outside influences ...
Glover: Let's talk about your outside money right now.
Lange: That's what the issue is, is outside ...
Glover: Are you content with an outside group with anonymous donors spending $800,000 on your behalf? You're okay with that?
Lange: What I have continually said is the issue is outside influence and that's what we talk about, outside influence and my opponent is supported by 91% from outside the first district of Iowa. So, if you're talking about disclosure, if the issue is disclosure then I support disclosure, everyone be disclosed so that means even Mr. Braley's supporters, 91% outside the first district, the nation be disclosed, every single one of them. It's interesting ...
Glover: Yes or no, will you tell this group to stop?
Lange: What I will continue to do is talk about the issues. My opponent doesn't want to talk about the issues and I have said, this is about the issues. This is about his voting record, this is not about the issues of secret donors that support my opponent.
Glover: So you won't tell them to stop.
Lange: What I'll continue to do is talk about the issues.
Glover: Mr. Braley, is this the life that we're going to expect post-citizens united? It's just anonymous money flowing into politics.
Braley: Absolutely, Mike, absolutely. And the point that my opponent raised is a lie. I have over 1000 donors from the state of Iowa, hundreds of donors from the first district of Iowa. He keeps throwing out numbers that are false. But that is an example of what is wrong with politics these days.
Borg: But do you know what percentage of your campaign contributions come from -- he says 91%, you're saying that's wrong?
Braley: Absolutely and when you look at my report that comes out on October 15th you'll see it because we're going to list every donor. That is the difference between my donors and these secret donors that are supporting Ben Lange. You'll know who they are, Dean, you can go to the Federal Election Commission Report and they'll be named and the level of their contribution will be listed. The average contribution I'm going to be getting from those donors is around $112.
Glover: Mr. Lange, you say you want to talk about the issues but, in fact, who pays for a campaign is an issue. How do you respond to that?
Lange: That's exactly right and what you said at the beginning is absolutely correct. I have no connection with these outside groups. As you know, I am prohibited by law. They are advocating for issues out there and my opponent is incorrect. 91% of his financial support since he began running for office comes from outside the first district.
Braley: That's a lie.
Lange: That is outside influence and he can disregard that and want to talk about these issues but let's talk about what people are upset about. He comes to the district and continues to support cap and trade, bailouts, stimulus, Obama care. Those are the policies that have people upset and that is what people want to talk about. And this issue that my opponent continues to bring up is not what eastern Iowans are concerned about.
Henderson: Let's start talking about issues. He mentioned people are upset. Mr. Braley, some republicans and some independents are very upset with the democratic led Congress, thinks you have gone too far. Some democrats think you didn't go far enough. How do you make your case for re-election in that environment when you have pleased neither side?
Braley: Well, you talk about the things you have done. You talk about what you promised you were going to do like increasing the minimum wage, which we did. You talk about making sure that you end the war in Iraq, which we have done. We have put in place an exit strategy that is bringing our troops home. You talk about making sure that women aren't discriminated in the workplace. The first bill that President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act to make sure women get treated the same as men in the workplace. You talk about your promise to make sure that 50 million Americans without healthcare are going to have better access to quality, affordable healthcare, which we have done. So, when republicans like my opponent talk about repealing healthcare they are telling those young children who are now not subject to discrimination based upon pre-existing conditions, we're taking that away from you. They are telling small businesses that are now eligible for a 35% deduction on premiums they pay for insurance, we're taking that away from you. They are telling seniors that have been getting payments to reduce their cost of prescription drugs when they fall in a donut hole, we're taking that away from you. So, I am happy to talk about what I have done as a member of Congress.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, you often say in campaign appearances that this isn't about republican democrat. I thought you were the republican candidate.
Lange: That's right, I am the republican candidate but what I am more importantly is someone that is putting principle before party. My opponent just listed off a number of things there but let's go back and talk to eastern Iowans. They went face-to-face with him all summer long last year, face-to-face telling him, Bruce Braley, we do not support this legislation, we do not support Obama care and he goes back to Washington, D.C. and supports it anyway. Go down the list with it, stimulus, cap and trade, bailout. The impact that it is having across the country since my opponent has taken office, unemployment has gone from four and a half percent to nine and a half percent, the national debt has nearly doubled to thirteen trillion dollars. That is the impact on eastern Iowans, it has real world effects for these folks that I have grown up around my entire life.
Borg: Mr. Braley, let's go back to the federal healthcare. You ticked off a number of things you said are good for Iowans. Are there some things that you wish weren't in that bill that you would vote to repeal?
Braley: No, I wouldn't vote to repeal anything that is in the bill because the bill together is what is necessary to reduce the number of people without healthcare coverage because, Dean, the healthcare system we had was broken and republicans did nothing to fix it. They had control of Congress and George Bush in the White House when Ben Lange was working for a republican congressman. 47 million Americans without health insurance is a national tragedy and republicans did nothing to solve it. Premiums skyrocketed getting out of control. Is the bill we passed perfect? No. But it is a good start and making sure that people have access to quality, affordable healthcare.
Borg: Mr. Lange, on healthcare, are there some things in that bill that you would keep?
Borg: I'm assuming that you, if you were elected to Congress, would vote to repeal. But what would you keep?
Lange: That is right, there are some good things in the bill. The pre-existing conditions, those types of things, those are good items in the bill. But look at the overall impact on this, look at what is going to happen, $350 billion of new taxes every year. For the first time in America's history you will be fined by the federal government if you don't purchase a product from a private company. That is an amazing point in history that my opponent continues to think that we can shove government down the throats of eastern Iowans. And what we know is this, what we know is that individuals from eastern Iowa stood face-to-face with him and told him we do not want this legislation and he didn't listen, he refused to listen over and over again and we saw those healthcare town halls.
Glover: Mr. Lange, we'll start with you, I won't mention the fine you'll get if you don't buy car insurance.
Lange: I also have a choice to drive, that is the difference.
Glover: The point being, one of the things that Congress did was pass a stimulus bill under pressure from President Obama to try to turn the economy around. What would you have done instead of that stimulus bill? Would you have just let the economy go the way it was going?
Lange: Of course not.
Glover: What would you have done?
Lange: I think the issue here is what is the best use of the dollar to allow people to create jobs and opportunities for folks. We just passed what was thought to be a $700 billion stimulus plan, it is now upwards of $800 billion and unemployment in Iowa has increased ...
Glover: Back up, back up ... what would you have done?
Lange: What we can do is allow private industry to do what they do best. We can allow them -- we can create a tax environment, a regulatory environment, an energy policy so that they have confidence. They are the locomotive, the economic engine in our country and the policies that my opponent continues to support is restricting that.
Glover: So, you cut taxes, you cut regulations which is, last I checked, how we got into the recession.
Lange: No, I'm not against government, I want smart government and Ronald Reagan said, cut me some slack I think I was seven when he said it, but, he said, I want a government that stands by my side, not rides on my back and that is what we have here with a stimulus plan that is equipped now $2500 per person. And what is the job growth? Unemployment is at nine and a half percent.
Glover: Mr. Braley, democrats are often pounded for voting for that stimulus bill. What is your defense for it?
Braley: Look at the enormous success the Recovery Act has had here in Iowa, Mike. Created 10,000 jobs, it is the most single transparent spending bill in U.S. history because every single dollar spent under that program was posted online. I set up a link on my Web site so voters I represent could go and find every single dollar spent in the first district. I set up a waste watchdog link on my Web site so if they became aware of wasteful spending under that program they could contact me immediately. And this is what government is supposed to be, transparent and open to the people. It provided a lot of incentives for people to go hire people and put them back to work. The Hire Act that president Obama signed into law this year included my Back to Work Act which does exactly what you should do, provides incentives to employers, tax breaks, they don't have to pay Social Security withholding if they hire someone who has been unemployed for 60 days. Then if they keep them on their payroll for up to a year they get another $1000 tax break. And guess what, Mike, 53,000 Iowa employees have been hired since February that would be eligible for that tax credit. And in Dubuque 10% of employers have employees who would be eligible for that tax break. 5.6 million workers nationwide eligible for an incentive to put unemployed workers back to work.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, you supported intervention in the automobile industry in the form of government loans to automakers as well as the infamous cash for clunkers program. There have been mixed reviews about that program. Did it work as envisioned?
Braley: Well, I disagree with your characterization of that program as infamous. I think economists will tell you that was one of the most wildly successful stimulus programs in U.S. history. It rescued a dormant automobile industry including automobile dealers all over the state of Iowa who were at risk of going under.
Borg: But some say just moved up the purchase and then dropped off.
Braley: Dean, Time Magazine did an analysis of this and concluded the ripple effects of this $3 billion investment were over $25 billion of net economic impact. That is hardly a failure and that is what people who have went back to work in factories building these automobiles will tell you, over 30,000 nationwide. But in addition to that, I participated in a hearing with the CEOs of GM and Chrysler and the president of the National Auto Dealers who is from Clinton, Iowa, a constituent of mine and held those CEOs accountable because they wanted to shut down dealers in states like Iowa and put people out of work and I fought against that.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, the flip side of this is that there are those who argue that if the government hadn't intervened with the automakers that the U.S. might have lost the automaking industry. Do you think it was appropriate for the government to help automakers as Ronald Reagan did back in his day?
Lange: Well, it's interesting, there my opponent goes again talking about the issue that he likes to look at, his view of it. But look at what the economists say, there was a study by the University of California economists that say, if this was the best economic stimulus then the rest had to be awful because, as you mentioned, Dean, it stole from the future. Yes, there were purchases for six months but it cost us almost $3 billion. And who is going to pay for that? It is our children that will pay for that, it is our kids that will pay for that, it is eastern Iowans that will pay for that. That is the real world effect that my opponent continues to miss on every policy down the line.
Henderson: But regarding the federal payment to automakers, would you have opposed that?
Lange: Absolutely. We can't continue to privatize the gains but socialize losses and that is what my opponent continues to do. This is a free market, a free enterprise to let the best competitor go out there. Here is what we don't know -- what we know is that we create equal opportunities for people in America, not equal outcome and that is the distinction between me and my opponent.
Glover: So, if the auto industry goes, oh what the heck.
Lange: No, it's not what the heck and it's an evaluation of policy that allows private industry -- the federal government can no longer be the provider, the insurer, the employer on every single aspect and my opponent fails to recognize this on every single step of the way, cap and trade, bailouts, stimulus, Obama care, on and on down the path and the impacts on eastern Iowa are horrendous.
Glover: And is this election, this mid-term election a referendum on President Obama's performance? And if you think it is, are you comfortable with that? The last I saw his job approval ratings are not all that bad.
Lange: Well, what this election is about is voters are going to go to the ballot box and they are going to have an opportunity to decide am I going to send the same politician back to Washington in hope for different results or am I going to send somebody to Washington and say enough is enough with this. We are tired of it, I want a check and balance on this administration and I want somebody that is born and raised right here in the first district to go there and put principle in front of party and that's what this ballot is going to be about.
Glover: But the question is, is it a referendum on Obama?
Lange: It is a referendum on Bruce Braley's policies that he continues to support, that's right.
Glover: Representative Braley, he doesn't seem to want to talk about President Obama. Is this election a referendum on President Obama? And if you are re-elected when you go back into Congress will you vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker?
Braley: Well, first of all, it is a referendum on President Obama because he was elected here in Iowa with an overwhelming majority, one of the highest majorities of any president in recent history and he went to Washington to change the way things are done and he said he was going to take on tough issues like healthcare, with 50 million Americans without access to health insurance and he was going to take on our energy problems and he did that, he provided leadership. And the problem is, Mike, doing what is popular isn't always right and doing what is right isn't always popular. We went to Washington to make a difference and try to do the right thing even if it provided tough votes and I certainly took my share of tough votes. But President Obama is doing exactly what people elected him to do which is to try to address these very serious problems.
Glover: Well, if you go back to it -- if it is a resolution on President Obama are you comfortable with that? His approval ratings are not all that bad. And the second part of the question was, will you vote for Nancy Pelosi if you regain control?
Braley: Nancy Pelosi came to my district when it was devastated by the worst tornado in the United States and the worst flooding we have ever had in United States history and my opponent doesn't like to talk about this but she met people who lost their homes. She met people who lost their businesses because of flooding and she went back to Washington committed to help them out. That is the type of leadership she has been providing and they don’t want to talk about that because it's not consistent with the message that they're selling.
Henderson: Let's talk about federal intervention on behalf of Lake Delhi. As many Iowans know it was a lake in that district which drained out because the dam collapsed this past July. Mr. Lange, what role should the federal government have in helping that Lake Delhi Association rebuild?
Lange: You know, this lake is a place that I grew up 25 minutes from so I have memories as a kid going there so I certainly appreciate the recreation that it provides to the community there in Delaware County. The issue specifically is what role the federal government should have in rebuilding a privately owned asset on a recreational lake. And frankly this gets to the problem that we are facing as a nation that we can continue to spend ourselves into a hole that my opponent continues to support but we need to focus on, I support Delaware County in their efforts to rebuild that lake, I want that lake there but the proper role of federal government is not to rebuild a privately owned asset on a purely recreational lake.
Borg: What should the federal government do if anything?
Lange: I think the federal government can take, ensure the folks, people that lost their homes and their property right there, that is the role of federal government but a privately owned asset ...
Borg: To just provide insurance for them in the future?
Lange: We see that, we see the FEMA on the ground, we see what takes place in an emergency and a disaster along those lines but the issue is rebuilding the privately owned asset.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, what is your view on this?
Braley: Well, that shows how little my opponent knows about the facts because Delaware County chose not to participate in the FEMA flood program. So, unless they retroactively applied they wouldn't even be eligible for the type of assistance he's talking about. Look, I was standing on the south end of that dam when it blew out and I can tell you it was one of the most vivid experiences I ever had in my life. But this isn't just about Lake Delhi, this is about every county in the first district that was affected by this flooding.
Braley: Because every single individual who was affected by the flood has a need that needs to be evaluated, Dean, and my job isn't to make decisions on who gets all of that money, it is to make sure that if there are federal programs that my constituents are eligible to receive assistance from that my staff and I do everything we can to qualify them, to make sure they have the resources to get their paperwork submitted and know what the criteria are to receive assistance. Then it is up to, in many cases, the state government who takes these funds in the form of community development block grants and decides how they are going to spend the money.
Borg: What are you saying, that if Lake Delhi qualifies under current law and regulations then federal money is okay but nothing special, no special treatment?
Braley: No, because I met with representatives of FEMA, I met with representatives from other federal disaster assistance agencies and there are often times gray areas on what is eligible and what is not. Ben failed to point out that even though this dam is owned by a private recreation association the lake itself is available to the public for recreational use. There is a county road that goes right across the dam. So, it's a mixed use of private and public money.
Borg: I want to move along. Would you extend ethanol tax credits?
Braley: Yes, the ethanol industry in Iowa has been a huge part of our movement away from our dependence on foreign oil. It is an evolving industry, there are a lot of different ideas even among ethanol producers, Dean, about the best way to provide incentives. A lot of people think that making sure we have blender pumps available to give consumers more options at the pump might be a direction we want to go in. But when you look at how the oil industry has been propped up by artificial assistance, waivers of royalties that we are due as federal taxpayers and the BP Gulf disaster that I was investigating is a classic example of that and we need to make sure we provide them the incentives to keep moving forward.
Borg: Thank you, Mr. Braley. Mr. Lange, ethanol tax credits.
Lange: I have said repeatedly, if the infrastructure is there -- I can see it in my home community, I see the railroad cars moving down the line, I see the ethanol plants there. If it is there let's use it, let's support the industry. But like any industry across the board ...
Borg: How support the industry?
Lange: Like any industry we support the credits that are available to them right now but like any industry out there they have to compete on their own two legs and we encourage them -- they'll want to do that, they want to compete because our farmers, our technology that we have here, they are the best in the world.
Borg: I don't quite get the answer there. You're saying, yes, what is in place you'd support but you'd phase out ...
Lange: That's exactly right and I have said it over and over again.
Borg: Phase it out?
Lange: We will put them on a path where they are competing on a level playing field with the oil industry, that is the issue. But really what we get down to is while my opponent continues to talk about supporting ethanol he is cutting the legs out from the opportunities of farmers right here in eastern Iowa. He supported a cap and trade bill that is going to have implications right here in eastern Iowa on jobs and utility costs and farmers that we're talking about right here.
Glover: So, if we lose the ethanol industry what the heck. Mr. Braley, let's talk about ...
Lange: I disagree with that.
Glover: If we talk about -- let's talk about Afghanistan. You said that Congress promised to get out of Iraq and you are living up to that promise. It seems to me the public support for the war in Afghanistan is beginning to wane. How long can we continue to wage that war? The President says he wants out by next July, he wants to begin phasing out by next July.
Braley: Mike, I have consistently challenged the President to provide us with a clear exit strategy for the war in Afghanistan. It has now gone on longer than any war in U.S. history and when I visited Camp Shelby this summer and met with 3500 Iowa National Guard members who were being deployed to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks that fact was born home very closely to me. I am committed to making sure that those troops have the resources they need to provide their protection while they are on the ground but we have to come up with a clear exit strategy. People who have analyzed the situation on the ground in Afghanistan will tell you that the way forward is very cloudy right now, the Afghan government has to stand up and accept responsibility for its own destiny and if they aren't willing to do that then we shouldn't be allowing young men and women from this country to lose their lives while they refuse to accept responsibility over a decade after we committed.
Glover: Mr. Lange, what steps should we be taking in Afghanistan? Are we on the right course? Should we change course? More troops? Fewer troops?
Lange: Well, I think we need to make sure that this is a very personal issue. I just sent the best man at my wedding, best friend in my entire life off to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment with the National Guard and it has real world effects right here in eastern Iowa. But what we also know is our military force, they are the best fighting force in the world. And as good as they are they can not make the Afghan people stand up and create a government that they don't want to create. So, our objective is military objective that is accomplish that, let's make sure we accomplish what the military operation has been and that is killing Osama bin Laden, that is threatening the terrorists, that is hunting them down and then we know Afghan people, they will know that we will not be there forever and they will have to stand up on their own.
Glover: Is the scheduled pull out beginning next July about the right timetable?
Lange: Well, as I've always said the tactical decisions are best made by the military commanders on the ground. General Petraeus is the best in the world, doesn't mean we don't have influence as elected officials in Washington but we need to make sure that the military decisions are being made by the generals on the ground.
Henderson: Gentlemen, we haven't much time left. Mr. Lange, on your campaign Web site among the P words that you don't like, Nancy Pelosi and populism. What do you find objectionable about populism?
Lange: I don't find anything objectionable about the word populism. What I have the problem with is my opponent's policies that he supports and trumpets under the term populism. As I have said again and again he supports cap and trade, Obama care, stimulus, these are having real world effects for eastern Iowa. Since he has taken office unemployment went 4.5% to 9.5%, national debt has nearly doubled to $13 trillion, that is the impact that eastern Iowans are facing.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, you are the head of the populous caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Braley: I am, I founded the populous caucus to fight for economic policies that are going to protect and expand the middle class because I grew up in the middle class in Iowa, I saw that we are at our best as a country when we have a strong, vibrant middle class and the reason Ben's secret donors want to get rid of me, Kay, is because I stand up and fight for those values every day against powerful special interests whose only purpose is to maximize their profits which is another P word. They are a result of the failed economic policies that took us into this great recession.
Borg: We're back where we started. I think we started out on this very topic and we're out of time so it's appropriate. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Braley: Thanks, Dean.
Lange: Thanks for having us.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we're questioning the candidates in Iowa's third district where incumbent democrat Leonard Boswell is defending his record against republican challenger Brad Zaun. You'll see that at the usual Iowa Press times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. And a reminder too that you can contact our Iowa Press staff directly and you can do that by e-mail. The address is at the bottom of your screen right now, it is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd like to hear your comments. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.