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Rep. Leonard Boswell discusses the work of the 112th US Congress

posted on April 29, 2011

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New territory.  Iowa's congressional delegation assessing new districts and the election challenges.  Democrat Leonard Boswell, now representing the third district, will be facing another incumbent, republican Tom Latham.  A conversation with Congressman Boswell on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: There's a tug of war going on in Washington and the outcome, or compromise, promises major implications for all of us.  There's general agreement that the nation has some fiscal belt-tightening ahead but deep disagreement about how to reduce federal budget deficits.  President Obama proposing long-range spending cuts but none as controversial as what is called the Ryan Plan, approved by the republican controlled House of Representatives.  That plan takes on the entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  After 15 years in Congress, Leonard Boswell has seen budget strife come and go.  But with a shaky economy and the U.S. involved in two, if not three, wars this may be a unique challenge.  Welcome back to Iowa Press.

Boswell: Well, thank you, Dean.  Good to be here.

Borg: And a unique challenge but you've also got a unique challenge coming up here and many congressmen moving from one district to another.  You're not one of them.

Boswell: Well, it happens every ten years, we have the census and then we have reapportionment so we know it's going to happen and so it happens but that election is 2012 so we've got a lot on our plate leading up to that so that's what we need to be working on.

Borg: We want to talk about that in just a moment.  But I want to introduce two people across the table that you know very well from your days in the Iowa legislature, the AP's Mike Glover and Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson.

Glover: Congressman, you have a lot of new territory in this new re-drawn third congressional district, a lot of people you haven't represented before.  What do you want them to know about you?

Boswell: Well, what you've just said, I'll say this, Mike, about 70% of those people have represented before of that new district so there's going to be a lot of getting reacquainted and some new acquaintances but I look forward to meeting and getting reacquainted and meeting new folks as well.  But, you know, a lot of that territory I've represented before.

Glover: Republican Congressman Tom Latham has announced that he is going to move into the district and oppose you next year.  What do you want voters to know about him?  And what do you plan on telling them about him?

Boswell: Well, I'm not even into that at this point.  As I said to Dean just a moment ago, we've got so much on our plate and that is over 20 months away.  We'll get into that in due time but right now in Iowa we've got so many concerns and all of us work together.  In fact, just today Steve King asked me to sign onto a letter with him to get some relief for the storm damage up there.  And we work together when it comes to Iowa issues and we've got a lot on our plate right now.  So, the campaign is down the road but I'm not campaigning today.  I'm here to share with you what's going on and try to answer your questions.  But I just, you know, we knew reapportionment was coming and I live in Des Moines, we'll have some territory besides Des Moines and it turns out it's going to be a territory that 70% of I've represented before, close to it and so it's been kind of enjoyable getting some of the calls that have come in and so on and we've been out there a little bit, I've even had a little look at Lennox, not much but a little bit and actually stopped by there looking at tractors as I was driving not too long ago.

Henderson: In case folks don't know, I am a native of Lennox, Iowa which is in Taylor County, southwest Iowa.  I want to ask you, why not retire?  There are a lot of democrats who say it's time for Congressman Boswell to retire.

Boswell: Well, there's a lot of democrats that say please don't retire as well.  This is a pretentious time, we all know that and I think that you even alluded to that starting out, Dean.  It's a historical moment.  There's a lot going on not only in our country but around this world and we don't know what it's going to say and I want it to say it busted -- I've got children and grandchildren and we use that a lot but it's true and I don't know when I've been better prepared to do what I do.  I've got the energy for it, I've got the desire to make things better and you mentioned whether the people know about me down that way as well as here in Polk County, well, they know that I come from an agricultural background, I was a career soldier, I'm a veteran and I went through some hard times in the state.  You mentioned the state legislature, well, we had budget problems that were really big and just reflecting back I had a part to play in solving those.  So, I think that they need a voice like mine there now and so if people choose to send me back I'll go.

Henderson: Congressman Latham said this week that that is a good fit for him, the new third congressional district, those sixteen counties in the southwestern corner.  Do you agree with his assessment that that's a good fit for him?

Boswell: Well, he can assess whatever he likes, Kay.  I feel that's fine with me.  I just gave you mine, it's a pretty good district for me too and so I just concentrate on that.  We've served 70% and over nine of the counties of the sixteen we've been in before for either state senator or Congress member and I fit with a lot of people out there.  But then we've got Polk County, we've got our capitol city and based on the time in the legislature and being downtown and going through the budget crisis we had then and so on, why, I know them well, they know me and they count on what they get.  In these pretentious times I think they kind of feel comfortable with me.

Borg: Speaking about budget problems, let's talk about campaign financing.  Most recent disclosures of campaign finance showed Congressman Latham with about a million dollars and you with $100,000.  That puts you quite a ways behind.

Boswell: You know, it's short but nevertheless we went through the last campaign without any debt and we've always had a challenge here and anybody that serves Polk County or the capitol city, if you will, Des Moines is going to have a challenge regardless what party they are or whatever.  So, we've always had a challenge.  We knew that when we came here and so that is a little bit different than some of the other districts around the state where they don't have that kind of a challenge.

Borg: But how are you going to meet that?  That is, you're going to have to outwork him.  He is already way ahead of you in money.

Boswell: Well, today, like I say, it's 20 months away, Dean, so there's lot of time and we've faced this before.

Borg: So, what I hear you saying, don't underestimate me?

Boswell: Well, we've dealt with this before.

Glover: Congressman, President Obama is up as well.  Do you expect him to come out and campaign for you?

Boswell: Well, I think he'd come out and campaign for himself and then we'll have something possibly that goes with it but I would hope that he'll come here.  Again, we don't know yet.  I understand that there's some organization going on and so we'll keep an eye on that and if there's an opportunity to work together we probably will.

Glover: But you anticipate seeing him doing a campaign?

Boswell: I think so.  I think so.

Glover: Would he be helpful?  His poll numbers have dropped but this is a state that kind of launched him on the way.

Boswell: Well, again, it is a pretentious time and there's just lots going on and I just refuse to worry about that part of it.  He's our President, I think overall he's done a good job.  I'm kind of surprised some of the things that get thrown at him and efforts on some that they want him to fail.  But he walked into that White House and we seem to have had a little amnesia in this country, some people, about what triggered this recession situation.  But it all happened September of '08 and November of '08 he got elected and then in January after inauguration he got the keys to the White House in one hand and a bucket full of problems in the other.  And so he had a challenge like there hasn't been a President had for many, many, many years and so he has dealt with it, maybe he didn't do everything perfect but I think he's done pretty good.  We didn't go over the cliff and I was worried about that and I think some of you were as well.  We could have perhaps done some things better but we did it pretty good.  We've got a recovery going on, it's a little shaky and I worry about it and we don't want to stumble here while that's going on.

Glover: But to be clear, do you think he'd be helpful out here?

Boswell: I welcome him to come here.

Henderson: Congressman, you're known as a blue dog, which means you're a moderate democrat, in an era in which it seems as if moderates or fence straddlers don't do as well as liberal democrats or conservative republicans.  Are you an anachronism, a throwback?

Boswell: Oh, I don't know.  You know, Kay, I think most people are moderate when it comes right down to it and I think Iowans are, I think they expect you to be able to compromise and work things out, you can't have it way over here and you can't have it clear over there and I came very green into the legislature years ago, you know, there was never a my want list, I got drafted but I let it happen and I observed some of that going on and I could give you examples and names that you'd all know of but you've got to bring it together to get things done and that seems to fit me, I feel good about it and so I'll continue to work that way and the blue dog mantra is fiscal responsibility.  What's wrong with that?  And at the same time you've got to look after people's needs and you've got to look after your community and you've got to look after your state and your country.

Glover: Let's look at this district if we could.  There are more registered democrats than registered republicans in the district but just barely.  You're running against an incumbent republican Congressman.  Is this your toughest competition?

Boswell: You know, again, you've said we'll talk about that, right now we've got so many things we need to be working on that I'm really not into that, Mike.  I expect every race to be tough.  I've had lots of tough races and I expect them to be tough because I think that the third district, the third when I started, the third it became, the third it's going to become or eventually will be in the next election it's always been a swing district, it's the definition of a swing district.  I seem to fit with those kind of folks and so they send me back but it's usually a heavy challenge.

Borg: Let's look at expanding on Mike's question here.  You've got Council Bluffs and Des Moines and a whole lot of rural area.  How do you bridge that, major metropolitan areas?

Boswell: I've already done that, Dean, that's what I've been doing for years really.  I've been here now the last ten years in Des Moines, the capitol city and I've got a lot of rural area here.  But that rural area out there, most of it, I know and I come from there.  They know me, they know my background, they know what they get with Leonard Boswell.  I come with a hands on agricultural background, I get repeating myself but I was a soldier, I served well and I'm a veteran and I do a lot looking out for veterans and the know what my priorities are when it comes to education and so on.  I think they feel pretty comfortable with me.

Henderson: You mentioned a concern about the pace of the recovery, the economic recovery.  Do you think that the economy and especially higher gas prices may be the dominating issue of the next campaign and you may not benefit from that because you're seen as the party in control because your president is in the White House?

Boswell: Well, everybody is concerned about the gas, the cost of gas and, of course, particularly in rural areas where you don't have public transportation, you've got to rely on it and it's a very big concern and here we go having this problem and we get reports that the oil companies, the gas companies are making mega profits and that's kind of hard to understand.  And so I've gone out with others on a letter to ask for a hearing on this to say, why are you doing this to our country?  It's your country too so why are you doing this?  And let's have some explanation.  This is not the right thing to do if we care about this country and keeping this economy going.  It's a part of it.  Of course, that drives me and as you all know ...

Borg: So, you want a hearing on what?

Boswell: On why they're doing this and why are they having these record profits at a time like this.

Borg: Oil companies?

Boswell: The oil companies and the effort seems to be as we look at those who want to write budgets and so on that they want to keep giving them subsidy.  Now, why would they deserve a subsidy when they're making record profits?  We've got so many renewable efforts going on and some of it could still lead to bolstering up, we've got even new prospects in algae and different things and ethanol I think is going to be a continuing progression as we go from when science works on it and then it gets from one element to the next and we've seen some of that already and we've got all the biodiesel stuff and all the other possibilities of fuel.

Henderson: But oil companies ...

Boswell: Wind, you know, is a big deal.

Henderson: The oil companies say ending those subsidies would end up hurting consumers because exploration and advancement of expanding U.S. supply would suffer.

Boswell: That's a pretty good lie, you know, they claim that they're investing it so if they've made $14 billion and they gave $1 billion back for doing something they still have $13 billion and I just don't think that this fits with the fact that our country is trying to get back on its feet, move forward and I don't know of any Iowan or any American that thinks that is justified and I don't either and so therefore we're going to try to get some daylight on it and see if they can't get something going.  And really there's no excuse to keep giving this subsidy, they don't need it.

Glover: Let's look at a little history lesson here if we could.  You moved from southern Iowa to Des Moines to stay in a congressional district.  Congressman Latham has announced plans to move into the third district and out of the new fourth district.  What's the politics of moving?  Does that mean much to voters anymore?

Boswell: You know, this is America and it's okay to do that and so it happens and the time that I moved Jim Leach moved and if Latham follows through with this, which I presume he's going to, why, Loebsack's going to move so to me I just don't ...

Glover: So, you think voters accept it pretty much?

Boswell: Well, I don't think they worry about it too much.

Henderson: This is your first appearance on this program since you won re-election in the last go around and your opponent was Brad Zaun, a republican from Urbandale.  What is your analysis of that race?  Many democrats who like you voted for the healthcare reform plan, wound up not getting re-elected.  Was it your barrage of ads against Brad Zaun that turned the tide or what was it?

Boswell: I don't think -- I don't know about a barrage but we tried to respond to identify just what it would be if he was to represent us but I think the issue was that we all knew, we all knew we had to do something about the escalating costs of healthcare and so finally we had some leadership that was willing to take it on.  I cheered for that because I wanted to take it on and we may not have, again, done a perfect, may have to do some tweaking on it but it's a good thing and it's bringing good results.  You know, the pre-existing conditions, I have people calling us saying, thank you, thank you for that and older Iowans saying, well, we see we're going to get some relief on this donut hole thing situation and so on.

Borg: Let me take you a step further then.  Does that kind of thinking that you just said I was in favor of and I voted for it -- does that extend into modifications now in the insurance, the federal insurance program called Medicare?  Are you in favor of some things that are being spoke of now of modifying Medicare?

Boswell: Well, if you're talking about the budget that was proposed, no.  The going to the voucher system, I think that would be a terrible thing, just like you heard me say probably on this program sometime years ago when they wanted to privatize Social Security.  Where would we be now as we went into this recession situation if Social Security had been invested in Wall Street?  So, they want to do this, suggesting this voucher system and putting in on the backs of our seniors to make up the deficit situation and there's other places to go.  I mean, there's other places to go that are reasonable and that's not a reasonable place to go and I don't support that.  I don't think the seniors deserve it and I'm just not in favor of it.  We actually have other places we can go and that's what we ought to be doing.

Glover: Congressman, yours is being described as one of the most competitive congressional elections in the country and both of you, likely, will be pretty well financed though Latham seems to have an edge right now, you both have a lot of money.  Typically in competitive congressional campaigns with a lot of money things get pretty ugly.  How ugly will this thing get?

Boswell: There's a history of that, Mike, and you're right on target but I have -- I guess I'm the eternal optimist, I come from the land and I  remember the first race I got into with Mike Mahaffey, a very decent person, we're still friends, we like seeing each other and we just talked about how we felt about the issues, it went right down to the last few days until outsiders got in and it got just a little bumpy those last few days but it was on a track of being the most up issue oriented race in the country then.  Well, why can't we have that?  And so I would hope that this would happen the same way.  Our voting record is going to be different, there's going to be contrast there that we can look at it, that folks can look at it but I don't see any reason why this has to, it can't be on the record, on what we need to do and be like the one that I had with what I think is a distinguished gentleman, Mike Mahaffey, I'll never forget that and that's the way it ought to be.

Glover: And people who ran his campaign later said that was the biggest mistake they made.

Boswell: Yeah, I don't know, they didn't say that to me but maybe so.

Henderson: You have described the critical tenet of being a blue dog as being a fiscal conservative.

Boswell: No, fiscal responsible.

Henderson: Fiscally responsible.  So, how do you intend to vote on raising the debt ceiling?

Boswell: The debt ceiling, I think we must do it.  I think we must.  I think this world we live in is based on the dollar.  It may someday change to the yen or the euro, I hope not, but it's on the dollar and if we don't make good on our payments and so on it would be disastrous, I think worse than going into an all out depression.  So, we've got to stay on track, we all know we've got to reduce the debt, we've got to reduce the deficit and there's ways to do that.  We're offering them up.  But we can't go south on our world responsibility as well as the responsibility of the country and I would hope, that ought to be just laid out there and dealt with as it is and not be attaching things to it and I hope that it will.  It probably won't but I hope so because it's extremely important and I think that folks stop and think about it we'll do the right thing and we must do the right thing.

Glover: Is it possible to deal with the looming federal deficit, the looming federal debt without touching programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security?

Boswell: I think so.  We can and the adjustments we made to Medicare in the 111th Congress extended its survivability out for ten years and everybody is treated the same and it's there, it's solid and so that gives us time to work out things that we need to do so we don't have to do this knee jerk and do harm to it by going with vouchers and things that's not necessary because there are other places to go.

Borg: Where are these other places to go?

Boswell: I was hoping you might ask me that.  How about the oil companies and the billions of dollars of subsidy there?  There's one there.

Borg: You've already talked about that.  Where else?

Boswell: Well, let's go to a couple more.  How about the multi-millionaires?  I don't know too many but I've talked to a couple and they say, why are you doing this?  Warren Buffett would be one, I didn't talk to him, by the way, don't get me wrong there but I've talked to one or two others and they said, why are you doing this?  Why aren't you doing it for healthcare and education and science and alternative fuels and why aren't you doing the things this country needs and this and that?  Why are you doing that for us?  And so there would be one big one.

Borg: Tom Vilsack says that agriculture subsidies are in danger and he supports it.  He sees the inevitable.  Do you too?

Boswell: Well, he sees, I think if I heard what he said and I talked to Tom, excuse me, the Secretary from time to time and there's that few people out there that are getting such a benefit or making over $750,000 out of their farm operation and even another $500,000 from other sources they don't need those payments.  What we've got to have for our producers and, you know, I've been through this, I went through the farm crisis like some of your family, Kay, down in Taylor County, I went through that farm crisis, we've got to have a safety net and we talk about what is safety -- safety ought to be accessible, affordable, available insurance and we can do that through the system we've got and we've got to kind of watch that and make sure it's solid and we can -- that's what the farmers need and this idea they're getting a payment whether they were having a good year, they're having a bad year, I'll tell you what, if you get caught in those chinook winds like I did in some of my crops a few years ago and you just get wiped out you better have some good insurance and that's I think is what people really want and we went out across the country last year before the election thinking we ought to expose this and get this out here and get the input from the farmers themselves, the producers, and the processor but the producers.  What do you really need?  And they pretty much said to us, you know, that insurance program is exactly what we need to be sure it's affordable, it's available and it's accessible and we can do that.

Henderson: You, in the past few months, several months ago voted to extend the Bush era tax cuts, which extended the tax cuts on those wealthiest folk that you just now said should be taxed ...

Boswell: Kay, I appreciate you bringing that up, thank you very much because the same time we were in a crunch and it was dealing with middle Americans, working families to be sure they got the needs that they had and so it was one of these compromise things for a short time, at least a shorter time than forever.  What has been proposed is to make those permanent.  Well, that didn't do that.  And so it's one of those things where you kind of held your nose and you did it because you were down to the crunch and we were talking about middle American families that the working class of people, men and women out there that are really struggling right now and to give them the help they needed at the same time so we had to do that.  We had some pretty strong  discussions, the negotiator was the vice president and he came and talked to us and it wasn't all friendly, our talk wasn't about it but he said, you know, I've done my best, this is what we can do and so we accepted it for the time being.

Henderson: Speaking of strong discussions, now that decisions have been made, people are signing contracts for new residences can you tell us about the strong discussions you had with Christie Vilsack, the former first lady, husband of the U.S. Ag Secretary who contemplated running for Congress?

Boswell: Christie Vilsack is a fine person.  I like her a lot.  I've known her for years.  It goes back to the days I was in the Iowa Senate and she's smart, she's got a lot to offer and I just wanted her to know in a friendly discussion, talk about what she may or may not do, I can tell you the day it happened, it was on the 10th of January and I went to her and we had a nice, pleasant discussion about the situation kind of in general terms I just wanted to look at her in the eye and say, you know, this reapportionment takes place, I live here in Polk County, I live in Des Moines and I'll be running and whatever gets attached to it, it will be something, I didn't know what it's going to look like and speculation I wasn't willing to make, I just wanted her to hear it from me that I intended to run.  And so we talked about it and she told me basically she hadn't made up any, made any decisions, she was looking at other possibilities and so on and so it was cordial.

Glover: What was her reaction?

Boswell: It was cordial.  We're still -- we were friends when I walked in the room, we were friends when I walked out.

Glover: But she was going to run for Congress and by your decision to stay it forced her into a very tough district against an incumbent republican.

Boswell: Well, I don't think I forced her into anything.  I think she was exploring and I don't think there was any force at all.  She mentioned she might go back to Mount Pleasant, possibly, there was no incumbent as that reapportionment took place so I don't know what her thought process was there.  That's up to her.  She may have talked to Congressman Loebsack about it.  I know early on when he saw it, he said he would be moving and he didn't hesitate in what he was going to do.  But did they talk?  I really don't know.  What was your question, Mike?

Glover: Well, it just concerns her reaction.  So, it was cordial, it was friendly?

Boswell: I have high regard for Christie Vilsack.  She's a quality person and people ...

Borg: But you didn't know, in that conversation you didn't know what she was going to do?

Boswell: Well, I don't know that she did going in or coming out.  We all have the privilege to explore and think about things.

Borg: I'm sorry that I have to interrupt.

Boswell: I am too because I'm kind of enjoying this.

Borg: We're out of time.  Come back soon.

Boswell: Okay.

Borg: We'll be back next week at the usual Iowa Press times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning.  A reminder too you can use the Internet to contact us, the address is at the bottom of the screen right now, e-mail  We'd like to hear your comments.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

Tags: 3rd Congressional District budgets campaign 2012 Christie Vilsack Congress Democrats farm subsidies government Iowa Leonard Boswell politics redistricting U.S. Representatives