Been there, done that. That is what two incumbent congressmen are saying seeking votes in Iowa's third congressional district. We're questioning one of them, democrat Leonard Boswell on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Shifting population produces strange circumstances. Last year's U.S. census shows Iowa's population not increasing as much as some other states so Iowa is losing one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives going from five congressmen or congressional districts down to four. But all of those currently serving want to continue. Republican Tom Latham moving from Ames in the current fourth district is challenging now incumbent democrat Leonard Boswell in the new third congressional district. Congressman Latham seeking a tenth term. It is Congressman Boswell's ninth congressional campaign and he is our guest today. Welcome back to Iowa Press.
Boswell: Good to be here, Dean.
Borg: And across the Iowa Press table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Congressman, in the news, on the edge of the news Libyan insurgents, with the support of the United States, have gone in and killed Moammar Gadhafi. What is your take on that?
Boswell: Well, I'm glad this despicable person is no longer there. When I think about what he did a Lockerbie and so on he is a mad person and so they have taken it upon themselves to remove him and I wish and hope for all that I can think of that they are successful to be able to set a democracy and the people of that country have an opportunity to not live under a dictator.
Glover: And there have been a series of incidents lately where we have dealt with people who have been viewed as hostile towards the United States, not all heads of state but important people viewed as hostile to the U.S. I've wondered how we should deal with them. We had Osama bin Laden, we just went and killed him. We had Saddam Hussein, he was arrested, tried and hanged. And now Moammar Gadhafi was killed by his own people. How should be deal with people deemed to be hostile to the United States? Just go kill them? Put them on trial?
Boswell: Well, I would hope they could go the trial side if they had that choice and I would say be very careful about it and, of course, going back to the current situation you just mentioned, this was a NATO operation. We have been associated with NATO for a long, long time, since its beginning and I'm glad that we didn't put boots on the ground but we worked with allies and NATO which I think will be important to us. I've been a NATO supporter, which you have known, for a long, long time and I still am. That's why I think we did what we needed to do to keep our alliance alive and so on but I am glad we didn't have to go tot he point or we didn't even, as far as I know, even consider to put boots on the ground but we did give support and I'm glad that it is coming to its close and I wish the Libyan people the best, I really do.
Henderson: President Obama has called what you have just described having NATO take the lead, Europeans take the lead in Libya as "leading from behind". Is that the appropriate way for the U.S. to move forward in foreign relations, to lead from behind? Republican presidential candidates have said no.
Boswell: Well, I think you have to look at each situation as what you're confronted with and it's going to be all probably a little bit different. But with all the turmoil going on in the African continent it kind of leads me to think about that the focus is going to be there in that part of the world. And we've seen what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and so on, I've been there, I've met some of those people over the years and, of course, I spent two tours of my life in the NATO situation in Germany years ago and three years in Atlantic right there off the coast of Portugal. So, I feel like I have a lot of background and understanding of that. I think NATO has been a success for sure.
Borg: Something that you just said, you said you wish the Libyan people the best. That seems to say goodbye and good luck. Doesn't the U.S. have -- the question really is, what is the U.S. role now in making sure that there is a democracy established there?
Boswell: Well, I don't know that we can make sure, if you want to put it that way, Dean, but I think that we ought to encourage and show them the fruits of what can happen based on what has happened in our country, what has happened in what we now see as the united Germany and so on and France and all those countries in the NATO Alliance. So, I think if they can understand and we work again together they have a lot better opportunity.
Borg: That seems to be almost a hands off -- you don't think the U.S. should take any additional role?
Boswell: I think we have our state department, we have an extremely good secretary of state and I hope that secretary of state is involved and there's things we can do. I mean, U.S. aid is something a lot of people don't understand what a great help it has been to many countries and sometimes just little things like water or shelter and so on and I can give you some stories about that but don't have time. There's many things we can do that are not threatening but that demonstrate that you can send your children to school and they can have a future and like I saw with the children in Afghanistan last March little girls that never had opportunity and now they've got opportunity and they can contribute to the society because they're free to go to school.
Glover: Let's move back home, Congressman. There's a movement happening in the United States. It is known as Occupy Wall Street, people who seem to be upset about the economic situation. What is your take on that movement? What do you think they want?
Boswell: Well, I think they're disturbed. I think they see a threat to the American dream and as you all know I started out in a, born in a tenant farm house and look what I've got to do with my life and I've had that dream and I know my dad and my mother said, you know, we didn't get to go to school, do these things, I was the first to go to college and so on. But I saw the American dream and I think that is getting very shaky right now and people concerned about it. So, if you're of the average working class out there they're coming out of college, they've got debt, they want to get a job, they can't get a job and what caused this debacle, this big recession was some of the actions that took place on Wall Street and they're not suffering at all. They're making money hand over fist, they've got all the benefits, they're living high on the hog as we say down on the farm. The common folks out here say, wait a minute, look what we're going through and I think that they're wanting to express themselves. And in today's modern technology every one of us has got a, we can get on the social network and kind of know what's going on. But they don't seem to have an agenda right now except they're showing their unhappiness, what is happening to our dream and you guys up there on Wall Street are just going on as if everything is just fine.
Glover: There are some who compare the Occupy Wall Street movement with the Tea Party which became a very important force in republican politics and have proved to have some staying power. Do you think the Occupy Wall Street movement has staying power? Do you think it's going to be around for a while?
Boswell: I don't know. I have no idea. It has that potential, of course. Again, the ability to communicate with one another is like never before and so it has that potential but I don't see any leadership in what little I've seen of it. Maybe you can tell me about it.
Glover: Does it have to have leadership?
Boswell: Well, most things do, don't they? It's a new era because of the modern technology and communications so where we go I don't know but I know there is a lot of dissatisfaction out there as to why we have to recover from the backs of the folks that we used to call the working class. Now, working class we thought of for years and years, that is the people in line, working the Maytag washers, we could talk about that or the John Deere tractors. But you look at the cubicles in Principal and so on, those are workers out there that are making it happen and those are people in my life and what I see have had the chance to see the American dream, every one of us, every one of you as well as I want our children to have better than what we had, it's just inherent and they see that being destroyed. I just talked to one lady who finished veterinary school last weekend and good grades, ready to go out and be a small animal, big animal, whatever and can't find a placement so she's going back home for the time being and they're disturbed that they've got this education debt, they want to do something but people out there in the different clinics and so on are not sure where they're going so she can't find any, can't find a placement.
Henderson: One of the things that has happened in Iowa is that the protesters have engaged in civil disobedience, being arrested for staying past curfew at the statehouse grounds. Do you agree with the way they are prosecuting? It sounds as if you believe there should be some leadership emerge here and a real distinct agenda. Is that what should happen for this group?
Boswell: Well, I think that we shouldn't be surprised, Kay, whether they get momentum or not remains to be seen. I know that from being out with the public every day, so to speak, that there's a lot of unrest out there because of the pressures and the inability to find jobs, the inability to wonder if they can pay for their house payment and then see the folks at Wall Street that gambled through the process and derivatives and all this stuff that got us into this mess and they're going on the same.
Henderson: But back to Mike's question, is this movement, so to speak, going to come to prominence in the same way the Tea Party has and be a force to be reckoned with within the Democratic Party and do you welcome that? There seems to be a debate among democrats, do we embrace this movement or do we have a hands off approach?
Boswell: Well, I guess I haven't thought out it in that term. I just say I'm not surprised that people feel that way because I know what is going on on Main Street but I haven't thought about it in that light.
Borg: Let me go back to something you just said and that is, you said a lot of unrest out there and you're seeing some of it in protests. But you're seeing it across Iowa. What is the implication in that for President Obama?
Boswell: Well, I think President Obama is on the right track, let's get people back to work, if we want to improve our economy let's get people working and let's be making things in American hands and let's have it be made in America and I think that's what he's trying to do is give incentive for small business to get started, incentives to the tax side of it, employ extra incentive if they'll hire a veteran and the list goes on and on. Those opportunities are there, certainly we know we need to do the infrastructure and the infrastructure is something you've heard me talk about for a long time. We have to move commerce, we have to move people and we're falling behind and that is something that we have to do anyway so why aren't we working on that and this is giving us the opportunity to do it and no further cost to you I don't think.
Glover: Dean mentioned President Obama, you're facing, as Dean mentioned, a fairly tough election campaign. Can you tap into this movement to play a role in your campaign?
Boswell: Mike, I'm going to be straight and narrow, I haven't even thought about that tapping in idea at all. I am very concentrated on trying to do something with the economy, to get people back to work and as you know, I've been in the alternative fuels for years and years and any opportunity to put people to work, the infrastructure is something we could be doing, we can be doing and they should be doing because we're falling behind. The cost to the trucking association, the cost to you in your cars as we go down the street hitting potholes and so on, it's amazing if you put the figures to it and we have to do this and these are not exploitable jobs, they are jobs that will turn in the economy at least three times, maybe seven. Secretary Vilsack and I were out here seeing this bridge a couple of weeks ago and we're now, what, fourth in the country for, right here in Des Moines, for the deficient bridges, third I think as a state and it needs attention that as I talk to my colleagues across the country why are we waiting for another Minneapolis bridge. Why don't we understand we've got to do this? We have opportunity to do public works, go online and see what they have done at the Empire State Building, it's amazing and payback is five or six years.
Glover: And you've been around Iowa politics for a good long time, you've been in Congress, as Dean mentioned, for a good long time, is this your last campaign?
Boswell: Oh, I have no idea if it is at all. I'm not even addressing that. I'm feeling good. I'm very concerned of what is going on in our country and the world, if you will. I've said this before but I think it's more prominent right now, somebody like me I've never been more prepared to be a participant in this and I went through the farm crisis, as your family did, Kay, I've done all these different things, I served in the military for a career, I've served in the statehouse, I've raised a family, I've got grandchildren and they're worrying about the American dream and I am too.
Glover: So as long as you have your health and you feel vigorous and involved you're there?
Boswell: And people want me to be in. If they don't want me I'll step aside but I'm interested, I'm concerned. I talked to my family about this and they said, you know, dad and grandpa, after we understand how you look at this role, do it and we're doing it.
Borg: One of the things that you're going to do if you are re-elected and it will be probably, you're working on it right now and that is revising the farm bill but you're going to have to live under it whether you're re-elected or not because you are a farmer and you have farmland. Right now there's something called direct payments, farm subsidies. It is generally conceded that is going away because of budget constraints. What should be the safety net because there is a safety net being proposed that would not be as costly as direct payments?
Boswell: Well, thanks for bringing that up, Dean, because this is something I've been involved in for a long time. We have to have a safety net and there's something that goes on and I wish you guys would help out -- you hear a lot of talk through the media and yourselves about the $7 corn and $13 beans and so on but nobody wants to talk about the cost of input and it ought to be put there so we can make the comparison. So, I submit, it's a ballpark figure, but that $7 corn is costing about $6. Well, there's a lot of ...
Borg: You're saying $6 to produce?
Boswell: In that neighborhood. There's people at Iowa State that could give you the exact figures on that but that's ballpark. And when you think about that and realize the high cost of the capital investment to go out there and put that crop in it's a lot of risk, they've got to have that safety net and it's federal crop insurance and that's got to be available and it's got to be workable and it's got to be affordable and that is one thing I've spent a lot of time on and I think that's it and I believe if the producers out there, I make no bones about it, I advocate for the producers, that's where it starts and they've got to be viable, they've got to be able to withstand if things don't go well because we count on the weather and all these other factors.
Borg: But what are you up against in the way of people who say there should be any farm subsidy whatsoever, not even a safety net? Other business people don’t have to have that.
Boswell: Well, it's an education thing and one thing that everybody has to do regardless what they do is they have got to eat and we all, again I have spent a lot of time on this and I encourage the rest of you to help, every American that has an invested interest, a vested interest in food production, I don't care if you live in downtown New York City or wherever, if you sit and talk with them they realize that. so, if they contribute to a subsidy, if you will, for the federal crop they're protecting themselves, they've got an interest in this and I can see why they would get upset about the direct payments and so on, people are getting a payment when they had a good year, that doesn't make a lot of sense to anybody and particularly to them. We understand that. But we've got to have that safety net and federal crop insurance, again, has got to be available, affordable, accessible and I think that's something we can help people to understand it's important to everyone, every man, woman and child.
Henderson: The federal subsidy for ethanol production has turned out to be the poster child for critics of federal subsidies of all kinds and it is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Is the ethanol industry destined to turn into the biodiesel industry? When that tax incentive ended, biodiesel plants shut down.
Boswell: Well, I think the subject of ethanol is waning, the support of it and what I would like to see happen and I'm working very hard on is the infrastructure out there to continue to provide the pumps and ways to get it out there to distribution points or to the gas stations, if you will, to the convenience stores and so on and that is something I hope that we can accomplish. But we have to stay on the alternative fuels, the renewables, we have to stay on that. ... OPEC, make no mistake about it and what do you think it costs for a gallon of gas just to protect those mammoth ships coming out of that part of the world? Just think about it. So, we have to stay on it and I'm very much into it because I was still in uniform in a foreign country when they had that first fuel crisis and I got to see what happened to people just like the three of you and me and people in any community, what they’ll do if they can't get gas for their car, their delivery truck and so on, it's amazing.
Henderson: One other farm related issue before we move onto other subjects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made a decision about dust, farm dust in particular. Is this now an issue that has been decided or should farmers be concerned that the agency will in future years come back and revisit this and perhaps restrict farmers?
Boswell: I'm going to keep an eye on them and I'm going to talk to them some more but just yesterday I was with one of my people that's not familiar with what happens with the combine and what is the whole process and I was explaining it, the dust coming up and so on but this is a reality, it's not a part of the overall big issue as we think of the world, if you want to, the world environment and if we're going to have crops we're going to have gravel roads, we're going to have dust. And the EPA when they went down that route, why, they should have known that people like me and you and a lot of us, wait a minute, this is just stepping over the line and there's other things that you ought to be concerned about whether it is mercury or you could go on and on but this is something that is just part of producing food and they're going to have to do it and actually when you put it in the bigger picture of things it is not that big of a deal anyway.
Glover: Let's go to an issue that has actually touched your district very directly and that is the flooding along the Missouri River. There's been a lot of flooding and a lot of activity on the part of the state, the federal government and local governments. What is your take on that reaction to the Missouri River flooding? Has it been adequate? Does there need to be more done? And how long before there's a recovery? How long will that take?
Boswell: Well, it may take a while because the river -- I haven't been out there since yesterday and it's very serious and it's been serious, we have known that now for weeks and weeks. And I think it is expected and I certainly want to participate the review of the whole policy and going back over the fourteen year plan and so on. First of all, I don't think the corp of engineers have deliberately tried to do anything to harm anyone. I think they have tried to fulfill the requirements being put on them but it is okay to review it and say things have change. The tiling and the concrete, the highways, the parking lots and so on and the flow of how quickly water runs off the land and so we've got to continually review, I think a very intensive review must take place and then we've got to keep an eye on the corp. What do we expect of you? Do we want you to control the navigation of the river or the first responsibility I think is flood control. And I think we probably all agree on that. Then it gets you into all the other aspects of it where it is irrigation water for those parts, the flood control, navigation up and down the river, recreation and on and on it goes.
Glover: Isn't the corp in the middle of a fairly hot political debate? There was just a meeting over in Omaha with governors of Missouri River states and they couldn't agree on what the corp ought to be doing. If the governors of the states along the river can't agree what can you expect the corp to do?
Boswell: Well, I think the corp, in all fairness, should come to the government, the Congress in this case and say here's the situation. There are going to be these reviews, you know there's going to be hearings and just lay it out there and put the facts out there and put daylight on it, let people see what's going on and sit down and have an adult discussion about it and see what we ought to do with first concern about flood control.
Glover: So, their mission ought to be redrawn?
Boswell: Well, it ought to be reviewed and see where it needs to be and I feel very strongly about that and I think they're willing to do it. They don't want these floods to take place and after yesterday, what kind of shape are those levees in now after all that time of the water being so high, what kind of shape are they going to be in and we've got a short season now, we're going into winter, how much can they get done before we have the threat of next spring. And so it's a lot of pressure.
Henderson: You were, earlier in the show, an advocate for the transportation infrastructure projects outlined in the President's jobs bill. That bill has stalled in the democratically led Senate. What are the prospects of it, any of it every becoming law?
Boswell: Here's what I hope, I hope the majority leader Reid, if he can't bring the whole bill to the floor because of this 60 rule which I think is kind of hard to explain to people on the street or students out there in schools, it's hard to explain, but I think if he can't bring the whole bill, bring it a piece at a time, bring it a piece at a time and let the rest of the country see what people feel about it and where you want to go to try to get our country back up and get it going and make us productive.
Henderson: What is your view of this super committee that is meeting to come up with budget cuts? And if they don't come up with budget cuts there will be quite draconian cuts in areas of the budget like defense.
Boswell: Well, it remains to be seen. This is a new idea and I guess I wasn't terribly enthused about it when it happened. The members on this super committee, they weren't elected by anybody's caucus or anything. I got elected by my district, we move into caucus, we elect leaders and so on but that's where we are so okay, I thought that the group that was Simpson and Bowles was something that we should have paid more attention to but maybe they'll pick up some of those things, some of those things need to be done. But I'm part of saying to them and I have put my name on a letter to them and said, you know, let's go for the ... let's see what you can really do, let's get serious about this. But at the same time it can't be all ... cuts, there has to be other factors, which you all know what it is ...
Boswell: It has to be, no, revenue.
Glover: Your government, revenue is taxes.
Boswell: No, not necessarily but maybe it's other things too.
Henderson: But do you support the President's tax proposals and the proposal that was advanced in the Senate this week that would raise taxes on "millionaires"?
Boswell: Because I think everybody has to participate. You go back to 1913 and just go out online and look at what we've done when we've been through these different crises, the wars and different things and what has happened to the tax structure and if everybody, if everybody participates, not just some but everybody participates we can solve this problem. If all, a-l-l, if everybody participates and does their fair share, I'm always appreciative of people like Warren Buffett said when his tax rate is less than the person who works out at his reception desk there's something wrong and I agree with that. There's something wrong and you could go tot he money managers on Wall Street and the system they've got where, when their secretaries, all paid more there's no fairness and no sense to this and I think it's good for everybody to participate and we can fix this.
Glover: Congressman, way too many issues and way too little time. Afghanistan is now our longest war. Do you support staying there? How long can you support staying there?
Boswell: No, I think we need to come home. I told the President over there last March, we had a long discussion with him, I was there and he said clearly that he hoped that we'd have permanent bases there and I said, I just want you to know I don't support that. We're at a crossroads, know where you can go, you've got a choice. You can see what is happening out there. The efforts we've made together, I'll give him some credit, but the efforts we've made together, just for example one of the ones I talked about earlier is seeing these little girls in this school, to see their opportunity and to see what they could have if they could get electricity and that lights would come on and clean water out to the different communities and so on. They can have that if they want to go that way. They're going to have to choose. Or they can go back their tribal system. If they choose it that's their choice but it's time for us to bring our folks home. It's costing us a terrible cost. I'm wanting for us to keep some people over there to have training and so on. I personally know General Caldwell who has been leading the NATO effort to train the military and police and so on so they can have safety and protection, I think that's a good thing but that too ought to be timely. But I think it's time to bring the troops home.
Henderson: There are those who argue that the troops, American troops left in Iraq become sitting ducks for attacks because there aren't enough of them. Is that a legitimate concern?
Boswell: Every one of us wants them to be safe and I think we have to turn to our generals, our people that are working that every day to make that assessment and our secretary of state, get involved there. Nobody wants them to be there and be in an unsafe situation and I have to rely on the best information they've got available to them. But I think over years and years and years we've had people in different places around the world to try to help them train and learn how to do things that can get better.
Henderson: You told Mike that you didn't think there should be U.S. bases in Afghanistan. What about U.S. bases in Iraq?
Boswell: I think it's time to bring them home.
Borg: Congressman, just a few seconds left here. Are you going to do anything differently in this campaign than you have done in other campaigns given the state of the economy and given the new district?
Boswell: Well, that's a good question, Dean, right now my focus, I think you can tell, my soapbox, my concern, things I'm really concerned about is getting our economy up, getting jobs, getting people back to work. That will solve these problems. And that is my main focus and, of course, a lot of it because of my seniority in the transportation and infrastructure committee is putting ... and I have for a long time ... if we can do those things we can get people to work and I lived through the experience of Maytag and we don't have time to talk about it but ...
Borg: I have to interrupt. I'm sorry. We're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us.
Boswell: You're welcome.
Borg: Next edition of Iowa Press we're questioning Iowa Governor Terry Branstad just back from China, a trade mission, now traveling the state and getting support for the school changes that he is proposing. You'll see our conversation with Governor Branstad at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.