Super failure. Congressional super committee deadlocking over cutting government spending sending markets sliding. What now? We're asking Iowa's fifth district Congressman Steve King on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Attention right now is focusing on the U.S. Congress, the super committee failing to agree on trimming $1 trillion in federal spending. Opinion polls ranking public approval of Congress below 10%. And a general election less than a year away. That is just for starters but you get the idea without mentioning anything else. Things aren't rosy. Accentuating uncertainty is the fact that all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are up for re-election now or for election and in newly reapportioned congressional districts. In Iowa shifting population is costing the state one representative cutting the Iowa House delegation from the current five to four. And the new fourth congressional district adds a northern Iowa tier of counties and the city of Ames but generally includes a section of the state now represented by Steve King of Kiron. But former Iowa First Lady democrat Christie Vilsack is challenging republican Congressman King's bid for a sixth term. Congressman King, welcome back to Iowa Press.
King: Thanks for having me back, Dean, I appreciate it.
Borg: And across the Iowa Press table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Congressman, let's start with what Dean mentioned, the super committee in Congress. What does it say about Congress when a super committee, which turned out to be maybe not quite so super, couldn't solve something as basic as balancing a budget? What does that say about Congress?
King: Well, as you know, Mike, I voted no on that debt ceiling increase deal that created the super committee that set up the vote on a balanced budget amendment and rolls that into sequestration. I'd had some experience with super committees in the past and each time if you put six democrats at the table with six republicans and you figure that they are going to somehow come up with some kind of compromised solution that is better than you can produce if you have actual majorities in the House or the Senate just the formula was wrong. And I predicted that -- I actually thought they would produce a proposal that would feel the public pressure to produce a proposal but I never believed and I predicted that it will not pass the House or the Senate and it won't become law. So, I did not have a lot of my political capital invested in it or emotional capital, either one. It has unfolded pretty much, actually better than I thought. If you expect it is going to fail there's no reason to go through the next 30 days of debating a proposal they had offered before it failed.
Glover: And I guess I'd ask a follow up question. Are we better off that this committee couldn't come to some kind of an agreement? Is it better off to have no agreement than some of the proposals that were trotted out before?
King: Of course that depends on what the agreement might have been but in my opinion, first, we didn't address the problem. This is the unspoken analysis here that they continually talk about baseline spending. Baseline spending is the projected increase in spending. We came into this year with about $14.3 trillion in national debt. We're at over $15 trillion now. With baseline spending projection in ten years we would be at $28 trillion in national debt. If the debt ceiling deal actually does follow through, all the way through we're only at $26 trillion in national debt in ten years. That is not nearly good enough. We have much bigger problems in this country and we failed to address them by telling ourselves we are by assigning it to a super committee.
Henderson: By this failure the phrase "do nothing Congress" has been tossed about quite a bit. Isn’t that an accurate description of Congress not only because of this super committee failure but because of the inaction that has happened thus far?
King: Well, I would say from the House perspective that we sent some 15 jobs bills over to the Senate where they are stacking up on Harry Reid's desk like cordwood. I've been very busy myself. We have action going on in committees that are on the floor constantly. The House is acting. You can argue whether you appreciate or approve or agree with those policies. I would say there are many things stacked up in the Senate that aren't being moved but that is what you will see when you have a large republican majority in the House, a less of a size of a democrat majority in the Senate and a democratic president. This is a split government that we have, it does bring about inaction. We had a watershed election last year that swept in 87 new freshman republicans, most of them very conservative, more conservative than we've seen in the House in a long, long time and they are now, we are now engaged in more often stopping bad ideas than we are able to convince Harry Reid of our good ones.
Henderson: Well, there are those who say it has been very lucky for Congress that the stock market isn't operating all week long because of the Thanksgiving holiday because the stock market isn't necessarily reacting very well to this inaction and what happened this past summer. As a Congressman what sort of role do you think you should play in regards to making some sort of reassurance through the stock market that Congress can actually do something?
King: Well, I think reading the stock market if the people that are doing the investing would argue that the Dow Jones Industrial average isn't soaring upwards is because Congress hasn't acted within the super committee I think they give themselves a little bit too much credit. They predicted that if we didn't increase the debt ceiling there would be a downward spiral. We did increase the debt ceiling and we had the downward spiral. So, those predictors were 180 degrees off. I think some of the metrics we should look at are this chronic unemployment that we have, over 14 million people and also, I'll give you a number that I'm not hearing from anybody else, I have dug this out in my insomnia nights out of the Department of Labor's Web site. These 300 million plus Americans that we are, now the total of those who are of working age not in the workforce has surpassed for the first time 100 million Americans, simply not engaged. Some are homemakers, some are retired early and many of them though are on the 72 different means tested welfare programs that we have. We should be measuring this lack of productivity. Part of our job needs to be to increase the average annual productivity of each of our people so that our GDP will grow. We're not focused on that, we're spending money we're borrowing from foreign countries instead.
Borg: Let's get back to the super committee and what now. I asked that question earlier. Built into the legislation creating the super committee were dire consequences if they didn't come to some recommendation. Are you in favor of maybe modifying and mitigating those dire consequences because there are big defense cuts?
King: Well, Dean, I have from the beginning been concerned about those big defense cuts and I think the last analysis I saw predicted about $592 billion in automatic defense cuts out of this roughly $1.2 trillion in the sequestration formula of the automatic cuts. I have also looked ahead to the calendar and I see that the actual technical date is January 2nd of 2013 is when these cuts take place. That doesn't mean that the Commander in Chief and the Department of Defense does not direct then to the Pentagon to start shutting down the development of new weapons technologies, for example. I'm concerned about that. Maybe fail to grow our intelligence systems which I think we need to grow, some of those things. So, it does diminish but it's not as draconian. It gives us a chance to do this, an election a little less than a year from now that will usher in new people in the House, new people in the Senate and perhaps, and I think likely, a new president. There will be those 17 days in between the Congress gaveling in on January 3rd and the inauguration of the new president for Congress to act and there will be that first 100 days perhaps of the new presidency will give us a chance to start putting us on the right track. I have yet to see though the proposal that takes us to a balanced budget in a reasonable time and these cuts that we call draconian, and I may have been also one who has done so, do not yet get us to where we need to be to get a balanced budget one day sooner rather than later.
Glover: You've raised a question I think is basic to all of this. Isn't that, in fact, what is needed, another election? In fact, Washington is gridlocked right now, you mentioned it, a democratic Senate, republican House, democratic president, not going to get anything done. Isn't it time for an election? Isn't that the only solution to this gridlock?
King: I think it is, Mike. I think that we want to hear from the American people. I saw those 87 freshmen come in and they are full of vigor and ideals and ideas and they are freshly tested, they have come out of the business world a lot of them and so their background is fantastic, the just have not been there long enough to blend together all the things that they know from their background that you have to learn on top of that about government. But if that kind of a wave election could come into the United States Senate along with a president with a mandate we can turn this country in the right direction. That's what I'm working to do.
Glover: What will the mandate be if you manage to defeat President Obama?
King: Well, our first mandate really would be repeal Obamacare. As I listen to these republican presidential candidates I can not think of an exception to plank number one being repeal Obamacare. That, by the way, would save us in the shorter term budget window if we would just stop the increased spending to Obamacare $1.379 trillion in that same budget window. So, that would solve the problem that the super committee could not solve. But I think that is agenda number one. Agenda number two for the next president I hope, and I can't predict this, would be to articulate a balanced budget amendment that can be passed by the Congress, by the new Congress, they won’t pass this one we know, and sent to the states for ratification. That would be the second item on the list. And along the way there are a number of others but those are two very big ones, Obamacare and BBA.
Glover: And I know you don't like to think about this but what if you don't get him? What if Obama gets re-elected?
King: Um, I remember a pastor once saying, make no provision for failure, if you fail you should fall flat on your face. I turn my focus on success and the provision for failure I have not made and don't plan to.
Henderson: Well, let's talk in detail about this republican presidential race. This past week there was a debate at which Newt Gingrich, who seems to be the flavor of the month candidate right now, articulated a policy toward immigration which he described as humane whereby people who have been in the United States for a long time who have not broken laws and he cited 25 years and have become a member of the community should have some way of staying here legally. In your view is that an appropriate response to the illegal immigration problem in the country?
King: I think if Speaker Gingrich had that to do over again he might couch his language a little differently at a minimum. I wouldn't agree with him on that policy. I think that when you give people even a promise that they can stay in the country after they are here illegally you become more of a magnet and it is a form of amnesty and more people will come in counting on that. We've said actually we think of the '86 Amnesty Act, there have actually been seven amnesties when you start counting at 1986 up until today. Many of them smaller, along different visa categories but that magnet of if you can get here into the United States and stay here long enough sooner or later you'll get enough political power to be granted a pass to stay in the United States, it's wrong to do that and to draw the line at wherever it is, I don't think he actually drew a line, 25 years, three generations involved, go to church on Sundays, that's not going to come out of any legislation that I know of.
Glover: And you have taken a strong position on this issue and Gingrich has now. Does this take Gingrich off your radar screen?
King: Makes it harder, Mike.
Glover: How much harder?
King: Well, I don't really know that yet because it is still measuring against the other candidates too. But that piece is something that concerns me because the rule of law is one of the essential pillars of American exceptionalism. And if we let the rule of law be eroded and if we allow people to be rewarded for breaking the law, and by the way these people probably had false identification, they were working illegally and maybe just didn't get arrested in a quarter of a century. So, I think that principle of the rule of law needs to be examined and I'd like to hear Speaker Gingrich speak to that.
Glover: We're only six weeks out. It sounds to me like you're taking him off your table.
King: I moved a little bit away last night when I heard the debate.
Henderson: Are you actually going to make an endorsement?
King: Kay, I wish I knew. I thought I knew, I thought in June I would without any doubt and I was looking for September or October as a good time to come to that conclusion and this is a different race than we've ever seen before. Of course, it's different candidates. I like and respect them all. They all have something to offer and it's harder than I thought it would be and it was very hard the last time but I came to a conclusion last time. I still hope to come to a conclusion this time.
Borg: The way you're judging them this time is generally by debates rather than knocking on doors and holding town meetings in Iowa because there are many more debates this time and that is where the Gingrich comment came out. Do you like the way this campaign this time for the nomination is shaping up in that you're getting your information from debates?
King: I do like that and from my standpoint I've been engaged in this for a long time. January 6th of this year we sat down and decided that the caucus was starting too slowly in Iowa, we wanted to launch this off so we planned the presidential forum event that we did in Des Moines March 26th of this year at the Marriott and it was full C-SPAN coverage from nine in the morning until five o'clock at night and we brought in, we had five presidential candidates agreed, Rick Santorum got called back when he changed planes but it was a successful event and our plan then was let's go to New Hampshire and do the same thing, then to South Carolina so I have actually been to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and then Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago to moderate that Lincoln-Douglas debate between Speaker Gingrich and Herman Cain. So, I've been wrapped up in this in a lot of ways that I didn't think I would be four years ago. I have been talking to the presidential candidates about the issues in the debates but also they have been working hard in Iowa and we need to give credit to the people that have worked the hardest and that is going to be Rick Santorum who has been to all 99 counties, Michele Bachmann would be in there as a close second as how hard they worked here. We'll see how that is rewarded on caucus night.
Borg: You've rated them on how hard they are working. Rate them now on who is likely to get the caucus win out of Iowa, the top two.
King: I can not call that at this point. This six weeks if you think how fast that turned four years ago or in previous races I can't make that call but I'd like to believe that being here in Iowa, doing the face-to-face campaigning, building that kind of support in the counties the way these candidates have, I'd like to think that pays off. If it doesn't it will diminish the caucus.
Glover: Let's look forward. The Iowa caucuses have played, you have mentioned that you've been in a lot of places, the candidates have been in a lot of places. There have not been a lot of candidates come to Iowa, set up shop here, build a home here and focus solely on Iowa. What is the future of the Iowa caucuses? It seems that they are having less impact in this cycle than they have had in the past.
King: Well, I was worried about the Iowa caucus building up to the straw poll. I thought that two or three weeks out it was a bit iffy as to whether we were going to get good participation in the straw poll and so the effect of the straw poll, the straw poll sets up the caucus and it was a very successful straw poll in Ames on August 13th. I believe there were 2,000 more people that showed up there than four years earlier sot hat is a very good sign. But the results that come out of Iowa make a big difference on our success. Now, if we continue to punch one or two and perhaps three tickets to New Hampshire and if one of those people becomes President of the United States they know also that they are speaking to the rest of the nation from Iowa as they come in here and work. But if we, for example, if we support someone for president who doesn't have support down the line then the historical judgment will be that Iowa's caucuses have been diminished. So, I want to anoint a president from here if we can.
Glover: Four years ago Iowa republicans picked Mike Huckabee and he went nowhere. What happens if Iowa republicans in this election cycle picks somebody who goes nowhere?
King: Well, I think we end up with a weaker caucus in four years than we have this time. But Mike Huckabee made a tremendous run at it. He just knew he wasn't competitive in New Hampshire, I think that was a calculation that he wasn't ready to play there because he probably didn't expect to do quite as well as he did here in Iowa. He did compete intensively in South Carolina. I was down there and had Mike Huckabee emerged in South Carolina he might well have been the nominee.
King: And by the way he's got a Fox gig so he didn't fail.
Glover: Well, he got something out of it, just not the nomination.
Henderson: One last question about endorsements. You have been working with Michele Bachmann in Congress on a number of issues. Is it telling that you haven't endorsed her thus far that she doesn't have your full support?
King: I hope not, we have worked closely on a lot of things including repeal of Obamacare. I mean, you get down to the two people in the whole United States Congress that have put the most into repealing Obamacare that is Michele Bachmann and Steve King. You look at the "press conference" that grew into a rally, we did actually three of those, that was us together.
Henderson: If you're such close colleagues why aren’t you out there on the hustings telling people to vote for her?
King: Well, part of this is a test and we agree on issues all the way down the line and I have long said that shaping a presidential candidate is the process, it isn't just picking the best individual but it is the process. So, I have not gotten to that point yet where I have come to the conclusion internally that it is the right thing to do that. I agree with her on the issues all the way down the line.
Henderson: Back to Mike's question about the relevance of the caucuses, you said, I want Iowa to pick a president. Which one of the candidates who are campaigning here could be president?
King: Everyone, obviously. But who can't be might be the other part of that question. I don't know that I can give that answer at this point but as we watch them go up and settle down there are better, they have all improved themselves. They haven't diminished themselves, they have all improved and I want to see this presence, I want to see the presidential component but a couple things that hold me back are first, I don't yet see a presidential candidate that has laid out a financial plan for American that fixes this financial problem that we are in. I am calling upon them to do that, put that plan out. The second thing is I haven't heard yet from any of them the shining city on the hill speech that lets me understand that they have the vision for the destiny of America. Those two things are a couple of things that could help settle me on a candidate if I heard them.
Glover: We've talked a lot about presidential politics but there's some politics in your future. You have an opponent coming up.
King: Oh yeah.
Glover: Yeah, you remember her, Christie Vilsack, the former First Lady of Iowa. You have spent a lot of time campaigning around the country, you have spent a lot of time campaigning in presidential politics, you spent a lot of time outside of the fourth district. How seriously are you taking her?
King: I take the re-election effort for the new fourth district very seriously and at this point each of us don't know whether we would have a primary opponent or not.
Glover: The betting is neither one of you are going to have a primary.
King: That is the betting but I don't want to presume that. I'm a candidate so I don't presume that and I turn my focus to that after the primary should we both be nominated. But I won't deny that the anticipation is it will be Steve King versus Christie Vilsack. And absolutely I take it seriously, seriously enough to put out some effort to raise some money the last quarter because I had seen what was coming and when I see the money coming from outside the state I think it is important to raise some money inside the state from primarily future constituents.
Glover: But you are, even though it is a new district, it is the most republican of the four congressional districts in Iowa by a mile. That leaves some of us to think you're not taking it all that seriously, that you think it is a done deal.
King: If anyone had looked back at my history for they have long told me that the things we have succeeded on in politics were improbable and so I know a little bit about starting from the outside and taking on things that they say are impossible. I have looked at this district, these 39 counties. My first reflection is I'm sorry to lose the people in southwest Iowa. There are a bunch of good people down there and I have another year of the privilege of representing them and I have told them, the first thing I did was I went down and I did a trip through there and I said, I will sprint through the tape. I'm going to be your Congressman until you have a new one. Then we have looked at all of these 39 counties, I have been out in most of them, haven’t kept score on whether it is actually all of them at this point but it will be if it's not and it is very much like the district I now represent, it is a great republican base in northwest Iowa, there's no better in the country to operate from, to run from and then it's much small town rural reflection all the way across and then you get to add Fort Dodge, Mason City and Ames and when you look at this district I'm looking forward to this, it's good people and it will be a very powerful ag and economic district in Congress.
Glover: How much of a focus will be, because there aren't very many competitive congressional districts around the country, how much of a focus are you anticipating on this district and from outside the state?
King: To put it bluntly this will be a nationalized race and it will be in the top five of the nationalized congressional races and there will be millions of dollars ...
Borg: Why national?
King: National because the left, if you track any of the leftist blog sites out there they have not been my fans for years and so that sparks them up to put money into this race. This is not going to be a hard decision. It's going to be a committed leftist approach versus a committed conservative approach and if you look at where the money has come from already yes, you expect Nancy Pelosi, maybe you expect David Axelrod, you don't expect Soros money to come in early, it is. So, when I see that coming from all over the country and some, if my numbers are right, as near as we could determine about 76% of that money in her campaign came from outside the state of Iowa and many of them are those national interests of very left organizations.
Borg: How are you responding? I'll get to you in just a second, Kay. How are you responding in getting your campaign ginned up?
King: Well, we're building organizations in all 39 counties ...
Borg: What about the money?
King: Well, last quarter we raised over $400,000, that was more than anyone in the Iowa congressional delegation and it was in the top five in the whole Congress. So, that is not too bad a response I would say and we'll see how this next quarter comes out.
Henderson: This past weekend Christie Vilsack gave a speech to Iowa democrats in which she criticized you and I thought I would take some of her criticisms to you and let you respond. First of all, she criticized you for saying that the unemployed shouldn't be allowed to vote and only property owners should be allowed to vote.
King: Well, wherever she got that quote it's wrong and she should check her sources.
Henderson: Secondly, she criticized you for voting against flood relief for people in your district and voting for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In that instance I think she was referring to the Ryan budget plan that was developed by the House budget committee chairman.
King: She's got to get a lot better research staff. They Ryan budget plan doesn't touch Social Security. Barack Obama signed Obamacare. That cuts Medicare by $532 billion. That is the only act that actually cuts Medicare. When it comes to emergency spending and disaster spending I have said we need to offset that from somewhere else. This irresponsible spending that has been going on driven out of this White House primarily has got to stop. If we can't find a higher priority on cutting, if we can't find some place in the entire national budget to cut a few billion dollars in order to find disaster relief there will be a much bigger disaster on the other side of it. We'll have disaster relief money, I have assured myself of that but I'm not going to do the irresponsible thing because of inaccurate criticisms and sometimes those critics we should listen to them and think, you know, if they actually said something good about Steve King you know they would be fired tomorrow morning.
Glover: Let's pitch forward in another sense. There has been a lot of speculation about Steve King's future. You're holding onto a fairly safe seat in Congress, been there for a while. There has been a lot of speculation that at some point you'll run for governor, you'll run for the U.S. Senate. What is your political future?
King: Well, of course, no idea.
Glover: I'm sure you've given it some thought.
King: I have people that have talked to me about it and I respond accordingly. It's this, I don't go to bed at night thinking about another or a different job nor do I see this privilege that I have, and it is a profound honor to serve Iowans in the Iowa Senate and then in the United States Congress, I don't think that I am following my way up some kind of a career path. I have a privilege to serve and if there is a responsibility that comes along that looks like a greater responsibility that I think I can serve better in I would look at stepping up to that. At this point I'm not making plans, neither would I say no.
Glover: But people are talking to you about it?
King: Yes and they talk about other offices.
Glover: Like what?
King: Well ...
Glover: Go ahead, fuel the speculation ...
King: There are just only a few things you can do. When you're a member of Congress and if you stay within the political field then you can run for governor, you can run for United States Senate, you could be nominated for Vice President or you could run for President. That's pretty much it assuming they're not going to appoint me to the Supreme Court and that would be a good job. So, those subjects come up on each of those positions on a weekly basis and I just count my blessings that I'm able to serve in this capacity and we'll see what the future has in store for us.
Henderson: Do you see you spending the rest of your working life in Congress or in some sort of elected office? At some point will you go back to the private sector?
King: You know, I don't anticipate going back to the private sector. I'm all in on public service, Kay. I love this work and I have told people a number of times that this is nine years in Congress, it's gone by as if it were a single year and out of that there have been two mornings that I have gone to work thinking, I don't know if I really want to do this and the second morning that happened I asked myself, why did that thought creep into your head. There were some things that I maybe didn't want to do to start the day out but I looked up at the dome and there's a lot of things you can think about but what I thought about was I know there are at least 1,000 people in the air right now that paid out of their children's inheritance to buy two hotel rooms and a round trip plane ticket to fly out here to spend fifteen minutes talking to a member of Congress' staff. It matters a lot to a lot of people every day and this is important work. It's hard to measure, it's hard to get the approval but it is important work and I do count those successes by bad ideas that we kill and good ideas that we advance.
Glover: Then why is Congress under 10% approval?
King: Well, it's not something that I can control, for one thing. But, you know, there's a national conversation going on about a "do nothing Congress". I think that it's better to do nothing than it is to do the wrong thing and so we do have gridlock now and the gridlock, we'll see what happens in the next election whether it is -- how do you punish Congress, you're going to have to punish democrats and republicans for a low approval rating. I think we have kind of a binary philosophy going on and the question before our nation is, are we going to continue to go down the path of this Keynesian economist on steroids who is in the White House or are we going to revert back to Adam Smith supply side economics and production to get us out of this rather than consumption?
Borg: We have to leave it there because we're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us today.
King: Thank you, Dean.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we're talking with Iowa democratic Senator Tom Harkin, getting his perspective on the decisions facing the nation both in Congress and at the polls. But an important change next week because of special programming on this channel where you usually watch Iowa Press, next week's Friday night program with Senator Harkin is going to be on our IPTV.3 channel but then Sunday morning's 11:30 rebroadcast back on the usual IPTV.1. I'm Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today.