One down, one to go. Two republican congressional candidates fresh from winning primary election nominations resetting their campaign targets on democratic incumbents. We're questioning republicans Ben Lange and John Archer on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Ben Lange and John Archer have some things in common. They are both attorneys. Both are republicans running for Congress in eastern Iowa districts against incumbent democrats. And both are carrying the republican nomination after winning primary elections. In the first district, Ben Lange of Independence is opposing incumbent Bruce Braley. It's his second campaign to take Braley's congressional seat, losing two years ago by less than two percentage points of the total vote. This time the first district is redrawn though. Davenport and Clinton are out. Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, Marengo and Decorah are in. And speaking of Davenport and the Quad Cities' cluster of communities, John Archer lives in Bettendorf. He is a John Deere corporate attorney. And he is serving right now on the Pleasant Valley School Board but this is his first political campaign carrying the republican nomination, this time against incumbent second district Congressman Dave Loebsack. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press.
Lange: Thanks for having us, Dean.
Archer: Thank you very much.
Borg: Nice to have you here. And across the Iowa Press table, Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson and James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids.
Henderson: Mr. Archer, what is your main argument for replacing Congressman Dave Loebsack?
Archer: Well, he has been in office for six years and it has been his performance. Just recently the Des Moines Register, as you know, has voted Congressman Loebsack the least effective member of the Iowa delegation. And I think House minority leader Steny Hoyer said it best, he is new, he has been in office for six years but yet he is still getting his feet on the ground. So, we have a very weak incumbent here in the second district and it has to be his performance the last six years.
Borg: Just to correct, I don't think the Des Moines Register voted him, they were reporting actual polls by somebody else.
Archer: That's correct. Thank you very much.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, you tried to unseat Congressman Braley last time there was an election here in Iowa. What will be different this time around?
Lange: I think we first start with, as Dean mentioned, the redistricting. The redistricting is significantly improved for us. We cut that registration advantage in half from about eight percent down to four percent. Governor Branstad just won this district by 5,000 votes. So redistricting has been a great improvement for us. But the bottom line is, as John mentioned, is policy. I'm out there talking to folks about the issues that people care about and Bruce has been a complete failure on national debt, when we talk about the healthcare bill. Those policies people care about. Free trade is another one and I think those are going to continue to be the forefront.
Lynch: Redistricting isn't the only thing that's different this time. You're not going to have the element of surprise that you had two years ago. Bruce Braley knows you're coming after him, he has raised more money, he's likely to report raising $1 million by the end of this quarter. How do you compensate? How do you change the campaign to make up for those elements?
Lange: Well, there is no doubt, he'll have the resources. Checks from trial attorneys across this nation funnel into eastern Iowa to buy this House seat for him and that will continue to be the case. So we go out there and we talk to people about the policy because policy -- that's what people care about. That's what they go to the voting booth and talk about. They don't talk about who raised what resources from where. They talk about policy and I'm going to continue to do that and that's why I think we have a winning argument. Bruce has voted seven times to increase the national debt limit, voted against the balanced budget amendment on the House floor. That is what upsets Iowans because he fails to understand the profound moral failure we are facing as a nation in our national debt.
Lynch: And Mr. Archer, you alluded to Congressman Loebsack just getting his feet on the ground. Does it make sense to replace a newcomer with an even more newcomer, someone who replacing somebody with six years experience with someone with no experience?
Archer: Well, you talk about experience and having worked for John Deere the past twelve years, a multi-national corporation, being part owner of a Bettendorf-based manufacturing company and serving on the Pleasant Valley School Board I have the experience and this country needs some real leadership when it comes to our fiscal issues. And Congressman Loebsack has just been a rubber stamp for the failed Obama policies. We need to bring that business experience to the United States Congress and get our fiscal house back in order.
Borg: Mr. Lange, you have acknowledged, I heard you in a debate with your primary challenger, Mr. Blum, you were acknowledging the fact that you're going to need help not only from republicans but from independents to your campaign in order to get the job done if you're going to serve in Congress. What kind of a message do you think that you have attracts independents? Because your message is very, very conservative.
Lange: Right, well, as you mentioned, the redistricting, the largest voting block is the independent voters and we aren't out there talking republican this or democrat that. We're talking about the issues that people care about. And when they see what has happened to the next generation and our national debt, $16 trillion. My three daughters, as you know, $150,000 in debt. Whether you're independent, democrat or republican folks care about that because that is taking away the next generation's ability to succeed and have the better opportunity that we have here in America.
Borg: And Mr. Archer, also in the Iowa Republican Party, and nationwide, but Iowa right now there's a big Ron Paul influence and you're going to have to attract within the republican party that. Are you going to be able to do that?
Archer: I think so. The excitement that the Ron Paul individuals have brought, the enthusiasm is palpable and I think we'll take that momentum as the republican nominee here in the second district and we'll take that directly and face Dave Loebsack with that. So I don't see a problem with attracting the Ron Paul individuals at all.
Borg: That is a youth demographic.
Archer: Absolutely and having Iowa City and Johnson County in our new district that is going to be very, very favorable for us.
Lynch: But do those Ron Paul positions, those Tea Party positions that you, Mr. Lange, have talked about, will they attract the independent voters or are they looking for someone who is more bipartisan, willing to compromise to get solutions?
Lange: As I've said repeatedly, you still have to talk about policy and whether it is a libertarian, a Ron Paul supporter or a Mitt Romney supporter the national debt is the national debt and we're all Americans, we all have to live with under it. And so I think you go out there and you continue to talk about that and we are drawing that bright contrast because Bruce Braley has, again, failed to recognize the importance of it and we're offering an alternative in the policies that we support that libertarians, independents, democrats, republicans all can get behind my candidacy because of that.
Henderson: Mr. Archer, what sort of role will the presidential campaign play in your race? There's no statewide competition in Iowa this year. There are four congressional races. Does Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket help or hurt you?
Archer: Oh, I think it helps. Iowa is in play with our six electoral votes. We will see Governor Romney in Davenport next week as your viewers may already know. There will be a lot of attention here in Iowa. I was talking to Ben earlier, I'm very optimistic that we will put four republican congressmen in Washington, D.C. in November. So the second district and Scott County being the largest county in the second district is certainly in play and I anticipate Governor Romney to spend a lot of time here in Iowa.
Henderson: Are your views in sync with those of Mitt Romney?
Archer: I would say for the most part they are in sync with Governor Romney. You look at his experience, his business experience, his experience with the Olympics, bringing that business perspective to Washington, D.C. to solve the nation's debt crisis, the $16 trillion of debt, the $1.6 trillion of deficit spending.
Borg: You were a little hesitant there when she asked that question -- where would you like Governor Romney to move a little bit more to what you believe?
Archer: Well, I think we need to be more aggressive. I think we need to take our message to the voters, to the democrats, to the independents and it's a winning message, as Ben mentioned. Our policy positions are spot on, they are winning positions and I think we just need to be a bit more aggressive in articulating our vision for where America has to be tomorrow and five years from today.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, on caucus night a majority of Iowa republicans voted for someone else, they didn't vote for Mitt Romney, he didn't win a majority of republican votes on caucus night. How do you combat the idea that there's sort of this idea that maybe Iowa republicans aren't united behind Mitt Romney? And does that impact your ability to get republicans energetic about you candidacy?
Lange: I don't combat it. What we have to have is a unified front if we are going to defeat President Obama in November and if we're going to defeat Bruce Braley in November. And so I don't combat it. What I do is I continue to talk about the policy and I know I've said this about six times now but national debt, jobs, economy, healthcare, free trade agreements, that is what people want to talk about. That is why they get up off the couch, go to that ballot booth and get involved in the process. And I think that's the winning message out there. Whether they're Mitt Romney supporters, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum supporters, they will come together because four more years of President Obama is unacceptable.
Borg: Jim, just let me ask -- free trade agreements, what's wrong with free trade agreements? Iowa depends a lot on free trade.
Lange: I absolutely agree with you, Dean. And that is where Bruce Braley has yet to vote for a single free trade agreement.
Borg: You were not saying free trade agreements are bad?
Lange: No, I was saying absolutely, I'm 100% supportive of them and I think that's, again, a bright contrast where we have pork producers, the first congressional district is the second or third largest pork producing congressional district in the nation and we have Bruce Braley who votes against South Korea, Panama and Columbia free trade agreements and they're signed into law. And those issues matter because that doesn't just affect pork producers, manufacturers. These are an opportunity to go sell our products to other markets out there and we have a Congressman that is voting against that on the House floor. That hurts jobs and the economic development we have here in eastern Iowa.
Lynch: This morning the White House announced a change in immigration policy for people who came here illegally as youngsters will be able to get work permits and will be safe from deportation. It incorporates parts of the Dream Act. Should this be the federal or the national immigration policy going forward?
Archer: I personally think that our immigration policy is upside down. We have made it too easy for those individuals that want to be here illegally, to be here illegally and yet we have made it more difficult for those individuals that want to be here legally, we have put the roadblocks up. This is a national security issue and this is one area where I think the federal government has under reached its authority. Now we have states that are implementing their own laws and passing their own laws and the federal government is filing lawsuits against those states. I'm not familiar with what the White House just articulated this morning but this is one area where the federal government has under reached its authority in my opinion.
Lynch: Should we allow those people to stay if they've been here, came here as youngsters and have been here for, I think the policy is more than five years?
Lange: I think we need to address the problem in a step process. The first is we have to stop the southern border. We have to get -- secure that first because we can't have an understanding of the problem until we know what is taking place in the southern border. And we secure that southern border first, then we recognize how many people are here illegally. Is it ten to fifteen million? We need to draw them out of the shadows, we can draw them out of the shadows by making it more difficult on employers to employ them because we are for immigration, just not illegal immigration. My father worked in the meat processing facility over in Council Bluffs and you talk to the people that went through the process legally, that came through the proper channels to Iowa, to America and they will tell you, we don't support amnesty, we support the rule of law, that's why we came here. But I also think there's a human element to it. But before we can ever get to that process we need to secure that southern border first.
Henderson: Gentlemen, it's more than likely the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few days will issue a ruling on the Health Care Reform Act. Mr. Archer, if the Supreme Court rules it is unconstitutional are there elements of it you would like to see reimplemented?
Archer: I think there are certainly some elements such as the allowing individuals under 26 to stay on their parents' insurance policy, the transparency tends to be good, ensuring those with pre-existing conditions -- and I hope, I hope that there are plans in the works right now, contingency plans that individuals are working on what takes place in the Supreme Court here in the next couple of weeks. If it is ruled unconstitutional or if it is upheld, we need those contingency plans in place.
Henderson: But what do you say to insurance companies who say, if the pool of people in the insurance pool is not everybody, we can't afford to ensure people with pre-existing conditions? What do you say to insurance companies, don't make us do that?
Archer: Well, that is a tough decision for insurance companies to make. But we have to realize those individuals with pre-existing conditions need insurance as well. And insurance companies or individuals are going to have to make that tough decision.
Henderson: Isn't this, Mr. Lange, wouldn't that be in effect like mandating that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions? That is messing around with the marketplace if insurance companies say, our actuarial tables say this doesn't make business sense?
Lange: Right, well we already have insurance regulations. We have -- if an employer wants to go out there and get a quote to provide insurance for their employees they maybe get two, maybe three different opportunities from different companies. So we already have regulation in the marketplace. The question is how much regulation and what type of regulation we have. And for the first time in America's history, you mentioned it, there is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule that unconstitutional mandate, rule upon that and I think it's critical because people -- and I can say this traveling across northeastern Iowa -- healthcare, Obamacare is still one of the top one or two issues that people call to my attention that they can't fathom that the federal government is going to force them to purchase a product from a private company.
Henderson: But you, like Mr. Archer, would force insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and let parents keep children on their policies until the age of 26?
Lange: Well, certainly the pre-existing conditions. But I think more importantly what we need to do is regulate the marketplace in the sense of if there is a company in Utah that can provide the best quality of health insurance in Iowa then let's let them compete, let's open up the marketplace. But we can put those parameters that Iowans have that we deem necessary for our population. I think one thing we've learned from Obama care is that a one size fits all mandate of healthcare across this country is not going to work because I would much rather have the people in Iowa making those decisions as opposed to Washington, D.C.
Borg: Mr. Archer -- go ahead Jim.
Lynch: If the Supreme Court upholds Obama care and you go to Washington, will you try to repeal it? And what will you replace it with?
Lange: Well, I'll tell you, I will try to repeal it but I think that's where republicans lose. You can't stop and end a sentence by just saying repeal. It has to be repeal and place it with patient centered healthcare reform. I talk about my small business, we've had to transition from a standard health insurance plan to a high deductible HSA because we couldn't afford the 20% premium increases every year. So I acknowledge that as republicans it is repeal, but we don't go back to the status quo because the status quo isn't working in the marketplace.
Henderson: Mr. Archer?
Archer: I completely agree with Ben. It has to be consumer driven. We have to allow individuals to have the health savings account and we have to open up across state lines to let the free market work.
Borg: Mr. Lange, you have repeatedly during our conversation here have referred to the federal deficit, the federal debt. How would you reconcile then farm legislation, which if you are elected to Congress, you may get a chance to vote on if this current Congress can not enact a renewal of the expiring legislation right now -- so how do you reconcile what is needed for corn and soybean farmers in your district? And it's not only support, it's food assistance for needy people.
Lange: Excellent question. And as I have told -- I've been upfront, I've been down the Farm Bureau circuit the past month going to Farm Bureau meetings, pork producer meetings and talking to them.
Borg: So what are you telling them?
Lange: What I tell them is look we need a glide path off of this government subsidies because we need a free marketplace that allows different energy sources to compete, ethanol being one of them. However, that level playing field needs to be established and that is both for the oil industry and for the ethanol industry and I'm upfront with them about that. In fact, my father-in-law is a corn grower as well and he acknowledges that the same aspect of it that we are prepared to compete on a level playing field so long as that playing field is in fact fair with both the oil industry and the ethanol producers.
Henderson: So you would repeal tax credits and breaks for the oil industry?
Lange: Well, what I talk about with the oil industry is making sure that ethanol has the opportunity to put their product out in the marketplace. The renewable fuel standards, as you know, if we don’t have those in place there is no incentive for the oil industry to mix their product with them. So it has to be to a point where both have an opportunity to access the marketplace and whether that is through a tax break repeal or other type of mechanisms to force the ethanol producers and the corn, or the oil industry to have an opportunity to sell their products, I think that is the winning message because people don't want to continue to throw government money, one way or the other, we want consumers, we want Iowans to choose what is in our best interest, what is the best energy source for us.
Borg: Do I understand that you're in favor then of scaling back appropriations to farm safety net price protection and food assistance?
Lange: Well, I think that is already at the table and I think you're seeing that on the Senate side as well.
Borg: I'm asking how much scale back for you.
Lange: Well, I'm not familiar with what the number is right now in negotiations with the Senate --
Borg: But the word abolish isn't there?
Lange: The word abolish isn't there in the sense of we have to make it our goal to ultimately get to that point because we need a free market principle. We need a free market competition.
Borg: Mr. Archer?
Archer: Having been at the World Pork Expo last Thursday we've heard time and time again that farmers do not want direct payments. And that is what we have to take off the table. What farmers want here in Iowa and across America is a safety net for a catastrophic disaster, a severe drought and so that is the direction we have to move. We also have to move in a direction where we call the farm bill what it really is. Right now it is a food bill and we need to start thinking about separating these monstrosities, these very large bills, Obama care comes to mind, down to something simpler, independent pieces of legislation that can be acted upon in a timely manner and can be read and thoroughly analyzed by all parties involved.
Borg: All right, separated it right here then, separate food assistance from a farm safety net for price protection. What about food assistance, the SNAP program, which we formerly knew as food stamps?
Archer: Right. We certainly need that assistance. We need to modify it or reform it slightly.
Archer: Absolutely no question about that. The details I'm not 100% familiar with right now but the situation that we're in, in this country is going to require a lot of perform. As Ben mentioned, $16 trillion of debt and $1.6 trillion of deficit spending --
Borg: But what I'm really getting at here is cutting back on food assistance then to those who can't afford to buy food?
Archer: Well, what we need to do is I think in the Obama presidency more and more individuals have been on food stamps than ever before in history. So we need to get those people back employed, back standing on their own so we can do away with this assistance by the federal government. We need people working again here in Iowa and across America.
Lynch: To continue to talk about sort of budget issues, the Ryan budget has become sort of the alternative to Obama's budget. Do you support the Ryan budget? And how do you see that impacting Social Security and Medicare, which a lot of Iowans depend upon?
Archer: Right, well again, talking about reforms. I'd be remiss sitting here if I did not say that 43% of the federal government is made up of entitlements. And so we need to tackle these issues, these very difficult issues. Let's take Social Security, for example. We need to reform that. We can't change it for those individuals who are currently relying upon it or those individuals who are within several years of relying upon it. But for somebody my age, am I currently relying on Social Security to be in existence? No, I'm looking out for my own interest. So we need to raise the retirement age. We need to means test Social Security. So somebody who has paid into the system that has done quite well for themselves throughout their life might not be entitled to the Social Security benefits. But we would be foolish not to think that we can get out of this economic situation that we're in without some type of reform to those entitlement systems.
Lynch: Mr. Lange, I've heard you offer a similar approach to Social Security. This two track Social Security program, doesn't it become unfeeling and just sort of increase the federal bureaucracy here maintaining two programs?
Lange: You know as well as I do, James, we'll see an ad up in October, November saying that Ben Lange doesn't care about Social Security or any other crazy ideas out there. But the bottom line is we have enough guts to fix the problem because if a politician walks in this room or any others and tells us Social Security is okay they're flat out lying to us. The demographics have changed. When Social Security was put in place we had 42 workers for every one retiree. We had a life expectancy of 58 to 60. Now that number is two or three workers for every retiree. We have a life expectancy of 78 to 80. And I say those numbers because I want to make the case to the people out there that this isn't a matter of choosing a winner or a loser, this is a matter of realizing that the numbers simply don't add up anymore. The demographics have caused this problem.
Lynch: Do you raise the retirement age? Do you go to means testing?
Lange: Well, as I have talked about, you mentioned it there a two track system, that generation, my father being 62 I understand how Social Security is important to him and others out there -- for that older generation we're going to honor that promise. And as John mentioned, our generation, we're going to look at each other in the eye and say look, this program simply can not stand on its own two feet as is currently set up. So we have a two track system, the older generation will get what they promised, the younger generation will have the opportunity to have the same investment opportunities as members of Congress have through the Thrift Savings Plan. I don't see why if a member of Congress can have that opportunity why a younger generation can't as well.
Henderson: So what is the cut off then? At what age would someone be able to get out of the system? 40? 30?
Lange: Well, I think we have a graduated scale and I think we have a graduated scale because once you set a line in the sand then you're going to run into that group of people that are going to be on the short side of it. So we have a graduated scale down on age so that they have the opportunity to still stay a part of the traditional system, if you want to call it that, and the younger generation will have the opportunity to have that Thrift Savings Plan, if you will, like members of Congress have.
Henderson: Mr. Archer, last summer there was a huge brouhaha in Washington over the debt ceiling. Would you vote to raise the debt ceiling as a member of Congress?
Archer: We might be faced with that vote here early next year as a member of Congress. And no, I would not vote to raise the debt ceiling once again.
Henderson: So what is the answer without raising the debt ceiling?
Archer: We don't know the ramifications but we have given politicians enough time to fix the problems that currently exist. And if those ramifications are severe then we will have to deal with them at the appropriate time. But we have to draw a line in the sand saying, enough is enough, we have to get our fiscal house in order and if we can't do it then we will unfortunately have to deal with those ramifications.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, would you vote to raise the debt ceiling?
Lange: Well, I think it's important for voters to understand what the debt ceiling is and that is essentially the credit card that the federal government has. So in our family budget if the credit card has gotten to a point where we need to stop putting money on the credit card, well then we stop doing that. And I think that is where we are with the federal government. We stop increasing that and what happens or what does a family have to do? They have to start addressing the expense side of it. That's the real driver of this problem, the mandatory spending. We have to address that side before we ever get to the national debt bill.
Borg: I've heard you in favor of abolishing the Department of Education? Federal?
Lange: I don't believe you've heard that from me. What I have talked about, shifting the education policy making decisions from the federal level to the state level, the state level to the local level and because I want people closest to the children making those decisions.
Borg: Mr. Archer, the role of the federal government in education?
Archer: I would abolish the Department of Education. Serving on the Pleasant Valley School Board, now we're not going to be able to do it tomorrow or next year. But we need to phase that out and I, like Ben, believe that we need to empower those closest to the children to make the decisions. And that starts with the parents. Parents I believe know better than individuals on school boards or municipalities or Des Moines or Washington what their children need best.
Borg: So the role of the federal government would be nil?
Archer: Nil. That's correct.
Borg: Thanks so much for being with us today.
Lange: Thanks, Dean.
Archer: Thank you.
Borg: We'll be back with another edition next week. Iowa Press, usual times 7:30 Friday night, second chance to see the show Sunday at noon. I'm Dean Borg. Thank you for joining us today.