- Transcript (RTF)
Repeat performance. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks seeking Iowa's Second Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Contesting, for a third time, democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack's re-election. During the next hour, Loebsack and Miller-Meeks debating campaign issues in a special edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Welcome to the Opstad Auditorium at City High School in Iowa City. We're in Iowa's second congressional district, 24 southeast Iowa counties, including the cities of Clinton, Davenport, Muscatine, Pella, Newton, Burlington and Ottumwa, among others. Democrat Dave Loebsack represents the second district right now. He's completing a fourth term. Before Congress, he was a college political science professor. During two of Mr. Loebsack's re-election campaigns, 2008 and 2010, republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks sought the congressional seat as the republican nominee at that time. She is a physician, most recently directing Iowa's Public Health Department. Congressman Loebsack and Dr. Miller-Meeks, thanks for joining us on this special edition of Iowa Press.
Loebsack: Thank you, Dean.
Miller-Meeks: Thank you.
Borg: And you're both familiar with our traditional format. We're in a different setting here in Iowa City with a live audience, in addition to our television viewers. And they have agreed not to cheer during this one-hour debate. We're following our regular Iowa Press format, that is no pre-set debate rules, opening or closing statements, just ideas and issues. I'll be moderating. And questions will be coming from political journalists, Quad City Times Political Writer Ed Tibbetts, The Gazette's James Lynch and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, critics say your list of legislative accomplishments is short. Name one thing that you think would change their minds.
Loebsack: Well, I think there are many things that would change their minds. I think that we have to keep in mind when we talk about what we could accomplish in Congress, it is a lot in terms of legislation and the kinds of things we get through the Congress but it's also a lot of work that we do in the district. Most recently, just this summer as a matter of fact, you may recall that Tom Harkin and others shepherded through a large re-authorization of the Workforce Investment Act, something I had been working on for a lot of years. I passed my Jobs Bill, my Sectors Bill in the U.S. House in 2010. I didn't give up on it, it didn't go through the Senate, I kept at it. And then what I did most recently, I sat down with the republican chair of the subcommittee that dealt with that bill and I convinced her to get as much as I possibly could of my Jobs Bill into that larger bill. And what that's going to do, it's going to help local communities train the workforce for the jobs that are available. It's a jobs bill, it's an important bill and I'm proud that I got it in there.
Henderson: Dr. Miller-Meeks, this is your third try at defeating Congressman Loebsack. What is your new argument to voters in 2014?
Miller-Meeks: I think when you look at the things that we're facing today, especially when it is the Affordable Care Act, which has been anything but affordable as we have seen within our state and those types of issues, I have a lot of credibility on those issues, we have discussed that at length and it really comes down to who are we going to trust to fix health care? Who are we going to trust to manage a sluggish economy? And who are we going to trust to hold government accountable? We have a congressman who has been rated by the Des Moines Register as the least effective member of our congressional delegation. And so I really think people are looking for individuals that have a skill set, looks at evidence, assesses, finds way to bring solutions and focus on outcomes. So, they're looking for people that have a skill set, that can really move things forward in Congress. They're looking for problem solvers and they're looking for people that aren't afraid to step aside from party politics, to take a different position and really lead on actions and create solutions to the problems we face.
Borg: Jim Lynch?
Lynch: Let's continue in this vein of, Congressman, it's no secret that voters are unhappy with Congress. In a recent poll only 19% said members of Congress should be re-elected. Why are you and your colleagues held in such low regard? And why does that matter?
Loebsack: Well, I think it matters for a lot of reasons. But certainly there's no question that Washington is dysfunctional. That's not news to anybody at this table, it's not news to anybody in the audience. We have a situation there where the parties are split, the leaderships in particular are split, it's very difficult to get anything done. Dr. Miller-Meeks talked about being a problem solver. That's something I've been doing for the last 8 years. I'm part of a group called No Labels Problem Solvers. The idea there is to come together, across party lines, and to do what we can to introduce legislation. It may not be the big legislation that everybody wants at this point but I do believe that you've got to start small and go from there. During the shutdown a lot of us got together, did what we could to press forward a resolution to that issue, something that the American people wanted to see happen. There are a lot of things that we can do and that's something that I'm very proud of. I'm proud of the work that I've done across the aisle, the things that I've gotten done. My Sectors Bill, my Jobs Bill, when it was first passed it was passed unanimously because republicans understood that to be a very important bill to make sure that we get folks back to work, that we expand the middle class, not just restore the middle class. We do all of the things that we can to get folks back to work.
Borg: But you admitted Congress is dysfunctional.
Loebsack: Of course.
Borg: But, you're saying I'm not a part of the problem?
Loebsack: Why I try to do is be a part of the solution. That is what I've been saying. And I've been working, as I said, across the aisle. Folks have followed my career the last 8 years, I think that folks are very aware of the things that I've done here in the state of Iowa on the floods in 2008, I led the delegation here on a bipartisan basis. Tom Latham and I worked together on National Guard issues making sure that we got more of those National Guard readiness centers together, built here in Iowa. I've worked with folks on the community-based outpatient clinics here in the state for our veterans. There are any number of issues where I have worked with folks on the other side of the aisle and I think to great effect.
Miller-Meeks: When the Des Moines Register labels you as the least effective member of our congressional delegation and there is not a bill that has your name on it and been introduced and been passed, I think it's very challenging for us in the district to say that we have representation in Congress and to say that, in fact, you're part of a solution. Just look at our state. We have a state that has a House that is majority ruled by republicans, we have a Senate that is majority ruled by democrats and we have a republican Governor, yet we get things done in our state. And I was part of an administration that got things done despite the split in government. We have a success rate, we put through property tax reform, education reform, mental health reform. You can do things when you have proper leadership and you have people that really focus on solutions and solving problems.
Loebsack: Let me just tell you, I'm in the minority and I've been in the minority for the last 4 years --
Borg: In the House of Representatives.
Loebsack: In the House of Representatives. It's extremely difficult to get things done when you're in the minority. But this here, I'm the person who led the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis to get the funding back in for Meals on Wheels. I'm talking about seniors out there who don't care whether you're a republican or a democrat. There are folks who can't afford food and Meals on Wheels is important. I have delivered Meals on Wheels to these folks. I led the charge in the U.S. House on a bipartisan basis to make sure that that funding was restored. Any number of other things, on veterans issues, on National Guard issues. I expanded, my bill expanded the post 9/11 GI bill for our National Guard. I got the award from the National Guard Association for that particular bill. That brought together republicans and democrats alike and I'm very proud of that bill as well.
Borg: We might just as well address what Dr. Miller-Meeks has twice mentioned, and that is you with that label of the least effective. Do you want to answer to that?
Loebsack: Well, I think I answered that two years ago when that question came up and my answer is still the same. I don't pay attention to pundits in Washington, D.C. and that's what we're talking about. There are folks who really don't have a clue as to what I'm doing or what most members of Congress are doing. I pay attention to the people of the second district, I pay attention to the people I see every weekend when I'm talking to them when I go to the convenience store, I go to a business or a farm and I might just say, if I could, the Des Moines Register had a story about Dr. Miller-Meeks when she resigned as head of the Department of Public Health and it was anything but complimentary. She has been evaluated by the Des Moines Register and it was a scathing evaluation.
Lynch: Dr. Miller-Meeks, I want to ask you about, you heard Congressman Loebsack say Congress is just dysfunctional. If you go to Congress, are we going to have two more years of divided and dysfunctional government? Or can republicans accept the fact that Barak Obama is President for two more years and work with him?
Miller-Meeks: I think that when you, when you listen to people and you go to Washington, D.C. to be their voice and you have listened to their concerns, you have talked with them, I've met with people all across the district whether they have lost their health insurance, whether their premiums are going up, young people whose premiums are doubling, paraplegic, quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down who has lost his health insurance coverage, businesses whose rates are skyrocketing and they're worried about whether or not they're going to exist with the exception of having had an employer mandate waiver by the President. We have real issues, we have real problems and the country is hungering for people to step forward. And I think throughout my career both in the military, my career as a doctor and as a nurse and then going into the Department of Public Health I have been willing to serve people. That is the primary reason why I'm running. Washington is a dysfunctional mess. I have said that since I began this campaign back earlier in this year, which is why I resigned from the Department of Public Health --
Borg: That's probably where the two of you agree, both have said dysfunctional Congress.
Loebsack: There might be a few other areas but definitely on that.
Miller-Meeks: When you're in Washington, D.C. and it's a dysfunctional mess, you're part of a problem, not part of a solution.
Borg: Ed Tibbetts?
Tibbetts: I want to ask you both about a problem that has reached Iowa. Thousands of Central American kids have crossed the border creating a problem for the Obama administration and how to deal with it. In Iowa, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba convened a group of private organizations, asked them to find shelter for some of these kids. Let me go to you first Congressman Loebsack. Do you support those efforts?
Loebsack: Support of the local folks?
Loebsack: No, what I support is making sure that we have enough resources to deal with those folks who are on the border. And the bill that was just passed in the U.S. House, which Steve King himself said that he could have ordered off the menu, I think that tells us something about where that bill went. There weren't enough republicans to vote for the original bill because it didn't go far enough to the right. That bill was not acceptable. When we talk about sort of how people vote in the House, whether voting mainly democrat or republican or whatever, what we've got in the House, as demonstrated by this bill, is we've got a group of maybe as many as three dozen folks who are Tea Party oriented and John Boehner doesn't have any control over that.
Borg: Congressman, what Ed Tibbetts is asking though, in the second district do you support efforts to re-settle refugee children in the second district, as Bill Gluba of Davenport --
Tibbetts: They call it humanitarian effort. Do you support that?
Loebsack: I think there's a lot to be said for humanitarian efforts like that, there's no question. But we've got to deal with this from a comprehensive standpoint. We can't take it piece by piece what is happening now at the border, in Iowa, whatever the case may be. We've got to make sure that we go back. The Senate passed an immigration bill a year ago. I thought that was a good start. But in the House we have been held up again because the Tea Party folks there are holding it up and they want to take it bit by bit and unfortunately Speaker Boehner is not willing to stand up to those folks.
Tibbetts: Dr. Miller-Meeks, Governor Branstad initially said he didn't want to see those children in Iowa, but he has not outright opposed the efforts of Mayor Gluba and others on the local level. Do you think they're doing the right thing?
Miller-Meeks: You know, I think this is an extraordinarily complex and difficult issue and I'm going to come at this from being a mother. I'm a mother of two children. I can only imagine what these parents in Central America are feeling when they send their children with sometimes disreputable people to cross over Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S. border, what circumstances exist in their locale, in their geographic region, whether it's violence, whether it's drug cartels, what circumstances exist for those parents that they would forego their children at a young age to bring them to our borders? And what does that say about the United States as a whole? We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants and people want both honored. We are also tremendously compassionate people, giving people and loving people. And when you look at the circumstances you have to say why does this exist? Why is this a problem? What has changed in our policy? Has there been anything that has created this? And if so, the how do we rectify and mediate that?
Borg: For the children who are already here, Dr. Miller-Meeks, the question is, would you support efforts in Iowa City that happened just this week and in Davenport and really throughout Iowa?
Miller-Meeks: I think as compassionate people we do what we can in order to help anybody who is vulnerable and who is in need. But I do think there has to be a relationship and a conversation with governors and mayors and people with the federal government on who is coming to their state. What is their public health issues? Have they had immunizations? Are they carrying diseases? Do they have tuberculosis? There's a huge processing problem that, do governors of states or mayors of cities even know that any of the public health needs have been addressed for these children? And so I think there needs to be a conversation. People shouldn't just land in a state or a city and no one be aware that they're coming there. But it's sole action by the federal government.
Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, President Obama has signaled that he will issue an executive order on this topic and make his own policy. Do you think that usurps your role as Congress to be making the policy? Would you support an executive order?
Loebsack: That's a great question, Kay, because as a member of Congress we have certain powers that are laid out in Article I, he has certain powers laid out in the Constitution as well and there's always a struggle, there has been since the inception of our country. And it is always a question as to is the President going too far or not. I'm not sure what he's going to do at this point. I have not seen anything from him as far as the specifics. But certainly this is something that I'm going to keep a close eye on. What we don't need is folks like Steve King threatening to shut down the government over what the President may or may not do. That is something that we saw happen last year, something that we shouldn't see again happen this year. So, again, I haven't seen what his proposals are. I'll be evaluating that and I'll be happy to discuss that at that point in time when he makes those proposals.
Henderson: Dr. Miller-Meeks, would it be an impeachable offense if President Obama enacted policy regarding these undocumented children who have come into the country?
Miller-Meeks: I do think that Congress as a whole, regardless of what political party someone is, does need to look at the balance of powers that exist currently in our federal government. And because of the use of executive orders or the type of executive orders, there are many on both sides of the aisle who are concerned about what the President is doing. I think recently people have seen Jonathan Turley on television talk about these issues and what the President is doing and that he is very concerned about what precedent that sets for us going forward. It's not a party political issue. It really is a balance of power issue and what happens. We currently have a democrat President. The next president may be a republican president. And so we on both sides of the aisle have to come with, you know, the knowledge of does this set a precedent? What do we do going forward in the future? And are we going to like a president of the opposite party doing the same things? So, I really do think that as members of Congress they need to look at this issue, they need to make a decision and action on whether or not the President is exceeding his authority under the Constitution.
Henderson: If you become a member of Congress, would you vote to impeach the President?
Miller-Meeks: I think you have to look at the circumstances as they exist. You have to look at legal scholars to see what the offenses are. But I do think that Congress needs to re-assert its authority under the Constitution.
Loebsack: We talked about the dysfunction of Congress earlier. There are a lot of reasons why Congress is dysfunctional. One of the reasons is the rhetoric that gets employed by folks who are members of Congress. And when we see, for example, folks threatening to shut down the government because of something that the President may do or folks who are saying we should impeach the President because of something he may do, I don't think that helps us. I don't think it helps us as a country, I don't think it helps us move the ball forward. No matter who the president is, as I think we can both agree here, no matter which party the president is a member of or who is running Congress, this isn't good for the country. And now with Speaker Boehner suing the President, wasting money, it's $500 an hour to sue the President of the United States, this isn't moving the ball forward. If anything this is just contributing, again, to this dysfunction that we're talking about.
Miller-Meeks: As I recall, Jonathan Turley supported President Obama. A Georgetown Law Professor actually said that the lawsuit made sense and that if members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, in both parties, are not willing to come to some bipartisan agreement on what are the boundaries and what is the role of Congress, what is the role of the President, constitutionally what -- again, it doesn't matter what party the president is, it's the precedent that this sets for other presidents and other congresses.
Lynch: Changing gears here, ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria, is the latest threat to peace in the Middle East. And I'm wondering, as the President considers his options there, what you see as our mission in the Middle East? And what should the congressional role be in determining that mission? We'll start with you, Dr. Miller-Meeks.
Miller-Meeks: Well, I think that's a great question because I'm not sure that any of us have an idea of what our foreign policy strategy is. I don't think that there's clarity for us as Americans, nor do I think there's clarity for our allies that are in the region as well. What is in our strategic best interest in the Middle East? What are the factions in the Middle East? Do we have an understanding of what the alliances and the allegiances are? And our policy having gone forward under this President --
Borg: Are you asking that as a rhetorical question or are you saying it doesn't exist?
Miller-Meeks: I'm saying I have a difficulty finding an existence of a coherent foreign policy strategy.
Lynch: In that vacuum then, what is the congressional role in determining what we do in response to ISIS?
Miller-Meeks: I think that the congressional members have a very important role in helping to determine what is in the nation's best interest, using the advisors that they have both within the military, within those that have foreign policy expertise, those that have Middle East expertise, because this goes actually beyond the Middle East. It goes to our policy in the recent with Russia, it goes to not negotiating the status of forces agreement when we pulled out of Iraq. There's a tremendous vacuum that exists because we have failed to lead. You can't lead from behind. You can lead by motivating. You can lead by inspiring. You can lead by bringing people together. But if you don't have a coherent foreign policy strategy, if your foreign policy is whatever the polls say you should do, that's not leadership. And no one knows where we're going.
Lynch: Congressman Loebsack, what is our mission there? And what is your role in determining it?
Borg: And I'll add to that. Are you in lockstep with the President on the charges that Dr. Miller-Meeks has leveled? But are you in complete support against what she says?
Loebsack: Well, I think that that choice is too stark to make. I understand why you're trying to make that choice be that stark. But, it's hardly that simple obviously. I mean, it depends on the situation, it depends on what our interests are, it depends on what the threat to our interests might be, it depends on the part of the world that we're talking about. Clearly with respect to ISIS they are potentially a real threat to our homeland, there's no question about that. They're not there yet. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. Unfortunately because Speaker Boehner sent us home and we've been here for over three weeks and not in Washington dealing with the problems that we need to be dealing with, I have not been able to read any of the reports, any of the intelligence reports, the assessments, what have you. I think it's important actually, I think it would be a good idea if Congress were to reconvene.
Miller-Meeks: The President is not in Washington either --
Loebsack: If I may finish my point, if that would be okay. I think that we ought to reconvene. I think it would be a good idea for Speaker Boehner to bring us back so that we could actually look at this situation so that the President, he's saying that he's going to present some kind of a strategy with respect to ISIS here soon --
Borg: What would you want to vote on if he were to bring you back? What would you want to vote on?
Loebsack: Again, it would depend upon what he is asking for. I don't believe that boots on the ground, at least at this point, certainly from what I have seen, are something, that's not something where we ought to go at this point. Again, I think we should hold open all the possibilities. But the American people are war weary, this is not something that the American people like to see. But we don't know what the President is --
Borg: But I hear you say, I as a Congressman, I want a voice in this, I don't want the President --
Loebsack: That's exactly right.
Borg: -- I don't want the President to make the decision.
Loebsack: Well, I think that, again, this goes back to what we were talking about, the powers of the President versus the powers of Congress. This is a constant struggle back and forth, has been since the beginning of the republic. So, again, it will depend on the particular situation, it will depend upon exactly what he thinks the strategy is and what he'd like to do with respect to military force.
Borg: Dr. Miller-Meeks, I've interrupted twice, you wanted to talk.
Miller-Meeks: I think to somehow level a charge at Speaker Boehner when the President is on vacation during this time period, when we had a journalist beheaded and we as a nation had no response to that, when you had Major General Harold Green assassinated in Kabul and we had no response to that and no one attending his funeral, that all of us worry and are concerned about what in fact is our foreign policy? What is in our strategic best interest? What is in the strategic best interest in that region for the United States? And then how do we conduct our affairs? So, to blame Speaker Boehner on that I think you would have disbelief, however, the President has to articulate what his foreign policy strategy is, how that relates to it and yes, people are war weary. We have been in war for a decade. I'm a 24 year military veteran. My husband is a 30 year military veteran, was deployed after 9/11. You never send troops into battle without knowing why you're doing it, what you hope to accomplish, what you hope to achieve and what the end goal and end result is. We need to know what is our foreign policy strategy? What do we hope to achieve? What are the alliances? And that has not been made clear by this President. And to ask us as a Congress, it is up to the President to lead us, it is up to the President to make that case for us so we understand why we are going to engage in action, why Congress may need to vote on whether you continue air strikes, whether you do some kind of economic sanction, whether you bring in Russia or another nation in order to try to -- what is the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We don't have any of that --
Borg: I'm going to move on --
Loebsack: But if I could, I think we actually came to an agreement there at the very end and that is that Congress should go back into session. Maybe you don't believe that. And I didn't blame Speaker Boehner for any of this. I simply said that it's important for him to call us back into session so that we can actually evaluate the situation, so we can hear what the President has to say and then we can make a decision based on all of those factors.
Borg: Got it. Ed?
Tibbetts: I want to follow on, on this, in the vein of accountability. Congressman Loebsack, do you think the Obama administration was asleep at the switch in allowing ISIS to grow as fast as it did into what you acknowledge yourself as a potential threat to our homeland?
Loebsack: I think there's a possibility that they didn't account for the threat accurately and I think there was some of the administration who have already admitted that because clearly come of the comments that were made early on about them being the JV for Al Qaeda, that was not accurate. Now we see exactly, not exactly, but we see pretty well what the situation is and what they have done in Iraq and the threat that they are now posing to the Iraqis, not only in Kurdistan but other areas as well.
Tibbetts: Do you and Congress share some of that accountability as well for maybe overlooking this threat?
Loebsack: That's a question the American people are going to have to ask. I think that as a member of the Armed Services Committee, certainly this is something that when we go back into session we're going to look at. I have every confidence that we're going to be looking at the intelligence, that we're going to do an analysis of this and evaluate exactly where the country went wrong.
Miller-Meeks: Are you saying to us that you had no information throughout this past year? That you had no information on what was occurring in the Middle East and the emerging and growing threat of ISIS? That this could not have been foreseen in Syria and the actions in Syria for the past three years? I find it difficult to believe that there was no information available until just now that ISIS was a growing threat, that this had the potential to destabilize the Middle East and affect the homeland.
Borg: Congressman, do you share the blame, she asks?
Loebsack: Well, for the record, Congress is given the information that the administration chooses to give it. That's the bottom line.
Tibbetts: Dr. Miller-Meeks, do you think that keeping troops in Iraq past 2012 would have helped? Would you have done that?
Miller-Meeks: I think when you look at history, so you look at World War I, you look at World War II, you look at past actions and where we have been successful after wars, in World War II when we had troops that remained in Germany, we had troops that remained in Japan, that we were able to help those countries to transition into a more stable form of government, to a growing economy and out of war. And so I think that having negotiated, not negotiated a status of forces agreement, to have left some residual troops in Iraq, it did not allow that emerging government the stability and stability of security that it needed to help to prevent this, especially as Syria was --
Borg: One quick follow-up.
Tibbetts: If you were a member of Congress how far would you have taken that? Past 2012 to when?
Miller-Meeks: I think the question you ask is how long do you keep troops in, for one year, two years, five years, ten years, it seems to me I remember in a presidential debate that John McCain said 60 years and was laughed at by that. The time is until there is a stable government and you have an indigent security force that can take care of its people, that can prevent genocide. That is the timeframe. Do you tell your enemies what your timeframe is? No, you don't tell your enemies what your timeframe is. That's not a good strategy, it's not a good foreign policy strategy and I think it was not a wise decision on the part of our government to have not negotiated a status of forces agreement.
Loebsack: I think if somebody is going to be in Congress, is going to make decisions on critical issues of war and peace, and I think it's simply wrong then to look back at historical analogies when they're not analogies. Iraq is not World War II. Iraq is not even North and South Korea. And if you're suggesting that we keep 39,000 troops in Iraq as we did in Korea for all those years or hundreds of thousands of troops as we did in Europe, that makes absolutely no sense. Plus there's not much we can do with respect to Iraq moving forward.
Borg: Unfortunately on every one of our topics we could go on for the entire hour. We can't do that so we're going to move on. Kay?
Henderson: Congressman, the President on this Thursday said that the latest evidence of Russian troops in the Ukraine is not evidence of an invasion. Do you agree?
Loebsack: Well, what we heard today appears as though it may in fact be an invasion. And I think the best way that we can deal with Russia is make sure that we do everything we can to get our allies, our NATO allies on board. It is a NATO situation, it's not just an American situation or Ukrainian situation or Crimean or Russian or whatever the case may be. So, the President, as far as I can tell and hopefully he's doing the right thing. I don't know that for a fact. But I urge him to be in touch with those European allies because they have to play a very important role in this.
Henderson: Dr. Miller-Meeks, would you go beyond sanctions and send U.S. military troops into the Ukraine?
Miller-Meeks: I think you have to look back at -- again, I'm going to go back to the lack of a foreign policy strategy. So, when the President first came into office he removed missile defense from Poland and Ukraine. The next action was to have a reset with Russia where we would unilaterally decrease our nuclear arms but Russia did not have to have the same, you know, the same negotiation. So, there is no negotiation. So, what was our foreign policy? What was our interest? And therefore, did we allow Russia to become more aggressive than they would have under different circumstances or under different policy -- the economic sanctions at this point in time I think are certainly warranted, they should be effected, they should be done with both Eastern and Western Europe and I think, again, when you don't look at history, it seems to me that I recall under a different President when there was a misunderstanding of Russia's aggression that there was an incursion into Georgia. And so I think we're seeing a repeat of that and I think that you do need to look at history, you do need to be aware of with who you are negotiating and how you're negotiating and what they bring to the table and what levers are available to you, economic levers are certainly appropriate at this time.
Borg: Let me just -- you frequently have referred to policies of the Obama administration and now Congressman Loebsack. Are you running against the Obama administration or are you running against Congressman Loebsack?
Miller-Meeks: I haven't heard Congressman Loebsack talk about the policies of this President, who he supports in lockstep. So, he is a puppet of this administration and a puppet of Nancy Pelosi. So, he does what they want him to do, his voting record shows that. He is, in fact, as I said, part of the problem in a dysfunctional Washington, D.C.
Loebsack: We could go back to the Des Moines Register again, the Des Moines Register cited a study that showed that the democratic delegation in the U.S. House is one of the most independent delegations of the President of the United States.
Borg: Okay. Jim?
Lynch: Moving from how and if we deploy our troops to how we care for them when they come home, Representative Loebsack, how did things get so bad in the Veterans Administration Hospitals? And as a member of the Armed Services Committee, should you have been paying more attention to that situation?
Loebsack: Well, what I did in my district is paid a lot of attention over the years. In fact, I got elected in November of 2006 and one of my first official visits when I first got into Congress in February of 2007 on the day of the famous February ice storm here in Iowa, I drove from Mount Vernon down to Iowa City to visit the VA Hospital and I made it back in time before the ice storm got too bad. But that was one of the first official visits that I made as a congressman so that I could talk to folks there not only in the administration but talk to the patients and I've been a regular visitor to that particular facility. Keep in mind that Armed Services is not the committee of jurisdiction when it comes to veterans affairs. It doesn't mean that Congress isn't accountable, it doesn't mean the President isn't accountable. But what I have done over the years is I have spent a lot of time at that facility. I go there during Valentine's Day when we deliver valentines to the veterans. I have worked on any number of issues --
Lynch: Weren't you aware of the condition of the veterans hospitals though? How did the situation get to where it is?
Loebsack: Yeah, I think Dr. Miller-Meeks actually visited the VA facility here herself recently and found that the conditions overall are very good here in Iowa City. And when this first happened, in Phoenix when we first heard about this, when it first came to light, I had my office contact Congressman Latham's office so that we could do a bipartisan visit to the Des Moines facility. I had never been there before.
Miller-Meeks: This came to light --
Loebsack: Excuse me, if I could just finish, if I could. This is something that I thought should be dealt with in a bipartisan way so Congressman Latham and I went and we listened to folks there to see how the conditions were there. I think in Iowa things have been pretty darn good --
Borg: Okay. I'm going to take that and move on to Dr. Miller-Meeks, you wanted to say something.
Miller-Meeks: I said this was not a new report that came out this year. This was an investigative report that was turned over from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. General Shinseki is a person who had an admirable career, was trying to work within the VA system to address this and change this and it is unconscionable that members of Congress and members who are working with veterans didn't make any action to address this issue prior to a scandal erupting.
Lynch: Dr. Miller-Meeks, you have been in the military, you have been in, as a physician you have been in veterans hospitals. What is your prescription here? What has to happen?
Miller-Meeks: You know, you have to look at where your funding goes and is your funding going to a bureaucratic administration or is your funding going to doctors, nurses and care? You have great doctors and nurses and therapists at the VA Hospitals who care deeply for their patients, who work every day to try to make sure that they have the best care possible. But there are bureaucratic, regulatory and administrative burdens that exist. So, when you look at the funding that is increase to the VA Hospital, it hasn't gone to the care portion, it has gone to the administrative portion. And so we have to hold people accountable, you have to be able to hire and fire people if they're not doing their job and if veterans aren't getting the care they're supposed to be. The fact that there are separate waiting lists, really as a veteran that is repulsive.
Borg: Well, let's just ask a bottom line question then, Congressman Loebsack. Should the problem be solved expediency in letting veterans go outside the VA system to get their health care?
Loebsack: Yeah and that's something that I've heard from a lot of folks over the years, they're very concerned. Even though I was very instrumental in making sure that we got that community-based outpatient clinic sited and built in Ottumwa, it's a very good clinic, they have psychological, psychiatric services, mental health services as well, it's very important. But here's what the most recent bill does that was passed on a bipartisan basis, signed by the President. If you're a veteran and you're 40 miles away from a facility and you can't get care, you now can go to the private sector.
Borg: And you support that?
Loebsack: Of course. And that makes perfect sense.
Borg: Dr. Miller-Meeks? Is that a good solution?
Miller-Meeks: Again, it is a good solution. It's a solution I suggested for actually six years that veterans, if you look at our Armed Forces you have your total strength of your military is made up of your active duty forces, your reserve and your National Guard forces. So, your total military strength is made up of half of people who are not on a military base. So, if they are deployed they go into a combat situation, they come back, they come back to a home and to a community. They don't go back to a military base. And as you know, we don't have any military bases in the state of Iowa. So, this should have, proactively we should have thought about, what is it these soldiers go back to? Who is there in their community to help them, their families, their spouses to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, getting back, getting their benefits -- we already know at the beginning of the Iraq war and throughout this conflict that soldiers were not getting their benefits on time --
Borg: Dr. Miller-Meeks, I take it you support letting them go outside the VA system?
Miller-Meeks: I support them going outside the VA system and I think, again, people need to be -- we expect our congresspeople who have information that we do not have as the general public to be proactive in doing these things in support of our veterans and in support of our military.
Loebsack: The point that she makes about communities, that's a good point. That is why I have been very supportive of making sure that we have all these National Guard readiness centers, a number of them have been built over the years in my district. I've been there for the groundbreaking, I've been there for the opening, I have been working with Congressman Latham to make sure that we get the funding for those buildings and their community centers.
Borg: Thank you, Congressman. Ed?
Tibbetts: I want to move to the Affordable Care Act, an issue that divides Americans, divides the both of you. Congressman Loebsack, what is going right with this law and what needs to be strengthened?
Loebsack: Well, clearly there are any number of provisions in it that Iowans are taking advantage of, that Americans are taking advantage of. For example, we have about, I think it's about 4,500 young Iowans, young adults who are on their parents' health insurance now and I think that's a good thing. We have a number of folks who went to the exchange -- I'm talking about the congressional district -- a number went to the congressional district, or went to the exchange from my congressional district and now they're getting good, quality health care at a reasonable price. There are a lot of folks, as you know, several tens of thousands, who in Iowa alone have pre-existing conditions, juvenile diabetes, for example. They can't be denied health care now, they can't be kicked off a plan because of that particular pre-existing condition. Women can't be charged more now for their plans. That was the case before. There are any number of things like that, that are happening now that are good. And look, if we repeal the bill then that is looking those folks in the eye and saying, guess what, your insurance company can now kick you off their insurance.
Tibbetts: What do we need to do better in this bill? Or do we need to do anything at all?
Loebsack: Well, we've already done some things better. Look, I'm the first one to say that the rollout was nothing short of disastrous, that was a problem and that had to be dealt with. In fact, I was there at that time arguing --
Borg: But that's over, let's move on to what the shortcomings are now.
Tibbetts: Can you name some things that need to be strengthened?
Loebsack: Well, I think that what we've got to do is provide the kind of flexibility to make sure that folks who, for example, were on plans prior to this but then found that they were not on those plans any longer because HHS narrowly interpreted the rules or because insurance companies decided to kick them off, I think they should be allowed to stay on those plans.
Tibbetts: Dr. Miller-Meeks, how do you think republicans should proceed with this law after November?
Miller-Meeks: Well, first of all, I think you have to decide whether or not we are trying to have access to health insurance or we are trying to be affordable. Certainly affordability has not been what has resulted from this bill. So, when I have traveled the district and I have met with people, there's a young lady in Newton who full-time job was eliminated, she now has two part-time jobs and she has no benefits. A 63-year-old lady who had a catastrophic health care plan, she had five doctors’ visits per year covered under her plan, there was no cost for these, that was part of her plan. Her plan was eliminated, her coverage was gone, she had to go through the exchanges, she went on the private marketplace and what she could find was a plan that cost her more and she no longer has the doctors’ visits. So, she has a higher deductible, she has a higher premium and she has to pay out of pocket now for doctors’ visits as well too. I mentioned earlier a young man who was paralyzed from the neck down when he was three years old, went through school, had the support of his family, lives independently in his home, that individual lost their health insurance, they tried to negotiate their plan, they have lost their homecare coverage and because he is paralyzed also has Medicaid. You know this story. The result of that was that we would cover $540 for him to go into a nursing home but not the $600 to cover his homecare aid. Businesses who will not hire employees, they're at 48 employees, they could hire 3 college graduates, will not expand because they don't know the effect of this bill on their company and the uncertainty that exists. It's a tax on business. The part-time employment -- when you look at this bill --
Borg: You gave us the case studies, now Ed Tibbetts is asking, what would you do about it?
Tibbetts: What do you do from here?
Miller-Meeks: You first have to change in the bill those things that are impeding business and impedes us from growing our economy and then you have to transition to a plan where you put patients first. Health care, number one, needs to be affordable. That was the main issue with health care. We have not made it more affordable. Generic prices are skyrocketing, premiums are going up, young people are paying higher premiums. You have businesses who may go out of business. There's a company in Ottumwa who may go out of business, employs 200 people. So, when you look at the overall context of the bill --
Borg: The basic question is, would you repeal it or would you change the existing law?
Miller-Meeks: The bill, you know, health care needs to be affordable, it needs to be portable, it needs to be personal and it needs to preserve the doctor/patient relationship.
Henderson: Would it be the employer mandate, number one?
Miller-Meeks: Well, the President has waived it once for a year, now waived it again for two years so the employer mandate, are we going to keep waiving it?
Henderson: Would you vote to do away with it?
Miller-Meeks: I think you need to look at the employer mandate, you need to look at how we describe full-time versus part-time work when it was put in the bill at 30 hours. If you make it affordable, health insurance affordable and the power -- take the power away from health care companies --
Henderson: How do you make it affordable?
Miller-Meeks: You put the power back in people's hands. Marketplaces, whether they are an exchange, can be very powerful in reducing costs, having policies that are catastrophic policies, pre-funding accounts so people can purchase insurance, going across state lines, Tort reform, there is a variety of mechanisms using the marketplace to make insurance affordable.
Loebsack: Yeah, a lot of these things that Dr. Miller-Meeks is talking about are all good in theory. The question is whether what she is proposing would in fact work in practice and that we don't know. Now, I do want to say that over the years I have heard Dr. Miller-Meeks sort of transition and change her position. Early on actually she wrote op-ed that she was in favor of the mandate, the individual mandate and then she was for repeal and then I think four years ago you were for repeal and reform and now I'm not sure exactly where you are on this. I think that is one of the critical things here. We've got to get together on this and we've got to work across the aisle and we've got to have people of good will who know about health care, know about insurance and all these other things and we've got to make sure that we get together and move this thing forward.
Miller-Meeks: Is it good to work together on a bipartisan bill to begin with, that would have been a very good --
Borg: What about changing your position?
Miller-Meeks: I think my position has always been very clear. If you make health care affordable, people will purchase health care. If you make health insurance affordable, people will purchase it.
Henderson: Let us talk about another health care related issue. At the Iowa Statehouse, republicans and democrats were compelled by the stories of parents who have children with severe epilepsy to pass a bill that would decriminalize in Iowa possession of cannabis oil. As a member of Congress, Dr. Miller-Meeks, would you take any step at the federal level to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana?
Miller-Meeks: I think you do have to look at decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana. I do think that's something on a federal level when you have states individually acting in that regard. And then that is in contrast to what the federal law is. I do think that is an issue that we have to address. You certainly have medical colleagues and medical information and evidence that needs to be brought into this. And then you also have to look at how you're going to deal with things in looking at other states who have legalized not just medical marijuana but marijuana use. You have to look at how you're going to handle impaired drivers. How do you test that? How do you study that? So, we're moving down a pathway but there's still a lot of things we haven't done yet I think that we need to make sure people are, their safety is protected.
Henderson: As mentioned earlier, you were Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, you're also an eye doctor. There are folks who suffer from some eye conditions who say they are helped by medical marijuana. Do you think it is an effective treatment for those kinds of maladies?
Miller-Meeks: Well, there's so many other medications that we have to treat glaucoma, you're referencing glaucoma and I've only had one patient in the 30 years I have practiced that was on THC and it was THC so there was no other psychological or mental effects from this individual, but only one that took it. And there are so many other therapies that are available for the treatment of glaucoma rather than marijuana so it is rarely used in that regard. But I do think looking at, there's a whole spectrum that you have to look at when it comes to medical marijuana and marijuana and decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana, certainly one of those on the federal level.
Henderson: Congressman Loebsack, what would your vote be in regards to this issue?
Loebsack: My answer is very short. I'm in favor of medical marijuana use.
Borg: Let's move on then.
Lynch: Since 1960, Congress has voted to raise or extend the debt ceiling about 80 times and our current $7 trillion debt is projected to be about $20 trillion by March 2015 when one of you will be asked to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Congressman Loebsack, will you vote to raise the debt ceiling? Will you put any conditions on your vote?
Loebsack: I have voted to raise the debt ceiling. I think that it was -- it was just simply wrong to hold America's credit hostage because folks thought that there were some other bills that maybe should have been passed or there should have been conditions attached of one sort or another. That's not what you do, you don't hold hostage the full faith and credit of the greatest power on Earth. So, I did vote for that. Would I like to see changes made? Look, you talked about our $17 trillion debt, that's something that I don't want to will to my grandkids. I've got three grandchildren, the last thing I want to do is see them be paying off that debt down the road. That is why I joined with a republican from Michigan to support a balanced budget amendment. I was the first democrat to get on board on that particular balanced budget amendment. Even if that were not to pass, and I understand there are a lot of concerns with balanced budget amendments, a lot of concerns in terms of sort of what we can do during conditions of economic downturn and what have you. I thought it was important for me to do that, again, so that we can have this conversation, so we can be talking about the kinds of things that we need to be talking about to get our deficit under control on an annual basis and then do something about the long-term debt. One other point on that, this is part of what is one of the problems that we have with sequestration. Remember, sequestration came from the Budget Control Act back in 2011. And, again, the idea there was to try to get the deficit under control and try to get the long-term debt under control. But, as far as I was concerned that bill went about it all the wrong ways. It basically said that if Congress and the President don't get their act together that sequestration is going to happen, these automatic cuts are going to take place, not only domestic programs but in the Defense Department. That was the wrong way to go. I voted against it. It also called for a 2% cut for Medicare reimbursement rates for providers in Iowa where we do a great job delivering care but our providers are not given the money that they need and the reimbursement they need so I voted against that bill and now we're in the situation we are because of that bill, because that bill passed.
Borg: Dr. Miller-Meeks, the basic question is, vote to increase the debt ceiling? Because it will be coming up again. If you're elected you must vote on it.
Miller-Meeks: Why don't we go back to having budgeting practices and general accounting principles? So, there's no budget, there's not a budget passed through the House and through the Senate, the President produces a budget, even the Senate doesn't want to bring it up or vote on it. So, if you have a budget and you set your priorities for your spending then you may be able to start tackling a debt. And I find it interesting to talk about a balanced budget amendment when the Congressman has been part of a spending spree in Congress for the entire time that he has been there. So, it's one thing to say when it's political popular to say that we need to look at a budget, a balanced budget amendment, when we need to look at spending that we don't want to spend on our children’s credit card, I seem to remember that was used in an earlier campaign. But, nonetheless, you've had no actions on reducing spending, setting priorities for spending and how we're going to allocate spending, how we're going to grow the economy to increase the number of taxpayers so we increase the revenue so we can reduce our deficit.
Borg: Let's go to bottom line and bottom line is would you vote to increase the debt ceiling?
Miller-Meeks: I would vote to look at our, number one, put a budget in place. We don't have a budget in place so I'd put a budget in place. Number two, I would --
Borg: What about the -- if that came first --
Miller-Meeks: -- our priorities. Number three, I'd grow our economy so we can reduce our deficit.
Loebsack: I might just say, there is a two-year budget in place and that is because Patty Murray, a democrat from Washington in the Senate and Paul Ryan, a republican from the House from Wisconsin, got together and came up with a two-year budget.
Borg: But that was something you voted for?
Loebsack: Of course.
Loebsack: We have to have that kind of stability, there's no question. And one other point, in 2011, December of 2011 I was the first member of the Iowa delegation to put my name on a no budget no pay bill and that was incorporated then into that two-year budget.
Tibbetts: I want to go back and talk for a moment about security and health. Dr. Miller-Meeks, it has been noted a number of times you're a public health professional. I'm curious to know what threat, if any, you think the Ebola Virus presents to the U.S. homeland?
Miller-Meeks: I think that the Ebola Virus or any of the infectious diseases, when you have such a, you have global travel, you have the ability for people to bring be they viruses or bacteria into any country, into the air, primarily by air travel but it can be by any sort of travel, that all infectious diseases and emerging viruses and emerging diseases are certainly a threat. So, I think the actions that we can take to help with that crisis in Africa and also the actions in which two individuals were brought back to the United States in a controlled environment in order to assess a cure and it was still somewhat experimental, I think are very beneficial to us as a nation and it shows part of the greatness of America that we are able to bring people back, to quell people's fears, to handle this issue and to show that there may be some treatment that can be provided for these individuals.
Tibbetts: Congressman Loebsack, how should Congress be involved in this?
Loebsack: Well, clearly it seems to me that the best thing that Congress can do is keep our ear to the ground, be watching these developments, the relevant committees are going to be probably having some kind of oversight hearings. I think that makes a lot of sense to gather all that evidence that we can. But we have got to do everything we can to provide the resources for the relevant agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are clearly very active on this. We do have a global system, more than we've ever had and it is only going to increase in terms of travel, folks going overseas and coming back, folks coming from other countries here to the United States. It will be a resource issue going forward but I'm going to defer to the experts on this, those folks at the CDC and other places who know a lot about this. But clearly this is something that we're going to have to be keeping tabs on. I've traveled overseas a number of times as a member of Congress to Afghanistan and Iraq primarily and this isn't just in so-called third world countries but that is where a lot of this is happening. So, we've just got to be on top of this and stay on top of this.
Borg: Thank you, Congressman.
Henderson: Dr. Miller-Meeks, many of your fellow republicans in regards to the Farm Bill would like to split farm policy into one piece of legislation and nutrition programs into the other so that food stamps could be cut. As a member of Congress would you support the splitting of those two?
Miller-Meeks: I think I would look more at poverty in general and say, why do we have poverty? What is the genesis? How do we help people get out of poverty? How do we help people to fulfill their potential? So, it's a more broad question than that. You're asking should it be split so the funding should be cut? I would say we want all children, all children to be able to fulfill their potential, we want all children to be able to get out of poverty. We want to help whether they're a single mother or they're in a family that has limited resources --
Borg: But for those who are in poverty and need the SNAP program, I think the question is, should that be linked and passed along with an omnibus Farm Bill? Food stamps in the Farm Bill?
Miller-Meeks: Whether it is together or not the issue is how do we get kids out of poverty?
Borg: Alright. Congressman?
Loebsack: Well, the good news is that we actually passed a long-term Farm Bill, as you all know, and we're not going to have to face this issue for at least a few more years. I was opposed to separating those two parts of the Farm Bill, at the time I made that very clear. Actually Senator Grassley was opposed to that as well. Others were in favor of it. We had a lot of difficulties in the U.S. House passing a Farm Bill because of those fights over that issue, as you know. When the first Farm Bill failed in the U.S. House, the republican Farm Bill, I was, again, on a bipartisan basis, I was one of 24 democrats who voted for that even though I had serious concerns about the cuts to food stamps, to the SNAP program at that time. But I thought that was the best way to move the ball forward, to take a practical problem-solving approach, if you will, to this.
Borg: Excuse me for interrupting, we're down to two minutes and I'm going to give another question here.
Lynch: We were reminded this week that inversion is not just a weather term. Burger King is changing its address to Canada to avoid paying U.S. taxes. What should Congress do here? Should these companies be punished for taking their jobs overseas and their business overseas? Or should the corporate tax rates be changed to make the United States more attractive for investment and job creation?
Loebsack: Well, I think we've got to look at the corporate tax rates, there's no question about that. Where we set them is another question and we're going to have to have that debate. Whether we do anything to punish these companies, that is something I think we have to look at, we have to try to prevent them from doing it. More importantly, when it comes to our economy and keeping this economic recovery, weak as it is, going, we have to make sure that we don't have policies that incentivize companies to take jobs overseas and that is a major area of difference between the two of us. I think we need to close those loopholes.
Miller-Meeks: I've never taken a job overseas, Congressman Loebsack, and you have never put forth policies to reduce the corporate income tax rate. We have the highest corporate income tax rate in the world. There was an opportunity for tax reform to be put forward and you were not part of that solution. So, yes, we need to do things that make it economically viable for companies within the United States to stay here. We need to in source and there's ways to do that through policy mechanisms and policy levers. The corporate income tax rate is one of them but that doesn't help small businesses. Also, the Affordable Care Act is a tax on businesses. That creates uncertainty for them. The entire tax climate creates uncertainty for businesses. So, if you look at what we've done in the state of Iowa and what Governor Branstad has done, you can export great economic policies to Washington, D.C. and you can move forward and have less than 2% or negative gross domestic product growth, you can actually grow an economy, get people employed, get young people employed out of college and reduce poverty.
Borg: We're out of time. And thank you very much for spending time with us.
Miller-Meeks: Thank you very much.
Loebsack: Thanks to all of you, appreciate it.
Borg: This is the second in Iowa Public Television's special fall election programming and it is bringing you the candidates as you have heard right here and the issues challenging us all. It's Iowa's most extensive statewide debate series. As we travel the state from border to border, we started at the Iowa State Fair with the Governor's Debate and now we're in Iowa City and in two weeks we'll be back on the opposite side of the state over in Council Bluffs for the Third Congressional District at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs on September 11th. So, for the entire Iowa Public Television crew, live from City High School in Iowa City, I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.