- Transcript (RTF)
High stakes rematch. Republican Ben Lange again campaigning for democrat Bruce Braley's seat in the United States House of Representatives. Lange and Braley side-by-side in a special hour-long debate edition of Iowa Press live from Dubuque.
Borg: Same cast, different stories. Cast members in this drama are incumbent first district democratic Congressman Bruce Braley and republican challenger Ben Lange. But reapportionment changes the stage from the former first congressional district where two years ago when Braley was seeking a third term newcomer Ben Lange came within two percentage points of putting the first district's congressional seat on the republican side of the aisle. Redistricting changes the stage, expanding the first district from twelve counties to twenty, stretching now from the Minnesota border in northeast Iowa to central Iowa's Poweshiek County. That is from New Albin to Grinnell, including Dubuque, Waterloo and now Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids. That means more than half the district, the stage, is new territory. Both candidates are attorneys. Braley wants a fourth term. Lange with congressional staff experience wants to move into the new first district's congressional seat. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press.
Braley: Thanks for having us back, Dean.
Lange: Thanks for having us on, Dean.
Borg: It's good to have you here. Thanks for making time for us. And you're familiar with the Iowa Press format but we are in a different setting here in Dubuque with an audience in addition to our TV viewers. And they'll be watching and listening but not participating. I'll be moderating our discussion and questions on this special hour-long debate edition of Iowa Press coming from James Lynch, Political Writer for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Gentlemen, it appears as if damage from Hurricane Sandy will run into the tens of millions, of billions of dollars rather. Mr. Lange, I'm wondering if you could tell voters in this district what criteria you would use as a member of Congress to vote on federal aid for such disasters.
Lange: Well, I think, first of all, we want to make sure that as representatives of the federal government that we are there in times of crisis, just like you're seeing now on the eastern coast, just like we saw play out here in Cedar Rapids. And we want to make sure that members of Congress understand the importance of playing that role. With that said, I think there's also some things that can be done with regards to the federal system. For example, you look at the way they evaluate natural disasters, or national disasters. Last year alone there were over 240 national disasters that were declared. At some point in time there becomes a point where we need to make sure that states are planning for those, states are prepared for those, sates are planning within their budgetary roles to take care of those crisis’s, all while understanding that the federal government should be there during the disaster relief time and encouraging the growth on the backside like you're seeing now in Cedar Rapids with the rebuilding of the downtown. I think there is a role for the federal government to play. What percentage I think is up to debate. I think some discussion is out there between 20% to 25% to 30% of that stop gap role that the federal government can come in with funding on the backside with it. But I think there is a critical point to make here is that the federal government can't be the answer to every situation out there. I think there is a clear contrast between my opponent and myself on this issue because we aren't just going to stand up and offer everything to everyone. We want to be compassionate, we want to help these people get off their feet, we want to help them get their city thriving again. But to give false promises, broken promises leaves them in the same position as where they were during the national, or natural disaster.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, in the past what criteria have you used when casting votes on the federal disaster aid? And what criteria will you use in the future if you win re-election?
Braley: Well, I understand why Ben is taking some of the positions he has because he hasn't had the experience that I had dealing with disasters. In my very first month in office I had nearly half a million people in my district without power because of an ice storm. I took steps to deal with that. I went out and got all over my district and I helped pass legislation to change the criteria for funding for disaster response in ice storms and blizzards. Then I had the largest tornado hit my district on the day of my son's high school graduation, the largest tornado in the United States that year followed ten days later by the worst flooding in our state history. And I was manning the flood wall in Waterloo on three consecutive nights and standing next to my constituents who were sandbagging their grandparents' homes and we went out into the light during the dark and this young thirteen year old kid looked up at me and said, are you Bruce Braley? And I said, yes. And he said, are you my congressman? And I said, yes. And he went and he got his friends because he was so excited to know that I was in his neighborhood helping him out. There shouldn't be a political test that applies when people are in need and we're seeing that play out right now with Hurricane Sandy and I thought it was unbelievable that Ben chose the day that Sandy was at its peak devastating the East Coast to announce that we shouldn't deal with disaster assistance issues --
Lange: Now, Congressman, that's just not true. That is not true.
Braley: That is true, you made that comment at the Rotary Club in Dubuque --
Lange: There are over 600 people here listening to you -- Congressman, it's important that you tell the truth. Tell the truth.
Braley: You can read the story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette in James' newspaper. They reported what you said and you said you need to put those mitigation projects on the back burner until we get the deficit under control.
Lange: Congressman, you need to tell the truth here.
Braley: I am telling the truth, Ben. You've got a record and the voters of this district can go check it out.
Lange: This is a live broadcast, Congressman. You're an incumbent member of Congress and it's important that you tell the truth.
Borg: Okay, Mr. Lange, go ahead.
Lange: Well, we talk about -- this is exactly the problem with incumbent members of Congress, here they are talking about a real world situation and he wants to run through a litany of things that aren't really resulting in a solution to the problem. We are talking about a national debt that is unbelievable to my three daughters, unbelievable what it's going to do to the next generation and you haven't come up with a solution to solve that problem. And you try and make a political statement on this stage on the very first question on what the truth is and what the truth isn't. And I have said, Congressman, Congressman -- I have said that we have to do everything we can to help Cedar Rapids rebuild. I have said everything that we can do from a federal perspective. But what we are not going to do is ignore the problem with the national debt which you have done for six years.
Borg: Mr. Braley, go ahead.
Braley: All you have to do is read the story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and judge for yourself. The bottom line is when my district was in crisis I went to Washington and fought to get disaster assistance funding to rebuild the cities in my district including Independence where Ben lives. And you know what, Dean, when they took me into Independence that first day of the flooding the first place they took me to was an area of Independence that wasn't going to be impacted by that flood because of prior disaster mitigation programs. That is the difference between us. It's a clear difference in philosophy on the role of the federal government.
Borg: Let me just ask one more question -- you say you want the states more involved in paying for their own disasters. What would happen to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under your circumstance?
Lange: Well, I think there is a role for FEMA because I believe there is a role for the federal government to play in natural disasters. But what it can't be is a role to fill every solution to every problem out there and right now states are failing to plan, they are failing to budget for those particular situations that come up. And the important part is, Dean, natural disasters are different in different areas of the country. And there is no way that there can be a complete federal response on all perspectives.
Lynch: Mr. Lange, you made this comment the other day, that we need to get the federal deficit or debt under control before we pick up the funding for some of these flood recovery projects. How long should Iowans have to wait to rebuild their cities, their communities after floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters they have no control over?
Lange: Well, I have said, and I'll say that again, that as a member of Congress I will advocate immediately for the rebuilding of downtown Cedar Rapids. I drove through downtown Cedar Rapids at the peak of the flood. I saw that what it did when the water was above the courthouse doors. So I understand the importance of it. I understand how people were removed from their homes during those situations. And I want to make sure that we do everything we can to rebuild it. But what I won't do, James, what I won't do is pass the buck onto my daughters. I think it's time that we have people in office stand up and understand what is happening to my daughters' generation. The Congressman has voted six separate times to increase the debt limit. He went into office, James, saying that the national debt would be his highest priority. Under his watch the national debt has nearly doubled. Under his watch we are sitting at 23 million Americans unemployed. The fact of the matter is his policies have failed and now we are left with a new generation stepping up to the plate and trying to solve the problems of incumbent politicians that care more about the next election than they do the next generation.
Lynch: Do you think that the republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, would agree with your proposal to wait until we get the national deficit under control?
Lange: Well, that isn't my proposal. What I have said and I've said time and time again is that I will advocate for flood recovery but what I like, what Chris Christie said, is that politics has nothing to do when people are in need, politics has nothing to do when people are hurting, when families are displaced from their homes. That is the position I take. But what I won't do is give broken promises time and time again like you have, Congressman, when it comes to the national debt. People out there wanting to know what are you going to do to solve this problem? You have been in office for six years, Congressman, six years, six votes to increase the national debt limit, say you're for a balanced budget amendment but go out to Washington, D.C. and vote against it. You say that you're going to end the relationships with lobbyists but you take thousands of dollars from them. 81% of your support comes from outside of the state of Iowa, Congressman.
Braley: What does that have to do with the question that James asked you?
Lange: Because it all comes down to broken promises. We cannot tolerate -- my children cannot tolerate it.
Borg: Mr. Lange, you are leading us down another line of questioning and we have to give Congressman Braley a chance to respond before we go on with the other questions.
Braley: James, the answer to the question you asked is that Ben's position is let those children eat cake. No listen, this is my time to talk, if you're going to interrupt me then you're going to have to deal with the moderator. This is my turn to respond to the question.
Lange: Please tell the truth.
Braley: It would be nice if you did that for a change, Ben, instead of saying that you want to have a budget reduction as your highest priority, the deficit reduction and then you want to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires and add trillions of dollars to the deficit. You want to eliminate the estate tax which would add another trillion dollars to the deficit. So how does that help your daughters when you talk out of both sides of your mouth? The bottom line is when people are in crisis dealing with a disaster they need the federal government to be there for them and I can tell you, James, when I was out dealing with all these disasters in my district you didn't hear any snarky comments about the last thing you want to hear is, hi we're the federal government and we're here to help. The people in my district were just like Governor Christie, they welcomed that assistance, they needed that assistance, it should not be politicized and you shouldn't have to wait in line while we're dealing with all these other economic challenges to get assistance for your community.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, in the midst of dealing with the storm surge in his city New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed President Obama because he said the storm proves to him that climate change is real and he is the candidate that he believes would address that. If you were a member of Congress what, if any, steps would you vote for to address climate change?
Lange: Well, I think if the Mayor of New York is basing climate change on one particular storm that climate change is real I think he needs to go back and do his research. Look, I'm one that believes that the science has to prove it out. I want to make sure that we pass off clean environment to my daughters' generation, I want to pass off clean air, clean water, I want to pass of a global, a world that is best fit for the next generation. But -- this is very important, Dean, this is very important -- I want to make sure that we pass it off in a better condition that we received it and that doesn't mean hiding our head in the sand from the facts but what that does mean is not politicizing an issue that is going to gut the economy. My opponent here supported a cap and trade tax that is going to increase the cost of energy here for --
Borg: We're on climate change here.
Lange: But energy, cap and trade is exactly the answer that the Congressman has with it and I think that's a failure to understand of the importance of letting the science bear it out. I'm not one to hide my head in the sand.
Henderson: So, what initiatives would you embrace in terms of having the federal policy address climate change?
Lange: I think we need to have an all of the above energy strategy. I want clean air, I want wind energy, I want solar energy, I want hydro energy. All of those particular sources can be a part of the solution to the problem. And then I want the consumers out there making the decisions. What I don't want is the Congressman continuing to pass dollars out to companies like Solyndra under the auspices of clean air, of clean energy, of climate change and then wasting my children’s', the next generation's resources.
Henderson: Mr. Braley?
Braley: Well, he didn't answer the question. The question is, is that climate change is real and you don't have to take my word for that. This is the Climate Action Partnership's blueprint for change that Congress modeled its climate change legislation on. And these are the people who supported this -- Alcoa, Caterpillar, John Deere, Dow, Duke Energy, Exelon, Ford, Florida Power and Light which is a huge wind energy presence here in Iowa, General Motors, the National Defense Research Council, the Nature Conservancy, Pepsi which has a huge presence here, Siemens which has a huge presence here and this says very unequivocally that prompt inaction of national legislation in the United States to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the shortest time reasonably achievable must happen. This is corporate America that says that climate change is real and Ben Lange has not accepted that science despite the fact that everybody who worked on this legislation was trying to come up with a reasonable solution to a real problem.
Borg: I want to go back to Mr. Lange. Are you saying that the federal government should not in any way impose anything upon its citizens that would mitigate climate change?
Lange: No, Dean. Absolutely not, Dean. What I have said and I'll continue to repeat, when the science proves that climate change is going to impact the next generation then I think -- look I believe there is a role for the federal government to play in it. I want clean water, clean air, clean energy but what I'm not going to do is do it at the expense of a cap and trade bill that is going to gut the energy costs here in America right here in Iowa and is going to be a boom for the East and West coasts because I know the Congressman supports a policy like that.
Lynch: Well, talking about energy, you want all of the above. Up in the northeast corner of this district there is concern about fracking for sand, a specialized sand used in fracking for natural gas and the residents there are concerned about depleting or defacing the Mississippi River Bluffs, they're also concerned about airborne silica which causes silicosis. What is the federal role here in setting rules to protect those residents against silica that causes silicosis? Should there be rules? There are none now. Should the federal government step in and make some rules?
Lange: Me, James?
Lange: Like I said before, I think there is a role for the federal government to make sure that we are providing a safe energy resource to the general public out there and I think we want to make sure that the consequences of harvesting those types of energy sources are safe. I don't think there is any dispute there about that. The question becomes that has the science proven? And if the science shows that there is a concern for silica, for the fracking whether it is in North Dakota or northeastern Iowa then I think there is a role for the federal government to step in and say, okay, this is a concern for the population. So I don't think there's any problem with that and I don't think there's a debate out there in the general public about that.
Braley: One of the fundamental roles of the federal government under the Constitution is to promote the general welfare, James, and that includes the health and safety of people in northeast Iowa. So there is a proper role and one of the concerns most people have is it be done in a fair and balanced way that allows all people to have input into the proposed rule, that we base it on scientific evidence as to the proposed health risks and safety risks and environmental risks of that procedure and that everybody gets a chance to weigh in before the federal government does anything. That means under normal rule making processes there is a public comment period where people can offer their input. Then there are typically hearings and actual formal process before any rule is proposed. That is the approach that I have taken on many of the things that I have dealt with here in my district by bringing people together presenting them with information and then letting them sit down and weigh in and listening to their concerns and then acting upon it. That is what the people of northeast Iowa, no matter where they are on this issue, should be hoping that the federal government does in response to their concerns.
Borg: Gentlemen, both of you and your supporters are airing commercials trying to tell voters something your campaign believes they should know about the other candidate. And we're going to see a couple of them right now. First one from Mr. Braley's campaign.
Lange for Congress Ad: "Politicians have made promises they simply can't keep. Why? Because incumbents like Bruce Braley prefer to bankrupt our kids than to reduce the debt and do what is right. As Iowans we call that gutless. Bruce Braley has been in Washington for six years and still doesn't have a plan, just more partisan bickering. I'm Ben Lange and I have approved this message because someone has got to look out for them."
Lange: Dean, my five year old is going to be thrilled with that, just so you know.
Borg: Mr. Lange, that is from your campaign. You didn't call him by name there but you used the word gutless and you referred, I think, to the incumbent.
Lange: That is correct.
Borg: That is correct. Why?
Lange: Well, I think what you see across eastern Iowa when you take the time to go town to town like I have, city to city, people are so concerned what is taking place in Washington. Washington has -- Congress has a 13% approval rating and I think that's only because some of them are married. But the rest of the general population thinks Congress is inept, incompetent. Every economic expert out there will tell you $16 trillion dollars in debt, the largest in the history of the world, my three daughters are $150,000 in debt before they can ride a bike and we have Congressman Braley, who has been in Washington for six years, and I don't doubt that he cares about his children but what I do doubt is that he understands the consequences of a $16 trillion debt and what it is going to do to my daughters' generation. We need people in office that understand the importance of that, Dean, and Congressman has shown, his record has shown six votes to increase the national debt limit. He doesn’t understand the importance of that national debt.
Borg: Mr. Braley, this has come up again and again in the first few minutes of our debate here tonight. I'm going to give you a chance to respond and he says, in the commercial and he backed it up here tonight, you're gutless. You haven't done anything about the national debt.
Braley: Yes, and Ben also says he is going to be the answer to ending partisan bickering between democrats and republicans. Dean, what people in Iowa are looking for is mature, hardworking people who have demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle and get things done. We don't need more name calling in Congress. Ben, you went to your state convention this year and said you were running for Congress because I had been a complete failure as a Congressman and then you ran an ad that called me gutless. Why didn't you ask the people in your hometown of Quasqueton if I was gutless when I took on the U.S. Postal Service and saved their post office and saved the mail processing facilities in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. Why don't you ask the people in your hometown of Independence if I was a complete failure when I was there during the flooding disaster getting assistance for them in Cedar Falls and Waterloo and Elkader and Greene and in Cedar Rapids, Dean. Why don't you ask the people who have been depending upon me to get them benefits that they earned serving in Iraq with the Iowa National Guard that were being denied them by the Pentagon. If I was gutless when I took on the Pentagon bean counters and got them that money. And why don't you ask the people of my district who know my record, know that I have listened to their concerns, I have worked hard and gotten things done, if I have been a complete failure. I'll take their answer over yours.
Borg: Mr. Lange.
Lange: Dean, I want an opportunity to respond to this. I believe people want leaders in Washington --
Braley: Did you say I was a complete failure?
Lange: -- you'll have your time, I assure you. You're the incumbent, you'll have your time. They will make sure of that. But Congressman, the bottom line is the national debt is going to sink this country. Republicans, democrats, independents, it doesn't matter. We are going to make it or break it as this country as United States of America. We need people in office that understand that and you can't come here to Iowa, say that you are for a balanced budget amendment but go to Washington, D.C. and vote against it. You can't go into office saying the national debt is your highest priority and then don't do anything to solve the problem but double the national debt. My daughters share of the national debt went from $23,000 to over $50,000 a piece Congressman. That is a failure on that issue. Nothing personal, Congressman, but that is a failure on the policy.
Braley: Well, Dean, I need to get a chance to respond to that because Ben is always talking about his daughters and their future and he fails to remind people that he worked for Congress and when he started working for Congress there wasn't a budget deficit, there was a surplus leftover from the Clinton administration and that deficit started, Dean, because Congress, while Ben was working for it, before I ever got there, put two wars on a credit card, gave taxpayers, wealthy taxpayers a tax break that added trillions of dollars to the deficit and provided a new Medicare benefit that they didn't pay for. That's why we got the debt.
Borg: Speaking of taxes -- we're going to move on. Speaking of taxes, Mr. Braley, you're running an ad about Mr. Lange taxing the middle class. I'd like to see that.
Braley for Congress Ad: "On taxes, a clear choice. Ben Lange supports a two tier system. The independent Tax Policy Center found that plans like that would give new tax cuts to millionaires but raise taxes on Iowa's middle class. Lange's plan threatens the home mortgage deduction, tax credits for college and childcare. Bruce Braley is fighting for us with tax cuts for small businesses and working Iowans. Cutting taxes for 99% of our state." "I'm Bruce Braley and I approved this message."
Borg: You say you approve that message, the last word we heard. What leads you to believe that he is going to increase taxes in his votes on the middle class?
Braley: Well, because Ben has proposed a two tier tax system, Dean, that would have one tax rate of 10% on people earning less than $125,000 and tax people earning over $125,000 at 25%. This is a very common tax plan that republicans like Paul Ryan have advocated in the past. And because of that it has actually been analyzed by nonpartisan tax experts and the tax policy center that was identified in my ad said, it is not mathematically possible to design a revenue neutral plan that preserves current incentives for savings and investments, which is what is based upon, and does not result in a net tax cut for high income taxpayers and a net increase for lower and middle income taxpayers.
Borg: Mr. Lange, that two tier tax system would raise, he says, taxes on the middle class. Not possible to do it any other way?
Lange: Dean, I'm from Quasqueton, Iowa and to think that I'm out there advocating for millionaires and billionaires, we don't have a whole lot of those in Quasqueton, Iowa. The rich are doing just fine. We are talking about putting in place a tax policy that encourages growth because right now under the Congressman's watch small businesses out there are struggling. Single moms out there are struggling. And the reason they're struggling is because the role of the federal government is to take that dollar out of their hand and like the Congressman likes to do, send it to Washington and stimulate the economy through a $1 trillion stimulus plan. That is not the role of the federal government to have. We need a tax policy that allows those small business owners -- I met with a Burger King owner just a couple of weeks ago. He has 200 employees out of Waterloo and because of the policies that the Congressman supported from a tax policy and also from a healthcare policy 100 of those employees are going to go from full-time to part-time. This isn't about rich versus poor, Dean. This is about putting in place a tax policy that encourages economic growth, that grows jobs here in Iowa and allows small business owners to do what they d best.
Borg: You've both had your say on taxes. We're going to move on. Kay?
Henderson: Let us talk about, though, another tax, the wind production tax credit. Mr. Lange, how long should it continue?
Lange: Well, I think, as I have stated publicly, I am in support of that tax credit and I think that tax credit should be extended one, two, maybe three years down the line. And the reason that we take that position is because, like I said earlier, I want to pass off clean environment to my daughters' generation but we can only do that if we have energy resources that can be harvested in a clean manner. Wind energy is a perfect example of that. That's why when I've been up in the northeast part of the state you see the windmills, you see the wind turbines, they play a prevalent role. But it is also understand, Kay, that the wind doesn't always blow in Iowa. We know that. And so it is a part of the solution but it's not the solution.
Henderson: Some republicans do not like the wind production tax credit. They say it's picking winners and losers and they think the wind energy industry is a loser. What do you say to those people?
Lange: Well, I think we saw it play out through Congressman Braley's vote in support of Solyndra. They do pick losers. But the bottom line is the wind production tax credit has proven here in Iowa that it is a viable resource, it is a viable energy source and I'm going to continue to support it. And obviously that is always open for discussion down the road. But I do want to see wind energy continue to be a part of our overall energy strategy.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, how long should the tax credit continue to provide stability for the industry?
Braley: I want to make it very clear, Kay, that I stand with Iowa's wind energy production tax credit and I stand with Chuck Grassley and I stand with my friend Dave Reichardt from the state of Washington, a republican congressman whose office is right down the hall. And Dave and I introduced a bill for a five year extension to the wind energy production tax credit because Iowa depends about 22% of its energy portfolio now comes from wind. And if you look at the investments in wind energy you can see they rise and fall based upon when that tax credit expires. And Chuck Grassley and I and Dave Reichardt believe that the longer extension you give, the more certainty you provide to investors and the better we're going to be able to move this industry forward. And we're seeing the effects of no action right now. Iowa manufacturers in this district laying off employees because of the uncertainty and that is unacceptable to me.
Borg: And why haven't you, you're an incumbent, why haven't you been able to move that through the Congress?
Braley: Because I don't set the floor schedule for the Speaker of the House who came to Cedar Rapids to raise money for Ben Lange. John Boehner sets the floor schedule. I have been calling on him to bring that bill to the floor along with the other tax extenders like my Make Adoption Affordable tax credit which is going to expire at the end of the year, I've helped families with adoption needs that have taken advantage of that tax credit and it will be gone and only applied to special needs adoptions. All of these tax credits need action and they should have been acted upon before the election.
Henderson: Gentlemen, let's talk about reform of what some people refer to as entitlements. Mr. Lange, what changes would you support in the Social Security system?
Lange: I think it is first important to understand where we're at and where we're going. Over the next 25 years Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, those three programs alone are going to consume every single penny of federal revenue that the federal government brings in. So it's not a matter of scare tactics. As you see on these commercials where my opponent says privatize, voucherize and any other word that we can come up to try and scare voters, it's not a matter of scaring them, Kay, it's about looking at the demographics. When Social Security was enacted there were 42 workers for every one retiree. There was a life expectancy of 58 to 60. Now those demographics have changed. There is a life expectancy of 78 to 85. There's two, maybe three workers for every retiree.
Henderson: So what would you do?
Lange: Those programs have to be reformed so that what I believe is the older generation, as my father who just turned 62, he planned his life around Social Security being there. We're going to honor that promise to them. But my generation, we know that the national debt, what Congress has put our generation in, that we have to make changes to those programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And you want to know specifics, right? That's your next question?
Henderson: Yeah, exactly.
Braley: That was the first question.
Lange: What we talk about, what we talk about the changes that we want to make is we want to make sure that Medicare, for example, has the funding that the Congressman cut, $716 billion from it --
Henderson: But in Social Security you talked about older people. Who are younger people? What is your cutoff age?
Lange: Well, we'll see a graduated scale based upon the economics behind it.
Henderson: And are you talking about those younger people being able to invest on their own?
Lange: What I talk about are those younger people having the exact same opportunities as Congressman Braley has in his retirement planning. If he can have a thrift savings plan that allows him to plan for his retirement, why can't the next generation have that?
Henderson: What about means testing?
Lange: I think means testing is also an opportunity. And I think you're going to see that play out because we know the demographics have changed.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, what changes would you support in the Social Security system?
Braley: Well, Kay, Ben wants to honor the promise to his father which I respect but he doesn't want to honor the promise to me. I've been paying into Social Security for 40 years and I think we need leadership like Ronald Reagan provided when we faced this last crisis which was bring people together, look at the option and come up with a concrete solution. So here's what I'd do. I would look at the contribution limit that cuts off when you have to stop paying in on the money you earn into Social Security. But if we're in a recession or coming out of a recession we may want to look at how we do that. So instead of just increasing it gradually upward from where it is, we may want to look at setting a limit on people earning more than $250,000 or more and kick it in at that point. Those are some of the things you have to look at and look at the net gain in terms of money coming into Social Security. But the bottom line is Social Security is healthy right now. It's not expected to be insolvent until 2030 according to the trustees report. And so one of the things we have to look at is how we can make it, how we can strengthen and preserve it for the next generation. I will not privatize Social Security the way that Ben Lange has proposed and I will also make sure that we will look at options like means testing if that is a way to put more money into the trust fund over the long-term.
Borg: Means testing -- what do you mean by means testing?
Braley: If you are making $1 billion a year, Dean, you may not need Social Security benefits for your retirement portfolio. But I also want to talk about --
Lange: This is very important -- Dean this is -- Congressman, you've -- this is very important. Congressman Braley has been in office for six years. Under his watch the Social Security trust fund began running a permanent deficit two years ago in 2010 and he just sat up on this show right now and say what he'd do. Well he's been in office for six years and hasn't done anything to solve these problems. And that is part of the problem with it. And he mentions the word privatize. I have never said that I want to privatize Social Security. And what incumbents do when they run out of solutions, when they run out of the ability to solve the problem they turn to scare tactics and that's where the Congressman is right now.
Lange: Well, there's another one you're all talking about and that is Medicare. I think Jim has a question on that. Jim?
Lynch: Mr. Lange, on the campaign trail and in your ads you've talked about, accused Representative Braley of cutting Medicare by $716 billion to pay for Obama care and a number of fact checkers have discredited that claim. Knowing that people get a lot of their information about the candidates, who to vote for from those TV ads, why do you keep making that claim?
Lange: Because that claim is accurate, James. $716 billion has been taken from Medicare to use as a piggy bank for Obama care. There is only one person at this table that has cut Medicare and as I said before, my father who turned 62 will soon be reliant upon Medicare to be there. Of that $716 billion, $450 of it is for provider payments, provider payments that go to doctors and hospitals in rural Iowa. And Congressman, if you have taken the time to go up to Waukon and meet with the critical access hospital, meet with those physicians there, they will tell you, Congressman, that your vote to cut that funding from Medicare is going to limit their access, their ability to provide health services to those senior citizens in Waukon --
Borg: In what way, Mr. Lange?
Lange: Over 50% of the physicians have said that as a result of those cuts in payments to those providers that they will necessarily restrict access to senior citizens.
Borg: So what you're saying is that the Medicare cuts are cutting reimbursements back to the providers in northeast Iowa and then they can't take Medicare patients anymore? Is that right?
Lange: Dean, that's not what I'm saying. That is what the chief actuary of Medicare has said.
Borg: Yes, but that's what you're relaying.
Lange: That's exactly right.
Braley: This is one of those liar, liar, pants on fire claims, James. And it has been so thoroughly debunked, I think if voters care about this they should ask themselves why the Iowa Medical Society is supporting me in this election, why the American Hospital Association is supporting me in this election, why I received awards from the Iowa Medical Society, which is the Iowa physicians, and the Iowa Hospital Association for my work on this very bill fighting to improve reimbursements for Iowa physicians and hospitals who historically have been underpaid while providing high quality outcomes and very low Medicare reimbursements. I think voters should ask themselves why Newsweek magazine reported that I took on the leadership in my party to change the way we pay for Medicare which is the biggest challenge we face going forward. In fact, Ben even mentions this in his plan and says that this bill, Obama care did nothing about it. He obviously didn't read the bill because it was my legislation that is changing the way we pay for Medicare by giving incentives to value outcomes, by helping hospitals by quality purchasing and by finally moving to a system that rewards quality outcomes and moves away from fee for services. Those are the facts to your question, James.
Lange: I know you mentioned read the bill. You're telling us that you read 2700 pages --
Braley: You're damn right I read the bill. I took it to every -- I took it to every one of my 17 town hall meetings, Ben and if you had come to them you would have seen that.
Lange: 2700 pages in the middle of the night --
Braley: I had every page highlighted, I had my handwritten notes in the margin and I had tabs there. I take my job very seriously, Ben.
Lange: 2700 pages in the middle of the night, you read it before they passed it. Your leadership --
Braley: That's another big lie, James.
Lange: Your leadership said they had to pass the bill to see what was in it.
Braley: Dean -- Dean, this is the most discussed, most debated, most analyzed bill --
Lange: There was a tax in it two years later.
Braley: -- in the history of this country and Ben knows it. 17 town hall meetings, ten hearings --
Lange: Your mom is listening to this, Congressman, tell the truth.
Braley: Oh please, don't lecture me on family values, Ben. My mom knows who I am, she knows what I stand for and she is voting for me.
Lange: Congressman, you're sitting up on this stage --
Braley: Yes, I am. I am sitting up on this stage trying to keep my patience.
Lange: You read 2700 pages in the middle of the night before it was passed.
Braley: It wasn't the middle of the night.
Borg: We are -- gentlemen --
Braley: You don't understand how legislation is passed obviously.
Lange: The speaker of your party said she had to pass it to see what was in it.
Braley: Oh come on, Ben. Come on.
Borg: Wait -- we're losing -- gentlemen --
Braley: I read the bill. I read the bill.
Lange: You knew there was a tax in it.
Braley: I read the bill.
Borg: Gentlemen, we're losing time just going back and forth and we're not going to settle whether or not he read the bill or not. You don't think he did. He says he did. Let's move on.
Henderson: Gentlemen, let's turn to the farm bill. The discharge petition that you circulated trying to garner a way to bring that bill up for a vote in the House before the House adjourned in September has been dismissed by people like Congressman Steve King as a political ploy. Was that a serious attempt to bring the farm bill up for a vote?
Braley: Of course it was. I worked with republicans in the House to bring that discharge position to the floor. It was a bipartisan effort because those of us who represent farm country we're very frustrated, Kay. The Senate, which can't agree on anything, passed a farm bill with about 90 votes out of 100. The House ag committee passed a bill with huge bipartisan support and yet one person, John Boehner, has kept that bill from coming to the floor. And we were frustrated and we were meeting together to try to come up with a strategy. A discharge petition is a drastic effort to try to force a vote. You need 218 signatures. But because of parliamentary games played by the Speaker of the House we couldn't even get that on the floor for signatures until two legislative days before the Speaker and the republicans in the House voted to adjourn.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, it is possible that a vote on a final five year farm bill will occur in 2013 and it won't be dealt with in the next two years in this "lame duck Congress". If you are a member of Congress, how do you get your fellow republicans to vote to continue to provide subsidies to farmers to buy insurance, which many of your members in Congress just have a distaste for?
Lange: Well, many members of Congress haven't picked up rock and walked beans and been surrounded by an agriculture economy all my life like I have. I understand the importance of the agriculture economy and I think there is a national security interest in making sure that we have a food supply not only to feed this country but to feed the rest of the world as well. But let me talk a little bit about overall farm policy. I am absolutely going to advocate for a farm bill. I would like to see a five year farm bill. But I also understand that sometimes you can't get everything that you want. But I think it is very important to understand that the agriculture community out there is frustrated with Congressman Braley's failure to understand the role that agriculture policy plays in Iowa. For example, Kay, free trade agreements. Free trade agreements are opportunities for our pork producers to sell their products overseas. Iowa's first congressional district is the second largest pork producing congressional district in the entire United States. Now, that may not mean a whole lot to those in Washington but that means a lot to us here in Iowa. That's jobs.
Borg: Mr. Lange --
Lange: Let me just finish this final point, Dean. This is very important. It's important to understand that Iowa Farm Bureau is supporting me because of my understanding of the importance of the agriculture economy in the United States:
Henderson: Mr. Braley?
Braley: It's important to understand that the national -- the Iowa Farmer's Union and the Iowa Corn Growers are supporting me because of my strong advocacy to get the farm bill to the floor and for everything else I've done for agriculture. And it's very important if you're going to be talking about your history -- my parents both grew up on Iowa farms during the Depression and I learned a lot about farm policy working on farms, working at grain elevators, drying corn. But here is what people need to know about these trade deals -- there have been 54,000 manufacturers who have shut down in this country since that first big trade deal NAFTA was passed. It was supposed to reduce our trade imbalance. Instead what has happened, Dean, is our trade imbalance has skyrocketed. We don't make things in this country the way we used to and you only have to look 30 miles in both directions from where I grew up -- the Maytag plant in Newton isn't there anymore and the Amana refrigeration plant is laying people off. That is why I have to represent everybody in my district and fight for fair trade deals and that is what has happened.
Lange: Dean, I want an opportunity to respond to this, just quickly. He mentioned his support of the agriculture community. He supports an increase in the death tax. He supports cap and trade. He has failed to support free trade agreements. All of those policies gut the agriculture community here in Iowa and I see it, I live it every single day and the Congressman has failed to understand the importance of that.
Braley: Name one farm that has been lost in Iowa because of the death tax. Right now on this show, Ben. Name one farm.
Lange: Go ahead, Jim.
Lynch: One of the largest parts of the farm bill really isn't about farming at all, it's about food stamps or nutritional programs and one in seven Americans now are receiving food stamps. But at the same time House republicans are considering a measure that would cut about 2 million people from that program. Given some of the situations you have laid out, high unemployment, people hurting because of the economy. Is this the time to be cutting food stamps?
Lange: Well, I think the best foods tamp program out there is a job. I think the best way to eliminate the problem of food stamps is to get people working again and to get people working again, Jim, you know I actually took the time and I visited the food bank in Waterloo and speaking with the director there, she even says the most important thing we can do when it comes to food stamps and food programs is get the economy growing again and we can't do it when we have 23 million Americans unemployed, we can't do it when we have uncertainty in the tax code, when we have uncertainty in the health insurance and the regulatory policy --
Borg: Let me ask this question this way -- is taking people off food stamps going to get them employed?
Lange: Not taking people off food stamps, getting people a job, getting them the opportunity so that they can go out and provide for themselves because, you know what Dean, people don’t want to be on food stamps.
Borg: So your reply is that they're not --
Lange: People don't want to be on food stamps. They want to be working. They want to provide for themselves, their family and that is what we need to do. We can do this here in America, Dean, we can get this country growing again but we can't do it by continuing to prop up, when we look at programs like that, for political expediency.
Borg: Congressman Braley, it doesn't seem like you're going to move the farm bill because republican House objects to too much spending on food stamps.
Braley: I think that's one of the big obstacles that is preventing them from bringing it to the floor because it's not just what was in the House ag committee bill, if you look at the budget the republicans passed last year, the Ryan budget, it would gut funding for the nutrition program by about $130 billion. That is serious money that would put not just the numbers you were talking about off of food stamps and have millions of Americans kicked out of the program but it is a fundamental difference of agreement on the role of federal government and trying to help people get through tough times and get back on their feet. So I introduced the Back to Work Act, Dean, to give people that hire unemployed workers tax incentives so that they have incentives to hire unemployed workers and get them off of unemployment. And 100,000 employees in Iowa who were unemployed were hired by Iowa employers who were eligible for that credit and they got a bigger credit if they kept them on the payroll for a year. Those are the types of economic policies that get people off of unemployment and give them a job.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, there have been changes made in the student loan program. Would you maintain those changes or go back to the status quo before the changes were made?
Lange: I can tell you, Kay, I'm a walking example of student loans. I'm the first in my family to graduate college and I went on to law school with help from my family but I also paid for that. I took the money out and borrowed for that. I want to make sure that we increase access to higher education --
Henderson: So does that mean more student loans?
Lange: What it does mean is this -- the cost of higher education has tripled over the past 25 years. The median income for a family has gone up 10%. The reality is by increasing the dollars, throwing cash at a problem isn't always the solution. What it's doing is it is pricing families like mine, working class families, out of the market of being able to afford the tuition costs because there is no pressure on these institutions to drive down costs. Every single year we deal with increasing costs, fees, tuition increases. We need to make sure we put some pressure on those institutions to compete and drive costs down from the cost incentive side, not on the cash --
Henderson: So what is the policy change that you would make?
Lange: I think the policy side is rewarding families that invest in human capital, just like businesses get tax breaks for investing in machinery and equipment -- when a family invests, when an individual takes dollars out of their pocket and invests into educating their child or into educating themselves they should be able to deduct that from their income. And what we can do by that is encourage people to save for education so that they can plan for their future and not continually price working class families like mine out of the market of getting higher education.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, has the student loan program accelerated the higher education price index?
Braley: No. No. What has accelerated the higher education price index is a lot of things. It's increased pressure on state governments to reduce funding for Regents institution. It is the competition that people have that increases salaries at those institutions. It's a whole variety of things. But you have to look at reality, Kay. When I went to college the federally insured student loan rate was 1% to 2%. That was below the prime rate. When I got to Congress in 2007 the interest rate on Stafford loans was nearly 8%, well above the prime rate. So we took steps to cut that in half to the current level of 3.4% and it had an enormous impact on reducing student debt because what we know is Iowa ranks third in the nation in the amount of student debt that students have when they complete their college education.
Borg: I've got to let Mr. Lange speak and then we're moving on.
Lange: I think one of the most important pieces that we're missing in this discussion is that over half of recent college graduates are struggling to find work. So whether they are investing, whether they are taking money out, whether they are using their own savings for it they are being forced to put themselves into an economy based upon policies that the Congressman supports where they're struggling out there.
Borg: We have it. Jim?
Lynch: We're going to jump to foreign policy here and in the wake of the September 11th attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed the Ambassador and three other staff member there have been many questions about security at the embassies. Congressman Braley, I wonder if when you get back to Washington later this month you'll support a congressional investigation into whether those security measures are adequate to protect our diplomats overseas?
Braley: Absolutely. And that is why I wrote to the President and asked for a full and thorough investigation and I work on the oversight and government reform committee with members on both sides of the aisle and I am confident that when we get back to Washington there will be investigative hearings and there will be information requested from the White House. Protecting embassy employees and people who work there is one of our highest responsibilities as a government, to make sure that they are able to live and work in a safe place and in an increasingly dangerous world the respect that foreign diplomats receive has gotten more and more difficult to be able to get other countries to recognize and respect. So yes we will.
Borg: Mr. Lange?
Lange: I think it's important to put it in perspective. Those men that were killed there, they were representatives of the United States government. That was an attack on us and the response from the administration was convoluted at best and I think there is some agreement between the Congressman and myself, that we do believe there should be an investigation. But when you hear the mother of one of those slain victims say that I was told I would get answers but haven't received answers, that is the concern, that is the investigation that needs to be put forward. But one final point, James, where was the concern when the President unilaterally went into Libya? The Congressman was up in arms when it came to Iraq and Afghanistan and that was with authorization of use of military force. When it came to Libya he sat on his hands and now we have Americans dead and you don't object to that -- you did not object to that.
Braley: That is a lie and I take great offense at that. I did not sit on my hands --
Lange: You asked how much it would cost.
Braley: Excuse me, can I answer the question?
Lange: Go ahead.
Braley: I did not sit on my hands. I go to classified briefings that are conducted by the State Department and the CIA and you’re not in that room, Ben, I am. We are not able to talk about what goes on in that room but I sure as heck did not sit on my hands and when something happens to U.S. citizens serving this country overseas every member of Congress takes that seriously and nobody tries to cover it up.
Borg: Mr. Lange --
Lange: You didn't object to the administration unilaterally entering Libya. You didn't do anything with that.
Henderson: So do you object to --
Lange: Absolutely I object. Congress should have its say. The Congress should be consulted when they go into Libya --
Henderson: Beyond Congress having its say would you have voted against the U.S. going into Libya?
Lange: Well, as the Congressman just pointed out I don't have the intel briefings before they went into it. But what we do know is Congress should be consulted.
Henderson: John McCain said that the U.S. should be supporting a no-fly zone over Libya. Would you have supported that?
Lange: And that is John McCain's position with it. My position is we need to make sure that we object when Congress is not consulted with it. The administration went in unilaterally, no authorization of use of military force, no joint resolution. There needs to be consultation with the Congress before they enter.
Henderson: Let us turn to another hot spot. It appears there is a currency crisis in Iran and their economy may be imploding. Mr. Braley, would you support a declaration of war against Iran should they totter toward getting a nuclear weapon?
Braley: Well, The first thing you have to do is start with the premise of your question which is, do I support Iran getting a nuclear weapon? Absolutely not. That is why we have to do everything we can to prevent them from doing that. That is why I have supported strong sanctions against Iran which are crippling their economy and creating a lot of unrest and tension within Iran right now. And with a crazy madman like Ahmadinejad in power you have to work with your international coalition to keep that noose tightening and it is happening and it is working. But the thing we keep talking about is the most fundamental, one of the most fundamental roles of Congress is to declare war when it is necessary and we saw what happened when we went to war in Iraq based on misguided information that turned out not to be true. So what you are supposed to do as a member of Congress is if you are asked to consider a declaration of war you have to take that very seriously. And the reason you do, Kay, is because we're the ones who end up making calls to those young men and women's parents when they don't come home. We're the ones that visit them at Walter Reed. We're the one that live with the aftermath of those decisions.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, what criteria would you use to make a decision on a vote to go to war?
Lange: I think it is important to understand that Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism since the mid 1980s and to allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon would essentially be creating a nuclear tinder box in the Middle East amongst a population that has proven themselves incapable of living in peace with one another. So I agree with the Congressman, Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. And I think Israel, as one of our allies, we are going to continue to work in connection with one another to make sure that Iran does not have that nuclear weapon. But finally --
Borg: Does that mean putting the U.S. in military action against Iran?
Lange: What that means is using diplomatic relations, sanctions, international pressure but taking no options off the table.
Lynch: Your possible fellow Congressman Steve King has called for building a fence on the U.S./Mexican border as a first step in controlling illegal immigration. Should that be the first step in controlling this problem?
Lange: I think there is a two step process and I thin, one, we do need to control the southern border because until we control the southern border it doesn't matter what we do with those individuals that are here in America. But I always want to remind everyone, my father worked in the meat processing industry for nearly 30 years and he always says, those folks that came here legally, that came through the proper channels, tat came here to provide for their families before we ever think about granting amnesty to those folks that came here illegally we need to ask them what they think about it. And their response is, I came here through proper channels because we all respect the rule of law. And so we can secure the southern border and then what we can do is take the problem with those that are here illegally, not grant them citizenship but allow them to work in America but to pull them out of the shadows.
Borg: Mr. Braley, a quick answer on that.
Braley: When I was faced with understanding this problem, James, I did what people in Iowa would expect me to do. I went to Nogales, Arizona, I talked to customs and border patrol agents, I went out with them into the field, I saw videotape of people all along the fence that is already in place tunneling under it and climbing over it because a lot of that fence is tubular steel to protect the people on this side of the border from being shot at. So one of the things you have to do is secure the border and invest in the technology, the infrastructure and the personnel to keep us safe. That is what we should be focusing on, listening to the people who are out there on the front lines.
Borg: Mr. Lange, we're just a few seconds, short answer -- is there anything unique about the first district in its demographics, geographic, that makes you think that you can best represent and bring something back that needs to be done in the first district?
Lange: Yeah, because I'm out there talking to folks about the next generation. We need new leaders in Washington that care more about the next generation than the next election and Iowans are ready to lead on this issue and that is why we have surged to the top here with five days to go.
Borg: Mr. Braley, anything unique about the first district that makes you the best representative?
Braley: Yeah, it is the most beautiful congressional district in the state of Iowa bar none. It has the Amana Colonies where I played baseball as a kid, it's got the Field of Dreams. I have spent six years getting to know the people in this district, hearing their stories and trying to be their champion in Washington and if I get two more years that's what I'm going to continue to do.
Borg: Thank you, gentlemen, for a lively discussion.
Lange: Thanks for having us on, Dean.
Braley: Thank you.
Borg: This concludes our special congressional debate editions of Iowa Press. During the past four weeks now we've been border to border meeting congressional candidates with audiences in Council Bluffs, Newton and Carroll and now in Dubuque. And now it's up to you. If you haven't already voted next Tuesday is your day. Then join us for an Iowa Press post-election edition at our usual times, 7:30 Friday night, repeating at noon on Sunday. For our entire Iowa Public Television crew and the audience here in Dubuque, thanks for joining us today.