U.S. Representative Bruce Braley on the 112th Congress

Sep 30, 2011  | 00:28:42  | Ep 3904 | Podcast


Borg: Among the factors affecting next year's congressional elections are new geographical districts.  That is causing some moving from one district to another as incumbents are seeking to avoid competing with incumbents of their own party.  The census shift is reducing Iowa's congressional delegation from the current five congressmen to four.  And that is setting up a re-election clash in the new district three between incumbent democrat Leonard Boswell and republican Tom Latham and in eastern Iowa's first and second congressional districts the new lines put incumbent democrats Bruce Braley and David Loebsack into the same new district.  So, Congressman Loebsack is moving into the new second district seeking re-election in the southeast Iowa section.  Braley stays in Waterloo, wants a fourth term representing the first district.  But Mr. Braley is increasingly scheduling events outside the first district and that is causing speculation about his political plans beyond the next election.  Congressman Braley, welcome back to Iowa Press.  And we'll be asking you about getting around the state.

Braley: Great, thanks Dean.

Borg: And also at the Iowa Press table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Congressman, we will get to your political future in a moment but there are a couple things we want to deal with first.  One of them is we're learning that the U.S. has killed a couple of key Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.  In this case both were American citizens, neither faced any charges, criminal charges even though they were linked to terrorism.  Some say that that's punishing people without any due process.  What is your take on that?

Braley: Well, when I was in Afghanistan earlier this year, Mike, we were in the joint operations center where they were monitoring terrorist activities going on around the world including in Yemen.  They're actually tracking them live on screen.  And one of the things we all should be concerned about is protecting the rights of American citizens.  But in this case, this is actually something that the intelligence community and the military have been tracking for a long time.  The activities of this particular individual have directly led to terrorist activities harmful to the people of this country.  And it's a good example of what we should be focusing our military strategy and our military funding on going forward and that is targeted, direct strikes that don't require us to spend billions of dollars on outdated weapon systems that quite frankly we can't afford in this economy.

Glover: So, you don't have a problem with the due process argument?

Braley: I think in this particular case given the history of these individuals they got what they deserved.

Glover: And in a larger question, do you think people electing Barack Obama assumed he would go around the world killing people?

Braley: Well, I think that people elected Barack Obama to be their commander in chief knowing, like every commander in chief, he was going to face tough decisions about how he protected the people of this country.

Glover: And you're supporting these decisions?

Braley: I'd support these decisions because unlike some of the prior decisions that have been made these individuals had a known relationship with terrorist activity that is harmful to the people of the United States and they were engaged in that as part of a broader plan to harm the people of America.

Henderson: Let's take a broader view.  The outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman recently said that Pakistan, the spy agency in Pakistan was supporting terrorist elements that made attacks on the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan.  Do you think the U.S. should change its policy toward Pakistan?

Braley: Not only do I think that, I have voted that way in Congress by cutting off funding for programs that go directly to the Pakistani government and given its failed relationship in helping us capture and eliminate Osama bin Laden, given some of the many other concerns that have evolved over a long history in Pakistan it is important to send a message to our allies when they fail to meet our expectations.  They can't just rely on unended sources of funding from the U.S. taxpayers if they aren't working with us in partnership in this war.

Henderson: Speaking of our allies, what should U.S. policy toward and with Israel be?  There has been some tension in the relationship.  Obviously everyone has watched what happened at the United Nations and what Lebanon is hoping for in a two state solution there.  What do you think should be U.S. Obama administration policy toward Israel and Lebanon?

Braley: Well, we've had a long and very successful relationship with Israel because they are a stabilizing influence in the Middle East, they are a democratically elected government in a region where that is a rarity and what we know is that the crisis that is unfolding in Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a no win situation for everyone because it escalates tension in the region, it leads to more dramatic problems in an area that has been very difficult for us.  We have seen through the Arab Spring and the emergency democracy movements across northern Africa and the Middle East an ongoing destabilization that could be good and it could be harmful depending on how that plays out.  And that is why we need to make sure that we are continuing a strong relationship with Israel while at the same time working for a two state solution.

Henderson: So there should be a veto of the Palestinian state?

Braley: I don't think that this unilateral Palestinian statehood movement is good for either the Palestinian people or the Israeli people right now.  And we need to work to continue to build a two state solution which is what the President was committed to.

Borg: Given, we were just talking about the instability and uncertainty of relations with Pakistan, are you still supporting the timetable set out by the Obama administration for withdrawing from Afghanistan?  Or could that be affected be deteriorating relations with Pakistan?

Braley: Dean, I didn't support the President's timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan because I thin it is taking too long.  We have been in Afghanistan for over a decade now and I spent time there earlier this year, I have talked to troops on the ground, I have talked to people in the State Department and based upon the information available to me I think we need to bring our troops home from Afghanistan now.  We have gotten accomplished what we set out to do.  It is no longer in the best interest of the United States to have a significant combat presence in Afghanistan.  We need to bring those troops home, we need to focus more on a smart defensive strategy like the one I outlined earlier and that is what the American people are demanding.

Glover: Congressman, let's bring this show home if we could.  There has been a lot of furor over disaster assistance in Congress. Are you confident that Congress will approve disaster assistance, that aid will flow?

Braley: Yes.  And I'm confident because yesterday the first piece of that was passed when the House of Representatives approved the short-term funding bill.  We're going to back next week and we're going to take up the Senate bill that was passed and we're going to pass it, Mike, and it is going to contain the necessary disaster assistance that I have been calling for.  But the bigger and larger problem is never before in our country's history has disaster assistance to Americans in need been used as a political tool the way it was in this most recent debate.  I oppose that because in my own district in three out of the last four years I have had devastating flooding to deal with.  I spent time in southwest Iowa with my relatives who are still out of their home nearly four months after that flooding event began and it is disturbing to me that the rest of the country has forgotten that the longest sustained flooding event in our country's history is still taking place here in southwest Iowa and nobody outside of southwest Iowa and southern Nebraska seems to realize that.

Glover: That has been some criticism of FEMA and its handling of the disaster on this side of the state and the disaster on the western side of the state.  There are questions about the Corp of Engineers, whether the river management ought to be changed.  Where are you on all that?

Braley: Well, I support a re-examination of that management philosophy along with all of my colleagues in the House because having spent time talking to people in southwest Iowa and hearing their concerns about how historically the Corp has balanced the competing interest of agriculture, recreation, power generation, transportation the people I talked to, who were just people that my relatives brought into my attention, they are very concerned about the management philosophy and why these record levels of water are being released in the fashion that they are.  So, that is why I supported an effort, along with Steve King, Tom Latham, Leonard Boswell and Dave Loebsack, to re-examine that philosophy and I think it is time for a full consideration of it.

Henderson: The Obama administration is pushing for an expedited review of the cases challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law.  Is it essential that that be resolved before the next election for democrats to be successful?

Braley: Well, I'm not worried about the political implications of those decisions whether at the appellate court level or at the Supreme Court level.  What I am concerned about, and I hear this all the time talking to healthcare providers, Kay, is the uncertainty and the planning that has to take place to implement the Affordable Care Act is going on in all 50 states right now.  You have some states that are fighting this and refusing to prepare for it.  You have other states that may not be happy but are going forward with putting the exchanges in place that are the next big phase of this Affordable Care Act itself.  So, I favor an expedited review by the Supreme Court so we have certainty and know what we're dealing with as we move into that critical implementation phase.

Borg: There is a super committee operating in Congress right now and the deadline is before the holidays to report back ... I see you sighing about that ... but just let me say, do you think that their recommendations for where to cut the federal budget, if indeed they do agree and they don't come back and just have an across-the-board cut, are you worried about the effects on agriculture?

Braley: Yes, I'm very worried about the effects on agriculture but I'm more concerned in a broader sense about the committee itself because I believe, Dean, and many of my colleagues believe that the super committee was set up to fail.  They are dealing with an enormous challenge in finding these budget cuts, they are doing it in a fast track manner outside of the normal legislative process and you have people who have been appointed to that committee who fundamentally oppose using a balanced approach to reducing the deficit and they are on record to that effect.  Most Iowans when they have tough financial times know they have got to tighten their belt but they'll also go out and get a part-time job and find ways to put more revenues on the table.  And when nearly half of that committee is completely opposed at looking at ways to increase revenues to attack the deficit I am very concerned about whether or not they are going to accomplish their task.

Borg: Do you want them to even have a report then?  Is the alternative better?

Braley: Well, the alternative is another bad option because it will result in a mandatory across-the-board reduction of two percent to every federal agency and even though I support deficit reduction, I have voted for deficit reduction the thing that concerns me is that is a terrible way to identify wasteful spending and eliminate it by just giving everybody a hair cut and that is why I favor the approach we used in my town hall meetings in April where we brought people in, we gave them the option to vote on spending cuts and revenue increases, they voted the way people in Iowa have come together to solve problems since our state began and every single one of them came up with trillions of dollars of deficit savings using that balanced approach.

Glover: It wouldn't be an official Iowa Press show if we didn't spend a little time talking about politics and that time has come.  There is word now that Florida has made a decision to move their primary to January 31st.  What is your advice to Iowa republicans and democrats?  Is it inevitable that the Iowa caucuses are going to be in early January?

Braley: I think it is, Mike, and I don't think that's a good thing for Iowa and I don't think it's a good thing for our national nominating process.  We lived through this in 2008 and many of us spent a lot of our holiday season out involved in campaign activity when that is the time you look forward to spending with your family and worrying about dealing with the political aspect in the New Year.  So, for Iowa I'm very, I thought that these other states would have learned that lesson because what happened in 2008 is we saw very lengthy nominating processes and some of the states that waited had more influence than some of the early states because people were really working hard for their votes.  Both parties have official nominating rules and they have the ability to punish states that don't follow the rules and that is why it is important for both parties to impose those sanctions in a meaningful way to prevent this from happening.

Glover: But will it work, Congressman?  We've had those sanctions in the past, a sanction is you take away some of their delegates to the national nominating convention which never sticks, it didn't last time, it won't this time.

Braley: Well, it did in this sense, Mike, because we saw both Florida and Michigan move forward in 2008, they both went forward and violated the rules of their party, there were some sanctions up front that later were minimized but the bottom line was how the candidates responded.  You didn't see a huge movement of candidate resources to those states because they were still seen as not being critical to the nominating process.

Glover: Let's make it more personal.  There's a lot of speculation about your future, as Dean mentioned in the open, you have spent a fair amount of time outside of your congressional district, you're close to Senator Tom Harkin, there are suggestions that you have statewide ambitions.  Now is the time to announce it.

Braley: Well, I think the best thing for the state of Iowa is for Tom Harkin to seek re-election in 2014 and to not lose the wealth of experience that he has brought to this state.  And, you know, as I was preparing for this interview one of the things I was reminded of is a year ago when I was last on this show was the day after my seventeen year old niece committed suicide and that experience and the experience of my last two elections are what remind me that there's a lot worse things in life than losing an election, Mike, and that is why I have the honor and privilege now of introducing myself to a whole new group of people that I have never had a chance to ask for their votes, including my mom, I'm working very hard to get hers right now and that is what I'm focused on because I realize that nothing in life is guaranteed and the rest will take care of itself.

Henderson: Well, let's ask about that 2012 election.  It is shaping up to have a contest on the republican side to find someone to oppose you, a few of the names have run before including Ben Lang who ran against you last time around.  You had a narrow escape in 2010.  What did you learn about that campaign that you will employ in 2012?

Braley: Well, the one thing that I learned is that you can never take things for granted.  I don't think anyone anticipated that I would have $2.5 million of outside money spent against me in that campaign until it happened.  And so one of the things that I learned from that experience is it is important for me to get out and talk to the people whose vote I'm asking for about why they should vote for me, what I bring to the table, the experience, the life experiences that I have and the ability to identify with the problems and concerns they are facing on a daily basis.  So, I'm not as worried about who I'm going to run against at this point, I'm worried about connecting with the voters who are going to be deciding that election.

Glover: And you're on the ballot next year as is President Barack Obama.  A, what kind of a role do you think you'll play in the Obama campaign here in Iowa?  And can the President carry Iowa?  He carried it pretty easily in the last election but polls would suggest he has some trouble this time.

Braley: Well, the role that I think I'll play is to do anything I can do make sure the President wins Iowa and that he gets a second term because I am committed to the President, I support what he is trying to do to move this country forward even though I have had very serious disagreements with him on policy issues, Mike, but I think that is what makes living in this country a great thing and what I'll be doing to help that happen is whatever the Obama campaign thinks is going to benefit them in Iowa.  And I do think he can win Iowa,  I think Iowans who are going to be given a choice in this presidential election are going to weigh who they want leading them over the next four years and I think that when they are given that choice that President Obama will get a second term.

Glover: Put on another hat, look across the aisle.  Republicans are having a caucus fight in Iowa, they are having a primary fight across the country.  What is your best guess as to who the nominee is going to be?

Braley: Well, I have no idea who is going to emerge at the end of this nominating process and I'll leave that to the republicans to decide.

Henderson: Congressman, you're a part of what is called the populist caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.  You have also participated in something called the No Labels organization.  That seems incongruous.

Braley: I don't think it is at all, Kay, because I tell people I grew up in a no labels house in a no labels town because my dad was a republican and my mom was a democrat.  The small town of Brooklyn, Iowa that I grew up in when people had a problem they didn't ask you your political party, they asked for your help and they got it.  And the No Labels movement just says we need to have an adult conversation about the difficult challenges we have in this country and we need to do it in a level that doesn't dehumanize the people that we're trying to have that conversation with.  And I support, that, in fact, I appeared at the launch of the No Labels movement with republicans and democrats.

Henderson: What the populist caucus is pushing an ideology that they believe is the way that the country should be governed, right?

Braley: The populist caucus was founded on the core principles that people aren't speaking out on issues that affect the middle class from an economic standpoint.  That is the whole basis that we founded the populist caucus on.  And so when we're debating public policy issues our role is to try to bring a populist message and a good example of that is the transfer fee that we proposed that apparently President Obama wanted to move forward on and his own economic advisor Larry Summers squashed which would require Wall Street, who caused most of the problems that led to the recession that we're in right now, to help rebuild Main Street by reinstating a transfer fee that we had in this country for 60 years that put a very small fee on excessive transfers and our bill would not affect anything that would affect middle class investments such as retirement savings, health savings accounts and other things because it wouldn't kick in until $100,000 on an annual basis.

Glover: It's not in the ballot next year but there's already speculation about who the democrats will mount against Governor Branstad.  There's a lot of talk that he is grooming the Lieutenant Governor to be his successor but I haven't heard a lot of talk about democrats.  What have you heard?

Braley: Well, I've heard that a lot of people are really concerned about where Governor Branstad has taken this state and that there are a lot of people that are probably going to be interested in that job. 

Glover: Give us some names.

Braley: Well, I don't, I mean there's a lot of people that are probably looking at where their political position is but I haven't had any conversation with anyone who is specifically interested in taking that challenge.

Borg: Is there a Governor Braley in our future?

Braley: I'm certainly not going to address that today because I'm working hard to get re-elected in the first district of Iowa.

Borg: But you're not closing the door either from what I hear.  But be more specific on where Governor Branstad has taken the state.  He's been in office almost two years now.  Taking the state -- be more specific.

Braley: I'll be very specific, Dean.  It was a very high profile campaign promise of the Governor to create 200,000 jobs in his first term.  Where are they?  That is what I think people will be asking in the next election.  When you look at the efforts that the Governor has taken on education reform I applaud him for having his education summit because I think education is the key to economic development and has also always been a cornerstone of the philosophy of what this state is all about.  But when you see the actions that he has taken in his legislative agenda on education and cuts to funding for education and his proposals to increase teacher pay they are completely inconsistent.  Cutting funding for Regents institutions and claiming we need to invest in higher education.  I think those are the types of things that people will be focusing on in that next election.

Glover: I'd like you to take a look at an important group, or it has been an important group traditionally in democratic politics and that is labor.  You have a couple of, Waterloo is a very heavy labor city, Dubuque is a very heavy labor city.  What is the role of organized labor in democratic politics and larger in politics generally?

Braley: Well, I think that the great thing about the labor movement is that it has moved forward a progressive agenda that has improved the quality of life for all Americans whether it is fighting for minimum wage, safer conditions in the workplace, limited hours and eliminating child labor abuses.  So, I think that the positive things that labor brings to helping in political activism is they are based upon the first amendment doctrine of freedom of association and getting together to move for a common interest.  So, in political campaigns they provide boots on the ground to go out and help knock on doors, make phone calls and that is no different than what you see in other political campaigns from other interest groups.

Glover: But the numbers of people in organized labor has been dropping over time, over history and it has continued to go down.  Has their influence in both democratic politics and politics as a whole slipped?

Braley: I don't think it has slipped, Mike, I think that the voice that labor brings to the table, the causes that they rally around are just as important now to people across the political spectrum as they ever have been.  But if you look at public employees in particular, public employees have been under assault across this country.  Their bargaining rights have been eliminated or strongly reduced and one of the things that I can tell you is the top democrat on the veterans affairs subcommittee that deals with economic opportunities, there is a program called TAPS that prepares people leaving the military to prepare for private employment and the veterans official who testified at our hearing said that 45% of those veterans end up working for the state, local or federal government.  So, when people demonize public employees they are also demonizing returning veterans.

Henderson: The Tea Party conversely to unions has had great influence lately in the Republican Party.  One of the ideas advanced by Tea Party folks is that subsidies for many industries and many entities throughout the country should be ended.  There is a proposal to end subsidies for airports.  That would affect Waterloo and Sioux City as I understand it.  Why should small airports get subsidies from the federal government?

Braley: Well, this goes back to the whole premise of whether we're going to have a transportation system in this country that serves the needs of all people or just a few people because one of the things that the Federal Aviation Administration controls is the regulation of airline activity.  And in the past there were requirements in place to make sure that small and medium sized airports continued to have air service.  Under deregulation a lot of those regulations were lifted and we have seen a significant loss of services to rural airports.  Now, because rural taxpayers pay into the federal treasury the same way people in large urban areas do I think there is a compelling argument to be made that we need to continue to provide air service as long as it is economical and as long as we can justify it and certainly in the case of Sioux City and Waterloo that is an important piece of what those cities depend upon.

Borg: Congressman, you sit on the consumer protection subcommittee and this week there's a lot of news about banks increasing fees to compensate for legislation that was passed by Congress to protect consumers against debit card fees and things like that and it cut the revenue to banks.  Is this an end run by the banks now charging increasing fees to the very consumers that you were trying to protect?

Braley: Well, it is important for Iowans to distinguish what we're talking about when we say banks, Dean, because there are very different practices in the small banks in the communities that I represent and the Wall Street giants that we all know are engaged in a lot of the practices that set the trend for the marketplace.  So, I think that if you look at banks like Bank of America and Citibank they have spent millions of dollars lobbying to prevent these new financial protections from being implemented and so they are going to look for ways to make it up and I think that there are some abusive practices that we need to continue to monitor and respond to.

Glover: Congressman, we've got less than a minute to go.  You have been asked about the Tea Party movement and some other forces within American politics.  What is your take on what the mood of the electorate is?  Are they angry?  Are they restive?  Are they nervous?  What is the mood out there?

Braley: Well, I think that at various times they have been all of those things, Mike, and I think that there is this great unease and uncertainty because of the failure of the economy to respond the way we have wanted it to, the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty about events going on around the world and that leads to a general anxiety and it is part of what we deal with.

Borg: I'm a little anxious here too because we're out of time.  Thanks so much.

Braley: Thank you.

Borg: We'll be back next weekend regular Iowa Press airtimes, that's 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning.  A reminder too that you can contact our Iowa Press staff directly through the Internet.  The mail address at the bottom of the screen right now, it is iowapress@iptv.org, you see it on the screen.  We'd like to hear your comments.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

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