Pat Kreitlow will challenge first-term incumbent Sean Duffy for the 7th Congressional seat and for the first time since the political boundary lines were redrawn following the 2010 Census, Lakeland area electors will vote for candidates in the district.
The following provides you with a snapshot of where the candidates stand on the issues.
Duffy: Embracing policies
for a competitive America
GOP congressman says ‘trickle-down’
government approaches have never worked
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Seventh district GOP Congressman Sean Duffy says the nation is undoubtedly facing many challenges, but he says all can be overcome by embracing common-sense investment and pro-growth economic policies that empower people.
That’s the central message the incumbent has been delivering all over the newly redrawn seventh congressional district. Duffy faces challenger Democrat Pat Kreitlow in the Nov. 6 election.
“I think as a member of Congress, it’s important to be open and accessible, and many people who are in the current seventh congressional district, they’ve seen me do ... town halls. I’ve done one town hall at least in every county every year. ... I’ve implemented a mobile office to take our congressional service to all the small communities around the seventh district. I’ve done job fairs. I’ve been at festivals and parades all over this district, because I have a passion to represent the people in the place that I love. And I think people here, they work their hearts out, and they deserve a member of Congress who also works his heart out for them, too, and I think they’ve seen over the last two years how hard I’ve worked.”
That work, he says, involves moving common-sense solutions forward.
“I’m not a handwringer,” Duffy said. “I want to see the problem. I see the debt. I’m willing to get behind plans that fix it, and I’m willing to listen to other ideas that might fix it, as well. We’re dealing with job growth and economic growth, sound policies that have worked in the past, not these top-down, trickle-down government approaches that have never worked, but ideas that empower people to keep more of their money, especially in our small businesses and manufacturers, so they can continue to invest in their community and their business, expand and grow and hire more people.”
Duffy says it is crucial to make America competitive again.
“We live in a global marketplace,” he said. “Let’s make sure that this is the home for investment. Investment around the world will find its best home here in America and here in Wisconsin because we have the best rules, the best regulations, the best tax code and no doubt the hardest workers. That’s what I’m working on, and I would be honored if those who were listening and reading were going to look at that record and consider voting for me on Nov. 6.”
Duffy addressed the looming fiscal cliff, the mixture of tax increases and about $100 billion in automatic spending cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, that will occur on Jan. 1 if no deal is brokered in Congress.
“In regard to taxes, I think it’s important to look and say, ‘You know, former President Bill Clinton has said (that) raising taxes right now is not going to help stimulate the economy or grow jobs, it’s going to make it more difficult.’ Even Barack Obama, two years ago, talked about not raising taxes then, because it would impact economic growth.”
What’s more, Duffy said, the economy is growing more slowly today than it was when Obama made that statement two years ago.
“I care about the economic growth,” Duffy said. “I care about seeing job creation for hard-working Wisconsin families. You understand that, if we raise taxes the way the president wants, it’s going to raise taxes on all, well, not all, but many of our small businesses and small manufacturers that scatter across the seventh congressional district. I’m going to fight to make sure that doesn’t happen, because I think that’s going to cost jobs for the people that I represent.”
So what is going to happen?
“I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know.... We don’t know what’s going to happen here. I just hope that the president will reflect again on his position, and say, ‘Let’s not raise taxes on the people that create jobs in central and northern Wisconsin.’”
Duffy said the basic laws of supply and demand – and projections of supply and demand based on events in the Middle East – determine oil prices.
“As economies heat up, they produce more, and they use more energy, and so the price goes up,” Duffy said. “When we have recessionary times or times when we don’t grow very much, there’s less use and more supply, and prices come down.”
What’s important, he said, is to increase the supply on the market by accessing and drilling for energy resources on domestic federal lands and on the continental shelf.
“You’ll see a couple things happen,” Duffy said. “One, you see more revenue coming to the federal coffers from those reserves. You see more jobs created because of pursuing American energy, and more people are paying taxes. But the real benefit is, you start seeing energy costs come down because of that increased supply, and specifically with regard to natural gas. You see these natural gas prices come down, especially in the areas where we use a lot of energy.”
Duffy said that represented a competitive advantage over competing nations, whether in Europe or Asia.
“And so I think it’s important that we pursue American energy,” he said. “I think it’s important that we build that pipeline to the reserves up in Canada. But I also think in the long run, you know, we’ve got to recognize that we need other energy sources. And I think it’s okay to make sure we can put some dollars into some areas where some research and development are taking place.”
That said, Duffy said he believes the president has put in way too many resources into those areas.
“We’ve seen a lot of what the president calls investments of the American taxpayer dollar actually fail,” Duffy said. “I mean, these things are going bankrupt. I don’t know that it’s the administration’s job or the federal government’s job to pick winners and losers, or, as Mitt Romney says, mostly losers in the private sector.”
Duffy said he understands how much families are hurt by high gas prices.
“In rural areas, we drive more, absolutely,” he said. “It’s a huge hit. But that’s again why we increase the American supply. ... My concern at home is the cost of energy and how much it costs to fill up your car, and I think the immediate way you address that is you start pursuing American energy. I think it’s a real simple solution. And you allow us to access Canadian oil, as well. If you increase that supply, make no mistake, you are going to see prices come down.”
In health care, Duffy addressed three areas of ongoing debate, all of which he said are interrelated: access, cost and competitiveness.
“One of the issues with access is the cost,” he said. “And as we’ve all seen recently, the average cost for a family of four’s insurance policy has increased by more than $2,000 since Obamacare has been implemented. We were promised that it would go down by $2,500 for that similar family at this time during the election. That hasn’t happened, and I think what’s important for us to do is say, how do we make sure we have competitive prices where a lot of folks can afford to purchase health insurance or health coverage?”
Duffy said there’s a segment of the population that isn’t going to purchase, or may not be able to purchase, insurance for a certain length of time, and thus we need to keep systems in place to make sure the working poor can have access to health care.
“But what I’ve done, as one who has voted to repeal (Obamacare), I also put out my ideas on replacement, and I think it’s important to make the market competitive because today often times people don’t look at the price but many times look at the service. But there’s a disconnection between the relationship between the patient and the doctor and the price and service provided.”
So, Duffy said, we need competition, first of all, across state lines.
“We need to allow plans in that might have a little different formula that would be beneficial and appealing to people in Wisconsin,” he said. “So, it might come from Kansas or Kentucky, but we’d be allowed in Wisconsin to purchase one of those plans. What it does is, it makes insurance companies compete against each other, not just in Wisconsin but across the country, and the best plans, the best prices, will rise to the top, but it makes them far more competitive.”
Duffy said price transparency is key.
“A colonoscopy often times is, you know, one price in one community, and you go 60 miles down the road, and it’s $1,000 more,” he said. “If you’re buying a truck, and you can buy it for $1,000 or $2,000 less 60 miles away, guess what, the dealership that’s selling them for $2,000 more or $1,000 more, they’ll go out of business. That doesn’t happen in healthcare because we don’t know the price. I think that’s important to make sure we allow people to shop on price and the service, and that price has to be transparent, and it’s not today.”
Duffy also called for tort reform.
“I think you see a lot of doctors practicing defensive medicine, and it’s become such a litigious environment,” he said. “Having some kind of tort reform is imperative to make sure we’re bringing costs down, and doctors can effectively practice medicine, but also, if doctors behave badly, obviously you want patients to be able to recover, but we do need a better balance with regard to how doctors are sued.”
In addition, Duffy said, fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare needs to be addressed aggressively.
“It’s an important part of how we drive those federal dollars down, and there’s a lot of it there, and there are ways that we can root out that fraud, waste, and abuse,” he said.
Duffy said he would keep some aspects of the president’s health care law, such as addressing pre-existing conditions.
“When you have an environment where folks can’t go out and actually afford insurance because of a pre-existing condition, I think it’s a societal problem,” he said. “I think the government should be able to step in and help out and provide a pathway for those folks to obtain insurance, and in my proposal we have the federal government help fund pools in the state. Have the states set those pools up themselves. High-risk pools, so these folks with these pre-existing conditions have some avenue to obtain coverage. Now, they’ll pay more than the average plan, but it’s not astronomical where they can’t afford it.”
Duffy also said his plan would allow for coverage for young people under their parents’ plan through college.
“Today it’s up to 26,” he said. “Well, you’re old enough to be a member of Congress at 25. I don’t know if 25- or 26-year-olds need to be on their parents’ insurance.”
Duffy said better relationships between doctors and patients, where there is an honest dialogue and a price component for the service that’s going to be provided, will reduce costs substantially.
“I think patients will be more apt to say, ‘Listen, do I really need this procedure? Do I really need this test? Do I really have this? Because I’ve got some dollars coming out of my pocket if we do it. I want to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do to make sure I’m healthy, that we find out what is wrong with me, but, listen, I don’ t want to get charged here and do a lot of tests and procedures that I don’t need, because the dollars come out of my pocket for those.’”
Americans, Duffy said, are great shoppers.
Regulations and executive orders
Duffy said the use of executive orders by the president to bypass Congress has gotten out of hand.
“I think it’s important in government to have those who are elected to respect the authority that’s given to them under the constitution, that if you’re a judge, elected or appointed, you’re given certain authority, and it’s important that those who are in those positions respect it,” Duffy said. “If you’re a member of Congress in the House, the Senate, there’s certain authority given to us, and it’s important that we respect it. As, too, for the president, is given certain authority. It’s important that people don’t try to make power plays and extend the authority that’s been given to them under our founding document.”
Duffy said he had concerns about some of the moves that have been made that have cut out the legislative process, outside of even executive orders.
“I'll go back a year ago, I think it was Jan. 3,” Duffy said. “The president took an action that gave me great concern. The House stayed in a pro forma session, which means they gavel in, they gavel out, every three days. The Senate has to do the same thing. And they do it so the president couldn’t make a recess appointment. The Senate is not in recess, they’re in a pro forma session, and he can’t make that appointment.”
Well, Duffy said, that process was occurring last January, and the president, even though the Senate was in a pro forma session, made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, and he appointed a director to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“All of those should have gone through and received Senate approval,” Duffy said. “And get the advice and consent of the Senate. He didn’t. He said, ‘Well, no, that’s just a political game that’s being played, they’re actually in session, and I’m going to make the appointment anyway.’ This was an affront to a longstanding tradition....”
Duffy said that was only one of many examples of a huge power grab on the part of the president.
The congressman said he supported the REINS Act, which would have required an affirmative vote of Congress to enact any regulatory rule with a fiscal impact of $100 million or more.
“One of the frustrating parts for me as a member of Congress was, I found out when people were to come from the district and express a concern about a rule or a regulation and how it impacts them, I found out that I was relegated to write a letter to try to get that agency to change their rule or regulation,” Duffy said. “Over the course of generations, Congress has given so much authority to the bureaucrats in Washington, and so the bill you reference was a way to re-empower Congress with the massive regulations that come out.”
Before the REINS Act was the TRAIN Act, which the congressman said he also supported.
“TRAIN made sure that these agencies did a cost analysis of the regulation before it went out,” he said. “And if the cost was $100 million or more – the cost to the economy – it needed to get congressional approval. Listen, you send an elected representative to Congress, they should have some say in the massive regulations that are being passed. This was a way to re-empower Congress to have a say in those massive rules. It passed the House, and, as with many of the bills that we put forward, it languishes over in the Senate.”
While Duffy said he has not called for an outright repeal of Dodd-Frank, the law regulating financial institutions, he said he has been aggressive in pointing out its perils, especially for rural communities.
“If you look at what happened in the financial crisis of 2008, and we target reforms to make sure that doesn’t happen again, Dodd-Frank went further than that and did a lot of different things,” he said.
One of his main concerns, the congressmen said, is that it should have been focused on Wall Street rather than on Main Street
“And they have been focused there,” he said. “The problem has been the new rules and regulations are coming home to small financial institutions, small banks and small credit unions that dot the federal congressional district. (It affects) any of your listeners and readers who have had a deal with a small bank or a credit union to get a loan or a mortgage for a house, to get a loan for their business, whether it is an expansion of their business, whether it’s a new loan for a new business, a car loan.”
Things have changed a great deal in the last three years, he said.
“It is so difficult to access capital, and what’s happened is, you have all these rules and regulations that were meant for Wall Street affecting our main streets, and the lifeblood of our economic growth here is access to capital from the small community banks,” Duffy said. “And they’re having a very difficult time doing it, and they weren’t part of the problem. They were the ones who were actually behaving appropriately leading up to 2008. They were sound and safe institutions. But they’re paying the price, which means the communities are paying the price.”
Dodd-Frank needs to be tweaked to leave out the smaller community institutions, Duffy said.
“One of my concerns is this, because of all the new rules and regulations, and because it becomes so expensive for a small bank to comply with those rules, we’re going to start to see a lot of – and you’re already seeing it – consolidation in banking,” he said. “My fear is that you start to see this massive consolidation, and you see the decisions in our communities being made in the home office, whether it’s in Chicago or Milwaukee or New York, and we lose the personal community touch that has been so successful for so long.”
Duff said his other concern with Dodd-Frank was, what happens with ‘too big to fail’?
“And I think you were outraged that taxpayer money was being used to bail out big institutions on Wall Street that gambled, and the taxpayer money is being used to bail them out,” Duffy said. “That makes me and that makes I think a lot of people here angry. One of the lessons we should learn is, how do we prevent that from happening again in the future? Listen, there is a better way to do this, instead of having taxpayers on the hook for bad decisions that big banks make. To take this in a different direction, it is going to be very important, instead of having the taxpayers on the hook, making sure the investors in those banks are going to be responsible for the decisions that are made within that bank or financial institution, and, frankly, as it sits now, that’s not happening.”
Duffy said he hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon for a flat tax or a Fair Tax because the movement behind them is just not there at the moment.
“So, I’ve said, ‘How do we get behind a movement that’s going to make the tax codes fairer, flatter, simpler, and also remove the crony capitalism that’s contained within the code?’” he said. “So, very simply, I think what we need to do is eliminate or reduce significantly the number of loopholes and preferences from the code.”
Duffy said the vast majority of those are contained at the top-end of earners.
“When you do that, you can then take rates down for everybody, especially for our hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers and our small businesses and manufacturers that provide jobs here for us,” he said. “And, with those lower rates, I think it makes us far more competitive. Quick example. You have a local business that probably does fairly well, has 40 employees. That business potentially can, in our area, see a tax reduction under this plan. Because they’re not taking advantage of this massive tax code that’s out there. They don’t have, often times, the lawyers and the tax advisers to do it, because they’re way too expensive.”
Duffy pointed to companies that pay no taxes, or very low effective tax rates, because of the loopholes and deductions.
“When a majority of those loopholes go away, those taxes are going to come back up to the 25-percent range,” Duffy said. “So you have more equilibrium because those at the top end don’t have these loopholes that were put in there after generations of lobbyists going to Washington and carving their clients’ profits out of the code. I think that’s the best way to do it. It’s pro-growth, helps grow the economy. It’s fairer. For me, I see it helping our small businesses reinvest, have more dollars to reinvest, to re-innovate, to expand, and it puts more money in the hands of middle-class families right here in Wisconsin who are under incredible pressure today to make ends meet.”
Along with loopholes and deductions, Duffy said he would end subsidies to various industries and firms.
“I’m in favor of taking them all out,” he said. “Take them all away. It’s part of the reform. Again, I don’t think it’s the role of government to pick these winners and losers. Get rid of them all. But, you’ve got to get rid of them all.”
No matter how hard it tries, Duffy said, government is incapable of managing the economy and of directing and shaping it, and he pointed to his opponent, Pat Kreitlow, as an advocate of that philosophy.
“You see a philosophy out there of someone who says, ‘We need a tax credit for hiring, we need a tax credit for this, a tax credit for that. If you invest in this, we’ll give you a credit, invest in that, we’ll give you a credit,’” Duffy said. “That philosophy is one where they believe that the bureaucrats or politicians in Washington can set up all these different loops to make all these different small businesses jump through to do what the politician wants them to do.”
What it does instead, Duffy said, is expand the tax code and make it more complicated.
“It makes that small business owner who just wants to keep a few more of the dollars to rehire – they don’t want to pull their hair out, too,” Duffy said. “My point is, listen, they know best how to spend their money. Let them spend the dollars that they earned on their reinvestments the way they see fit, not trying to tell them how to do it. Just reduce the tax rates, and it’s remarkable. They know how to spend their dollars as opposed to politicians and bureaucrats in Washington telling them how they need to spend the dollars themselves.”
A strong dollar
Duffy says he supports a strong dollar, but he doesn’t believe today’s economic policies will deliver it, and he says the latest round of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve Board will be inflationary.
“We see what the Federal Reserve is doing by the QE1, QE2 and QE3 (rounds of quantitative easing),” Duffy said. “They’re printing money to buy American debt. When you print money like that, you devalue your currency, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. I think many would say, in QE1, in the crisis, some might go, ‘Hey, there was a real need to do this. It had to be done.’ Some even argued, and I’m not one of them, but some said QE2, it’ll drive interest rates down further and we can stimulate the market by having more people access capital at a cheaper rate. But QE3? All QE3 is doing is stimulating the markets, which if you really think about it, you’ve got the wealthy in the markets that are making more money from QE3, but the end result is, also because the oil is figured in dollars, you see our gas prices going up, our families go to the stores and they see their food prices going up. We’re paying the consequence of QE3, .... and I think we have baked some inflation, significant inflation, into the market because of QE3. Inflation and devaluing the dollar go together. So, I do support a strong dollar. The policies today have not promoted that philosophy.”
Duffy says he supports more cuts in government spending but does not like the idea of across-the-board cuts.
“I would say, as you look at across-the-board cuts, I don’t know that you want to go necessarily there,” he said. “I think some agencies might deserve more cuts than others. I would put in that category the EPA. But I think we have to look at where we spend the dollars and where we think, with our priorities, we can get the most savings.”
The proposed Republican budget, he said, would have reduced spending to 2008 levels and capped it there for five years.
“So your government doesn’t grow, and, as your economy grows, that’s one of the key tenets in how you balance your budget,” he said. “So, no, I don’t think you just do it across the board. You’ve got to look and say, ‘You know, what are our priorities?’”
One of those priorities is a strong military, Duffy said.
“We need a strong military, especially in the dangerous world we live in today,” he said. “You look over in the Middle East and what’s happening, I want to have a strong military.”
That said, Duffy said he also knows there is fat and waste in the military, too.
“A lot of Republicans have held that out as a sacred cow, and I think we have to be smart with every dollar we spend,” Duffy said. “In the military, I want them lean, I want them mean, and I want them strong, but I want to do all I can to help cut out the fat of those wasteful programs or bloated programs or programs that even the Pentagon says they don’t want, but they’re going on because a powerful member of Congress promoted it. So, I do think there are areas to cut the fat in the military.”
Nonetheless, Duffy said, some of the president’s proposals do more than just cut out fat; Duffy said they cut the bone, and, in this environment, he’s not at all for cutting the bone.
“I want to make sure we have a strong and effective force, able and willing to defend the United States in dangerous times,” he said.
Finally, in education, he wants to reduce the federal bureaucracy and return more authority to the states.
“My view is this, what you see in your federal agencies is that once they start, they just grow bigger and bigger and bigger every year,” Duffy said. “They start to feed themselves. My belief is, this is education. I’m not saying I’m here to get rid of the Department of Education. What I do want to see happen, however, is I want more of the dollars and more of the decisions to go back to the states and the local communities because I think when they’re in power to make the right decisions for their community and their kids with fewer strings attached, that’s a better system of government when we do that. Right now, I see a lot of our decisions being made on the D.C. level, and, listen, the priorities of the communities within the state of Wisconsin are different than the priorities of Mississippi or Massachusetts. I’m in favor of going ‘OK, we can reduce in size, give more dollars back to the state and localities and reduce the bureaucracy and empower the locality to spend the dollar more flexibly.’”
But he said he was not in favor of eliminating the Department of Education.
Kreitlow says work ethic
not a problem, but opportunities are
Democrat calls for an end to gridlock;
defends government intervention through the tax code
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
The Democratic candidate for the seventh congressional district in Wisconsin, Pat Kreitlow, a former Wisconsin state senator and news anchor in Eau Claire, says his is a story that connects with many people in northern Wisconsin.
“Growing up the oldest of four kids to a single mom, parents who couldn’t give me anything except one thing – they could give me a work ethic,” Kreitlow told The Lakeland Times in a recent interview. “I watched them work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and I worked my way through college.”
That work ethic is a trait shared by so many in northern Wisconsin, Kreitlow said.
“All we want is the notion that hard work plus opportunity leads to a better life,” he said. “There’s all kinds of people around here who want to work hard, but they need the opportunity. The opportunity of an education they can afford. The opportunity of having health care so that an illness doesn’t leave you bankrupt and without a home. The opportunity to pay a fair level of taxes, not a higher level because somebody else is getting special treatment.”
So the answer is, Kreitlow said, let’s provide opportunities for people who want to work hard.
“You do that by electing people who don’t forget their roots, don’t forget where they came from, who want to go to Washington and work as hard as you do,” he said. “The people in Washington, frankly, right now just don’t want to work that hard. We need to do better than the games and gridlock that is going on out there. People want a representative, I believe, that they may not agree with all of the time, but one who is going to listen to their concerns and who they know is going to try to work hard and do the best job possible to move our serious challenges in this country forward. If people see that in me, and I hope they do, I hope that they’ll vote for me on Nov. 6.”
Kreitlow said the fiscal cliff, the potential mixture of tax increases and about $100 billion in automatic spending cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, that could occur next Jan. 1 is a product of Washington failure and the decline of bipartisanship.
“The whole situation is simply a testament to the failings of everybody in Washington over the past couple of years,” Kreitlow said. “The inability of parties to talk across the aisle, of chambers to talk across the Capitol, of people to talk across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, tells you that there are too many people who are hell-bent on digging in their heels rather than actually talking to and respecting one another, and that’s why I feel some of the faces have to be changed there in Washington. Obviously, some of us disagree on which faces have to be changed, but, regardless, we need people who are more productive, who are more practical, who work as hard as we do back here.”
Everybody has to work in places where they don’t get everything they want, he said.
“We work with one another, and we try to move things forward, but we’ve got a Congress and a culture in Washington that is just in a quagmire, yet that is what is leading us toward this sequestration, which was put in place by people who wanted to play chicken, who really thought that they would win this game of chicken, on both sides,” Kreitlow said. “That’s not what we elect people to do. So, the fact that we even have to wait for a lame duck Congress after the election tells you how much this current bunch isn’t doing their job, isn’t earning their paycheck.”
So, given the situation, if he were elected, what needs to be done?
“Simply, cooler heads do need to prevail, say, on tax policy, for example,” Kreitlow said. “Do we hold 98 percent of American taxpayers hostage so that the top 2 percent can continue to get breaks that we could maybe afford a decade ago when we had budget surpluses? We don’t have budget surpluses anymore. Or do we find a way that provides tax relief to the middle class and to the small businesses in middle America where most of the job growth takes place?”
It’s small business that creates jobs, the former senator said, not big conglomerations on the coast.
“It’s small businesses that are looking for some kind of tax relief or incentives to hire or to engage in some of the activity that will create jobs. We just don’t have that kind of mindset in Washington.”
With respect to energy prices, and particularly gas prices, Kreitlow said more drilling was not the ultimate answer.
“That’s fine in the short term, but we’re talking about the extraction of energy, which is a nearly finite resource, and so we’ll have short-term lower prices, but are we setting the stage for long-term pain for my children, for my grandson and others if we’re not doing enough to say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do as oil and natural gas supplies start to run low.’ We have found some good supplies lately, but we don’t know that that’s always going to be the case.”
Kreitlow took issue with those who say the current administration’s $90 billion in green-energy investments have been failures.
“It has, in fact, led to jobs,” he said. “It has, in fact, led to new openings in science, and you’re going to hear me talk a lot about research and development, especially in the energy sector, because that is where jobs are going to come from, and it is where the promise of energy sources that make us less reliant on non-United States sources of fuel are going to come from as well. But let’s do it in a smart way, understanding there will be fits and starts, there will be setbacks.”
Kreitlow acknowledged that gas prices at the pump have not dropped, all the more reason, he said, to develop new energy resources.
“No, we haven’t (had relief in gas prices), and, unfortunately, with a congressman who has received $50,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and natural gas industry, I shouldn’t expect that he’d be a leading voice for looking into the new energy sources of the future,” Kreitlow said. “Look, I’m not saying that a wind turbine has to be put in your backyard, but they are going to be put in some places where it is advantageous, and so why aren’t those wind turbines manufactured here in Wisconsin with Wisconsin jobs and sold from here?”
Likewise, he said, for other alternative energy sectors, and not only in manufacturing but in research and development.
“I’m not saying that you’re going to choose to buy the next generation of biofuel-powered vehicles, but why shouldn’t that research and development be done at both private and public sector laboratories right here in Wisconsin, where it’s happening right now,” Kreitlow said. “So, there is tremendous potential out there, the Wall Street Journal’s belief notwithstanding. The trick is to move forward in an intelligent way that does not sell short the promise that science can bring us in terms of energy and jobs for generations to come.”
Kreitlow also took aim at speculation in oil futures as a culprit in higher gas prices.
“We need to undo what was passed in the last decade that allowed all this rampant speculation in oil futures,” he said. “There’s nobody at Goldman Sachs that is ever going to take delivery of a barrel of oil, and yet they run that price up like crazy, and I’ll tell you, I talk to the local petroleum marketers close to my home. These are Mom and Pop gas station operators. And it makes them crazy to see that that is allowed to happen. And some people say, including Congressman Duffy, ‘Well, you have that, as well, with futures in other commodity markets,’ but they don’t play by the same rules. The oil markets should have to play by the same rules, and yes, we absolutely have to address that. It’s borderline criminal that the oil speculation runs as rampant as it does and that this Congress has not addressed it.”
On the issue of the Affordable Care Act – the nation’s new health care law – Kreitlow acknowledged it did not address ever higher health-care costs, but, he added, it wasn’t intended to do that.
It was designed to expand health-care coverage, he said.
“Access is the point of the entire Affordable Care Act to begin with,” he said. “It was never designed to be a cost-cutting bill. That was supposed to be the next step. It was first, if we get access to more of the 30-million Americans who are waiting too long to get care, we will help bend the cost curve in that way, and that, if they have coverage, they will get treated earlier, they will get preventative care earlier, there will be better coordination of care, so that they’re not doctor shopping. You know, getting one prescription over here, getting another prescription over there.”
Kreitlow said the Affordable Care Act would move many more people closer to being able to afford health coverage, and will do it through the private sector.
“The big thing about the Affordable Care Act that people don’t tend to talk about is how many millions of customers this is bringing into the private insurance marketplace, and most Democrats, many Democrats, don’t disagree with that,” Kreitlow said. “That there is competition, that there’s choice, that people can shop for the best value for their health-care dollar. But, once you have that increased access – I won’t say universal because there will always be outliers – but once you have more people with access, you’ve got to take the next step, you have got to bend the cost curve.”
That means paying for quality outcomes rather than the quantity of tests and procedures, he said.
“You’ve got to have earlier prevention of chronic diseases,” he said. “You’ve got to have better coordination of care when people do have multiple clinics or multiple doctors, like many elderly people do. You’ve got to improve electronic medical record systems, especially in places like rural Wisconsin that have been in some cases slow to update. So, provide the incentives to those providers so that they do take better care of their patients, pay for quality, and these things all get done, but this Congress never took the next step toward bending the cost curve because they wanted to have 30 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
Kreitlow said he understood the first vote because opponents of the law were making a statement.
“But the next 29 times, you wasted our time,” he said. “You wasted our tax dollars when you could have been working on .... improving the quality of care. And that’s what we need to do moving forward.”
Kreitlow also discussed the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the 15-member panel under the law that will make decisions about what services and treatments are covered and that will set rates of reimbursement for providers. The Democratic candidate said it was imperfectly structured.
“It’s the old saying, when all you’ve got in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Kreitlow said. “If the IPAB can only cut provider rates, that’s not a solution for bending the cost curve, and it’s going to hurt a lot of physicians and providers in Wisconsin who actually provide better quality outcomes than physicians and providers in other states, and I would not want to see this board come in and just cut rates across the board and punish the good quality of Wisconsin care, so we absolutely have to do a better job there.”
Beyond underutilization in the health-care system – people who should be receiving care but are not – Kreitlow said overutilization was a concern, too.
“My wife sees it as a physician,” he said. “She sees people that should have come in a lot earlier, but she also sees people that just keep coming in, because they never see a bill. The problem with that one is, when it comes to overutilization, somebody has to say no. Now, if you’re on a government-sponsored health plan and it’s a government board or something that tells you no, people are going to scream ‘big government’ coming between you and your doctor. If it’s an HMO that says no, people scream about that and say the system is rigged for the shareholders and the profiteers. So, that’s always been the trickier question. There is overutilization. Who says no?”
Kreitlow says the answer lies in practicing evidence-driven medicine.
“(Evidence-driven medicine) says, if you follow this particular protocol, then you will get fully reimbursed for providing that procedure, doing that surgery, whatever,” Kreitlow said. “But if you go right away to the $5,000 dollar CAT scan without doing all this stuff, please don’t expect the taxpayer to give you $5,000 in return.”
Bureaucratic waste and fraud
Kreitlow says he knows how to root how waste, inefficiency and fraud in federal agencies: whistleblowers, of a sort.
“I’d like to see an Inspector General in every government department and agency who is independent of that agency itself, charged solely with rooting out waste and fraud and abuse, and bringing that before Congress for action before the appropriate committees that are needed,” he said. “I think this is a good, common-sense idea that hasn’t gotten the traction that it deserves.”
Are some agencies sacrosanct, or are they all up for scrutiny?
“Is any agency or department too big to fail?” Kreitlow asked. “They’re certainly not too big to be examined, and I will tell you that one of my disappointments with the Obama administration is that we didn’t have this top-to-bottom, line-by-line examination of the budget that we should have had. For whatever reasons they want to give, that we were going through the worst economic crisis, and that we have wars going on and everything, that’s all fine. But, it seems to me…we don’t need to buy any more calculators in Washington. I’ll bet there are plenty of pads and pencils, and I think that that was a real missed opportunity to reexamine these things.”
Kreitlow reminds people that he hails from a journalistic background.
“I’m all in favor of watchdog journalism and whistleblowers, and there’s no shortage of people that will examine federal budgets, and yet we don’t have enough people in the federal government that will do it and/or notice bloat that’s there and address it, and I think that if it’s not getting done, then we need to elect more people who will.”
While he said Dodd-Frank financial institution regulation is an imperfect law, Kreitlow said he is not for letting Wall Street run wild by repealing it.
Indeed, he says, while local banks and credit unions want fewer regulations, less paperwork, and fewer hurdles, Kreitlow said they also want Wall Street held accountable for the mess they made.
“It wasn’t any bankers around here, or any credit union leaders around here, that created the economy, and yet you’ve got people in Washington right now, like Congressman Duffy, who have voted to take the refs off the field, take the cops off the beat,” Kreitlow said. “Now, Dodd-Frank was far from a perfect bill. It’s testimony to how both parties managed to water down something so that they could play a great Washington game of saying you’re for reform, watering down the reform, and then getting extensive campaign contributions from the people who otherwise would have been reformed. I don’t think we need to ever again embrace the mentality that Wall Street can police itself.”
Kreitlow said there does need to be a fair set of rules for Wall Street to live by, just as those that local banks and credit unions have to abide by.
“But they (local credit unions and banks) are not the ones who treated our mortgage and retirement accounts like they were casino chips,” he said. “We can’t go back to that. ... To that end, Congressman Duffy has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, he has co-authored letters to water down regulations that were meant only for Wall Street. They weren’t going to affect the banks and credit unions in Wisconsin.”
Kreitlow said it is imperative to separate commercial from investment banking.
“Once again you need Democrats and Republicans coming together for some common-sense rules that will put some confidence back in the lending industry,” he said. “How many people around here have tried to get business loans, and they haven’t been able to because there isn’t enough confidence yet, and there won’t be confidence in the financial services industry until people feel there’s fair rules for all.”
At the end of the day, Kreitlow said, Dodd-Frank needs to be strengthened because it has too many loopholes and exemptions in it.
“Frankly, things just haven’t changed that much on Wall Street, and people know that,” he said.
Executive orders and regulations
Beyond Wall Street, however, Kreitlow says he is concerned about often overburdensome regulations that handicap local businesses.
“I have talked to plenty of business people around here who are just trying to do a good job, and the next thing they know, somebody shows up with a clipboard, and they’re paying a fine for something that was an honest oversight,” Kreitlow said. “One of the things that I was happy to work on in the (state) Legislature was a bill on the telecommunications industry, that there were too many small rural telecoms out here that, frankly, do have way too much paperwork. They have to submit way too many things that have nothing to do with whether they’re providing good services to their customers or not.”
Unfortunately, Kreitlow said, the bill got caught up in a fight over another bill and ultimately didn’t pass, but he said people were to happy to see a Democratic legislator from the North who understood the need for rural telecommunications’ firms to be free of so many burdensome regulations.
Kreitlow says he is also for strong and affirmative legislative oversight of agency regulations and rules, which he said had been weakened on the state level under Gov. Scott Walker.
“In the month or so before Gov. Walker introduced his Budget Repair Bill, one of the earliest actions the new Legislature took in January of 2011 absolutely floored me in that they actually made the administrative rule process, provided for even less legislative oversight, and, of course, the thinking of the new Republicans majority was…well, we trust Gov. Walker,” he said. “But as a legislator, you shouldn’t just be thinking about your side or your team or the here and now. Those are rules that are going to last now when there’s a Democratic Legislature and a Democratic governor.”
So as a person who has experience as a lawmaker, Kreitlow said he was all for legislative oversight.
“It’s not that I don’t trust the executive, but it’s trust but verify,” he said. “And that’s what a rule process through the legislative branch should do.... It should absolutely be the same way at the congressional level as well, because pendulums swing. That’s what American politics is. So, what’s the right set of rules no matter who’s in power? And that is a role for the people’s representatives, to say yes or no to rules rather than just having them rammed through.”
The Democratic congressional candidate believes that virtually every deduction and loophole in the tax code should be studied to see if it is working.
“One of the things that this Congress, and to a certain degree the administration, have dropped the ball on is a real top-to-bottom scrubbing of every deduction, every loophole that’s out there, just the same way that I say that every trade agreement needs to be reopened and reexamined,” Kreitlow said. “Is it working for us? That’s what reform really is, when you look at everything. Now, a couple of things people throw out there, but there’s near unanimity that they need to stay, the mortgage interest deduction for a first residence and charitable deductions. You’d have a tough time getting rid of that.”
But if those are off the table, he said, all the other subsidies, loopholes and deductions should be judged by their value to the economy.
“The oil industry one, green industries and all of that – are these productive for economic growth?” Kreitlow said. “Now, you described them as picking winners and losers, which I guess is a fair criticism for anybody that doesn’t like it when it’s kept. How do you judge whether we keep or enhance any kind of deduction or credit? By its ability to grow our economy, grow jobs, grow the middle class. If you see real economic potential in something, then that’s a worthy addition to the tax code. But if something is outdated or helps a very small sliver of the economy, are we getting good value? Again, it’s all about getting value in our tax code.”
Kreitlow said his first reaction to calls to replace the current tax code with a flat tax or Fair Tax is that they are regressive, and to make it fair you probably have to sacrifice the simplicity.
“Its advocates say, well, we’ll add this and this to make sure that it’s a bit more progressive,” he said. “Well, you didn’t go far enough. Okay, well, we’ll add this and this. Pretty soon, you’ve made it complex again. So, really, we’re talking about, do you take the current system, which is right in front of us, and make it less complex or do you take a simple but regressive flat-tax idea and make it more complex in order to not punish the poor?
It depends, he said.
“How nerdy do you feel?” Kreitlow asked. “How much do you want to work on it? I would just as well have a thorough re-examination of the entire code, again, like 1986, actually roll up our sleeves and make the hard decisions. Maybe make it like the old Base Closing Commission, where you have a commission that puts something together, they’ve identified that these are the loopholes and deductions that no longer work for us, and let’s have an up-or-down vote on it so that we don’t essentially start a civil war of lobbyists in Washington. I think voters might actually welcome that kind of bold thinking that doesn’t rely on special interests to persuade elected officials to keep something that just isn’t working for the American taxpayer anymore.”
While the nation needs to take steps to strengthen the dollar, Kreitlow also warns against a dollar with too much headwind.
“If you make the dollar too strong, then our exports get more expensive,” he said. “We understand why, when this recession hit, why interest rates needed to come down to near zero and why the dollar came down as much as it did. It was essentially to stem the bleeding in our economy. But you can’t leave that sustained, or we’re going to have a sluggish economy for the foreseeable future. So, we do need to make steps, or take steps, that can make the dollar stronger, but, and we’ve seen this before, where essentially if you push the gas pedal too hard, then you’re going to spike inflation, and you’re not going to get as robust a recovery as you’d like.”
Kreitlow said he would urge real caution on monetary policy because Wisconsin’s huge export market could be hurt.
Government spending and debt
Kreitlow compared the nation’s debt to the many monuments in the nation’s capital.
“Of all the monuments out in Washington, D.C., this is the one that you can’t see, but it’s the most noteworthy,” he said. “It’s a $16-trillion monument to the failure of both parties. Both parties created this. Nobody can deny that. There were Democrats and Republicans who voted for two wars on the credit card, that voted for Part D (Medicare) without saying how to pay for it, the Bush tax cuts that weren’t paid for, and on and on.”
Kreitlow said the debt will crush our children and grandchildren if it isn’t taken seriously.
“There’s no just Democratic or Republican ideas to address the deficit,” he said. “There’s just plain old good ideas. The GAO now for the past couple of years has put out reports that identify hundreds of millions of dollars in savings if you would knock out the redundant spending, where one agency is doing what another agency is doing, but the two agencies don’t talk to each other.”
The government could also allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the drug companies, which is not now allowed under Part D, though it is allowed for the VA system and for Medicaid, he said. Making the tax code fairer would save money, too, he reiterated, and he pointed at his opponent and the Republican majority in the House for protecting the Bush-era tax cuts.
“We could have had $4 trillion in debt relief last year, but it got scuttled, and we ended up with a plan that gave us about a trillion dollars in deficit relief, but it also set up the fiscal cliff,” Kreitlow said. “Why didn’t we get the $4 trillion in relief? Because there were too many people in this Congress, this congressman (Duffy) included, who wanted to protect every dime of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent and those oil company subsidies and those tax breaks in the Ryan budget for companies that outsource jobs.”
The defense budget should also be on the table when it comes to cutting expenses, but it must be done the right way, he said.
“We have before us a classic example of a right-way, wrong-way approach to the defense budget,” Kreitlow said. “The wrong approach is the sequestration that we’re facing right now. On Jan. 1, the cleaver’s going to come down on $110 billion, half of it from defense. You put that kind of a reckless cut in the Pentagon’s budget, and it’s not like you’re just going to get rid of some weapon systems you don’t like.”
Instead, Kreitlow said, there will be civilian layoffs, the likes of which some in the military community can’t even imagine.
“That’s completely the wrong way to go to reduce the Pentagon’s budget and still have an effective military,” he said. “There are people in the Pentagon or who have served, very thoughtful people that have identified ways that you make our defense budget leaner and stronger, where you still have a force that is fierce, that is rapidly deployed, that is modern, and, by the way, takes care of our veterans when they come home.”
Conversely, Kreitlow said, we shouldn’t pork up the defense budget with weapon systems just because some members with seniority or leadership care more about jobs back home than the efficient use of tax dollars.
“So, yes, we absolutely need Pentagon budget reform,” he said. “We just can’t do it the sequestration way. It would be far too damaging.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org