MILWAUKEE (AP) — U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wausau Republican, faces Democrat Kelly Westlund, an Ashland councilwoman, and Green Party candidate Lawrence Dale, an Eagle River insurance salesman, on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Associated Press asked them to answer the same 10 questions in 130 words or less. Their responses follow.
Question: The latest favorability rating for members of Congress is 13 percent. What would you do to improve the functioning of the body?
Duffy: I share that frustration. The US House of Representatives has passed more than 40 pro-jobs bills that could have kick-started our sluggish economy. Those bills are piling up like lumber at the Senate door where Harry Reid refuses to bring them up for a vote. That is incredibly frustrating. However, even if the Senate refuses to move on good legislation, I want my constituents to know that their needs are being heard and addressed. In addition to visiting each of the 26 counties in my district multiple times a year, I use both traditional and new media technologies to engage in an honest dialogue with as many of my constituents as possible. My constituents know that I will listen to their concerns and do my very best to represent them.
Westlund: I would approach Congress as I do many other challenges by building a coalition based on shared values and common ground. The hyperpartisanship and obstruction in Washington isn't doing anything to move our country forward, and we have real challenges to face. Good ideas can come from either side of the aisle. It doesn't matter who gets the credit or who gets the blame; what matters is who gets the job done. We need leaders in Congress who will put our country ahead of their own self-interest and party affiliation. That means we need to change the people sitting at the table.
Dale: There is only one thing that can be done to improve the functioning of that body and that is to disallow corporations from using their money to leverage elections in favor of their positions on social policy. But this assumes that we would have the votes in an already corporate proxy stacked House and Senate to pass legislation to ban corporate interference in elections. Had the executive branch stepped in and arrested the five members of the U.S. Supreme Court for over reaching their authority in granting corporations citizenship rights in their infamous Citizens United ruling, our democracy would still be intact.
Question: Describe one area in which you differ from your party leadership.
Duffy: Republican leadership backed an amendment to arm "moderate" Syrian rebels. I opposed the amendment because I am skeptical of the ability to vet rebels and their ideologies and motives to ensure American arms end up in the right hands. The Kurds and Christian minorities are reliable allies to fight ISIS, but thus far, the Administration and the State Department have consistently allied themselves with The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist affiliates ... The philosophical goals of the Muslim Brotherhood (sharia law and Islamic hegemony) are identical to those of ISIS — they only differ in tactics. Arming and empowering the Brotherhood is not in U.S. interest or in the interest of the people living in that region.
Westlund: In comparison to the Democratic Party leadership, I tend to be much more candid in my advocacy for populist social and economic justice issues. I'm a supporter of a living wage and collective bargaining rights to reduce inequality, universal healthcare, fair trade deals that don't put American workers at a disadvantage, and getting big money out of our electoral system.
Dale: As a Green Party Candidate I have no problem with my party's leadership.
Question: What role should the federal government take in creating jobs and stimulating the economy?
Duffy: The Obama Administration's economic policies have created a "new normal" of high unemployment rates and weak job growth. America's economic recovery is being held back by burdensome regulations from Washington and onerous government mandates. The best thing Washington can do to stimulate the economy is get out of the way so small businesses can do what they do best — put people back to work. Congress should repeal job-killing policies like Obamacare, oppose EPA regulations that will cause skyrocketing energy prices, and improve timber management on our federal forests to get our Northwoods communities working again. Wisconsin wants to work. We can do more — and dream more — by putting power back in the hands of families and workers.
Westlund: Our system of commerce is built on our infrastructure physical and social. Today, as millions go without work, our nation is crumbling. We have an opportunity to put our government to work for us, investing in a modern infrastructure on which new commerce can build. With the construction of new roads, bridges, rail lines, and energy, water, and communications infrastructure, we can expand opportunity to every corner of this country and put people to work doing it. Investing in our education system ensures that we have an educated, skilled, and competitive workforce at the ready. Communities can't do these things in isolation. The government is how we accomplish the things we cannot do alone. Rebuilding our country's infrastructure means job creation, and it's a role for the federal government.
Dale: Although it is almost never discussed, the 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp but restricting it so it cannot be generally cultivated legally. Even in states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana cultivating low THC, commercial hemp is more restricted. To allow hemp's general cultivation would allow small producers nationwide to produce raw material for three major industries now dominated by highly capitalized, wealthy commodity crop farmers and giant timber concerns, those industries are: cotton for textiles, corn for ethanol and timber for pulp. ... Legalizing commercial hemp for general cultivation would create tens of thousands of new income opportunities and would democratize the farm sector and take tons of carcinogens out of the environment.
Question: What do you see as the single biggest area of waste in the federal budget?
Duffy: From the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense — we can find savings in federal budgets. Our nation is approaching $18 trillion of debt — up $7 trillion since President Obama took office. Unless we change this path, this burden will be left to our children and grandchildren. As a member of the House Budget Committee, I was proud to support the Ryan-Murray bipartisan budget agreement, which cuts $85 billion in wasteful spending. But we can do more. House Republicans have year after year passed budgets that actually balance and offer real reforms, while the President and Senate Democrats block these efforts and continue to offer the same failed tax-and-spend policies. Wisconsin families and businesses cut wasteful spending and balance their budgets — and they have every right to expect their government to do the same.
Westlund: A budget should be a reflection of our values and priorities. Washington is more concerned with giving tax breaks and subsidies to big industries that keep their campaign coffers full than meeting the needs of the American people. If corporations were paying their fair share in wages and benefits for employees, not just taxes, taxpayers wouldn't have to subsidize their cost of doing business and those funds could be reallocated to our infrastructure, health care, and education systems.
Dale: Clearly the biggest waste is the billions of dollars in tax subsidies paid to Big Oil corporations and other multi-billion dollar corporations and wealthy "1 percent" who make billions in after tax profits and still get tax write-offs at the expense of the American tax-payer. For example, big oil corporations who reportedly receive $4 billion per year in taxpayer subsidies faced no cut but had its subsidy been cut and projected down the road by 10 years (as was done against the Food Stamp program), oil subsidy cuts would have saved the federal budget $40 billion. Instead, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District and the other corporate proxy legislators in the House and Senate voted to cut nearly $20 billion from the Food Stamp program for the poor, unemployed , elderly and disabled.
Question: Everyone says they pay too much in taxes. Aside from lowering taxes, what changes would you make to the federal tax code to improve its efficiency and fairness?
Duffy: I would reduce the number of income brackets, making the tax code simpler and fairer. ... I support closing loopholes and ending deductions that should never have been part of our tax code — like allowing Hollywood to deduct up to $15 million for the cost of a movie production, or other crony capitalist corporations whose cozy relationships with government give them unfair advantages. Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp's tax reform proposal raises the standard deduction to a place where he estimates 95 percent of Americans will no longer itemize. Under this proposal, their deduction will now be high enough ($11,000 for singles, $22,000 for couples) that families will no longer see the benefit of keeping track of every receipt throughout the year.
Westlund: While everyone loves a tax break, it's time to review and reform our tax code. As far as the federal budget is concerned, tax breaks are the same as spending — both result in less money in the U.S. Treasury. The difference is that while spending is reviewed annually, tax breaks are not. This gives people and corporations ample opportunity to identify tax loopholes and claim exemptions that reduce their tax liability. At the very least, we ought to review the tax code on a more consistent basis and close tax loopholes that are being exploited, starting with the capital gains tax.
Dale: Wealthy corporations and individuals must be self-reliant and that means that if they're investing in moving U.S. production off shore then they should not be getting any tax-write offs whatsoever. As it stands, companies like Wall-Mart and Bain Capital are rewarded when they use their "free market" techniques to induce U.S. producers to relocate their manufacturing to a third world police state or narco state. They are rewarded by being able to write-off their foreign business expenses which include taxes they pay to the brutal dictatorship of China and other police state nations.
Question: Under what circumstances would you support military intervention in another country?
Duffy: When it has been established that there is a serious threat to American interests. In these cases, the President needs to come to Congress and present a comprehensive plan to respond to the threat and win. At the same time, we must make sure that our military men and women have all the protection and funding they need to be successful on the battlefield and be taken care of when they return home.
Westlund: I grew up in a military family and believe we should not send our troops into harm's way until we have exhausted all diplomatic avenues. We should never put troops on the ground without an extremely good reason, a clear mission based on reliable intelligence, an exit strategy, and adequate resources to ensure the safety of our service men and women. If we keep in mind the problems we're dealing with as a result of two wars on the credit card, then we must also ensure that we allocate sufficient resources to keep our promises to our veterans when they come home. Bottom line: if we can afford to send our troops to war, we can afford to take care of them when they return.
Dale: Afghanistan is a good example of when I would support a military intervention, i.e., where a foreign power harbors terrorist forces allowing it to train for attacks against the U.S. or otherwise allow their country to be used as a staging area to attack the U.S.— then I would support military intervention were such a scenario to surface.
Question: There's general agreement that the U.S. needs some sort of immigration reform. What changes would you make to fix the system?
Duffy: First, secure the border. Next, with the border secure, we can begin to deal with those who are already living here illegally by providing them a "legal status" to work in the U.S (this status does not include the rights to vote or draw from the American safety net programs). This "status" is not a special or speedy pathway to citizenship. Everyone is welcome to apply for citizenship through the normal immigration channels. We owe it to those who are doing it in a lawful way to enforce these rules. Third, we need to modernize visa and guest worker programs so we can do a better job of tracking visa overstays, while remaining responsive to the demands of our economy and industries that need more talent and labor from abroad.
Westlund: In addition to ensuring the security of our borders, we must provide options for the millions of undocumented individuals who are already living in the United States. The issues surrounding immigration are diverse and complex, requiring comprehensive reform based on good information. Ultimately, reform must secure our borders, resolve the permanent status of undocumented immigrants depending on their specific situations, and integrate all people living on American soil into the legal framework to protect their individual rights and the integrity of our justice system.
Dale: We must stop subsidizing wealthy U.S. commodity crop growers who are accustomed to dumping their subsidized corn, for example, onto the Mexican market thereby destroying the livelihoods of millions of Mexican subsistence level wage earners.
Question: What changes would you make to Social Security to ensure the program's longevity?
Duffy: I vehemently oppose any proposals that seek to cut Social Security benefits for those in or near retirement. However, I do believe we can modify the program for younger, wealthy, Americans — like 30-year-old billionaire and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example. As they do not need to rely on those funds, they will get a smaller return on their investment, leaving more opportunity to shore up the system for those truly in need.
Westlund: I support "scrapping the cap" on Social Security. If everyone paid the same tax rate, Social Security would be solvent for the next 75 years. Social Security is an earned benefit a promise, not a privilege and it's the most effective program we have for keeping our seniors out of poverty. We need to make sure everyone pays their fair share so that Social Security will be protected and strengthened for future generations.
Dale: The problem with Social Security can be fixed by improving the jobs and business growth climate in the U.S. by strategies mentioned above. The more people who work and contribute to the Social Security system, the healthier it becomes. The corporate globalization strategy of exporting manufacturing abroad is the problem; the failure to use hemp to democratize the U.S. farm sector is the problem; the failure to process and direct market meat products and other small farm raised food products grown locally is the problem. The fact is, investor owned corporations have outlived their usefulness and are rapidly becoming a full blown bane on our civil society as it creates more and more threats to our nation's security abroad.
Question: Barring repeal, what single change would you make to the health care overhaul law to improve care for Americans?
Duffy: We cannot proceed with an overhaul without first repealing Obamacare. Once that is addressed, we should consider a full reform package such as the bill I introduced. Among its reforms, it would allow for individuals to purchase health insurance plans across state lines — this alone would provide more choices for constituents in my district who only have one plan option currently through Obamacare. My bill also would allow Medicare patients to compare costs to ensure they are receiving the quality care they deserve, and it enacts liability reform which would bring down the costs of healthcare.
Westlund: I would include a public option by allowing people to buy into Medicare. In this country, we have the means to ensure that no person should ever be denied treatment because they can't afford it. What we need in Congress is the political will to make universal healthcare a reality. Reform should also include mechanisms to lower the actual cost of healthcare, including the ability to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and incentivize more cost effectiveness of services.
Dale: The fact is America has top shelf health care capability. The problem stems from excessive demand on the health care providers and this demand is engendered by too many people becoming sick, or being born sick due to environmental factors. We know, for example, that atrazine a massively used U.S. herbicide and number one contaminant found in U.S. tap water, is banned from use in the European Union countries because of the multitude of diseases it causes such as ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, infertility, prostate cancer, chromosomal damage to wildlife. Yet in the U.S., it is deemed by our EPA as safe. ... Heart disease kills over 600,000 Americans every year and we know the early indicators of this disease such as obesity, diabetes are diet-related.
Question: The states have a patchwork of laws when it comes to marijuana. Should Congress create uniformity by legalizing medical or recreational marijuana?
Duffy: With regards to medical marijuana, we should leave it up to the states to decide what is appropriate for their communities.
Westlund: As states develop their own policies regarding marijuana, we have opportunities to see what works and what doesn't. The federal government should leave enforcement up to the states until we have a more comprehensive understanding of the impacts of marijuana policy on tax revenues and the economy, medicinal use, and the criminal justice system. A federal regulatory framework should be based on good data, while leaving some flexibility for innovation up to the states.
Dale: Yes. And legalize the general cultivation of hemp.