U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, faces Republican Tony Kurtz, an Army veteran who now farms in Prairie du Chien, 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?
Kurtz: Congress has earned its 13 percent approval rating. Career politicians like Ron Kind have focused on re-election more than sound policy, and the result has been a dysfunctional body that doesn't accomplish anything but finding new ways to kick the can down the road. When elected, I will work aggressively to implement term limits. Curtailing the trend toward career politicians would create a Congress much more eager to make good policy, and less focused on political grandstanding.
Kind: I am committed to reaching across the aisle to find common ground wherever possible. A willingness to work with members of the other party is what will help us overcome the current partisan divide and I have track record of doing that. For example, I've authored legislation with Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to improve access to Medicare data for our providers in Wisconsin so they can learn what works and what doesn't and use that information to improve patient care. I also wrote a farm reform bill with Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., that protects family farmers while eliminating waste in our crop insurance system that currently provides huge windfalls for big agribusiness.
Question: Describe one area in which you differ from your party leadership.
Kurtz: My commitment to getting things done is the greatest area of difference between me and the career politicians in either party. For too long, our elected officials have put off making hard decisions on issues like deficit reduction and entitlement reform. Meanwhile, the problems only get worse. Like Ronald Reagan, we should not simply stand against liberal ideas, we also need to propose real conservative solutions to today's problems.
Kind: Too many people in both parties, including many in leadership in my own party, have been unwilling to address our long-term debt and deficit problems. We need a balanced solution that includes increased revenues and real spending cuts to ensure that we don't pass down a legacy of debt to our children and grandchildren. I've proposed concrete ideas that start us on the right path, including cutting defense spending for weapons systems that are over budget and that the Pentagon often doesn't even want, eliminating wasteful farm subsidies for big agribusiness and reducing health care spending by further reforming the way we pay for health care so that it's based on the quality of care provided and not the volume of care delivered.
Question: What role should the federal government take in creating jobs and stimulating the economy?
Kurtz: Congress needs to re-exert itself as an equal branch of government. For too long, congressmen like Ron Kind have passed bills to be executed by federal agencies with ill-defined parameters. This leaves agencies like the EPA to broadly define their mandates, and to become more of a burden on small businesses and farms. Shrinking the regulatory burden can go a long way toward encouraging entrepreneurial activities, and building confidence with those that invest in or start new businesses.
Kind: The federal government plays an important role by supporting the private sector through funding long-term investments like infrastructure, education and basic research. Those investments create a foundation that helps American workers and business do what they do best — out innovate the rest of the world so we can continue to build and grow the best goods, products and services anywhere. A fair minimum wage and support for critical safety net programs like unemployment insurance, food assistance and Medicaid are also particularly important during difficult economic times because families spend that money immediately which maintains the consumer spending that drives the economy.
Question: What do you see as the single biggest area of waste in the federal budget?
Kurtz: The process itself creates a built in disincentive to save money. If agencies don't rush to spend their budget, they have money taken away. We need to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP) when creating the federal budget. Also, redundant programs or agencies need to be eliminated, such as the General Services Administration.
Kind: Congress regularly spends billions of dollars on weapons systems that are over budget and behind schedule or for things that the Pentagon says that it doesn't even need. That's unacceptable at a time when education, infrastructure and basic research funding are facing cuts. I authored legislation to cut some of that wasteful military spending and voted for other sensible spending cuts to eliminate unnecessary weapons systems while still making sure our troops have what they need.
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?
Kurtz: Congress needs to look into adopting a tax code that doesn't pick winners and losers. Our current tax code is too long and too complicated. The middle class continues to get squeezed, yet large corporations like GE find ways to avoid taxation altogether. We need to explore switching to a flat or fair tax. Either of these options would simplify the code and ensure that all segments of society have a stake in keeping our taxes fair and low.
Kind: Comprehensive tax reform that eliminates special interest provisions is long overdue. As a member the House tax writing committee, I have been advocating for the elimination of special interest tax credits that too often benefit only a few individuals or companies and leave the rest of America paying the bill. By eliminating those tax loopholes, we can simplify the tax code and lower rates while still making sure we have enough revenue to make important long-term investments to remain competitive in the 21st century economy.
Question: Under what circumstances would you support military intervention in another country?
Kurtz: I support military intervention when it is needed to protect the physical or strategic security of the United States.
Kind: I am deeply skeptical of putting combats troops on the ground in any new conflicts overseas. Other military interventions should only be considered when we have clear strategic interests, clear objectives and achievable goals. When we have important national security interests at stake, it is critical to seek international engagement and support so that the United States doesn't bear the full cost alone.
Question: There's general agreement that the U.S. needs some sort of immigration reform. What changes would you make to fix the system?
Kurtz: I flew drug interdiction missions on the U.S/Mexican border, and I know all too well that our border is not secure. To ensure the continued security of the United States, we must secure the border now. That must come before any further discussion of immigration reform.
Kind: I support comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, helps our farmers and businesses meet their labor needs, and fairly addresses the millions of undocumented individuals in the shadows.
Question: What changes would you make to Social Security to ensure the program's longevity?
Kurtz: I think Congressman Ryan's plan is a good place to start a discussion on Social Security reform. To ensure that the program remains stable for future generations, we need to make some adjustments in how the program is administered. Increasing the retirement age for those not near retirement, introducing voluntary privatization for younger workers, and putting a stop to raiding the Social Security Fund are all ideas that must be on the table. The worst thing we can do is follow the lead of Ron Kind and continue to do nothing.
Kind: Congress should protect the poorest and most vulnerable Americans as it considers any Social Security reforms. Social Security is one of America's most important anti-poverty programs. I support the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission that looks at all options that can ensure Social Security is there for future generations.
Question: Barring repeal, what single change would you make to the health care overhaul law to improve care for Americans?
Kurtz: I reject the premise of this question. I am campaigning on a platform to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a series of free-market reforms. I intend to keep my promise. The best place to start is by repealing the mandates on both individuals and businesses. At that point, we need to allow health care consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines, and we must pursue tort reform.
Kind: Health care reform took critical steps to put Americans back in charge of their own health care, but no bill is perfect. I've voted for a number of changes to make it work better for consumers and businesses. The biggest thing we can do to improve care though is to build on the law's reforms that change the way we pay for health care so that it's based on the value and quality of care provided instead of just the number of tests and procedures ordered. We've already seen results from those reforms included in Obamacare. For example, health care reform cuts payments for hospitals with high patient readmission rates which has led hospitals to change their procedures to improve care and lower health care costs.
Question: The states have a patchwork of laws when it comes to marijuana. Should Congress create uniformity by legalizing medical or recreational marijuana?
Kurtz: This is an area where the federal government should proceed cautiously. As a member of Congress, I would continue to watch how experiments in states like Washington and Colorado proceed before deciding definitively whether to pursue an effort to decriminalize or legalize.
Kind: I support legalizing medical marijuana but oppose the full legalization of recreational marijuana. As a former prosecutor, I've seen the negative impact that drug and alcohol addiction can have on individuals, families and communities. Colorado and Washington State have taken the lead to decriminalize marijuana. We should watch those experiments closely before deciding to legalize recreational marijuana nationally.