April 24, 2011 -- Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, joins Kristin Carlson and Anson Tebbetts to discuss the budget, health care and more.
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>> Good morning and welcome in everyone our news make they are morning is congressman peter Welch. Thanks for being here.
>> Good to be here.
>> Good morning. A lot of discussion about the budget in Washington. The congress and the president came together on a budget deal. Been some discussion what it all means to Vermont up here. The legislature got a briefing earlier this week about some. Needed impacts and like there will be some cuts to programs, $4 million on the state side and a lot on transportation. Threats' been talk the high-speed rail. That could impact Vermont' as tempt goat a high-speed rail project going here.
>> It certainly doesn't help. You know this, with is one of the frustrations senator Leahy said, the second-ranking member of the senate and 3 people made this agreement. That concluded 40 billion dollars in cuts and even as the second-ranking member of the senate, he didn't learn about it until two days after it was done. And that was the same as the rest of us. So to find out that some of the major cuts that will impact Vermont are actually in transportation, including high-speed rail, but our olds and bridges, that is pretty alarming bus yes we have a budget problem and we have got to get to balance. But the spending that people support is on the infrastructure and we know that we have to maintain a good highway system. We have to repair our roads, maintain our bridges. And we want to deploy broad band and an enormous benefit to Vermont if we can get a user higher speed transportation network that will bring tourist and freight in and out. That's a tough cut for us.
>> Some might argue, though you have to go where the money is. And transportation is a place where you can make some savings and of considers we can get late neern human services and so forth but with the transportation and that money was unspent. Might have been allocated but it was out there and had to capture all they could get that wasn't spent.
>> That's the heart of the debate. Where is the money and the big debate in Washington is the ryan budget and ryan approach even on the cuts, is to say the money is in health carol and discretionary spending and those are the things that tend to be helpful to communities. But what they won't do is go to wore some other money is. Like the pentagon. Or like tax breaks. You know the oil companies that are selling $110 a barrel oil, they are getting $55 billion in tax breaks so there is money there. Ethanol, that's a $6 billion a year tux subsidy so there is a lot of places that we should go to get money that we do need. Either to offset cuts so we can maintain our roads and bridges or very importantly, to bring our budget into balance.
>> standard and poors said I'm sure as you are tracking this may down grade the U.S.'s debt outlook and this is something that could be concerning that will cost us all in the -- all down the road with borrowing. At what point, some people say we need to get our house in order. You identified a few areas but we are -- where else are you willing to cut?
>> My view is we have to put everything on the table. We have to put everything on the table. And that is where we are in disagreement with Mr. Ryan and the republican approach. What they believe is two things: one if you have tax cuts, particularly at the high end that, will create growth. That's been really not proven. Secondly, they want to cut Medicare in half, not reform it but literally cut in it half so that is going to have a big impact on the state's big impact on seniors. What i say is that we have got to look at programs, the democrats have traditionally supported and that is everything. And the discretionary budget.
>> Such as?
>> Well, farm subsidies, you know and the big 5 crops, even worker training programs, which i support. Hi a hearing here in Vermont about work force training but there is a lot of cooperation -- duplication there so in programs in Medicare which I'm a strong supporter of, does have to be reformed. There is savings that we could have if we are more care. And got rid of waste, fraud and abuse, if we did some things that Vermont is trying to do and move towards the blueprint for health where you have -- you pay on the basis of outcomes, not fee for service. So even democratic programs have to be part of it. But, you have to include the pentagon, you have to include a lot of the tax expenditures like for ethanol and the oil companies. And you have to also consider revenues. You know, these tax cuts at the high end, the evidence is in that the wealthiest Americans are paying lower taxes since the Hoover days. So everything should be on the table. If we put everything on the table we can go back to what happened in the Clinton years, where when he was handing the keys to the oval office to Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush was looking at a 5.6 trillion dollar surplus.
>> What about people who say there was an election, republicans won the house so clearly voters in America believe in the ideals so they have a say. You keep saying they are taking this approach which is a bad approach but --
>> we d and i thing the American people did say they want to us focus on spending and get our fiscal house in order but my view, unless the two sides work together, we are not going to be successful. And that is actually the biggest threat. You know in Vermont, like when we were doing health care, i was the senate president, he was emphasizing we have got to contain costs. The democrats were fa sizing we got to expand act sells. Governor Douglas and i understand something, we were both right. We couldn't have access without controlling cost. One. Reasons i have been having some dinners at my house with republicans in congress is to try to sit downed and say look we want to get there. We have to have -- we can't be borrowing 60 cents on every dollar. But if we are going to get there, how will we accomplish it if we exclude major spending areas like the pentagon and tax expenditures and just to show you what a problem it is, in the Ryan budget that cuts 4 trillion dollars over the next 10 years e actually increases the deficit by 8 2ri8 beyond dollars. It would go from 14.3 trill job which it is now, way too high, but under the Ryan budget, even after all his cutting, it goes to about 23 trillion. Why? Because he adds significant tax deductions or reductions for high income Americans.
>> You say everything is on the table. Social security on the table?
>> Well, social security is separate. It has to be reformed and made solvent for all generations. But it is separate in the sense that it is a self-funded program. And one of the things we don't want to do is make social security the piggy bank for general fund spending. That's not right. And in fact, i think the social security fund should be entirely separate. The general fund is borrowed about 5 trillion dollars from social security and that is the problem that has created not by social security but by excess spend being in the general fund. On the question of social security, my view, is that every generation has an obligation to look at that and make whatever adjustments are required to guarantee a solvency. President Reagan, republican and speaker O'Neil liberal democrats sat down, worked out adjustments and made it solvent for another who 40 years. We may be at the point where we have to do the same thing but on its own terms, not as a way basically to burden it with the -- with the deficits we have in the general fund.
>> outside looking in, is there a real -- a real effort now to get the debt and the budget under control, would the dynamic now of the democrats controlling the senate, democratic president and now the republicans in the house, all through this discussion do you think there is a real effort on both sides to actually come to terms on all of this?
>> well, not quite. And that's the dilemma. The election you mentioned, really sent a loud and clear signal that the American people are concerned about fiscal stability. We do have to get our budget under control. Democrats, president Obama heard that message. What we don't have is a working relationship about how to get from here there to there. And the one thing that I'm finding to be problematic is that instead coughing it the Vermont way where basically you sit down and you have some respect for the fact that the people you disagree with probably have something right to say, but they have to do the same with you, we are not there yet in Washington. So what I'm seeing in the house side, is -- and I'm willing to consider some of these other aerials of the budget. Like the pentagon, like the tax expenditures. And like rev news, that obviously are tools that would help us get to fiscal stability. There tends on that side to be too much of an emphasis on what they think is the magic tax cuts. Now, i think legitimate criticism can be focus on some democrats for just hanging on by their fingernails to every programs that ever been created an obviously we have to have the self discipline and the willingness to compromise on some of those programs.
>> Programs that will in fact impact Vermont, then q
>> Well, some but see there is room. It is like work force training and met with many employers and their big strong supporters of it. What they said is that the training that works best are programs that are administered locally where the state has a lot more involvement and where the local employer who has got skin in the game because if they will invest even if it is just time, not money into training someone they hope will be a long-time employee. That works better. The federal level, we have a lot of duplication in programs. People have what they think ace good idea i they don't work i don't think we should continue doing them even from a democratic perspective these are programs we started. So we've got to be fully willing to look at everything on both sides. That's my view. And, the big challenge we have is political. Political in the sense that there are too many in Washington who see the challenge on the budget, as an ideological battle to be won rather than a practical problem that all of us have to some of. -- solve.
>> You talk about the pentagon. I mean we are in Afghanistan, still have a presence in Iraq, we are now in Libya. Is it realistic to think that anyone is going to step forward and say we are going to cut spending at the pentagon?
>> Not unless we ask some fundamental questions i mean, really should we continue a nation-building strategy in Afghanistan? If your answer is yes, that we should continue to do that, we will be going into our 11th year, then you have to spend the money to do that. I happen to think nation building is a flawed strategy and we shouldn't be doing it, which would indicate if we agreed with me, then we would be able to reduce very substantially that spending. Should we have as large a military presence in Western Europe? I mean, Western Europe is obviously doing well economically relative to after the Second World War. And should the United States, taxpayer, be required to foot such a large expend tir in western usually if the answer is no we can reduce it there. That's a responsible way you can cut spending rather than nickel and dimeing here and there. You have to ask basic for structure quells but Afghanistan is a major problem and expend tir.
>> Why do you think the president has continued the policy which was president bush's basic policy, why did he continue on with the same strategy apparently?
>> my guess is that basically he felt that he was withdrawing from Iraq and he had to deal slowly with Afghanistan and frankly disagree with him on his decision i think that adding troops, doing a surge in Afghanistan was the wrong way to do go. The Afghanistan is absolutely corrupt. It is a few tile society just about but the government is not reliable partner and we are asking our military men and women to go over there and do nation building. That's not the job of our military. That's the job of the local officials. In the -- and the corruption is unbelievable. The amount of money that the karzai cabinet officials take out that of country, they were using forklifts to load pallets of cash that was shrink wrapped on skids and flown out to Dubai. It was millions and millions and millions of dollars. That's our money but aside from the money, you ask yourself the question, is this a strategy, this is a reliable partner that we can stay engaged with and my strong view is that we have got to reexamine that.
>> So what would be your solution?
>> I actually agree with the Biden approach. We don't have al-qaida there. There, 25, 50 members of al-qaida and rather than nation building we should have a tactical force that is able to strike and take appropriate military action against an identifiable target that's a threat to the united states. But the idea that we are building roads and bridges and schools and hospitals and everything else that tends to be a funnel for -- through diverting money, i think is the wrong strategy and that's the one we are on. So i think that the vice president, at least from news reports that he wants some more surge i cal approach is the right way to
>> A lot of what you mentioned is what the Vermont National Guard troops spent time doing. Do you think overall that will turn out to be a waste of time?
>> well, you know, we have always got to make the distinction and pay respect to the soldiers who report for duty and do what -- ordered to do by the commander in chief. The burden on those who are in policy making positions is to make certain that the assign that the we give our soldiers is worthy of their sacrifice. I have been in Afghanistan 3 times and i spoke with many military commanders who praised the work of the Vermont National Guard. Both the civilian frur work they did and their battle work. I mean a lot of our soldiers were on the front lines and as you know we have lost a number of soldiers. Our sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan on a per cap day basis exceeds any other state in the country. And i always believe with -- from the bottom of my heart that any American who is willing to put on the uniform and accept the orders of the commander in chief is performing a great service for democracy.
>> are you surprised that there hasn't -- that the antiwar movement is not very active on a national level and even in Vermont you see just pockets of this. What changed in the last -- i mean we had a new president. Is that the reason that it is not there anymore or people just gave up?
>> I think it is two things. I think that it may be a new president. The president Obama promised that he would bring troops home from Iraq. The American people i think vote ford him and that was a major reason and he has followed through on that. They are still coming home. Not as fast as some of us would like but he has fallen there. Whether he is getting a pass from the supporters Afghanistan, i don't know. I think another reason is that a, there is not a draft. And there is not a tax. You know, in the past, when we went to war, any young man or woman might be subject to being drafted. And that just brought the war home to families across the country. We have a volunteer force. They are terrific. The folks who go into the military are motivated. They do a great job for us. But it means that the rest of us who are not affected don't really understand fully what is being asked of us. Secondly, this is the first time in the history of our country, Iraq and Afghanistan, where we had a major war at a major expense where we cut taxes rather than raised taxes. So even taxpayers don't feel the impact of the cost of this war. So i think both of those things contribute to it. And, people are really struggling with this down economy. And you know, Vermont families and American families are doing all they can to pay their business itch they -- if they have a job. They are fighting hard to hang on it. If they are out of work they are look working dress partly to find it.
>> We will take a break. Stay with us.
>> welcome back. Thanks for being here congressman Welch thanks for being here as well. Just this week you talked about ending ethanol subsidies. This is something that i guess you had a personal experience with. A -- You are hearing from a lot of Vermonters about it. If that's a bad subsidy for corn farmers what about the dairy farmer's q
>> tess a fair question. Every single program we have whether it is a spending program or tax subsidy program, a fair question. Does it working is it worth it. Let me just talk first about ethanol. Ethanol is a 6 billion dollar taxpayer subsidy. Every gallon gets 45 cents from the taxpayer's subsidy. It also has a 54 cent tariff barrier and the third thing it has is a mandate that you use ethanol. So when you go to fill up your gas tank you don't get a choice of whether you want to get the ethanol blend or the non-ethanol blend. You've got to get it. It is ordered in there. So that's very unusual. And then you add to it, that this ethanol is not energy efficient and that was the original justification for this industry sudden city and tariff protection, it wrecks engines and i am pretty -- i found a mechanic, a great guy, was able to fix it so my chain saw was back in action but it was really annoying and i talked to these -- these -- the marina owners and they told me families that were all excited, dad is excited and kids are excited and they get out and try to start the engine and it won't go and the cost of repair is 400 to 4 thousand dollars. So everything about the ethanol subsidy just doesn't work economically or for engine repair. The dairy subsidy is a lot smaller. It is only triggered when there is a collapse in price. When there is a collapse in price it is usually completely beyond the control of anything that the farmer can do. It might be really bad weather, super high grain prices, which incidentally are a function of ethanol subsidies. And, if you want to buy milk or not buy milk the government is not making you do it so rue legally ultimately as a consumer have the choice as to whether you want to buy the product. So i think that what we do in dairy, it is a lot less but has a much more higher justification.
>> So be realistic, though. What are the chances of passing? Everyone who is running for president has to go through Iowa and i have yet to hear them call for an end to subsidy.
>> That's the problem. And I'm not sure where governor dean was on that when he was in Iowa. That is the major problem, because Congressman Sullivan, a republican from Oklahoma, has been lead being the charge on this. It is bipartisan and we got like a 2 to 1 vote
>> miss being a middle swath of the country a little bit there. From so in Iowa senator grassly and every four years, you have a republican and democratic presidential candidates and when they get off the plane for the first op in Iowa the question do is you support ethanol subsidies and so far every one of them does and that does set back us from being able to do something and make some enormous amount. Sense, get rid of the 6 billion dollar taxpayer subsidy and environmentally questionable product.
>> You went to Washington and you had the majority and now the republicans have majority. How is it different down there? How is your role as a congressman changed and how has the -- sort of the -- how we govern changed? Go well there are two things. Number one my job to continues to do everything i can to advocate for Vermont whether I'm in the majority or minority n congress when you are in majority it really makes a difference about you being able to put your agenda front and center. So, our agenda in the last two years was health care. And it was energy. And energy alternative energy, energy efficiency and ace member of the energy and commerce city -- committee played a very active role in both of knows. In the minority the republicans have their agenda. I'm trying to do two things. One is, when i can work with them and it is why i have invited republicans to my apartment to join us in dinner. We had 5 very conservative republicans. Very nice people. 5 democrats. We are trying to find out what's common ground worry we can move ahead and vekdly -- secondly i tried to identify areas where i can still push ahead on legislation. Like energy efficiency, a lot of the republicans don't believe in the science of global warming but they believe in saving money and energy efficiency can appeal to them so I'm pushing that still. And just keep at it and i think we can make some progress. That's my hope.
>> Some questions about whether or not Senator Leahy will run for re-election. If he doesn't are you interested in being Senator Welch.
>> Senator Leahy is the second ranking member in the senate. He is in my view the most distinguished politician we have had and we need Senator Leahy to have nine lives. I'm telling you, he does more for Vermont than anybody and nobody could replace him. So my hope is that senator Leahy will run for re-election and that's what I've told him.
>> And what has he told you?
>> he cips it we quiet. He will let you know first
>> I don't think. So i hope so if you are watching senator.
>> With president Obama, a poll about his approval ratings and now seem to be -- they have gone back down again. Are you surprised how low his approval ratings are?
>> I am a bit. It is polarized politics in this country. And that is dangerous. My honest view is that the biggest challenge we face in this country is finding a way to work together and just make ro progress and there is -- there is sometimes in politics, and again this is both sides. But there is sometimes in politics people who think every time we have a debate, you have to win it. And that the -- and it is about getting an ideal logically right. When i think in politics as in life the betaire proach is to try to get it as close to right as you can, have an openness to correcting what you got wrong, and having the humility to listen to the other side. And having a real desire to work together because you know, winning isn't everything in politics. If you win the vote. But the other side feels that they have been subordinated. They haven't had a fair hearing. They will fight you every step of the way on implementation. On the other hand, if you win a debate but given the other side a fair chance it may work with you to try to give it a shot. And i know, I've been on winning and losing sides and when i have felt, i have had my fair shot and i have lost, then I've been cooperative to see -- to try see all right they won let's see if it works. If i felt totally out of the process you keep protesting and that's our biggest challenge.
>> A big fight with Entergy. Attorney general has admitted this able tough battle. By no means a slam dunk. Project being it going all the way to the U.S. Supreme court. What's your sense on this battle? Does the state have a chance?
>> well, the big issue is that Entergy is now suing in federal court to get out of a deal -- an agreement they made and you know my view, your word is your word. You make an agreement you keep an agreement. I was in the state senate when Entergy approved the general assembly and asked us woo would we give them permission to store nuclear waste in dry cask and that's a safir way to store it but they wanted to do it and they were going to do this in connection with generate morgue power and making a lot more money. And the general assembly said hey we will work with you. You know you contribute to the clean energy fund. And do you agree that when the question of whether this license will be renewed, the general assembly will have the right on behalf of Vermonters to give a vote yes or no. And Entergy agreed to that. They benefited. And they made an agreement in exchange for getting the benefit they sought
>> do you think that's a strong enough legal battle that they may win?
>>> The judges will decide that. But from my view you make an agreement you keep an agreement you shouldn't have to go to court. That's what fair-minded people do. They make a deal and they keep it. And it is pretty questionable to me whether Entergy has corporate amnesia here about the deal they made and the benefit they received, courtesy of the Vermont general assembly and we will see.
>> The federal regulators have said hey this place should run another 20 years. What's your experience with dealing with the regulate orals in Washington, of how they -- you know --
>> Yeah. My -- it is questionable. There is a lot of reservations here. You know, Entergy was an example. An age being reactor the same react or of course that is in meltdown status in Japan. So obviously anyone and everyone will have some concerns about the safety of these reactors. But senate were to sanders and senator Leahy and i have met a couple of times with the head of the nrc to advocate in the strongest possible terms that they do every single thing they can for the most complete safety examination possible. And that's the role that we can play. Whether we will get it, time will tell. But it is absolutely essential to the peace of mind of Vermonters that whatever the future that of reactor is, as long as it is react being at all -- reacting at all there is a guarantee that it is safe.
>> The Supreme Court ultimately probably will decide this. Just a few seconds left. Do you think they will be sympathetic to states' rights or will let the federal powers die side this?
>> Well, the way i see it, this is outside of just the state rights and the preepgs issue. Federal government has most authority over nuclear reoctober office it is about whether two parties that make ab agreement, the state and Entergy should stick by the agreement they made.
>> We will have to see. Congressman peter Welch thanks so much for joining us. You can always reach him at his office in Montpelier or his staff in D.C. Thanks for joining us everyone. Have a great Sunday. So long.