Republican Kurt Bills is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (DFL) this fall. Included below are their answers to questions posed by the Minnesota Newspaper Association on a range of issues. Also competing in the race but not featured here is Stephen Williams (Independent).
1. Top priority: If elected, what is your top priority for the 2013 Legislature? Why are you running for office?
Bills: Pass a balanced budget. The US government hasn’t passed a budget at all since April 29, 2009. I am a high school economics teacher. For the past decade and a half I have been teaching economics to my students at Rosemount High School. A few years ago, I started noticing how anxious they were as they watched our national debt climb and the American economy stall. One day, a student asked me “what can we do about this?”
That is the day I decided I had to run for office. I got elected to the Rosemount City Council, then the Minnesota House of Representatives. And today I am running for US Senate because I believe that Washington DC is crushing the middle class.
Klobuchar: My work as senator has been defined by one value—putting Minnesota first. We need an economy that is built to last and that creates economic opportunity for all Americans. I have been working to advance a competitive agenda for America that promotes long-term economic growth and private sector jobs, including revitalizing America’s innovative edge, educating the next generation of American innovators, opening up new markets abroad for U.S. producers, cutting through regulatory red tape, developing homegrown energy, and reducing our nation’s debt in a balanced way. I will continue to work with Minnesota businesses, workers, and farmers to ensure they have the support they need to succeed.
2. Foreign affairs: Do you support the current schedule for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan? Should Congress and the president pursue additional trade pacts? If so, with whom?
Bills: The wars have gone on too long and cost us too much in lives and treasure. We need to focus on problems here at home, not spending trillions of dollars on endless wars overseas. We need to get our economy moving and create jobs, and one of the best ways to do that is to expand trade with the rest of the world. Minnesota is one of the great exporters to the world, and we need to double and triple those exports. Instead of exporting jobs to low wage countries like China, we need to negotiate free trade agreements so we can export our products overseas.
Klobuchar: I support withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2014. That’s why I joined with 26 other senators in writing a letter to President Obama seeking a reduction of military forces in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Our troops have demonstrated tremendous courage to get us to this point. We can’t afford to continue with an open-ended conflict.
As chair of the Subcommittee on Competition, Innovation, and Export Promotion, I have been a leader in the Senate in promoting legislation and policies to open up new markets abroad for U.S. products. That’s why I’ve supported policies to help open up overseas markets to our agriculture exporters, including pushing China to reopen its markets to U.S. pork after the H1N1 scare and urging Japan to accept all U.S. beef products. And last year, the Senate passed trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, and I supported the agreements with South Korea and Panama. We should pursue additional trade agreements while making sure they benefit Minnesota and treat our workers and businesses fairly. I’ll also continue working on legislation to open new markets for our businesses so they can reach new customers. Bipartisan legislation I authored, the Export Promotion Act, was signed into law last year and will help small and medium-sized businesses connect with export promotion resources and I’m working to pass legislation to open Cuba’s market to our agricultural products so we can help our farmers and ranchers reach 11 million new customers.
3. Health care: Federal health care reform has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the law stand in its current form, or should it be changed? If you support changes, be specific.
Bills: The Supreme Court said Obamacare was legal, not that it was a good idea. I support a full repeal of the law and replacing it with measure that actually increase competition, lowers costs (not increase them as Obamacare has done), and expand coverage to people who can’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions. Obamacare was exactly the wrong approach, and I will fight to repeal it. Health care is too important an issue to leave it to bureaucrats.
Klobuchar: I supported the Affordable Care Act that includes important reforms to our health-care system, such as closing the “donut hole” for seniors’ prescription drugs, allowing young people to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26, and ensuring that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to health insurance. But I have always said that this law is a beginning, not an end, and I believe that improvements still need to be made. Moving forward, we can continue to work on eliminating waste and fraud, as well as focus on more reforms to our health-care-delivery system so that we are rewarding high quality, efficient care. In addition, we should repeal the medical device tax. I opposed this tax from the beginning and during the health-reform debate fought to reduce the original proposed tax by half. I understand the impact this new tax would have on small and large medical device companies in Minnesota and that’s why I’m working to repeal it. We also need to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices on behalf of seniors. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, as the Veterans Administration does, would save $240 billion over the next 10 years and help lower the cost of drugs for our nation’s seniors.
4. Education: What role should the federal government play in ensuring that U.S. graduates can compete in the global economy?
Bills: I have been a high school economics teacher for 18 years and still teach my first hour economics class every morning. In my classroom I have seen the cost of federal mandates, but not the supposed benefits the politicians keep claiming. I walk into my classroom every morning and I see a room filled with 38 kids. The politicians can brag all they want about the “programs” they voted to improve student achievement, but the rubber meets the road in the classroom and I can tell you those programs don’t work. The recipe for educational success is a good teacher, involved parents, and a serious curriculum set at the local school board level.
Klobuchar: By 2018, 70 percent of all jobs in Minnesota will require at least some post-secondary education and we must do a better job of preparing students for the jobs that will be available to them when they graduate—positions that may not require a Ph.D. or even a four-year degree, but demand specialized training and experience. This is a crucial part of advancing a competitive agenda for America. To address this, we need to first strengthen our commitment to two-year community and technical colleges and STEM programs to ensure that our students have the education and skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce. Second, I will continue to work to ensure education remains affordable for all students and families in Minnesota and across the country. America’s future economic prosperity depends on it. Third, we need to keep working to make significant changes to No Child Left Behind, including putting in place better accountability systems, more flexibility, and targeted efforts to close the achievement gaps.
5. Energy: Do you agree with the science of global warming? Should the United States be more or less aggressive in its pursuit of renewable energy sources?
Bills: Washington DC has gone to war on domestic energy production, and the results are clear. Gas prices have doubled since Amy Klobuchar was elected, and her response is to set the EPA and federal regulators to shut down energy production and raise gas prices. It’s a failed policy; it’s destroying the middle class; and it’s killing jobs.
I will not subsidize economically unviable businesses like Solyndra, Ener1, or A123, no matter how “green” they claim to be. Obama’s “green jobs” initiative is an even bigger boondoggle than Jimmy Carter’s in the 1970s. Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. It winds up just picking losers.
Klobuchar: There is strong scientific consensus that climate change is having an impact on our world. I believe we need to put America in control of our energy future through an “all of the above” energy strategy that creates jobs, increases domestic energy production, decreases our dependence on foreign oil, and makes energy costs more affordable for middle-class families. My focus has been on developing homegrown energy sources and new energy technologies, including advanced biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal, and safe domestic oil and natural gas drilling in places like North Dakota. We also need strong national energy-efficiency targets to make sure our energy policies encourage energy efficiency in every part of the country. That’s why I have pushed for a strong national renewable electricity standard like Minnesota has, in addition to introducing legislation to provide a tax credit to integrate renewable energy, like wind and solar, into the electric grid. I believe that through an “all of the above” strategy we have the opportunity to meet our nation’s energy demands and promote economic development in Minnesota and across America.
6. Social Security/Medicare: Should these entitlement programs be left status quo, or should be they scrutinized for budget cuts?
Bills: Wrong question. The status quo will lead to the programs going belly up because they are going insolvent. But looking to Social Security and Medicare for budget cuts is the wrong approach. Real reform requires reforming the program for younger workers to ensure that Social Security and Medicare will be there for them when they need them. Under the current policies they won’t be because they will be long bankrupt.
Anybody who hasn’t offered real solutions to this pressing problem over the past 6 years should be fired.
Klobuchar: Social Security is our nation’s most successful domestic program, providing an essential safety net for our seniors and ensuring a decent retirement for Americans who have worked hard their entire lives. I have consistently fought against risky schemes to privatize Social Security. I believe we must ensure this program remains solvent for generations to come by considering reasonable steps, such as raising the cap on taxable income. Currently, all income above $106,800 is exempt from the Social Security payroll tax. Gradually raising this threshold, and other reasonable reforms, could help ensure the solvency of Social Security, but not impact current beneficiaries.
Despite periodic efforts at reform, Medicare has not rewarded the type of high quality health-care-delivery systems like we have in Minnesota that provide Medicare beneficiaries with better value. States that have historically delivered low quality, inefficient care are paid for their wasteful practices, while efficient states such as Minnesota are punished. To strengthen Medicare, we need to have Medicare rewarding high quality, cost-effective results like those we have achieved in Minnesota. We are getting a start with that with the Affordable Care Act, but we need to do more. We also need to work to eliminate fraud and waste from the system, and allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices on behalf of seniors. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, as the Veterans Administration does, would save $240 billion over the next 10 years and help lower the cost of drugs for our nation’s seniors.
7. Economy: The national economy remains sluggish. What steps do you support to stimulate the growth of jobs?
Bills: If the last few years have taught us anything at all, it is that government “stimulus” doesn’t make an economy grow. Washington policies have been crushing job growth and the middle class. As spending has gone up, our incomes have gone down by more than $4000 a year. Everybody is poorer, has more debt to pay, lower net worth and a house under water. That is what the policies of “stimulus” have done to us.
We need to get the economy moving again, and here is how to do that: get government spending under control by balancing the budget (passing a budget would be a good start!), repeal Obamacare which is causing small businesses to quit hiring, lower energy prices by permitting domestic energy production as they do in North Dakota (unemployment 3%), and reducing regulations which strangle small businesses.
Klobuchar’s answer is more government and raising taxes on small business. That won’t work.
Klobuchar: We need an economy that is built to last and one that creates economic opportunity for all Americans. I have been working to advance a competitive agenda for America that promotes long-term economic growth and private sector jobs, including revitalizing America’s innovative edge, educating the next generation of American innovators, opening up new markets abroad for U.S. products, cutting through regulatory red tape, developing homegrown energy, and reducing our nation’s debt in a balanced way. I will continue to work with Minnesota businesses, workers, and farmers to ensure they have the support they need to succeed.
8. Agriculture: Should changes be made to current agriculture subsidies? Be specific.
Bills: Changes are already being made, if they would only pass a farm bill. The government is moving from a subsidy model to an insurance model, and I think that will be better for agriculture in the long run.
I also believe we need to quit helping large corporations and focus our efforts on helping small farmers. We waste billions of dollars subsidizing big business, and that has to stop.
Klobuchar: I believe the people who grow our food deserve to know their livelihoods can’t be swept away in the blink of an eye—either by market failures or natural disasters. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I was a leader in getting the bipartisan farm bill through the Senate and worked to make sure that the bill provided a strong safety net for our farmers, while still making important payment reforms. The Senate-passed farm bill makes $23 billion in cuts, with $16 billion in savings coming from farm programs, even though these programs only make up 14 percent of the total cost of the farm bill.
In the Senate-passed farm bill, we eliminated the direct payments and strengthened crop insurance —a program considered by many farmers across Minnesota to be the most important piece of the farm safety net to help mitigate risk. But we also made changes to the crop insurance program, like reducing a producer’s subsidy by 15 percent if they make over $750,000 dollars, to help focus our limited resources on family farmers. The bill also includes payment caps for farm programs other than crop insurance and ensures the payments are only going to farmers and ranchers on actively engaged in production agriculture. We also made changes to the dairy program to help provide a stronger safety net to dairy producers who have been hit hard in recent years. I supported special help to dairy farmers during the worst of the price declines in 2009 and I support the new dairy reforms in the Senate-passed Farm Bill, like the Margin Protection Program, which would allow farmers to purchase margin insurance to help manage risk.
9. Immigration: What should be the tenets of any immigration reform legislation?
Bills: Legal immigration has been the backbone of America’s prosperity. Nearly every person reading this is descended from an immigrant to the United States. Immigrants come here because they want to build a better life for their families, and in doing so help make our economy stronger. We need to encourage legal immigration and make it easier for everybody to start a business and succeed.
Illegal immigration, though, is illegal. It needs to be stopped. No immigration reform law can be effective until we actually secure our borders. Washington politicians say that all the time, but what have they done about it?
Klobuchar: I supported the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reforms in 2007. I will continue to support comprehensive immigration reform that includes: order at the border, workplace enforcement of existing laws, and a pathway to citizenship for those who obey our laws and are willing to learn English, pay their taxes, and pay a substantial fine. I have also supported efforts to increase border security and enforcement of existing laws because I believe the American people need to have faith that our system works and that people won’t be rewarded for breaking the law. I believe we need to pass the DREAM Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents through no fault of their own. We need to give these young people the opportunity to give back to their country, receive an education, and become model members of our society.
10. Other issues: Are there other issues you want to address?
Bills: The big issue of this campaign is getting our economy moving again, and the biggest obstacle to doing that is an out of control federal government. For decades Washington has spent more than it has taken in, and now we have trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. When you spend more than you have, you eventually go bankrupt. Government finances look more like Tom Petters’ ponzi scheme than responsible budgeting. To get the economy moving again, we need to fix Washington.
Klobuchar: While many in Washington focus on scoring political points, as senator I’ve focused on getting things done for the people of Minnesota. Nearly two-thirds of my bills have Republican cosponsors. I’ve worked across the aisle with Representative John Kline to provide our National Guard members their full benefits, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to streamline the adoption process, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to pass legislation to prevent shortages of life-saving medications. I’ll continue pushing for bipartisan solutions to get things done because I believe now more than ever we need elected officials who can set aside partisan divisions and find common ground on solutions to move our state and our nation forward.
11. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.
Bills: Residence: Rosemount, Minn; children: Kyla, Cassandra, Hayden and Olivia; Church: Christ Church in Apple Valley; Education: attended Winona State University earning a B.S. in secondary social studies education, B.A. in US history, and M.A. in education. Since 1996, Bills has worked as a secondary social studies teacher at Rosemount High School, teaching courses in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and American Government & Politics. Accomplishments: elected to the Rosemount City Council in 2008, elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2010, won the GOP Endorsement for U.S. Senate in 2012.
Klobuchar: My grandfather worked 1,500 feet underground in the iron ore mines of northern Minnesota. My dad Jim was a newspaperman, and my mother Rose was an elementary school teacher who was still teaching a classroom of thirty second-graders at age seventy. I learned the value of hard work from my parents and grandparents. Before being elected as Hennepin County Attorney, I worked as an attorney in the private sector for more than a decade. As a United States Senator, I continue to bring the values that I learned growing up in Minnesota to my work every day. Whether it’s standing up for middle-class families, fighting for highway funding for Minnesota, working to get members of the Minnesota National Guard the benefits they were promised, or cutting through red tape to help our businesses grow and thrive, I will continue to put Minnesota first and fight for the people of our state.