Ask Anything: 10 questions with District 4 Congressional candidates
Posted October 14, 2008
Updated October 20, 2008
Editor's Note: Republican BJ Lawson and incumbent Democrat David Price are running for North Carolina's District 4 Congressional seat. The winner will represent Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.
What would you do in this economic situation as a congressman to ease the financial burden for people of District 4? – Julian Pearce, Raleigh
BJ LAWSON: People in the 4th District need to be free to create value and wealth in our community without being forced to labor under additional debt. Too much debt got us into this problem, more debt cannot get us out of it.
Real value is not created by our federal government borrowing additional money and giving us checks in our mailbox. We need more savings and investment, not more borrowing and spending.
While the government appears to give with one hand, it continues to take with the other -- talk of an additional "stimulus plan" that results in still more government borrowing simply pushes our economic crisis further onto our children and grandchildren.
The bottom line is that we need to be free to create and grow our own wealth here in the 4th District. I will work to empower sustainable, self-sufficient communities that are less dependent on the federal government. As a start, Congress must unambiguously affirm that all barter transactions between individuals are tax-free.
What do I mean by “barter transactions”? They may be transactions exchanging time for time, time for goods, goods for goods, or time for dollars or private barter currencies. The key point is that human individuals (not corporations or other creatures of the legal system) need to be free to create wealth in our communities. People must again have the ability to serve each other as individuals to recreate the wealth that is being destroyed all around us.
DAVID PRICE: On the economic front we must address the financial and housing crises that engulf the nation, as well as find relief for high energy costs, which are hurting working families. That means establishing a tough and smart regulatory balance for our new financial architecture, taking action to stem the tide of home foreclosures, and helping those who have lost their homes gain affordable housing options. It means confronting the spike in energy prices in the short term and reducing our long-term dependence on foreign oil through conservation, efficiency, and alternative energy development. We also must restore order to our fiscal house, while supporting targeted investments in research and innovation – investments which have been integral to job creation and the lasting competitiveness of our region. More information on my economic views is available in questions 2, 3, 6, 9, and 10.
Did you, as a member of the House of Representatives, or do you as a candidate for Congress, support the Wall Street "rescue bill"? Why or why not? – Don Frantz, Cary
BJ LAWSON: I do not support the Paulson/Bernanke bailout plan. The Administration's bailout plan misdiagnoses the problems in our credit markets and our economy. Our credit markets are frozen for two reasons: trust, and solvency. Banks don't trust one another enough to lend, and that lack of trust is rooted in fear that they and others might be insolvent.
Suspending mark-to-market accounting and buying troubled assets at above-market prices make trust worse, not better. Finally, our taking on additional debt to buy troubled assets or recapitalize banks doesn't change the fact that the banks are in trouble because many borrowers are in trouble.
In our economy, the bailout plan assumes we need to fight a necessary reduction in debt with yet more debt. To use a medical analogy, debt is like amphetamines. It takes from the future to stimulate you today, and too much of it can kill you.
We've become addicted to debt – why do we need more debt-fueled growth, and how much more can we tolerate? We need sustainable, long-term growth fueled by people saving and creating value in their communities – not artificial growth fueled by still more government debt that creates additional burdens for the future. Amphetamines didn't work out well for Elvis, either.
DAVID PRICE: Precipitated by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, the financial crisis that currently confronts us and our broader economic downturn demonstrate a failure of political as well as corporate leadership. The President sat idly while some brokers were engaged in predatory lending, encouraging consumers to borrow beyond their means, and then those risky mortgages were repackaged and sold as sound investments. The Administration’s hands-off, anything-goes approach to regulation meant that no one was policing Wall Street, culminating in the 1929-style credit meltdown we find ourselves facing.
I do not have any interest in “bailing out” Wall Street firms and business leaders who have speculated recklessly and resisted regulation to protect the public interest. My concern is for Main Street - for the people depending on a sound economy and the availability of credit to buy a house or car, to run their business and meet payroll, and to save for college and retirement. While I could not support Secretary Paulson’s request for a $700 billion blank-check rescue plan, I joined with others in intensive discussions to rewrite the Administration’s plan to stabilize the markets and unclog credit. Because inaction would only have prolonged and deepened the crisis, I supported improved legislation that included strict independent oversight, an installment plan with multiple reviews for releasing funds, requirements that taxpayers share any profits and that the financial industry make up any shortfall, a compensation limit for executives of participating institutions, and a partnership between government and financial institutions to help deserving homeowners negotiate reasonable repayment terms and stay in their homes.
If elected/re-elected, how will you support job growth, new business development and increased employment in the Triangle area? – Grant, Durham
BJ LAWSON: We have seen nine straight months of job losses, with the only job additions consistently occurring in government jobs. That trend is not sustainable. We need to reverse that trend, and empower individuals to create their own businesses by serving others in our community.
When times are tight, and investment is difficult to obtain, we must again emphasize our sources of innate local capital, as opposed to just credit. We must think creatively about how to grow our local economic base without taking on new debt that is just a burden for the future. Most importantly, we need to be free to create and grow our own wealth here in the 4th District.
I will work to empower sustainable, self-sufficient communities in our Fourth District that are less dependent on the federal government. As a start, Congress must unambiguously affirm that all barter transactions between individuals are tax-free.
Our country's economic balkanization is the result of a government that no longer serves the American individual, but instead has become a tool of corporate interests intent on working our political system for their own gain. The answer to unrestrained corporatism is a return to capitalism, where businesses grow by virtuously serving their customers instead of using the government as a tool to gain competitive advantage or short-term profit at the public expense.
DAVID PRICE: The Triangle is one of the best places in the nation to live, work, raise a family, and start a business. I’m proud to represent an area with such attributes, and I’ve worked throughout my time in Congress to retain and enhance them. Through my role on the Appropriations Committee, I have secured federal funding for important projects in our area – research at our universities, technical support for our local law enforcement, a fair share of transportation dollars to relieve congestion and provide transit alternatives. Although this funding has gone to a wide range of responsible projects covering many fields, any action that improves the area’s quality of life can attract business and provide greater opportunity.
I will also work for national policies where the Triangle can especially benefit. Investments in education like my teacher recruitment and retention bills and the Advanced Technological Education program I authored for community colleges help develop a more qualified and productive workforce. Investments in research and innovation lead to new entrepreneurs and start-up companies spilling out of our major local universities. And investments in health care can make small businesses more competitive.
Do you support abortion? If you do, how can I trust you to not be discriminatory in other matters if you don't value everyone's life? – Wanda Rhoden, Durham
BJ LAWSON: I am consistently pro-life, and believe the purpose of government is to protect life. Therefore, I do not support abortion or capital punishment. However, the abortion debate is too often used as a wedge issue to divide the electorate.
As an American, I am most concerned with bringing our communities together to identify productive solutions to these divisive issues. For example, I do not know any pro-choice people who like abortions, either. They just fear women dying of sepsis after seeking illegal abortions in a desperate situation.
My first priority is encouraging a more constructive local debate on how we can prevent unwanted pregnancies and empower local, accountable organizations to provide alternatives to abortion. I believe that a discussion at the local level has the potential to change hearts, and the best comment on the abortion debate I've heard recently was "Laws will change when hearts have changed."
I do not believe the Supreme Court was constitutionally justified in issuing a blanket decision about this issue, and favor returning the abortion discussion to the state and local level. Constantly battling over the "right" Supreme Court justices has done nothing to advance the abortion debate in my lifetime.
As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. I'm ready to try a different approach to change hearts and reduce abortions.
DAVID PRICE: I have and will continue to support policy efforts to make abortion as rare as possible by encouraging adoption, providing adequate sex education that encourages responsible behavior, and improved public health services. Whether to terminate a pregnancy is not a matter that government should dictate; I stand by the Roe v. Wade decision.
Why should an independent voter support your candidacy when they do not believe your party leadership shares their values? – Mike, Raleigh
BJ LAWSON: We do not face partisan problems, we face American problems. I am not going to Congress to serve a party, I am going to Congress to uphold the United States Constitution on behalf of Fourth District voters regardless of party (or lack thereof). The fastest growing party affiliation in North Carolina is Unaffiliated. Continuing to remain handcuffed in mindless, blame-shifting partisan rhetoric does nothing to advance our future as a nation. It is critical that we as Americans begin judging our candidates as individuals, and based upon their willingness to take principled stands outside of intellectually-questionable party positions.
DAVID PRICE: I have a history of appealing to independent voters and pushing my party to do the same. I have also worked to bring reform to Washington, particularly in regard to ethics and campaigns. The major ethics overhaul passed at the beginning of the 110th Congress was based on legislation I wrote in 2005 with three other members of Congress. I also served on the Ethics Task Force, which recommended that the House create an independent panel of outside experts to gage complaints against members of Congress. And I am the author of several campaign finance reform measures, including the “Stand by Your Ad” law, which forces candidates to appear in the full frame of their ads and take responsibility for their content.
How would you balance the federal budget – or would you? – John Green, Cary
BJ LAWSON: We must balance the federal budget by re-evaluating our trillion-dollar foreign policy, and the belief that we can afford to police the world at our own expense. Additionally, we must reinstate Clinton-era budget controls such as PAYGO, and not subscribe to the fiscal insanity of tax cuts without spending cuts. Ultimately, the message of sustainable local growth demands that we start asking questions about what the federal government is supposed to do. My rule book for that discussion is our United States Constitution, and we should strive for a government that lives within both its means and its constitutional mandate.
DAVID PRICE: I strongly believe in balanced budgets and cast the tough votes in 1990, 1993, and 1997 that led to the first surpluses in a generation. Unfortunately, those surpluses have evaporated under the leadership of President Bush, who has presided over the greatest fiscal reversal in our nation’s history. Digging out of this hole will not be easy, particularly in the midst of a stagnant economy.
As Co-Chair of the Democratic Budget Group I have pushed for greater fiscal responsibility within my own party and Congress as a whole and look forward to working with a new Administration to return our fiscal house to order. I proudly supported the restoration of PAYGO rules at the beginning of the 110th Congress, and believe the federal government would more consistently adhere to such requirements under an Obama Administration and a workable Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
Beyond cutting wasteful or ineffective programs, the two most obvious ways to increase federal revenue are allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire on schedule and responsibly ending the war in Iraq. At the same time, we must continue to make certain targeted investments that are essential to long-term economic growth and US competitiveness in the global marketplace: education, transportation infrastructure, and research are a few areas of particular importance in our area It’s possible to do both - the Democratic budget I voted for earlier this year, for example, would make these important investments while bringing the budget into balance by 2012.
Do you think it is fair that politicians do not pay into Social Security and have their own pension plan? – Dan Brosnan, Timberlake
BJ LAWSON: No. The Congressional pension plan is an insult to the American worker, and I will seek to eliminate it. If elected, I will not participate in the Congressional pension plan, and I invite my opponent to disavow his Congressional pension in the face of our looming entitlement crisis.
DAVID PRICE: Thank you for this question. Although there have been all kinds of internet rumors to the contrary, I can assure you that members of Congress pay into Social Security and do not have their own system. I have Social Security taxes withheld from every paycheck just like you, and I am covered by the same retirement plan as other federal employees.
With our economy in free fall, we can ill afford wars. How can we get out of Afghanistan since the people don’t want us and we are spending U.S. lives? – Culley Carson, Chapel Hill
BJ LAWSON: We need an immediate and orderly withdrawal from both Afghanistan and Iraq. Supporting our troops, and our economy, requires that we end our involvement in other nations' internal conflicts.
DAVID PRICE: While I strongly believe we must responsibly end the war in Iraq as soon as possible, I believe the struggle in Afghanistan is too important for the U.S. and NATO to abandon. I supported taking military action to depose the Taliban regime, which had brutalized the Afghan population and allowed terrorists to base their operations on Afghan soil and plan attacks on Americans. Part of my opposition to the Iraq War was based upon my belief that it would distract us from the important tasks of pursuing international terrorists and hinder our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. The result of our diversion is that the international effort in Afghanistan is far from complete.
Afghanistan's struggle to establish democracy has enjoyed broad international support, and it is one which our government should continue to actively support. As Chairman of the House Democracy Assistance Commission, I am actively engaged in efforts to strengthen the Afghan parliament, so that Afghans view it as effective and responsive to their needs. I have visited the parliament in Kabul and have welcomed its members and staff to Washington. The Afghan parliament provides a glimmer of hope for that country's future. This remarkable assembly represents every aspect of the Afghan culture, and its members have worked earnestly to approach their differences in a truly democratic fashion, settling disputes through debate rather than violence.
Nevertheless, the Afghan situation is still threatened by the Taliban, who seek to undermine the government through violence. We cannot allow the country to spiral out of control and back into the hands of the Taliban. Fortunately, Afghanistan is not Iraq, and the formula for victory is much simpler. Seven years after our operations began, we need to make good on the President's promise to commit robust resources -- not just in the form of more troops (though a redeployment of some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan is greatly needed), but also in greater development efforts, a smarter anti-narcotic campaign, and support for nascent democratic institutions – to win the fight and stabilize the nation. Further, we should combine these efforts with an initiative to persuade our NATO allies to reinvigorate their own commitments, for we will not win this fight alone.
What do you propose as an energy policy for our country and what implications would your energy policy have on national security and employment both nationally and in North Carolina? – Phil Greer, Durham
BJ LAWSON: We need to be free to use our own natural resources – including environmentally-responsible offshore drilling – in the United States and North Carolina, and I will work to stop our federal government from picking winners and losers in the development of alternative energy.
We subsidize our addiction to fossil fuels, while providing token assistance to renewables. We must stop subsidizing our addiction, and let higher prices for nonrenewable energy encourage conservation and development of sustainable alternatives.
We should also explore a carbon tax on nonrenewable energy as a complete replacement for our federal income tax. We want more jobs, productivity, and income – so it doesn't make sense to tax jobs, productivity, and income.
Transitioning to a simple consumption tax on nonrenewable energy use would free up massive amounts of investment that would naturally flow towards conservation and sustainable energy.
DAVID PRICE: Our dependence on fossil fuels is unsustainable, and it has enormous implications for national security, air quality, and climate change. We need a comprehensive energy policy that allows our country to achieve energy independence through renewable sources, conservation, and efficiency.
Because of increased prices at the pump, some in Congress have called for more drilling. I think that is the wrong approach. Instead, I have supported “use it or lose it” legislation to force oil companies to drill in areas already under lease. These areas hold the vast majority of known oil reserves. I also believe we should renew the moratorium on offshore drilling and recently voted for legislation to do so. I am willing to consider allowing additional drilling only if 1) it is part of a comprehensive energy independence initiative that moves the United States toward reliance on renewable sources, 2) it will not have any negative environmental impact, and 3) it gives states a say in what occurs off their coasts.
For the long term, we must recognize that we cannot drill our way out of this problem. Any comprehensive national energy policy must move us toward energy independence through the development of alternative and renewable resources and greater efficiency and conservation. To that end, I supported Congress’s enactment of stricter fuel economy standards last year, and support moves to reverse tax breaks for oil companies in order to invest in renewable and alternative energy without adding to the deficit.
Most Human Service Agencies provide assistance (financial, etc.) to citizens who either have no income or limited income. If elected, what is your short/long term goal to ensure that the tax-paying, working middle class will receive the same type of assistance in their time of need? – Carmen, Garner
BJ LAWSON: In the short term, we need to re-evaluate our trillion-dollar foreign policy that takes much needed resources from local people and programs and spends it on counterproductive interventionism abroad.
My opponent has consistently voted to fund foreign aid and interventions, when those same funds are desperately needed at home. Congress must also stop spending the trust funds that continue to push our entitlement programs into deficit.
In the long term, we must transition to sustainable, locally-accountable safety nets that leverage local sources of capital and reflect local needs. We cannot outsource community assistance to Washington – centralizing power in a well-meaning pursuit of security has made us dependent on unaccountable bureaucracies, and allowed corporate interests to gradually bankrupt our country.
DAVID PRICE: Much of the assistance you refer to – like health insurance through Medicare and SCHIP, unemployment benefits through the Employment Security Commission, and nutrition assistance through WIC – are administered at the state level, though much of the funding comes from federal grants. I’ve supported increased funding to expand SCHIP and extend unemployment benefits to more working families who are approaching the middle class. More generally, when looking at policy options affecting the economy – from tax policy to annual budgets to emergency stimulus packages – I believe the middle class and working poor must be the primary focus. This is partly due to simple fairness – the rising costs of energy, health care, and college education primarily pinch the middle class, particularly with the Bush tax cuts giving a disproportionate share to the wealthy. But it is also good economics. If you want to stimulate the economy, it makes sense to get more money in the hands of those who are actually going to spend it. The scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2010 will in all likelihood trigger major changes to our tax rates, regardless of who wins the presidency. I will support changes in the tax code that benefit the middle class, as well comprehensive energy and health care policies that reduce costs and greater investments in education that make it easier for families to send their children to college.
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