Economic stimulation, health reform among Welch’s core issues
St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — It’s the economy that’s behind poll numbers showing a possible Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives on Election Day, according to Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
Nothing that the government has done has been sufficient to alleviate the suffering and anxiety of the people who’ve lost their jobs and those who fear losing them, he said.
Welch is seeking his third term in the House. He was first elected in 2006 after a close race against Martha Rainville. This time he faces a Republican challenger, Paul Beaudry of Swanton, who is best known for having a hosted a conservative radio talk show. There are also two other independent candidates.
A Vermont Public Radio poll released last Friday showed Welch favored by 61 percent of voters and Beaudry by 25 percent.
There’s a growing apprehension in the country about whether the American dream is still attainable, about whether it is possible for people to improve the economic situation for themselves and their children, Welch explained in an interview with the Messenger.
“Wages have stayed flat for 20 years,” Welch said, and the economic booms that have occurred have been built on debt. Combined public and private debt is now four times what it was in 1982, Welch said.
“You have to stimulate the economy,” Welch said.
He supports one-time expenditures to bring down unemployment. Those expenditures should be in the form of needed investments, such as expansion of broadband, environmental improvements, upgrading of infrastructure such as water and sewer systems, Welch explained.
Some of the stimulus bill passed in early 2009 was wasted on tax cuts required to get Senate approval for the bill, Welch said.
Efforts to provide stimulus, which Welch said has become “a dirty word,” need to be coupled with work on the long-term deficit.
He started a bipartisan deficit reduction group that proposed $67 billion in savings. Some of the savings came from ending unnecessary weapons programs, and the rest from phasing out tax cuts for the oil industry, a mature industry that doesn’t require tax supports.
Congress has in the past approved weapons systems the Pentagon did not actually want because the construction of the systems created jobs in their districts.
The group faced resistance to their proposals from a number of people, including legislators for oil states, Welch explained.
Welch voted for a bill that authorized the Department of Commerce to consider currency manipulation when determining if other countries were engaging in unfair trade practices. The bill, Welch said, was overdue.
“How can Congress not do what’s required to maintain a level playing field?” Welch asked.
China was been widely accused, not just in the U.S., but also around the world, of manipulating the value of its currency in order to gain a competitive advantage. By purchasing American dollars, China has lowered the value of its own currency and raised the value of the dollar. The consequences of that manipulation are to make goods made in America more expensive and goods made in China less so.
That manipulation also gives China a competitive advantage over other developing nations.
“I believe manufacturing matters,” Welch said. Manufacturing provides the infrastructure necessary to bring a good idea “up to scale,” Welch said.
The federal government needs to adopt policies that encourage companies to reinvest, in his view.
“There’s a lot at stake in this election,” Welch said.
On the subject of health care, Welch said he supports waivers for the states allowing them to experiment with programs other than the federal program.
Currently, it will be a few years before waivers are available to the states, but Welch said he wanted to push that date up.
Waivers have been an issue in the state’s gubernatorial election. The Democratic candidate, Peter Shumlin, favors creating a single-payer system in which everyone in Vermont would belong to the same insurance program while his Republican opponent, Brian Dubie, has argued such a system wouldn’t even be possible for several years.
Welch himself supports a single-payer system describing it as “simpler, cleaner,” and placing “everyone in the same boat.”
He expressed concern about implementation of the federal bill because of resistance from insurance companies to provisions that would limit their ability to deny people coverage.
“The problem with health care is that it’s been employer based,” Welch said. Having to provide health care for employees has made U.S. companies less competitive, he explained.
WAR, INTELLIGENCE & NATIONAL SECURITY
“I’m opposed to the strategy,” Welch said when asked about Afghanistan. “It’s a nation-building strategy.”
“The Afghan government is totally, completely corrupt,” Welch said. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has described corruption as the biggest threat to success in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother is involved in the opium trade and in the employ of the CIA, Welch said. However, the corruption is not limited to national officials.
On a recent trip to Afghanistan, Welch said he went into an area north of Kandahar where U.S. troops are living in villages in small groups of about a dozen soldiers. Those soldiers, Welch said, are in danger all the time.
Welch said he spoke with a captain in one of the villages who described an Afghan policeman extorting money from a family by breaking windows in their car, while the family was sitting in it, until they paid him.
“That’s intolerable,” Welch said, pointing out that such incidents undo the efforts at nation building.
The U.S. has 150,000 troops and contractors in Afghanistan. Asking them to build a democracy is “a real stretch,” Welch said.
“We’re asking our military to take on a role that has not traditionally been their responsibility,” Welch said.
“We need to use force against identified enemies,” Welch said, saying he supports the use of drone attacks while also expressing concern about “collateral consequences,” i.e. civilian deaths caused by those attacks.
Asked if he supported the Obama administration’s position that the president has the authority to order the assassination of American citizens overseas if the administration deems them a terrorist threat, Welch said the president has a responsibility to insure the safety of the country.
There is a legitimate use of force against someone who has the means to hurt Americans, Welch said. There would need, however, to be “high quality review” of such decisions, he added.
“I think the fundamental question is whether or not we have quality intelligence,” Welch said.
The administration’s assertion that it has the authority to assassinate American citizens without any form of due process, and without allowing the accused to see the evidence against them, challenge their accusers, or provide evidence in their own defense is currently being challenged in court on Constitutional grounds.
Welch supported an amendment to allow the Government Accountability Office to audit intelligence expenditures. The measure passed the House but was removed during conference with the Senate.
“I voted against the intelligence bill because I was so angry,” Welch said.
The expansion of intelligence since 2001 has led to a “duplicating, tripling, quadrupling of efforts,” Welch said.
“If taxpayer dollars are being wasted, we’re not getting the security we need,” Welch said, adding, “We’ve got to have some review to make sure it’s working.”
Asked about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Welch said the country had a responsibility to review the controversial terrorist detention facility. He acknowledged that the practice of paying bounties for al-Qaeda members led to the imprisonment of people who may well be innocent.
However, he cautioned a few people released from Guantanamo have engaged in terrorist acts after their release.
Thus far, more than 70 percent of Gitmo detainees who have challenged their imprisonment in federal courts have been ordered released because of a lack of evidence against them, according to the news Web site Pro Publica.
Asked if the legislative system was broken, Welch answered with an unequivocal “yes.”
Money, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, can turn a race “upside down,” according to Welch.
Welch said he supports public financing of elections and would support a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling, which overturned a provision of the McCain-Feingold act limiting the ability of corporations and other private groups to advertise for candidates.
The House has passed a bill Welch supported that would require corporations making political ads to 1. include a statement form the CEO so the public would know the source of the advertisement, 2. get the approvals of shareholders for political expenditures, and 3. disclose donations by private groups making political advertisements.
The bill has not passed the Senate.
On the fundamental questions facing the nation — energy, health care, trade deficit, jobs — citizens are “entitled to think Congress isn’t doing their job,” Welch said.
“If people think we’re going in the right direction, they can hang in,” Welch said. But President Obama’s ability to connect with voters during the campaign has not continued, he added.
“People were desperately looking for somebody who was rational and calm” during the campaign, Welch said. “In governing, you have to create an emotional bond with people you represent.”
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