TROY — The editorial staffs of the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call sat down with U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-8th) on Thursday, Jan. 26, for a roundtable discussion on current issues in the state and nation. The following are his responses to questions posed to him during the roundtable.
THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Q. The state of Social Security has changed over the various generations, from Baby Boomers, who were more secure in the knowledge that they could retire at a certain age and receive their benefits. What is the outlook for Generation X and millennials in terms of retiring and having Social Security benefits?
A. Well, with respect to Social Security and its companion, Medicare, people have done the math, frankly, since they launched the program … people can agree, the math doesn’t work right.
So we are looking at reforms that wouldn’t apply to current retirees, that wouldn’t apply to people that would retire soon. But if you take people my age — I’m 47, I’ve got 20 years till I’m eligible at 67 — and say, ‘Can you react to saying you’re eligible at 70 instead?’ Those are some of the kind of reforms that seem incremental and rational to the program. As you go younger and younger, it makes it even easier.
Will it be harder to fix right now than it would have if we did that reform when I was headed to kindergarten in 1975? It’s going to be harder; we’re going to have to be more aggressive in our reforms. Every year that goes by with no reform, the reforms that will solve the problem have to be more aggressive. You can’t go back to 1975 and do the same fix that would have worked in 1975. Because it’s painful politically, it’s not that people don’t know there’s a problem; it’s like somebody that’s got a bad health diagnosis, they don’t want to deal with it … but you can’t really ignore it, you’ve got to do something about it.
I’m open to solutions. We’re looking at one that’s relatively creative right now that (addresses) tuition and the student debt crisis and the retirement age. The concept is that if you were to forgive X-dollars of student loans, in exchange you would agree for every X-dollars, to delay your retirement for a year.
You look at the kind of student debt that’s out there and I hope we can do something like that, that solves that in its own right. The beauty of this idea is it could address the other thing that’s underfunded which is Social Security, Medicare … things people have truly paid into. If you paid into it, that’s a product the government sold you, and the government needs to honor that commitment. (Social Security) needs to be there, and the only way they can do that is to make the reforms to make sure it’s there.
— By Belinda M. Paschal
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND IMMIGRATION
Q. What are your thoughts on the recent government shutdown, what caused it and how it can be avoided again before the next spending bill deadline? Where do you stand on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is one of the issues holding up the process?
A. Well the House passed all of our funding bills Sept. 14. Frankly, there’s been no need for a CR (continuing resolution). If (the Senate) cared so much, they could have gotten the work done on time and they haven’t.
And why haven’t they? Well, it takes 60 votes to agree on numbers in the Senate and the Senate Democrats have withheld their support for any budget number until they get a deal on DACA… I think that we need to decouple the issues and work on DACA in its own path.
The money that we’re actually agreeing to spend here, that Congress actively manages, is only about 30 percent of our total spending, about $1.2 trillion. So what happens with the rest of the money? This goes to why we’re in the quandary that we’re in, not just with spending, but with the budget cycle.
In 1974, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 1974, and it created this division between mandatory spend and discretionary spending — as if it’s not mandatory that we service our debt, for example… So a lot of our spending is on autopilot, Congress doesn’t even actively manage it. Since that happened, the frequency of shutdowns has gone up a lot.
The reality is we know there are people who are illegal residents of the United States of America. How do we deal with them? Ronald Reagan gets a lot of commentary about his compromise in 1986 (Editor’s note: In 1986, President Reagan signed an immigration reform bill into law that made nearly 3 million people living in the country illegally eligible for amnesty.) A lot of people point out that if his compromise worked so well, we wouldn’t be talking about the problem we’re talking about right now.
How can you solve it? You have to fix the root cause… We have a broken border security situation and we have sanctuaries, where they don’t just not enforce the law, in California’s case they’ve criminalized enforcing the law… We have to secure the border. People want to make that only about the wall because they’ve been able to make the wall controversial, when it was bipartisan in 2006… For me, we have to deal with sanctuaries.
Citizenship has to matter… You take the population of a state and divide it by 435 and that’s how many (representatives) you get… It means California, based off their estimated illegal population, they have five extra members of Congress… Day in and day out, they’re getting extra representation… This is taking influence in the governance of the United States of America from people who are here legally.
— By Cecilia Fox
Q: Net neutrality was recently repealed in a 3:2 vote. Many people are worried that access to their Internet or the price they pay for it will be affected. What changes would you foresee in the next few years, and what provisions are being put in place to preserve people’s freedom?
A: We invented the Internet, and until last year, we had control over the domain system. We gave that away, for some reason, which was an administrative executive authority decision that Congress unfortunately was unable to block.
We also did really well prior to 2015, though, before “net neutrality” was coined as a brand. It’s a bit odd that the same administration that gave away the sovereignty that we had in the USA is now the savior of all things related to the Internet, just because they coined this catchy marketing term called “net neutrality”.
Ajit Pai did something with the repeal that didn’t really change the law, but simply went back to the way the Internet did grow and flourish, which is without an FCC rule. The system in the U.S. dictates that you’re supposed to pass laws. That’s why we have Congress.
I think we do need to pass a law, and in it, we need to address privacy. This is something the net neutrality rule touched on under Obama; it said that it’s your data, and that the Internet service providers can’t share it without your agreement. That created a different set of rules for people like Time Warner or Comcast than Facebook or Google and other content providers. That means sites like those can shamelessly sell your stuff. Amazon can do whatever they want with the data you’ve given them, but AT&T can’t.
I voted against the regulatory bill the House passed that allowed Pai to take executive action, in part because I think we should pass a law, but at its core, because I think the Obama administration was exactly right to say you need to opt in. It’s your data. I also think it should be the same standard for Google and Amazon and everybody else.
In the future, using block chain, we’ll be able to create a system where everybody can monetize their data, and would be selective about sharing certain bits of data without sharing everything else.
Someday, we may get there, but I think we’ve got it wrong on both accounts right now. I don’t think the previous administration was right to pretend they saved the Internet, and I don’t think the current administration is right to say we’re not going to protect your data or that everything will be done by executive action. It’s time for Congress to pass a law; if we don’t, we’re going to continue to see ideological issues, and that’s not good for investment.
– By Cody Willoughby
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY
Q: Where do you feel the overall economy is at today?
A: The state of the economy is exceptionally good. If you go back a few years when we were getting 1 1/2 percent growth, we had a nice long cycle of slow, steady growth. Today, the economy is growing at more than double what we were told was the new normal.
People made fun of Donald Trump during the campaign for saying he could get the economy going at 3-4 percent during his presidency. It’s growing at that in his first year. It’s got two quarters above 3 percent and the fourth quarter numbers haven’t been published yet but most people expect it will be high 3’s, low 4’s. So, that is in part due to the expectations going forward and a lot of the stock market appreciation is due to expectations of future returns.
Another concern is the workforce. In the year ahead, all the data says that take-home pay is going up already And, is the economy in a state of flux … sure, technology is changing a lot and I think, trade is changing a lot, and I think President Trump is reacting as he said to address some of the trade issues.
President Trump is taking a trip to Davos (this past week) to hopefully clarify that he doesn’t want to withdraw from the world community, but he wants to be focused on the U.S.’s role in that, which is different maybe than people have seen it for a little while. I’m a free trade guy. Big tariffs alarm me as well. But, if you look at the World Trade Organization, when you complain about subsidies to things like washing machines, eventually they’ll turn those off. But what happens in the meantime, they just dump even more. Steel is one of the worst, along with the metal stamping niche. The Chinese have over 50 percent of the world’s capacity for steel. So, they subsidize it, and when they get in trouble, they route it Vietnam in different containers and call it Vietnamese steel.
These are things that have been tolerated under the previous rules … by the world community. Everyone knows they go on, but it’s like watching basketball if they had no free throws and no fouls called, it would change the sport. And, that’s essentially the way the trade has been — there’s been some rules, but no one is calling the fouls, and no one is getting the free throws. I hope we can find a way to address that through laws and updated agreements
Q: Do you believe there needs to be a change in the educational system to better prepare students for today’s workforce?
A: I hope that this issue also will be addressed this year in a Career Technical Education Bill (the bill would increase funding reserved for career and technical education activities in rural areas and areas with high percentages or numbers of career and technical education students).
What students will get told sometimes, is to qualify for federal funds, they have to be in a degree-producing program, and the schools really are measured off of the graduation rates and things like this. A lot of times, people who want a career technical education don’t necessarily want to take an English class. But they are told, well you have to take an English class. I would always somewhat jokingly say, ‘It’s great if you know about dangling participles, but I’m going to pay you $3 more per hour when you know how to run this machine.’
I do think that we are so fortunate to have around this area some high quality education in our main schools. But like at the Upper Valley Career Center for example, you have such a huge range, but there’s this stigma with high school kids. It really hasn’t changed a lot since I was in school in the ’80s. I think the career awareness programs especially need to improve broadly.
What you increasing realize is that people grow up and they know what their family knows. You may or may not know someone that is an accountant or an engineer or a social worker. Just getting kids the exposure to what is this career all about, what do these people do, that also is important.
— By Melody Vallieu
TAX REFORM AND MEDICAID
Q: How will the new tax reform affect people in your district?
A: I actually just had a meeting with a business owner who didn’t understand all of the provisions of it … One of his main concerns is workforce and hiring talented people with the right high-tech skills, and he’s talking about how he needs to invest in all of this equipment, but he didn’t understand that one of the provisions of the tax code lets him fully expense equipment. Normally, you would buy this equipment and you would expense over seven years, it depreciates over time … Now, you can fully expense the cost of the equipment …
One of the big benefits of the tax code is this expensing. So how’s that going to affect the people that are going to work in his place? Well, if the company stays healthy, everyone that already works there (has) a more secure job, but the other part is he has to buy this automated equipment from people who make automated equipment, and it’s going to increase demand for the machine tools that he would buy …
By the end of February, the IRS is changing the with holdings, and so people will see at least what the IRS withholds differently but of course then you fill out your taxes and then you see what it really happens. I think over the course of the year, you’re going to see it.
Q: What are some of the cuts that people might see to social programs like Medicare or Medicaid?
A: There are no cuts. When people say cuts, they mean like it’s not going to be spent as much as what the previous model was. Even the bill that passed the House but failed to pass the Senate on healthcare, it didn’t spend less money, it just spent less than Obamacare was supposed to spend. So to be clear, it’s not actually spending less money. It’s just spending less than the Obamacare path would spend if the Republican House plan had passed. It didn’t, so I don’t know of anything that’s actually getting cut yet …
One of the biggest things you’ll see in social programs, though, is an increase in work requirements … when Bill Clinton was president, Congress worked with President Clinton and worked out a compromise when there were work requirements for able-bodied adults on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs, which (is) cash-assistance, not every single thing….
When President Obama became president, Democrat majorities in the House and Senate, they eliminated work requirements, and that kind of made sense on a temporary basis anyway because we had a very tight economy, but they still haven’t gotten around to putting it back to the way it was … (Of people) who get Medicaid expansion dollars who are able-bodied adults, only 24 percent of those folks work full-time, so the work requirements from Clinton’s era seem timely given how hot the economy is.
— By Sam Wildow
TAX REFORM AND AGRICULTURE
Q: What are legislators doing in regards to fix a provision in the federal tax overhaul that gave an unexpected tax break to farmers who sell their crops to cooperatives rather than private or investor-owned firms?
A: There’s a lot of people that are dealing with this. There’s a 20 percent advantage to go a co-op. My understanding is that we are working on it and my concern is that if don’t do something swiftly, people are in the process of writing contracts right now so it’s going to be very disruptive. In the pass-through entity, which most farms are pass-throughs, if they agree to sell their grain through a co-op they can do the pass-through write off the 20 percent of the income. If they sell to a regular grain elevator, they can’t. So that’s massive difference. People are clearly going to change their behavior over that kind of ratio. And it’s also going to creative challenges. There aren’t enough co-ops to even process 100 percent of grain, that’s why the other places are in business. It changes the prices. I don’t know the back story of how it happened, but I do know it will be addressed.
THE FUTURE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
Q: Is the Republican party going through an “identity crisis?”
A: I think we’re doing well. I think Democrats are probably kind of scratching their heads. I know a lot of conversation happened over the weekend with (Senator Chuck) Schumer (D-NY) and a number people who feel he went a little too far with some things. There are number of people who publicly and a few folks privately that there’s some frustration.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last year. He made a good point, he’s like we are the party that coined the’It’s the economy, stupid’ phrase and now people in Ohio don’t know whether we care more about you getting a good job or we care more about what bathroom you use.
If you think about the term liberal, liberal used to mean things like the ACLU, like free speech. It used to mean like John F. Kennedy’s ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ And today, and seemingly growing faction in the Democratic Party that is far left of that. They are shutting down, literally violently shutting down free speech on campus. Their whole platform is ‘what can your country do for you.’ There’s a very big shift. Grandma’s Democratic Party is very different than today’s Democratic Party. There would be a big difference in azimuth if Tim Ryan were leading Democrats in the House than Nancy Pelosi leading the House. They’ve clearly had tension.
Are there differences among Republicans? Of course, it’s a big tent. We have a majority, because we are monolithic in our views, but we do have a platform. We’ve said here are some things we stand for and are going to do and we are doing them. Look at the economy, (it’s) going well. We said we were going to defeat ISIS and they aren’t entirely defeated, but they control a massively smaller piece of terrain. We said we were going to change the courts, they are changing beginning with (President Trump’s appointed) Neal Gorsuch, but also through the confirmation process. We said we were going to change regulatory framework. We said we do it through laws, not just with executive action.
Even some of things that President Trump has been criticized for, it’s because he is simply following the law. The law says that we enforce immigration law. No one passed a law that says you could pay these (Cost Sharing Reduction) payments, that was actually illegal and the court said it was illegal, but the previous administration continued paying the payments. We simply followed the law that said if you want me to pay them, pass a law I’ll pay them. DACA, same thing. There’s no law that says you can do that, so I’m going to quit doing it. (President Trump) didn’t just turn it off with no notice, he said I’ll give you six months. He didn’t turn it off with no notice and from what I hear he may give provide another extension. I think it would be wise to do that if we need to, and why because the momentum is political compromise, political appeasement, not real problem solving. It’s very important to solve the real problem. It seems compassionate to solve it immediately, but only if you really solve, otherwise there will be a new batch of people stuck with the same problem.
I think we are largely doing what we said we would do as a party and increasingly the country is there. We faltered, we faltered on healthcare and we built a better way to work as Republicans and I hope we take that up in the year ahead.
— By Melanie Yingst