Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Congressman Chris Carney-the interview

I had a chat with Freshman Pennsylvania 10th CD Rep Chris Carney and we were joined by his ace press secretary Rebecca Gale. We discussed some of the important issues of the day like who will win the World Series, growing up in Iowa he is a Cubs fan. Being a Phillies fan I feel his pain. He also likes the Packers and seeing number 4 in a Jets uniform is killing him.

Give me the short version, Why should you be reelected?

I’m very proud of the record we have been able to amass in the first term. The kind of things we have been able to accomplish as a freshman are very remarkable. We can start for example with education benefits we were able to get for the guard and reserve to put them on par with the active duty side. You are probably aware that the guard and reserve prior to this legislation had an education benefit as long as they were in the military. Over the last few years our guardsmen and reservists have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes 2, 3 or 4 deployments so they couldn’t actually use that education benefit. So if they come home and want to get out they would lose that education benefit when they separate. This legislation extends the time they can use their education benefits up to 10 years after separation. That’s the kind of thing that lives up to promise this country made to our men and women in uniform. Second of all, you end up creating an excited, dedicated and disciplined workforce out there. And that’s we need to do to keep the economy strong, vibrant and growing. It’s a win, win for everybody. The Made in America tax credit that is in the Ways and Means committee that provides tax incentives to make sure that manufacturers don’t leave the U.S. rather they stay here and keep jobs here. That’s very important. The child pornography bill that just got passed that goes after child predators, both the producers and consumers of child pornography looking to dry up the source and the demand. You bring common sense to the job. But more to the point it’s the way that you govern to me makes a lot of sense. I’m a very bipartisan as it turns out. You’ve probably heard this story before but after I was elected I had to build up my staff. I had to interview a lot of people but the one question that I did not ask was what is your party affiliation. I asked what you could do for the United States and depending on that answer and others determined whether I offered them a position. And it turns out that we have a staff that is half Republican and half Democrat which to me is the right may to govern. Frankly, I grew up in broken home. My Mom is a Republican and my Dad is a Democrat. In fact when I ran my Mom became an Independent. She wouldn’t become a Democrat all the way. I grew up in a home, and Mom and Dad are still around, and talk about things with them all the time. I grew up listening to both Mom and Dad’s conversations on politics so I understood the validity and fallacy of both arguments eventually. If you synthesize those arguments you can accomplish a lot more. I’ve always been one to believe that we have to get away from the partisanship that has paralyzed Washington all these years. There was a time you could be a Republican or a Democrat and disagree on principle on things and actually have honest intellectual disagreements on how you should proceed on policy. But at the end of the day you were friends and you understood that you were working for the good of the country. Now it’s blood sport, now it’s not about policy but sticking a shiv into somebody’s ribs and we have to get away from that.

You talked a lot about being bipartisan and reaching out to Republicans but how do you reassure Democrats that you are one of them?

The fact of the matter is that most people are reasonable on what we have to get done. The far left attacked me, I’m not liberal. They ran newspaper, radio and television ads against me. So frankly if the far left and the far right are attacking you- you are probably in the right spot actually.

Let’s talk about some of those attacks. When you voted against the hate crimes bill some people said you promised that you would vote for it and made the accusation that you lied to them.

Of course they did. I didn’t promise but said that I would consider the bill very carefully. As it turns out what we ended up with a piece of legislation that creates special categories for certain people. When you create special categories you excluded people, why shouldn’t young mothers be included in a category or special protections under the law. All crime is hate crime. By the same token I voted for ENDA, the employment non-discrimination act. That’s important.

How about the FISA bill, particularly the retroactive immunity clause?

They need to read the bill first of all. It doesn’t give retroactive immunity. What it does is to require the telecoms to come before a court with the papers to prove that they were asked by the administration to do the surveillance. Second of all, it allows the government to go after the administration even after they are out of office. This a situation where people need to pay closer attention to what the bill does.

There is a provision of the Military Commissions Act that says the government can declare a United States citizen an enemy combatant and hold them without habeas corpus.

When you suspend the constitution you have to be little bit nervous about that. I swore a couple of times to protect and defend the constitution both as a military officer and as a member of Congress. You can hold people in this country by charging them under the 5th amendment and charge them with a crime and they get due process. American citizens should not be deprived due process.

So do you favor repealing that provision of the act?

As long as there is a legal way to cover them if they are an American citizen they get full rights as an American citizen.

Is that a yes?

That’s a yes. When we ignore our own rules we hurt ourselves as a nation. We hurt our ethic, we hurt what we stand for in the eyes of our people and the eyes of the world.

Recently a federal judge ordered the release of some people from Guantanamo Bay.

The Uighurs

There was no evidence that these people were terrorists. Should the Guantanamo Bay prison be closed?

It should be made smaller. There a number of people there who are very bad guys. I’ve been to Guantanamo, I’ve been to the cages and face to face with these people. And there are definitely people in there that were hell-bent on doing destruction to the U.S. But frankly a significant portion of those people were simply caught up in the sweep when we went into Afghanistan and they were taken off to an area and detained. And they may or may not be involved with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda or any anti-American activity and now they have been sitting in Guantanamo for 5 or 6 years. We create a situation where we have enemies incarcerated. Some of these guys were brought in on a C-130 aircraft. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a C-130?

Many times.

So you know that that control wires run on the inside of the fuselage. Some of those guys tried to chew through the wires. So they are dedicated to our demise or their own demise. So there are some bad guys in there and some of them need to be kept. On the other hand those who innocent or you find anything to charge them with and no actionable intelligence value we really have to start repatriating them.

Let’s talk taxes and budgets. Do you favor a balanced budget?

I absolutely do, I’m a blue dog.

How about a balanced budget amendment to the constitution?

I think we have to consider it. We are at a point now where we have to pay for 2 wars, we had to give emergency supplemental appropriation’s at least twice since I’ve been in. We have to be able to respond to economic contingencies like we have now. So a balanced budget would have to take into account a lot of things. For example, would it require that the Dept of Defense budget become a discretionary not a mandatory part of the budget? That’s something we have to answer. In concept yes but we have to see what the legislation actually says. To do a good job of making huge cuts in the budget you would have to go after the defense appropriated and I’m not comfortable doing that especially since we are involved in the wars that we are involved in right now.

To get to a balanced budget you will need to either raise taxes or cut spending or a combination of both.

I want to cut taxes on the middle class and close the loopholes for the very, very wealthy. I think that makes a lot of sense and I think that would have a huge impact in alleviating the crises we are in right now.

How about cutting spending?

Absolutely we should be cutting spending. I chair the Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight of the Homeland Security Committee so I’ve gotten some pretty good glimpses into how the government is procuring things that it needs to do it’s job. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have a good procurement corps at all. This is not the sexy kind of glamorous stuff that really hits the news but this is the nuts and bolts of government. This is stuff that we don’t do well. So what the DHS has done is to go out and hire contract personnel to be their procurement officers. Well guess who they procure from? Those are things we got to do to reduce spending overall. But we also need to spend smartly. We need to spend money that will give us a return on our investment. I think it makes a lot of sense to improve our transportation infrastructure. I think it makes sense to put more toward educating our population. Under this administration we have slid many, many places in comparison to the rest of the developed world in terms of educational achievement of our public school students. We got to better than that. So if we are going to spend money spend it in a way that gives us a return on that investment.

With at least a $500 billion deficit and growing you’re going to have to take an axe somewhere. Is there a specific program, department or agency you would eliminate?

What I would like to see, going back to DHS, is a reorganization of the department. You could collapse some of those organizations into one. You should pull FEMA out and give it Cabinet level status like it had under the Clinton Administration. Well it wasn’t a cabinet level organization.

You mean when it worked, right.

When it worked, yeah. That’s the kind of thing we can do. We could be a lot smarter about how we organize the government and that will take a few years. You know as well as anybody that in Washington that turf wars are the most bitterly fought.

Our friend Local Values has a question on the pay go rules. The AMT patch actually violated the pay go rule and even Steny Hoyer voted against it but you voted for it. Any comment.

The pay go rule? Which one, what time? It was also part of the sweetener package in the last bailout. It did comply with pay go because they did identify the pay for in the next budget. The pay for was identified in the first one but was not identified in the bailout bill which is one of the reasons I voted against it. Values guy is wrong.

He’ll be glad to hear it. He has all the poll results on his side bar and you are leading in all of them. I wonder why we don’t see Hackett's internal polls? The last time I talked to him I think in June or July he said he hadn’t polled since the primary. I’m sure he has polled since then.

I think it’s very interesting that they won’t release their internals if they are running so strong. If Mark Harris is to be believed they should be out loud and proud with their poll results. The polls we’ve seen like the Lycoming and F&M shows us pulling away. When they blame the methodology of the poll for the result that a pretty spurious argument.

I read your contrast with Hackett on immigration in the CV. The one thing it didn’t address was your thoughts on the Hazleton Act.

I understand the Mayor’s concern that the city is responsible for illegal immigrants but you’ve got to live up to the constitution. Judge Munley said look you can’t make federal policy as the Mayor of Hazleton.

The Supremacy clause.

Yeah. So we have our nation of laws and if we are going to change the rules we have to do it in the legal system. And I know that Lou Dobbs really likes Lou Barletta but if we are going to do this we have to do it in a sane way that makes sense.

I haven't talked to Hackett lately and he won't agree to another interview. It's like he wants to debate you but he won’t debate me.

It’s not even a debate it’s just a discussion, right?

I don’t know why. Maybe he didn't like some of the questions I asked him last time. I don’t understand it. I don’t play gotcha, if you say something and say don’t quote me on that I won’t. The same with him.

I have a question from a reader on corn based ethanol, How is it affecting food prices?

I think it’s having a negative effect on food prices. It’s causing an increase in food prices and feed prices for our dairy farmers. But we have an opportunity here, we can have ethanol produced from other sources. You saw that we could get Ethosgen in Dallas some federal money to continue their R&D of switchgrass. No one eats switchgrass as far as I know but it produces a lot of sugars for ethanol. And they have figured out a way to 100,000 gallons of ethanol per acre out of switchgrass. That’s pretty good and that’s the kind of R&D we should be doing. This is part of the larger issue and I’m going to get a little expansive here. This is my vision for this area. We have always been part of the energy heritage of America, this part of the world, this part of Pennsylvania, steam and coal and now we can use the alternatives. We drive along and see the windmills on the ridge tops, I love seeing that. It’s exactly what we ought to be doing. We need to be doing geothermal, that’s critical. We need to be doing the switch grass and the ethanol. Up in Towanda for example they are doing a lot of work for the military making long life small batteries with a lot of power but they are also producing affordable film that you can embed into the siding of your house or roof shingles so your house becomes an electric generator when the sun is shining. That’s we got to be doing, there is no reason that we can’t be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. We’ve got the talent here, we’ve got the resources and now finally, thank god, we have the political will to move in that direction. I think that’s is where we oughta go. The opportunity that will afford the region by creating green collar jobs, new technologies and weaning us off of oil and fossil fuels to the point where we can have reliable sources of energy that are renewable. We can do that here and there is no reason we can’t. You can’t tell me that Brazil is smarter than us. They are using their sugar cane crops to fuel their cars.

How about Nuclear?

I strongly favor nuclear. A lot of folks in my caucus and my party disagree and I’m not one to often cite France as an example of what we should be doing .

McCain really likes France, when I saw him at the Kirby he kept talking about the French.

But the point is that they made the decision that they were going to be as free from foreign oil as they could be. And by the time they are done about 80% of their electric needs will be generated by nuclear power. I think we ought to do that. The fact is that the reactors themselves are basically scram proof and the technology is much safer than a Three Mile Island or a Chernobyl or anything like that. They were old technologies. In Europe they have able to recycle the fuel so in the end there is 95% less of the fuel and radioactivity than the old systems. It’s not a complete perfect but it’s a 95% solution.

The Presidential race, we really haven’t heard much from you.

I support the Democratic ticket. I really like Joe Biden, he campaigned for me back in 2006. He is a genuine guy, I really love that he says what is on his mind and he’s a skilled politician but very genuine in what he is saying. I love the fact that he goes home at night to be with his family. I’ll tell you what, if I where closer I would do that too, but it’s little hard to drive up to Dimock from Washington every night .

Maybe we need an Amtrack link.

We are working on that. We are working on getting train service all over the eastern seaboard.


Anonymous said...

You should have inquired as to why he voted the way he did on the bailout; and why he doesn't show up at Obama rallies, such as the one last Sunday.

Zen said...

Jeez Gort, you didn't ask him any of the questions I proposed. You hurt my feeling. (Yes feeling, I only have one left).

Gort said...

Anon 7:24

His position on the bailout has been well documented in the local press and I tried to ask questions that haven't made the papers. He didn't make the rally on Sunday because he was attending a family religious event.

And no Zen, he doesn't read your "tripe."

Danny Bauder said...

Great interview, Gort. I really like Congressman Carney on a personal level, even though he's too conservative for my taste on alot of issues. Then again, he's not my Congressman, and the people he represents seem to like him just fine.

I'm glad he talks to bloggers, even as an incumbant. Many elected Dems only see the Internet activists as an ATM, I'm happy to see that Carney is smarter than that.

What's next? Will you be sitting down with Kanjorski?

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Canery on everything. I don't expect to.

But even when I disagree, it's crystal clear that his views are born from observation, education, and serious consideration. Not of political ideology or demogougery.

Which is why he'll bury Hackett in a couple weeks.

NEPAExpat said...


Sorry I am late to the party. Life tends to get in the way of other plans. Great job on the interview. Glad to see he at least can give a good answer on some tougher questions.

At the very least, he has seen the error of his ways supporting the corn ethanol subsidiaries promoted by Senator Obama. In the next 20 years, we are going to have to change the way we currently use energy. Nuclear will need to become a viable option again. At the other side of the spectrum, many parts of the country will be in trouble due to lack of water. Since Los Angeles secured the water rights that would have probably been diverted to Vegas and Phoenix, fresh water may become an important issue within my generation.

Too bad no one is pushing forward the research necessary to begin the next wave of desalinization.