Last Friday Reed spoke to the Lansing Star on the telephone to answer questions about his candidacy and talk about how he will represent the newly formed 23rd district if elected.
Lansing Star: Your old 29th District was more conservative than the new 23rd District is, and certainly Tompkins County. Will this change the way you represent your district in any way?
Tom Reed: No, to me it's always about being accessible. Getting out and listening to people, just like we did in the 29th Congressional District with the number of town halls we hosted, and really trying to have a conversation so that when we go to Washington we're bringing the voices of the 23rd Congressional District to Washington.
Obviously, when you represent 700,000- plus people, that doesn't mean we're always going to agree with all 700,000 people a hundred percent of the time. But what we're going to do is do the work to make sure what's important to the district and try to be that strong voice in Washington on its behalf and watching out for its interests.
LS: We've heard Mr. Obama talk about providing federal funding for infrastructure. Lansing has been struggling for 20 years to get a sewer, and it has a project right now that may go through this year. But despite Mr. Obama's Rooseveltian approach to providing infrastructure around the country, there is no federal money at all in this project. Should federal money be going into local infrastructure, and if yes, what will you do to help localities like Lansing get it?
TR: I do believe in infrastructure spending. That's an appropriate role of the federal government, and I believe with a strong infrastructure base we'll be able to we will be able to ignite interstate commerce, and put us in a position to be competitive in the global market. Being a former mayor, I know that our is in a failing condition across municipalities across the nation.
So I am a strong supporter of infrastructure spending. One of the problems we face in Washington, though, is that we're sixteen trillion dollars in the hole. This is an example of where we're having difficulty fulfilling our needs of the government in regards to infrastructure spending, national security, and elsewhere.
But the bottom line is we've got to come up with alternatives and new ways to create revenue lines to cover our infrastructure. In particular, in Washington one of the primary infrastructure lines is the Highway Trust Fund. That is fueled by our gasoline tax at the pump. The bottom line is that at eighteen cents, which is the rate that is taxed on a gallon of gasoline, that's not producing the necessary revenue to cover the infrastructure. There's a significant gap there.
So we've been proposing an alternative and new revenue lines using our national resources as a base. I've been supportive of using our oil and gas and our natural resources here in America, and dedicating the revenue associated with those public rights to infrastructure needs. It's just an example of an alternative revenue line that Ive been supportive of.
LS: Along the same lines, local school taxes are way out of control. Lansing in particular has taken a big hit because on top of the cuts in state and federal funding, it's largest taxpayer is a coal powered power plant that looks like it's going down the tubes quickly. Should the federal government be investing more in public education?
TR: When you refer to the coal powered plant, it reminds me of the additional facility we have in the district, in Chautauqua County, the NRG facility. There are 162 jobs at stake because it's a coal powered facility. If the numbers work out that will have the same impact there that you're seeing in Lansing, because it's a primary part of the real property tax base, and with it shutting down and losing that real property tax base -- that's a significant problem that manifests itself on a local level.
From my perspective that's one of the reasons why we've been a proponent of developing our natural gas resources in America. To make sure that's done safely and responsibly. Primarily it's a state issue, and state oversight needs to be there. But the numbers work for natural gas power production facilities, and hopefully Lansing will follow that energy. What we've been supportive of in Dunkirk is to do the conversion to a natural gas facility.
You asked the question about educational needs. To me one of the things we should also be doing in Washington is... education is key to our future, and I believe in education. We need to get the federal government out of the way.
I had a great meeting with the Superintendent yesterday in the Geneva school district. I'll tell you, she said the administrative and compliance parts of these mandates coming from the federal government are such that it's killing local school districts. I've seen studies that show that 40 cents of every dollar that's being distributed from the federal government is going to compliance to these mandates. What we need to do is stretch that dollar so it's going to the classroom, and not to complying with mandates from the federal government.
LS: You go to the local diner, and what are people talking about? They are very closely monitoring those signs above the gas stations with rising gas prices. I've been struggling with this. Locally Lansing has a moratorium on fracking right now. A lot of people are worried about environmental outcomes and negative impact to the local tourist industry. But it also seems to me that we give a lot of money to countries that don't like us to get their gas, while we have this big beautiful country that has its own oil.
Do you think this kind of 'Not In My Back Yard' effect is hurting the country, and how would you vote on energy exploration?
TR: I do believe in an energy policy which really is an 'all of the above'. One that recognizes in the short and mid term, and as part of the comprehensive energy program that we have been advocating for, to maximize the use of our domestic fuels. Those are natural gas and oil reserves right here in the shale formation throughout North America. To me it primarily needs to be a state issue, where the decision of regulatory oversight is done so that the government closest to the people governs that. I'm a firm believer in that philosophy.
What's good for North Dakota may not be good for New York. That's why you need that flexibility in local government control to make sure it's done safely and responsibly.
Your point is extremely important, because as gas prices continue to go up, and we have resources such as natural gas that are potentially moving into the transportational fuel space -- now that's a game changer when it comes to our imports of foreign oil from Middle Eastern countries that are no friends to us, as you point out. We need to look at this and always make sure that if there's a problem we solve the problem. That's what made America great and will make America great going forward.
So we need to make sure we're looking at it from a scientific and data driven perspective, and make sure we don't come up with the 'no' attitude, but with the attitude of 'yes we can', identify the problem and implement the solution. That is something I firmly believe in.
LS: In Lansing's old district, two congressmen ago, one of the things that impressed me about Mr. Arcuri was how many times he visited Lansing, especially because it was a small rural town literally on the southern fringe of his district, and Ithaca was not part of his district. He seemed genuinely interested in how he could help such diverse local industries as high tech and farming. How much of that have you been doing in the campaign in all of the communities in the district, and how much do you do that as a congressman?
TR: We've been over each of the counties in the new part of the 23rd Congressional District numerous times, meeting with small business owners, larger business operations, local agricultural representatives, be it the grape growers or dairy farmers throughout the entire district.
What I would say in response is that I would put my record of what we did in the 29th Congressional District on the table. We've done the most town halls of any member in the northeast. I had 75 plus. It was my stated goal that I would do 70, and we did that and then more. I believe that the job of a representative is to be out there listening and talking to people about the issues that are on their minds.
Lansing would be no different. We've already been over numerous times and met with the folks at Cornell and Ithaca College. That's such a significant part of the Tompkins County makeup, Cornell being the largest employer in the county. Touring the different business near the airport. This was over at Borg Warner/Morse Tech, with the 3,000 plus employees that they represent in such a big portion of the automotive industry. There is some great opportunity up there. We just want to continue to be that voice of really getting out and having that conversation.
LS: At election time we always hear a lot about candidates who say they will cross the political aisle to break the deadlock in Washington. I think most people are tired of hearing that from politicians because once the election is over it appears to go back to business as usual. Do you think it is desirable or possible to break that stalemate, and what will you do to break it if you think it is a good thing to do and you are elected for another term?
TR: I absolutely agree it is a good thing to do. We're not just talking the talk. We were recognized by US Today for our bipartisan effort in an editorial they wrote months ago. Every piece of legislation I introduced in Congress has a bipartisan co-sponsor. I'm working closely with people like Kathy Hochul, Brian Higgins and Bill Owens right here in the New York delegation. I'm still part of the Go Big Coalition, which has guys like Steny Hoyer on the other side of the aisle. It's a bipartisan group where we're really trying to deal with the issues long term, and really deal with the financial crisis and the jobs crisis.
That's what we try to do. That's who we are. I guess it comes from being the youngest of 12. You live in a large family like that and there are a lot of different opinions as to what's best moving forward. And my Mom taught me to treat people with respect as you would want them to treat you. And you work hard and deal with people straight-up and things will happen. That's who we are and that's what we try to do.
And we're not just talking the talk -- that's what we've done be it in things like the invasive species legislation with Kathy Hochul, West Valley fuel rod processing facility over in Cattaraugus County that we teamed up with Brian Higgins and Kathy Hochul on, or apple imports with Bill Owens because that's a critical issue with our agricultural interests here in the district. We try to back it up with our record.
LS: Health insurance: every year I dread the letter they send me saying they are raising my rates, always in double digits. It feels to me as if Obamacare is forcing people to be extorted by the medical community. Realistically is there any relief in sight, and what specifically will you do to provide it.
TR: Growing health costs is a critical issue. It's not only health care and having access to health care. We're also talking about jobs. We have four points that we stress when it comes to creating a competitive market in America, and I have always toyed with adding a fifth to that plan. You know the four points deal with the national debt, regulatory relief, comprehensive tax reform, and a comprehensive energy policy such as we have already talked about. The fifth point is the ever escalating costs associated with health care and the health insurance premiums that go with that.
I am a big believer that the Affordable Health Care Act, Obamacare, is the 'one size fits all' problem that comes out of Washington, D.C. and exacerbates the problem when it comes to health care costs. I think the Affordable Care Act does some things in regards to health insurance reform that we will be supportive of with the replacement package. For things like pre-existing conditions, 26 year-olds being carried on their parent's policies, etcetera. But we need to get to the root issue, and that's what is causing health care costs in America to go through the roof?
I believe we have some tools available at the federal level. If we deployed in the areas of Medicaid and Medicare, Tricare (how our armed services are treated), we can deploy new mechanisms that change how health care is delivered so that it rewards efficiency, rather than the fee for service- based system we have today. I believe that what we need to do is repeal the Affordable Care Act and then let the federal government, but mostly the states, come up what's good for them... but the federal government in the areas of Medicaid, medecare, and Tricare to employ techniques that are going to drive efficiency in the health care arena with utilization and transparency being two additional areas I would focus on.
I do support tort reform. I do believe if we get that under control the concept of defensive medicine, for which we see escalating costs, will be removed. I'm not a typical politician. I'm going to be open and honest with hard working taxpayers and say I support tort reform. There's a need to catch all the waste and we need to do both. But that's part of the solution, but it's not THE solution. So we need to look at this further than just those two sound bite answers that we've heard for so many years from elected officials.
LS: As we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan should some of the military budget be diverted to domestic spending?
TR: I'm glad that the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts -- obviously in Iraq we've wound down, and in Afghanistan I am glad to say that I see that we're coming to the finish line. First and foremost, I have met so many of our wounded warriors, our men and women that have been deployed multiple times, and I am glad those conflicts are coming to a conclusion, not only for the sake of the men and women that have given so much in those campaigns, but also because of the financial implications that come with it.
It's going to lessen the financial burden on our federal budget, the $3.6 trillion that we spend every year. But we do have a national debt problem of $16 trillion that we're in the hole to. I am very interested in utilizing any savings we can in the federal budget, not to grow government, but to pay off that debt and get us out of this hole. So that's how I look at it, and that's how we're going to continue to move forward, to really focus on downsizing these governmental lines, using that additional cash to pay off the debt.
LS: What are your top issues, and what are the couple of issues you really want to hammer on in the next term?
TR: For me the top issue is jobs. It's creating a competitive American market that strengthens the private sector and private sector to be competitive on the world economic stage here in America. I do believe that we can have a manufacturing and industrial renaissance in America. I've talked to so may small business owners, Fortune 500 CEOs and boards... they want to invest in America. In order to do that one of the key things that we need bring certainty to our policies in Washington. Right now there is so much uncertainty that keep people on the side line who are afraid to invest.
If we strengthen the private sector and make it competitive, they'll choose America all day long. That's what we want to be a voice for. That's the number one issue and the top three are jobs, jobs, jobs.
It's not just because that's political talk, but it is the real substantive issue that's going to help us get out of this debt situation. It's going provide us opportunities for generations, and that's what I want to be known as: a champion for the private sector.
LS: What else should Tompkins County and Lansing voters know about you that will impact their voting decision?
TR: Given an opportunity... and I have so enjoyed meeting so many people as I've gone over to Tompkins County and through the new parts of the new district... I put our work ethic and who we are... I live in a house my Grandpa built in 1922. This has been home for generations. It's the same home I grew up in. The next time I move from that area will be in a box. I will call this home forever.
I'm raising my two kids, Autumn and Will with my wife here in Corning. I just love the area. We're going to work hard to be a strong voice for it to make sure that we can allow our kids an opportunity to stay here, and our grandkids and their grandkids. That, I think, is what's missing. If we keep that as the priority and the focus I think good things will come to all of us here in Western and upstate New York. This is a beautiful area that we've got to work for.