This week’s Washington Watch newsmaker is one of the Republican Party’s most outspoken fiscal and social conservatives. Cong. Steve King has represented Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District since 2003, so it’s safe to say knows his way around Washington.
MR. MARTIN: Our newsmaker guest is one of the Republican Party’s most outspoken fiscal and social conservatives. He’s been representing Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District since 2003, so I think it’s safe to say Cong. Steve King knows his way around Washington, D.C.
Congressman, welcome to the show.
REP. STEVE KING: Thanks for having me on. I appreciate –
MR. MARTIN: [Crosstalk] –
REP. KING: — being here today.
MR. MARTIN: — certainly glad a Republican in Congress [is] willing to come on the show. We’ve been trying to get them on. So glad you accepted my invitation.
REP. KING: Well, it was interesting how that unfolded, too, getting off the plane there in Houston, and you started that conversation. I’m glad you did that, and I’m glad to be here. And I remember the jersey you had on that morning, too.
MR. MARTIN: Well, of course. You know, I’ll always represent Texas A&M and my Houston, Texas.
So, let’s get right into it. Let’s deal with the presidential campaign. You’re in Iowa. That’s the first voting taking place on the GOP side, and it has been absolutely topsy-tur- — topsy-turvy. The – the latest poll – Republican Poll – [a] Rasmussen automated telephone survey, New Gingrich now 32 percent, followed by Mitt Romney, 19 percent. Herman Cain, who was leading – he’s now third with 13 percent, with Ron Paul about 10 percent, and then Gov. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann back at 6 percent. This – this – [unintelligible] – has been up and down. What do you make of the volatility on the GOP side, specifically in the polling there in Iowa?
REP. KING: Well, I think what’s different here this year is that we have more and more social networking going on, and I think the national media then has more influence on the Iowa campaign than I’ve seen in the past. But we’ll see a candidate go in and get a good bump in Iowa, and then – then there is a criticism that comes forward, and we watch that ascendancy become a descendancy instead. So, many of them have had their turn of going near the top of the polls and then sending them – then going back down again, but I think this – that a telephone poll in Iowa with Newt that high probably overstates his support now. I do think that he has had a good bump there. Over the last three or four weeks, we’ve heard two names on the lips of people in the state – the activists – and that is Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. And so Newt has earned this, and it’s real. It may not be that 32 percent, though – is my – my caution on it.
MR. MARTIN: And – and Santorum has spent a lot of time in the state. He’s got –
REP. KING: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — grou- — he got troops on the ground. He’s really been working the state. He pretty much has a[n] “Iowa or bust” strategy.
REP. KING: Well, he does, and he’s not the only one that has the “Iowa or bust” strategy; but Rick Santorum has been to all 99 counties. He’s – he’s quietly been working hard. He does have s- — solid, loyal supporters that he’s built in many of the counties, and he’ll have a – if anybody’s going to be a surprise, it’ll be Rick Santorum, but watching where he is in the polls tells me that maybe that – that springboard that Newt caught could be the one that Rick was trying to catch.
MR. MARTIN: You have not endorsed. Are you going to endorse any candidate before it’s time to vote?
REP. KING: If that question were asked in April, May, June, or July, or August, I would’ve said “yes.” And now I say, “I hope so.” I want to get to a conviction so that I can – I can at least – I think I owe the people in Iowa my best judgment, and I owe them my best effort. And I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to get to know these candidates. I actually ’ve known them – all except Rick Perry – in a – in a – in a personal and a professional way coming up to this point. And at this point, I have not reached a conviction, but when and if I do, I will make an endorsement – and I think I need to come to a decision. We all have to by January 3rd, and my date is just sooner than that, if I can get there.
MR. MARTIN: It seems as if there’s been this constant “anybody but Mitt Romney”; but, of course, he had to deal with the issue of being a Mormon back in 2008. Evangelicals, especially in southern states, were not particularly gravitating towards him. But – but what do you make of this whole notion of, look, people just saying, “I” – “I really just don’t trust that guy,” but he keeps going? It’s Bachmann. It’s Perry. It’s Cain. It’s Gingrich, but who’s sti- — constantly right there is Mitt Romney.
REP. KING: He has – he has his section of the group, and it has been. It’s been very constant. I do want to say that Mitt Romney is a better candidate here – now than he was four years ago. He’s developed himself. He’s learned a lot as a candidate. You don’t just develop as a businessman and as a – and as a governor, but he’s developed as a candidate for President, and part of this contest – this test, this nomination process – shapes the next President. It isn’t just reaching into an office or a factory and pulling out the person who has the best DNA combination to be President of the United States, but it’s the development [and] how they meet the challenges; and – and Mitt has met those challenges, but he seems to be stuck where he can’t get above. And, in fact, this is the first poll I’ve seen where his numbers diminish some. So, I don’t think that’s a trend. I think he will hold those numbers pretty solid.
I do want to say also in his behalf that – that he was unjustly marked down
because of his religion four years ago, and he was marked down a little bit for being a little too perfect. And I say anybody that has more kids and fewer vices than me, it’s hard for me to be critical of them, Roland.
MR. MARTIN: Let me – let me ask you this here. We – we see this Super Committee here in Washington, D.C., grappling with trying to deal with the debt. At the end of the day, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, folks have to understand compromise. And so I understand taking a position. Democrats say, “Don’t touch Medicare. Don’t touch Social Security,” but they have to deal with entitlements. Republicans say, “Absolutely no tax increases,” but when you look at what also contributes to the debt, Bush tax cuts contributed to our debt. And so what do you make of this stalemate, both sides unable to come to an agreement? Do you have any confidence they will come to an agreement to meet the deadline – November 23rd deadline?
REP. KING: I think the odds are less than 50-50 that they will be able to – that they will be able to offer a proposal that can sell – that can be sold in the House and in the Senate. So, e- — I think they’ll produce something. I th- — I think at the final minute they’ll kick something out, and I think there’re a lot of members in the House and Senate that will say, “No, I don’t want to go down this road.”
From my standpoint, I – I look at it from the bigger picture. The Super Committee does not solve the problem. We are looking at – if – if we stayed at baseline spending – and that is the projected increase, I want to emphasize. I never liked that, when Democrats or Republicans declared baseline spending and then implied to the American people that it’s flat. It’s not. It’s – increases to $28 trillion in accumulated national debt in ten years, in our budget window. With the debt ceiling deal, it reduces that projected national debt ten years down the road from 28 to 26 trillion. And so all of this Super Committee discussion is – is on to whether – whether the national debt will be 28 or 26 trillion in national debt. I don’t think that solves the problem. In fact, the Ryan budget would’ve left us with 23 trillion in national debt ten years down the road. We gave up on the Ryan budget when the debt ceiling deal – the Super Committee was created.
So, I’m going to say this fails most likely, and then we’ll have a balanced budget vote. That’s happening today, I understand. And after that, if it goes into the sequestration – the most likely – there will be the automatic cuts that’ll be painful for both sides – designed to be so, but enacted and take effect [the] first day of January of ’13 – of 2013. So, that’s a new Congress, perhaps a different majority in the Senate, different Pre- — President, perhaps, and then there’s time to start to undo some of this and maybe do something better.
I want to get this budget under control. I want to get to a balance. I want my sons, who’re in their middle thirties, to live at least one year and pay taxes when the budget is balanced. I want them to contribute to reducing the national debt – not just slowing the increase in it.
MR. MARTIN: But when you look at the Congressional Budget Office say the Bush tax cuts contributed to our national debt, and I hear Cong. Bobby Scott say, “Look, we can’t afford any of these tax cuts” – so, how do you deal with that when you have a Grover Norquist who says, “Absolutely not. If you get rid of the Bush tax cuts, I consider that to be a tax increase”?
REP. KING: Well, this discussion is in a zone where I don’t have a lot of optimism either, and I understand the argument that the Bush tax – extension of the Bush tax brackets contributed to the – the national debt, or the deficit spending. But the other side of that argument is, what would’ve happened to suppress the economy if we hadn’t done that? And by the way, into that bargain were $212 billion in transfer payments that was also borrowed money that was handed out to people, and a lot of it was in the form of extending unemployment benefits [and] other kinds of programs under the idea that Keynesian economics would solve this problem – that if you would just put money into the hands of people, not require them to produce anything for it – just put it into the- — in their hands and say, “Your patriotic duty is to spend money. Now you’ll stimulate the economy.” I disagree with that.
MR. MARTIN: But 70 percent of our inco- — our economy is based upon consumer spending, and so what – so, are you saying absolutely no benefits to the unemployed? Or, are you saying extend unemployment benefits, but then they do something while they’re getting those checks?
REP. KING: Well, I think extending the unemployment benefits to 99 weeks slowed our recovery. I’m sitting around with people in my neighborhood who have identified good employees, and they know the last day that their unemployment runs out, because then they can get them to go to work. That’s – those conversations are taking place by the millions across this country. So, I think 26 weeks was long enough. I think that beyond that, we should be asking people to work in exchange for those unemployment benefits. We have 72 different, means-tested welfare programs provided in this country, and no one can list them from memory, let alone understand all of the things that they do; and a lot of it is a disincentive for people to go to work.
I want us – I want to enhance the production side of this. We have – we tax all production in America. Anybody that has earnings, savings or investment, Uncle Sam has the first lien on it. So, that’s a punishment for production, and as – by the same token, we’re borrowing money, some of it from the Chinese, and telling people, “Spend, spend.” Well, if you push the prod- — consumption side of this too far, nobody’s left to produce anything for you to buy with the money we’ve borrowed.
MR. MARTIN: [I’ve] got to ask you this question. We saw co- — a congressional committee – the House committee this week vote when it came to school lunches and nutrition, and Congress basically said, according to this committee, that pizza and French fries can stay on the menu. Now, here we have a healthcare problem in this country, an obesity problem in this country. We have more children in this country with juvenile diabetes, who are much larger than the previous generation. Shouldn’t we be sitting here saying, “Yeah, a kid may say, ‘I would love to have pizza and French fries,’ but somebody needs to be able to say, ‘No, your little butt needs to get some vegetables as well,’” because – in order for us to fight this, because if we don’t, our healthcare costs are going to continue going up by virtue of being an obese nation?
So, was this committee correct –
REP. KING: Now –
MR. MARTIN: — in their vote? And will you support the measure to keep pizza and French fries on the school menus, versus healthy choices?
REP. KING: You know, I – I’m not much about trying to be the nanny state that tells people what they can and can’t eat. In fact, I don’t think that young people, 30 percent of whom are overweight now – and we had our previous secretary of defense say it’s a national security issue –
MR. MARTIN: Right!
REP. KING: — because these kids are too fat to make it through basic training. I say put them into the military, then, extend basic training until they make weight. They can go out there and work out and go on that military diet. It didn’t ruin their muscle tissue, their skeletal tissue, or their nervous tissue. We can get them into shape. But we need to have an active lifestyle, and they’re stuck behind the television, and a lot of schools have given up or reduced their – their physical training, their –
MR. MARTIN: Due to budget cuts.
REP. KING: — well, perhaps, yes. And –
MR. MARTIN: Well, n- — not “perhaps.”
REP. KING: — and – and –
MR. MARTIN: I have four teachers in my family, three sisters and one brother, and one of the reasons they cut recess, they cut physical education was because of budget cuts.
REP. KING: Okay. Let’s just say “due to poor prioritization.” That might be another way to describe that. But I want to see them get exercise, and I don’t think we can control their diets. There was an effort in this country to cut 1.5 trillion calories out of the diets of young people, and that’s a lot of calories. They were going to do it by taking a couple of Doritos out of the individual serving bag and reducing the calories in the Power Bar from 150 down to 90 calories. I say these overweight kids are voracious feeders that don’t get exercise. They will take two candy bars instead of one, and it’ll be 180 calories instead of 150.
MR. MARTIN: But as you do know, one of the reasons we got the school lunch program is because the United States military said, you know, 40, 50, 60 years ago we had an undernourished nation, largely in the South. And that decision by the military to change the diets caused a shift in terms of feeding children in this country. S- —
REP. KING: But – but –
MR. MARTIN: — so – so –
REP. KING: — then, Roland –
MR. MARTIN: — you – so, you’re going to vote for this initiative to say keep pizza and French fries on the school menu.
REP. KING: — I just don’t want to be a nanny state that says you can’t eat pizza and French fries. Kids have to eat for calories, too. There’s always that hungry kid in there.
MR. MARTIN: I gotcha.
REP. KING: I remember I’d go next – sit [next] to that girl that wouldn’t eat what she had to eat, and I’d scrape her nasty, old macaroni and cheese over and eat it ‘cause I was hungry when I sat there. And so I – I think that, you know, what we need to do is – by the way, in the last food – the last farm bill, which is – by the way, these farm bills, 74 percent is nutrition. We put that nutrition in there because people were suffering from malnutrition, if you – if [sic – “as”] you essentially stated. We had – the witness before our committee was Janet Murguia, the head of La Gu- — La Ra- — La Raza, who testified that one of the reasons for obesity is food insecurity. People were anxious that they didn’t know where all their future meals were coming from, and so they tended to overeat; and we could solve some of the obesity problem by making sure nobody ever had to worry about their next meal.
I can’t even get into that discussion. It is – it is so bizarre to me: give people more food, that are overweight, and then we’ll solve the obesity problem. That’s Orwellian, in my view. It’s humor- — it’s humorous, but it’s Orwellian, Roland.
MR. MARTIN: Well, I’ll tell you what. [If it’s] impacting our budget, I say we’d better pay attention to obesity, if we care about those healthcare costs and dealing with national debt.
Congressman, I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot. [I] look forward to having you back.
REP. KING: It is my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Roland.