Congressman Pat Tiberi was home recently. It was Election Day and an ideal time to touch base with constituents, discuss their concerns and also let them know what is happening in Washington. During his visit, he took time out of a busy schedule for an interview with The Sunbury News.
Asked what are the most common issues he hears about from his constituents on a daily basis, Tiberi said the economy and jobs, and the lack of jobs needed to jump start the economy.
“Since President Obama passed his stimulus bill back in 2009 we’ve had 36 months of unemployment above 8 percent, and most of those months above 9 percent,” Tiberi said. “When he passed the stimulus bill, he said we had to pass the bill so unemployment wouldn’t go over 8 percent, but it’s been over 8 percent the entire time since then. That shows us that the stimulus bill didn’t work.”
Tiberi said what the economy needs is the private sector to start hiring again in a sustainable way; but he’s hearing that private sector employers want the tax code fixed and a lessening of the regulatory burden.
“I happen to be working on trying to fix the tax code, and making the tax code and rules for employers and individuals simpler, fairer and pro-growth,” Tiberi said. “Pro-growth, meaning a tax code that encourages job growth and also encourages investment. It’s hard to get there when you have a president who has very different views on the tax code and the regulatory environment; but I’m now convinced that our economy is not going to improve until employers see some relief on the regulatory side and some certainty in the tax code.”
Tiberi said 15 bills are stuck in the senate that deal with tax reform and job creation, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in Tiberi’s words, will not pick them up.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on, but I hear it every day, people are discouraged with what’s happening in Washington,” Tiberi said. “You still have the housing market in the dumps and employers who are not willing to expand. Even employers that have the ability to expand, large employers sitting on cash because they don’t feel good about the economy and about investing that money and hiring people. They’re saying they are not going to invest capital until they see some certainty in the tax code and on the regulatory side.”
Tiberi said the economy is in a holding pattern right now simply because President Obama will not listen to people who hire people; but that type of practical dialogue is what could open a pathway to a sound economic recovery.
“But right now there isn’t a lot of good signals for a quick recovery,” Tiberi said. “And if you look at history, if you have employment hovering over 8 percent, can a president get re-elected in the kind of a malaise we’re in right now? So I would think he would want to try to do some things that job creators are asking for, rather than a stimulus, which didn’t work before and will drive us a half trillion dollars deeper into debt as well.”
Asked about the U.S. Armed Forces withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year, and from Afghanistan next year, Tiberi said the withdrawal itself is not a problem, but the way the current administration has chosen to exit those two countries is troublesome.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things,” Tiberi said. “Because of the way President Obama has chosen to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, we face some very challenging months ahead. The president is signaling to the enemies of both America and our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan that we are leaving. He’s announcing it, and that’s the last thing we want to do throughout this process. Obviously, we are going to leave, but let’s do it in a methodical and smart way that doesn’t put our troops and coalition troops at risk, and that doesn’t put the alliance at risk.”
Tiberi said he understands what President Obama is doing; that he’s entering an election year and he’s trying to keep a campaign promise he made in 2008.
“President Obama is making a political decision rather than what we all hoped would be a policy decision based upon what commanders on the ground are telling him, and on how to withdraw without giving a roadmap to our enemies,” Tiberi said. “Some people say: Yah, I’m glad we’re leaving; but the bigger issue is not that we’re leaving, but the manner in which we’re leaving. Does it cause us more long-term damage with respect to our foreign-policy and how we’re looked at, not just in that region but how we’re looked at around the world?”
Tiberi said Afghanistan was on the radar before Sept. 11, 2001; that there were pre-9/11 congressional committee meetings about the county’s lawless society, and how it had become a training ground for Muslim fundamentalist extremists intent on attacking targets in the west.
“We became one of those targets,” Tiberi said. “What we don’t want is for that to happen again. But it certainly is something most extremists will look at if the president’s vision is accomplished in both Iraq and Afghanistan and we are out. The Islamist extremists aren’t going away, and this will certainly be looked at as a victory in their minds.”
Tiberi said leaving Iraq and Afghanistan would not end the War of Terror; that extremists would still be intent on attacking America on American soil.
“We haven’t had a terrorist attack here for a long time, and many people think that we won’t, but that’s just putting your head in the sand,” Tiberi said. “We’ve had over 100 attempts over the last 10 years according to the Homeland Security folks. The most recent case that made the news was the plot to kill a Saudi ambassador. Some might say in that he isn’t an American; but you put a bomb in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. or New York to kill the Saudi ambassador, how many Americans get killed?”
Tiberi said the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was foiled by a pure stroke of luck.
“Good intelligence work? Even the FBI will tell you we were fortunate that one of the people the terrorists contacted in the Mexican crime family happened to be a DEA undercover agent,” Tiberi said. “How lucky were we that they contacted the one guy who was a DEA undercover agent?”
Tiberi said in addition to luck, success at stopping terrorist attacks on American soil is the result of ramped up intelligence from the FBI, Homeland security, the CIA and the ability of all intelligence agencies to communicate with each other more effectively.
“But the other side is not backing down, and they will not back down when we leave Iraq and Afghanistan,” Tiberi said. “We have to realize we are still in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.”
Tiberi also talked about the national debt, and the bipartisan super-committee that is tasked with reducing debt spending.
“The national debt is heading towards $15 trillion; our annual in the red spending since Obama became president has averaged over $1 trillion a year,” Tiberi said. “We have this joint select committee’s that supposed to report in a couple of weeks on saving at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and they’re struggling to come up with a consensus. The six Democrats want to raise taxes, the six Republicans want to cut spending, and it appears a compromise is elusive.”
Tiberi said there are two types of federal spending. Mandatory spending happens automatically, it’s on autopilot, and discretionary spending which Congress approves every year.
“If you look back to 1960 when John F. Kennedy got elected, and you look at today, the changes in federal spending are eye-popping,” Tiberi said. “When Kennedy was president less than one-third of federal government spending was mandatory. Today, that less than one-third has become two-thirds. It’s flipped. Mandatory spending is now two-thirds and discretionary has become less than one-third; and that means Congress has less control over money going out in federal spending on a year-to-year basis, which makes it harder to control the deficit, unless you deal with the growth of mandatory spending.”
Tiberi said the two biggest mandatory spending programs that are growing rapidly are Medicaid and Medicare. Medicare is directly related to demographics, he said; in just the last 50 years the life expectancy has jumped up a decade.
“In 1950, there were fewer than 2,500 Americans who lived to be 100 or over,” Tiberi said. “In 2010, the latest census numbers, over 75,000 people in America live to be 100 or over. And that’s true of every age group — 90 and over a lot more than 1950, 80 and over a lot more than 1950 — and that’s a good thing, people are living longer. Modern medicine has a lot to do with that, but that’s expensive. We have tests now that we didn’t have, treatments we didn’t have even 20 years ago, medicines we didn’t have, and those continue to be improved. But there’s a cost to all of that; there’s a cost to people living longer.”
Tiberi said corporate retirement systems and Social Security were never designed for people to retire in their early 60s and go on to live longer than they actually paid into the systems.
“Social Security, Medicare, PERS, whatever system it is, the system was never designed for our modern length of life,” Tiberi said. “In addition to that, because of the baby boomers, demographically you have fewer people working and paying into the system than recipients. With fewer people paying in, more people being paid out to, and in addition to that people living longer — you have an actuarial nightmare. If we don’t deal with it, it’s going to be a legacy we leave our children that none of us will be proud of.”
Tiberi said with life expectancy continuing to creep up and advancements in modern medicine, we could be looking at a child in someone’s arms today who will be alive in 2100.
“We have to think about how the decisions we make or don’t make today will impact their lives,” Tiberi said. “We don’t want them to look back and say this generation didn’t prepare our country for this. We want them to look back and say: They had some tough times, but they turned it around and we’re glad that they did. And that’s what some of these tough decisions we have to make today are all about.”
On entitlement: Over the last couple of decades America has become like we can have all cake; there’s a growing feeling of entitlement. We have about half of our Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes today. That’s a problem; it’s the highest ever in our nation’s history. Certainly there are people who lost their jobs, the high unemployment rate, but we also have people who work and don’t pay federal income tax; and about half of Americans, not necessarily the same ones, get a check from the federal government. That’s utterly unsustainable; we have to change that because we cannot continue at that pace.
On Fair Tax: I think the two best ways to go is you get rid of the income tax and have a national consumption tax, called a sales tax, or you have a flat tax. Republicans are divided. Even for a couple of years when we had control of the Senate, the House and the Bush presidency, we couldn’t get enough votes to change the tax code because you had those who said fair tax or nothing, and those who said flat tax or nothing. It’s interesting that advocates of both shared a common theme: it’s simple, everybody pays the same, you could put it on a postcard if it’s a flat tax, you don’t even have to have an IRS if it’s a fair tax because it’s consumption based. But I wouldn’t want to go to a sales tax until we first eliminate the income tax. If you have both, it’s just going to be a big revenue grab by liberal big spenders who want to see both.
On President Obama: The difficulty today is we have a divided government. We’re trying to push the president away from his liberal leanings and get us to live within our means as a federal government. What makes it even more difficult is the president is now in full campaign mode. It will all come to a head next November during the presidential election, but I don’t see how he can run again on a platform of hope and change. I don’t think anybody feels better off than they did in 2008.
On allegations against Herman Cain: If you’re running for president and know something’s going to come out with the two sexual harassment settlements, you think he would be better prepared. For somebody running for commander in chief, the highest position in the country, an office filled with crisis management, I find it quite surprising that he was not better prepared to answer those allegations. It makes you wonder about competency when someone cannot respond to something that they know is going to come up.