- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, faces Democrat Rob Zerban, a former small business owner from Kenosha, on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Associated Press asked them to answer the same 10 questions in 130 words or less. Their responses follow.


Question: The latest favorability rating for members of Congress is 13 percent. What would you do to improve the functioning of the body?

Ryan: Hardworking taxpayers deserve solutions to the problems that we face as a nation, and that’s what leaders in Congress need to offer. This means not just saying what you’re against, but also saying what you are for. This is why I have put forward specific ideas on how to balance the budget, create jobs, and expand economic opportunities for all Americans. Offering concrete proposals to the challenges we face and being willing to work on a bipartisan basis on these issues are two things I would do to improve how Congress works.

Zerban: We need to end the corrupting influence of money in politics, reform partisan redistricting and stop the revolving door between Washington and K Street by barring congressmen from becoming lobbyists after they have served. Legislators should focus on solving problems and representing their constituents, not raising money to fund their campaigns by pandering to special interests. By ensuring that Congress is working for the people, and not special interests, we can restore confidence in our government.


Question: Describe one area in which you differ from your party leadership.

Ryan: One example is last year’s partial government shutdown. Some in the Republican Party wanted to prolong the shutdown, whereas I felt it never should have occurred in the first place. That’s why I worked across the aisle with Democratic Senator Patty Murray to reach a budget agreement that prevented future shutdowns this year. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 reduced spending and was a step in the right direction. Wisconsinites deserve a government that works for them, not one paralyzed by gridlock and partisanship, and I was proud to show how to accomplish that.

Zerban: I am firmly opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade deals modeled after NAFTA. These agreements have hurt American workers, and give control of markets to multi-national corporations with no allegiance to America; these agreements are bad for the rule of law and for the economy. We need global trade deals that lift workers and their economies up, not ones that race to the bottom by seeking out the lowest common denominator when establishing the rules.


Question: What role should the federal government take in creating jobs and stimulating the economy?

Ryan: For the last six years, the administration has been focused on increasing spending, raising taxes, and expanding the size and scope of the federal government. And the lackluster results speak for themselves. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, fewer people are participating in the workforce than in recent decades, and our national debt has skyrocketed. We need a different approach that’s focused on expanding economic opportunities for all Americans - not just growing government. We need to rein in wasteful Washington spending, stop job-killing regulations, promote domestic energy development, and fix our broken tax code. Innovators, entrepreneurs, and our talented workforce have always been the engine of our economy and if we can focus federal policies on encouraging these individuals, we’ll get back on the right track.

Zerban: We need to get back to full employment to get our economy moving again. The economic recovery feels sluggish because workers simply don’t have enough money in their pockets to spur growth. I support the President’s call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and I applaud the private companies who have done it on their own. A recent report - cited in several Wisconsin newspapers - showed states that raised their minimum wage experienced better job growth. In the long run we need to invest in our infrastructure to put people back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges. We should also pass Medicare for All to give our companies an edge internationally by reducing their healthcare costs.


Question: What do you see as the single biggest area of waste in the federal budget?

Ryan: The Path to Prosperity- the budget that I wrote and that the House of Representatives has passed - cuts spending by more than $5 trillion over the next decade and stops the federal government from spending money we don’t have. Our national debt currently stands at over $17 trillion. That is simply unacceptable. There are many areas of wasteful spending in the federal budget and we should look across the board at how Congress can be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Zerban: We need to stop insurance corporations and pharmaceutical companies from taking advantage of America’s healthcare system. The US spends more money as a percent of its GDP on healthcare than any other advanced nation, and the federal government gets put on the hook for a large part of that bill. Twenty-seven percent of all federal spending goes towards healthcare, and as costs continue to rise and the country ages this amount will only grow. So we need to do a better job of controlling costs now, and the ACA was an important first step. But we also need to allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma and reward healthcare providers based on outcomes, rather than the amount of tests and procedures they issue.


Question: Everyone says they pay too much in taxes. Aside from lowering taxes, what changes would you make to the federal tax code to improve its efficiency and fairness?

Ryan: American taxpayers spent over 6 billion hours last year trying to file their taxes and the litany of loopholes and carve-outs has made our tax code needlessly complex. Our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the industrialized world, and that’s hurting our ability to compete in a global economy. Right now, the tax code benefits the well connected at the expense of everyone else. We need to fix that. We need to make our tax code simple, fair, and competitive by broadening the tax base and lowering our tax rates so more Americans can succeed.

Zerban: Our corporate tax structure is a mess. Endemic loopholes written into the tax code - by both parties - have dragged down our economy and forced the middle class to pay billions of dollars more. Corporations once contributed 33 percent to the federal budget. Now they account for less than 10 percent. This has put greater pressure on the poor and middle class to fund the government. In addition, many corporate tax loopholes actually hurt the economy. Certain loopholes encourage offshoring and outsourcing, and so-called “tax inversions” allow American companies to move their headquarters overseas to dodge paying their fair share. American corporations currently have $2 trillion stashed overseas. We need to bring that money home and invest in job creation here in America.


Question: Under what circumstances would you support military intervention in another country?

Ryan: The federal government’s first duty is to keep our people safe from enemies at home and abroad, so that provides a good litmus test for determining whether military intervention is necessary. The goal of the federal government should be to have a safe and secure America in a safe and secure world. The United States is more than just a team player on the global stage; it’s a leader - and we need to continue to stand for freedom, justice and the rule of law.

Zerban: The best way we can serve our brave men and women in the future is to deploy them only when it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, I support military intervention under only two circumstances: when America’s security is directly at stake or if there is an overwhelming humanitarian need. In recent years, we have been too hasty with military force, but we cannot withdraw from the world. We should always pursue diplomatic solutions vigorously, such as with chemical disarmament in Syria or the nuclear drawdown in Iran. Also, we must no longer be the world’s sole policeman. Our allies around the world, particularly in Europe, must do more to promote peace, democracy and stability.


Question: There’s general agreement that the U.S. needs some sort of immigration reform. What changes would you make to fix the system?

Ryan: The first steps of any immigration reform should include securing our border and enforcing the law. But we also need to fix our legal immigration system so it better meets the needs of our economy. Finally, I believe that we can and should come up with a way to address the 11 million people who are in this country illegally. We shouldn’t provide amnesty, but we should give them a chance to get right with the law. Immigration reform is long overdue, and I am hopeful Congress will continue to work on meaningful reforms to fix our broken system.

Zerban: I support the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate last year. There must be a path to citizenship so people can come out of the shadows of society. We need a fair system to incorporate our neighbors into our communities and create jobs in the legitimate economy. The hurdles to citizenship cannot be so onerous that they discourage people from coming out of the shadows, but we also need to be careful not to encourage another wave of unintended, unregulated immigration. We should always remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and that to shut the door on people seeking a better life here would fundamentally change America’s promise. The process of becoming an American - one that my own wife recently went through - must be simple, effective and orderly.


Question: What changes would you make to Social Security to ensure the program’s longevity?

Ryan: Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure (Social Security) is there for current and future generations, and they cannot sit idly by while Social Security inches closer to insolvency. Congress should look at the ideas advanced by the President’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission, which said, among other things, that the benefits from higher-income workers should grow more slowly than those with lower incomes. We should also demand that both the President and Congress put forward plans to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund, which goes broke in 2033. Having a plan to address the looming shortfall in the Trust Fund, along with considering commonsense reforms like those advanced by the Fiscal Commission, will ensure the federal government keeps the promise made to workers through Social Security.

Zerban: As Ronald Reagan once said, “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.” However, as Baby Boomers begin to retire we will face a time when the benefits Social Security pays out will be higher than the revenue it brings in. We can address this in two ways. The first, and most important, is to abolish the cap on payroll taxes for higher incomes - we need to “Scrap the Cap.” This would go a long way to ensuring the solvency of Social Security for decades to come. The second thing we can do is pass comprehensive immigration reform. By integrating a new generation of taxpayers, the vast majority of who are working-age and younger, we can rebalance the number of people paying into and receiving benefits from Social Security.


Question: Barring repeal, what single change would you make to the health care overhaul law to improve care for Americans?

Ryan: Obamacare is unworkable and should be replaced with patient-centered reforms that empower individuals and their doctors, not bureaucrats in Washington and insurance companies. Wisconsinites have experienced first-hand the painful consequences of Obamacare: losing their doctors and their health care plans; seeing full-time jobs cut to part-time, and paying more for coverage. We deserve better. And that’s why I will continue to call for Obamacare’s repeal and offer solutions that expand access to affordable, quality health care.

Zerban: The Affordable Care Act was an important start. Many of its provisions are very popular, such as ending discrimination against preexisting conditions, covering 100 percent of preventive care like birth control and annual checkups, prohibiting insurance companies from kicking sick people out of coverage and allowing kids to stay on their parents’ plan until 26. Most importantly, the ACA provided access to affordable insurance coverage to millions of Americans for the very first time. However, I think we should work toward a fairer, cheaper and more efficient system: Medicare for All. We need to ensure coverage for all Americans so that we can control costs, improve quality and give American companies a competitive advantage internationally by reducing their healthcare costs.


Question: The states have a patchwork of laws when it comes to marijuana. Should Congress create uniformity by legalizing medical or recreational marijuana?

Ryan: No, I don’t believe that Congress should legalize marijuana.

Zerban: I am open to the idea of further liberalizing marijuana laws, but before making decisions at the national level, I think we should closely monitor the state-level experiments in Colorado and Washington. We don’t want to create another tobacco industry, especially one that targets our children and young people, but I do recognize that some patients really do see a benefit from using marijuana for medical reasons, and I further recognize that millions of Americans use marijuana casually and responsibly with no more harm than having a few beers. I also think we should move to de-criminalize and reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana. Getting caught with a little marijuana should not ruin a person’s life.

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