- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who lives in Vermont, Wis., faces Madison Republican Peter Theron, a math teacher, 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?

Pocan: Americans disapprove of the way Republicans and Democrats are unable to come together to tackle our nation’s greatest challenges. I believe that it is important to develop relationships with Republicans to find common ground. In Congress, I have worked with my Wisconsin colleague, Rep. Reid Ribble, to introduce legislation that would improve the way the Congressional Budget Office weighs the costs and benefits of health care related legislation.

Theron: Lawmaking should be a slow process. Our founding fathers designed a system that intentionally made it difficult to pass legislation so a majority wouldn’t be able to trample on the rights of a minority. Democracy is a team sport. We have gotten very good at it. Things get done when your team has a majority. However, when it’s all about the team, independent judgment goes out the window. House speakers and Senate majority leaders have too much power. As a member of Congress, I will maintain my independent judgment. I will be smart about my voting, but my country and district come first. That is the best way to represent the people of south-central Wisconsin.


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

Pocan: I recently opposed the proposal by President (Barack) Obama to arm so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. Without a full debate by Congress, I fear this is will lead to further involvement that will only entangle us more in the region. I could not support President Obama’s proposal because there were too many questions left unanswered.

Theron: I would not support renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank issues tax-subsidized loans that have not been proven to create any new jobs.


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

Pocan: The federal government can create an environment which supports job creation and economic growth through investments in education, raising the minimum wage, and improving worker protections such as health care benefits, paid sick-days, and paid time-off.

Theron: First, health-insurance uncertainty is holding back the economy. That needs resolution. Second, U.S. corporate tax policy has kept trillions abroad that would return with new policies. Also U.S. corporate tax rates are now higher than Canada’s. Third, reduce government regulation that is crippling company decision-making. Fourth, reduce the federal government’s share of the economy. Fifth, make America energy independent. Sixth, encourage basic and applied research.


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

Pocan: A significant amount of spending in the federal budget comes from the pet-projects supported by some members of Congress for Defense Department projects the troops have not asked for and even the Pentagon does not want.

Theron: The federal government has reported that it improperly paid out over $200 billion last year. That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are billions of dollars in waste and fraud throughout the Medicare-Medicaid system and Congress needs to get serious about addressing these issues.


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?

Pocan: I support closing tax loopholes that allow large corporations to ship profits and jobs overseas. I have introduced legislation which would end the practice of so-called “tax inversions.” Large corporations should not be able to avoid paying their taxes and shift their share on to American families and small businesses.

Theron: The tax code has become a swamp of special-interest favors. In return for cutting rates, we should shrink the tax code. Simplifying the code would not only lower taxes, it would save taxpayers billions of dollars in tax preparation costs. Additionally, the Congress should make it the policy of the government to reduce its rate of increase to 1 percent below the rate of inflation through 2025. The bureaucracy will then adjust its priorities, find efficiencies, reduce its staff through attrition, and eliminate waste. Those who have unlimited funds, never find savings. Limit the money.


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

Pocan: I would support military action only when there is a clear direct threat to our homeland or as part of a broad international coalition.

Theron: When American interests are truly threatened and the President asks for a declaration of war.


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

Pocan: I am a cosponsor of H.R. 15, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” modeled on the Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform bill. This proposal offers hardworking immigrants an earned pathway to citizenship after rigorous background checks and paying the appropriate penalties, reforms our visa programs, improves the E-verify program, and secure our borders.

Theron: Our first priority is to secure our borders and stop the flood of illegal immigrants that are entering our country. Then we need to streamline how we process visas while modernizing the criteria for citizenship.


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

Pocan: I support raising or eliminating the cap on earnings subject to payroll tax. It is important to know that Social Security is not the cause of our nation’s fiscal problems, and I oppose cuts of any kind, including a chained Consumer Price Index, to social safety net programs.

Theron: No changes for those who are receiving or about to receive Social Security. Those who are younger should transition to personal retirement accounts - similar to the plan that is already available to federal employees. To protect citizens, personal retirement accounts would be regulated as to eligible investments and require an insured institution hold the investments.


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

Pocan: I am open to changes to the Affordable Care Act that expands access to health care for more Americans. The change I believe deserves more debate on is how to create a “Medicare for all” or single payer health care system that guarantees health care for every American.

Theron: At this time it is impossible to improve the health care system without repealing Obamacare. I would support any number of reforms including encouraging interstate portability of health care coverage, allowing customization of insurance plans so consumers can purchase coverage that fits their needs, encouraging personal health savings accounts, and fixing the problems with Medicare/Medicaid.


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

Pocan: I support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and alternatives to incarceration for certain non-violent offenders. In Congress, I co-sponsored legislation to end federal enforcement in states which have legalized marijuana.

Theron: Absolutely not. Pro-marijuana advocates have put out a lot of misinformation about the effects of marijuana use and we should not fall into that trap. There is plenty of solid data showing that today’s marijuana can be produced with higher potency and this potency leads to persistent use that reduces academic performance and increases emergency room visits while doubling the user’s risk of a car crash. Arguments modeling alcohol use assumes our current alcohol policy is problem-free.

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