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September 4th, 2013

Braley dances around Syria and debt questions at U of I event

IOWA CITY—Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, sounds more and more like a typical politician as he campaigns for an open U.S. Senate seat. At an event geared toward students on the University of Iowa campus Tuesday afternoon, Braley deflected questions on the national debt and Syria while calling for more spending on student loans and tax credits.

In response to a question on his stance on Syria, Braley did not firmly say he would vote against congressional authorization for military action, but he expressed skepticism that President Obama has presented an effective plan for dealing with the situation. Here’s his answer in full:

I was just over looking across the Syrian border three weeks ago, so it’s not something that’s abstract to me. I think that what happened in Syria is a crime against humanity and that it’s a violation of the Geneva convention and international law and that the international community should be outraged by what happened and the international community should be coming together to hold President Assad accountable for war crimes. That’s what I think is going on.

Now, what we’re talking about in Congress right now is something different than holding Assad accountable for war crimes. We’re talking about whether using some cruise missiles to send a message not to do this again, not to use chemical weapons against your own citizens, is going to be an effective deterrent that doesn’t risk inflaming the region into a broader war that will suck the United States in and require a much broader application of force. That’s what my concern is, is that I haven’t been presented with a plan that shows me how U.S. military intervention, according to what’s been described so far, will achieve the objective of holding the Assad regime accountable for war crimes. So, that’s my stand on Syria.

During the 45-minute question and answer session, one student asked Braley how he proposed to pay down the national debt, which stands at about $16.7 trillion, and deal with high unemployment for recent college graduates. In response, Braley talked about voting on appropriations bills (an odd dodge, considering that discretionary spending only accounts for about 30 percent of the country’s $3.8 trillion annual budget). Here’s Braley’s response in full:

We have to deal with votes on appropriations bills every year, where every one of the appropriations committees that covers a subject issue of the federal government comes to the floor. And we vote on the basic bill, and we vote on amendments to the bill. And often its amendments to the bill that give you the greatest opportunity to impact federal spending, because many of them involve removing items from the federal government, and that’s when you have the best opportunity to impact the actual deficit. So what I do, is when those bills come to the floor, I weigh them, consider them, and then I try to vote in a way that’s consistent with the interests of my district and try to address the rising federal deficit.

So, one of the things that is happening right now, is that there’s a sequestration in place that has across-the-board 10 percent cuts on, on discretionary spending. And what’s happening is that the impact of that sequestration is actually starting to reduce the rate of federal spending. So it’s having a positive across-the-board effect, but it’s having a very negative effect on some very good programs. Rather than identify the problem programs and eliminating them from funding.

Braley endorsed extending a $4,000 tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year, to help students pay for college expenses such as textbooks. As noted by The Daily Iowan, it’s not a controversial position: University of Iowa professor Timothy Hagle, a Republican, endorsed the idea, saying it has a “profound impact” on Iowa students. Braley also decried the high debt burden carried by Iowa students and criticized private universities geared toward online education.

About 30 students and a few local Democrats attended the event. Check out John Deeth’s blog for another take on the event.

About the Author

Jeff Patch

Jeff Patch is a correspondent for He’s a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at]

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