I sat down for an hour this morning with Matt Whitaker, a Republican candidate for United States Senate. We met for coffee at Timbuktuu on EP True Parkway in West Des Moines
My project: My goal is to have a discussion with each of our candidates for the 3rd District U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate to improve my understanding of where they stand on some of the key issues. I do basic research on their positions so I can focus our discussion time on issues or positions that are of interest to me and other likely primary voters. I prioritize issues where I disagree with them and/or where they appear to disagree with the 2012 Iowa GOP Platform. I then write as concise a summary as possible for sharing in social media. I am not a professional journalist so set your expectations accordingly.
#1. I told him that economic growth was my top priority and that I would appreciate more details about policy changes that he would support in addition to his strong opposition to excessive regulation and infringement of private property rights.
He said that his primary concern was the Federal debt exceeding $17 trillion and climbing. This is a heartfelt issue for him. He considers it immoral to pass this debt on to his children. He supports a balanced budget amendment as a permanent solution. He is against increasing the debt ceiling without at least $1 dollar of specific spending cuts to offset each $1 of increased debt. In the short term, he favors “revenue neutral” tax reform and a stair-step approach for spending reduction. He would eliminate baseline budgeting in favor of zero based budgeting and mandate a fixed % reduction in Federal spending each year until the deficit was eliminated.
#2. I asked him to share his thoughts on controlling costs in politically sensitive areas, specifically military and entitlement spending.
Regarding the military, he repeated core positions that our promises to the military personnel must be met 100%. But, he felt that with a broad assessment of the global threats we face and a clear definition of the mission, we could find opportunities. His view of the military role would be closer to Rand Paul than to John McCain. He is certainly not a “neo-con”. Regarding entitlements, he does not believe that the current promises are sustainable and that an “American solution” (bipartisan) is required. He would clearly favor reductions in foreign aid. He believes all Federal agencies have substantial excess personnel costs that could be reduced with sound business practices such as “6 sigma”.
#3. I asked him to share his thoughts on global alignment with U.S. vital interests. I have already shared his general view about the military in point #2.
He said he is a strong advocate of free and relatively unfettered international trade. He does not believe we can dictate the political systems for every nation in the world as a condition for U.S. trade but that restrictions should be on a “case by case” basis. I would say that he is not an advocate of a “Freedom Agenda” as defined by George W Bush and the Powell Doctrine, which includes overwhelming strike capabilities and ground forces. He sees the global need to be more (not exclusively) associated with asymmetrical warfare as we have seen in the “War on Terror”. Note: We did not have time to talk specifics, Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Israel etc..
#4. I asked him to share his thoughts on energy policy.
He said he favored an “all of the above” approach to energy. In the short term he favors a “drill here, drill now” approach. He is not a supporter of excessive Federal involvement in subsidies or mandates related to alternative fuels. He would not destabilize those industries with short term action but he would expect a reasonable glide path to free market competition. He noted that if we had the natural gas production and infrastructure for export in place today, we could influence the geopolitical realities for Europe and its dependence on Russian resources.
#5. What is your position on immigration reform? I told him that I supported comprehensive immigration reform if and when we had a President who would enforce all of the law. I also told him that I thought the U.S. needed large numbers of immigrants to sustain strong economic growth.
He is for reform as the current system is broken. He has personal experience as a Federal Prosecutor with the border situation. In his opinion, it is nowhere close to secure and therefore certain aspects of reform are not acceptable to him. He favors robust expansion of legal immigration based on assessments of needs in the U.S. economy. For those who come here legally and permanently, he would support a path to citizenship rather than a permanent non-voter status. He is against any road to citizenship for those who are in the country illegally. He holds a strong personal view that he does not address issues in terms of racial or ethnic makeup. He sees each person as an individual and tries to formulate policies based on freedom, opportunity and individual liberty.
#6. What is your position on health care beyond repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Is there anything you like about it?
He said he favored full repeal, not reform of Obamacare. He would support new legislation to address: fewer uninsured, access for high risk patients, consumer oriented (level the after tax costs for individuals as is done for corporate employees), policy sales across state lines, pools for small businesses to lower rates.
#7. Not so much as a question but as a general theme throughout the conversation, we talked about the type of style he might have as a U.S. Senator. I told him I was not personally a fan of the Ted Cruz approach because I don’t want the Democrats to use it when they are the minority in 2015.
He clearly identified himself more closely with the new breed of activist Senators such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee. He feels very strongly about the annual Federal deficit and the massive Federal debt and would probably not shy away from using tactics to expose those who are too timid to act.
Overall Conclusion: Matt Whitaker comes across as competent and confident. He is a strong conservative. I can’t really “pigeonhole” him, but I believe he will appeal to most fiscal, social, liberty and tea party conservatives. His top priority is the Federal deficit, but for me, I would like to see more details on how to reform taxes and cut spending. I am well aligned with him on foreign policy and the role of the military.
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