Excellent interview with Jim Mowrer at Salon.com. Here is an excerpt.
Could you talk a bit more about what you saw at the Pentagon? What’s an example of the kind of dysfunction you’re thinking of when you talk about your front-row seat?
The work I did at the Pentagon was to establish the Army Office of Business Transformation, and what we did there was to reform some of the Army’s business operations and make them more efficient and effective. So I had to work with Congress — the House and the Senate and the Armed Services Committee — and saw many times when we could not take action that was needed because of extreme partisan differences or parochial interests.
We had in many cases even generals saying, “We don’t need this program” or “We don’t need this machine any longer” yet Congress continued to fund those things, and we couldn’t get the job done.
Do you think your opponent, congressman King, deserves any special credit (or blame) for the level of stasis in Congress right now? Or is he just one among many, someone without any particular influence?
He is someone who pushed for the government shutdown last fall. When it ended, he said he wanted it to keep going. I think he’s someone who’s not interested in finding any kind of solutions or making Congress work. He’s much more interested in driving a partisan divide. His answer to everything is no. He does not want to get anything done. He wants to be an obstructionist. He’s said he wants to be a better obstructionist and he wishes there were more obstructionists like him in Congress; and that’s exactly what the people of Iowa don’t want right now.
I’m sure there are plenty of issues about which you and Rep. King differ, but what comes to mind when you think of areas where the difference between you two is the most pronounced?
Well, again, there is a stark contrast between us on almost every major issue and, frankly, almost every single issue.
But the biggest contrasts are probably when it comes to Social Security. When I was 7, my father was killed in a farming accident, and Social Security is the only thing that kept my family from falling so far down that we couldn’t get back up. So I believe in strengthening and protecting Social Security, while he voted to raise the retirement age to 70, and has said he wants to actually raise it to as high as 75 (because Wal-Mart will hire people until the age of 74). That’s a stark contrast.
On minimum wage, he’s said he doesn’t believe there should be a federal minimum wage, that it should drift away. I want to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, as Sen. Harkin has proposed. But I think the biggest difference between him and me is that I want this country to be successful no matter who gets the credit, no matter who the president is. I’ve served under a Republican president and I’ve served under a Democratic president; I just want this country to be successful.
When you say you want to strengthen and support Social Security, does that mean you won’t support any reform that ultimately leads to lower benefits? I ask because what we’ve often heard from activists who are worried about the federal budget is that they, too, want to protect Social Security — but their version of protection can end up meaning cuts. So, just for my clarification, you’re saying you would not support any plan that led to lower benefits?
If you’re referring to plans like chained CPI or raising the retirement age, I am dead-set against those. I would not support either under any circumstances — and that’s where the people of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District are on this.
Social Security is one of the most successful government programs that’s ever existed. It is overwhelmingly popular. It provides income security for 58 millions seniors, as well as people with disabilities and people who receive survivor benefits. Half of the seniors in this country would live in poverty without it. So we need to protect Social Security, which needs to be maintained at its current level and needs to be fully funded.
Right now we have a cap on the amount [of income that’s taxed for Social Security]. It stops at $117,000; so you have millionaires and billionaires who are not paying into Social Security beyond that cap … When I make my case to voters, a lot of people aren’t even aware that the cap exists — so [lifting the cap] is a very, very good first step.