While the race for Oregon’s 5th District Congressional seat is generally considered the federal race to watch here in the Beaver State, freshman Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader feels good about his accomplishments in his first two years in Congress.
The congressman, who faces Oregon House Rep. Scott Bruun in November’s midterms, recently had a wide-ranging conversation with the Keizertimes on issues from Afghanistan to unemployment and government spending.
Q: About a year ago you told us you wanted to “evaluate” progress in Afghanistan a year from then. What are your thoughts now?
A: “Well, there hasn’t been any progress. It’s been very clear there’s an extremely corrupt regime. … Karzai’s got to get his act together. There’s still no political unity. … You can’t even call it a nation with various tribes fighting among themselves. The intelligence agencies in Pakistan still collaborate with the Taliban … basically none of the conditions laid out by Congress when we approved the first supplement have been met … It’s time to bring our men and women home and fight the war on terror where it is, and it’s not in Afghanistan.”
“The other thing, the biggest threat to our nation, … is the economy. We’ve got to make sure the men and women coming home have jobs and can repair their lives.”
“Once you’re in the conflict there are those who would like to see Afghanistan turned into a wonderful, democratic country where everything is peaceful and wonderful. If you look at history I don’t see where any outside nation has been able to encourage Afghanistan to accomplish that goal. … We’re having enough trouble doing that with Iraq, with the religious and tribal differences… Alexander the Great couldn’t do it. Russia couldn’t do it. The United Kingdom couldn’t do it … I think we’re reliving the 1960s and 1970s and I would hope we’d learn something from that era.
Q: There has been initial talk on Capitol Hill of extending unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks. Thoughts?
A: “I’d have to look at that carefully. We’ll see where we are with the economy in November. I think it would be premature to extend unemployment beyond 99 weeks at this time.”
Q: What effects of the health care bill will your constituents start to see soon? What have they already seen?
A: “We’re seeing young people under 26 able to get health care. … Under new plans, the pre-existing conditions is not an automatic termination for you, you’re not one illness away from destitution. I think that’s really important. The high-risk pool is already helping Oregonians … we’re already doing a lot of these things. Some of the money and programs coming from the federal government we’re already doing so we can move our precious tax dollars to help with the budget problems we talked about earlier.”
Q: Is Defense Secretary Gates on the right track with his proposed cuts?
A: “I think it’s appropriate. I think one of the key things to let people know is, for the first time in my lifetime, I see a president and Congress proposing a budget that spends less than it did a few years ago … We’re increasing spending for education and research and reducing other discretionary programs in this recession … We’ve got to make sure the troops have their money, the (Department of Veterans Affairs) has their money – we’ve increased both of those areas – but contracting is rife with excesses that shouldn’t be there, as is weapons procurement. Only in Congress could you be developing two engines for the same plane and call that saving money. … The Department of Defense is going to share the same reductions as the rest of the federal government.”
Q: So give us your pitch on why voters in the 5th District should send you back to Congress in November.
A: “My pitch is it’s certainly a lot better than it was a year and a half ago when we were losing 700,000 jobs a month … We were headed to a Great Depression. Your 401k was disappearing before your jobs. I’m not going to pull any punches. It’s going to be a slow slog back. … I’m proud of the work I’ve personally done for Oregon to make sure the pain … is going to be as little as possible. I’m proud of protecting unemployed Oregonians. I’m proud of standing up for our children and seniors … both from the recovery bill and my more recent bill a year ago. I’m very happy with the work my small business committee has done … we were able to jump the loan volume in the Small Business Administration almost 90 percent. We need to reinvigorate that with more money … My attention has been in bringing jobs home to Oregon. I can’t help everyone as soon as I would like, but Newport has the NOAA fleet, largely due to help from my office. … Salem and Keizer are getting the employment center built out as a result of the infrastructure dollars I brought home the past two years – the Mill Creek Employment Center – both in transportation and infrastructure. … And I’ve increased the research dollars for OSU and OHSU to keep jobs, build innovation, and, I think, make Oregon a center of the new economy we’re going to have going forward. I believe I’ve delivered on a lot of different levels. And that’s why you want to re-elect me.”
Q: Do you find the atmosphere in Washington D.C. to be as partisan as it’s often depicted?
A: “Oh boy. On one level, yes. The politics, sometimes, trump common sense and good policy. But I will say on a personal level, generally speaking, the men and women get along pretty well.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the New York City mosque issue?
A: “I think that’s an issue in search of a problem. Right now we should be focused on the economy and jobs. I can’t believe that’s gotten the notoriety it has. Thank goodness people seem to be exercising common sense.”
Q: Progress has been reported in the transfer of power from North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il to his son Kim Jong Un; how do events of recent months affect American interests and security there?
A: “I think it’s still a very heightened concern in the Korean peninsula. He does not appear to be any more stable than the father. I worry very, very much about that region and how it could affect our allies and our own trading interests over there.”
Q: What was it like presiding over the House when Anthony Weiner went off on the 9/11 responders bill? (Editor’s note: Google “Anthony Weiner goes off” to see the video.)
A: “That was a little surreal. I hadn’t quite expected him to go off like that. But Rep. (Peter) King had gotten a little animated, shall we say, just before that. And Mr. Weiner was responding to that. I had to gavel both of them down more or less successfully. They did both go over their time a little bit. Both were out of order. But this is a very emotional issue. … Taking care of the first responders to the 9/11 site is pretty emotional for New York and New Jersey, so I allowed them a little discretion I thought that was appropriate given the circumstances. The parliamentarian said I did a good job.”