Raw answers: Thirtysomethings workshop

Published: Friday April 14, 2006

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For the third installment in our ongoing "Ask Congress" series, RAW STORY opened up questions for not one, but three United States Representatives--all three from key electoral swing states, and all three under the age of forty. Representatives Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

What follows are your questions and their answers.


Congressman Ryan:

Both Congressman Meek and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz are co-sponsors of H.R. 1059, a House bill which would repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay troops. The bill is now supported by 110 members of the House, including a majority of Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee (including Congressman Meek). Why have you not signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill? And do you support allowing lesbian and gay Americans to serve openly in our armed forces?

Erin Alexandria, Virginia

I am still weighing the merits of this particular legislation, though I believe firmly that all Americans should be allowed to serve their country without fear of retribution or discrimination. With our country fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is also important to consider this issue in the context of recruitment and financial cost: a recent report by the University of California analyzed the financial cost of the policy to American taxpayers and concluded that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy cost American taxpayers $364 million-nearly twice what our government estimated. That's money that could have been spent on body armor or up-armored humvees.

Congressman Meek:

How would a Democratic-controlled Congress differ from a Republican one on US spending on defense? If you would cut defense spending, how will Democrats overcome the following challenges: 1) the military-industrial complex, 2) unemployment and the economic fallout of downsizing America's largest employer (DoD) and 3) a jittery public convinced that good fences make good neighbors?

If you do not think we should cut defense spending, could we not spend our growing debt more wisely by employing some of the current three million DoD workers in other kinds of non-marketable work that might alleviate our domestic and international problems rather than aggravate them, as the DoD seems to be doing [State Department, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps]?

Nejla Angola, Indiana

I don't think it's wise for anyone running to advocate a reduction in defense spending during war time. It's simply not the best thing to do for our country's national security. However, there are significant changes that must be made to our armed forces that Democrats are advocating.

We must rebuild our military by making critical investments in equipment and manpower, which is necessary to protect America and our interests. We also must make the investments in protective gear and training to make sure that our troops are never sent to war without the resources they need to succeed. Lastly, we must be committed to giving our troops what they have earned when they come home, as veterans. Years of shortchanging our veterans must stop�we must ensure that our veterans and their families receive the pay, health care, mental health services, and other benefits they have earned and deserve.

Representative Meek,

I saw you on C-Span yesterday, talking about national debt and paygo. But, even if Democrats could bring paygo back, we still have all of this debt that's already accumulated. What can be done to fix this problem within our lifetime?

Clarksville, IN

I believe that we must pursue new policies to take our country in a different direction. The Bush Administration's FY 2007 budget continues with more of the same wrong priorities that have taken our country in the wrong direction. It puts special interests above the interests of everyday Americans. The Bush budget is fiscally reckless, adding trillions to the deficit over the next 10 years, and is morally irresponsible, slashing funding for key priorities, like education, veterans health care, and important programs that help local communities, like the Community Development Block Grant program and programs administered by the Small Business Administration.

Fixing our country's budget is all about priorities. We must prioritize programs that help the middle class over tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This Administration has wasted billions in poorly-managed sloppy government contracts and has increased government subsidies for corporate donors. Implementing strong procedures to eliminate waste, such as increased oversight, will save US taxpayers billions. We must also get Congress back on the right track�working to fix our country's problems by prioritizing funding for education, health are and other programs that address the needs of working Americans. However, this can all be done within a pay-as-you-go framework. It will take time to balance the budget and in turn, generate surpluses that can be put toward our national deficit.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz:

I've noticed a rise in anti-semitism among certain liberal factions, usually alluding to U.S. foreign policy. It sounds ridiculous, but in my experience it's true. Has this affected you personally in any way?

Linda Parkland, FL

Anti- Semitism is not a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican phenomenon. It is usually an outcome of ignorance and bigotry. I would have to say that my experiences with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, has been positive. I agree that there has been a general rise in anti-Semitism. In order to combat this rise, I passed a resolution last year with nearly 300 co-sponsors that urged the President to create an American Jewish History Month. The legislation was co-sponsored by nearly 200 Democrats, so I'd have to say that I have found support for Jewish culture and heritage to be strong.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz:

Who of the Democratic front-runners for 2008 do you think has the best chance of winning the state of Florida?

Paul Hibbing, MN

We have an important election in 2006 on which we must focus before we think about 2008. We have the opportunity to take back control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Public frustration with the culture of corruption and cronyism is at an all time high and Democrats need to point out how we can do better. There is a better choice than leaving 46 million Americans without health insurance. There is a better choice than privatizing Social Security. There is a better way to provide drugs for seniors than protecting profits for the drug companies. And we can do better than tax cuts for the top 1% while slashing social programs and running up the budget deficit.

The important thing to remember is that we can change the direction in which our country is headed this year, simply by turning out the vote and capturing 15 seats from Republican control in the House of Representatives. As the co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" campaign which targets our best chances in districts that we can switch from Republican to Democrat, I am spending my time working to elect Democrats in 2006. Let's win back the Congress in 2006 and then we can turn our attention to 2008.

Have the House and Senate consider the effects on social programs (healthcare, education, social security, Medicare etc) if 11,000,000 illegal aliens are able to obtain citizenship? Our country is barely able to afford the basic services for our seniors and low income citizens.

Thank you

I personally don't think that the impact of immigration on our social system has been studied enough. What I do know is that a strong border security policy is an absolute and immediate necessity for this country, but it's useless without comprehensive immigration reform.

We must address illegal immigration reform with basic Constitutional rights in mind. We need solutions that are firm and fair. And we must include programs to address the existing immigrant population.

People who work hard and play by the rules should be rewarded. If you pay your taxes, have no criminal record and become a contributing member of society you deserve better.

The President has had five years to act on this problem and he has yet to reach out to Congressional Democrats and Republicans to seek common ground. This has to change if we really are going to address this problem.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

Certainly the issue you raise needs to be studied much more thoroughly if the House and Senate are to achieve a bipartisan consensus on intelligent immigration reform. I do believe strongly though that we need to first address the problem of our dangerously insecure borders. Until we can achieve the border security necessary to stop illegal entry into the United States, it will remain extremely difficult, if not impossible, to deal practically with those illegally immigrants who are already here. For example, it's estimated to cost at least $250 billion to locate, apprehend, and deport the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally. A better solution would be to find a way to get them paying taxes.

  • Congressman Ryan

First things first, our country's social programs are primarily struggling due to years of under-funding by the Bush Administration not because of undocumented workers. Your point is valid however, and is a main concern as we address the pending immigration reform legislation in the Congress. Our country has and will always be a melting pot of cultures. I am committed to supporting comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform legislation. The Specter bill in the US Senate allows a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, only if they pay fines for being in the country illegally, and work and pay taxes in the US for several years before being eligible to apply for citizenship. I support this kind of common sense approach.

  • Congressman Meek

I recently looked over the "Real Security" .PDF that is up on the Democrat webpage...

My question is this: what specifically are you planning to do to encourage the transition to alternative fuel sources? Are you willing to levy taxes on gasoline prices to alter the economic balance in favor of less gasoline consumption? Are there plans to remove subsidies for oil companies? Are you planning to increase subsidies for alternative fuel source research? How viable is the technology and can it work without using gasoline to produce and refine the fuels?

I would like to see a more detailed plan of action.

We are certainly working to elaborate our proposals on energy independence, but the fundamental policy is clear. By increasing production of alternative fuels like bio-fuels, geothermal, fuel cells, and other alternative sources we can certainly wean our country off of Middle East oil. We have never had a concerted push for alternative fuel usage, and certainly not under the Bush Administration. We must keep big oil out of the process of writing legislation, and stop giving subsidies to oil companies making record profits while consumers are pinched at the pump.

  • Congressman Meek

I think that additional investments in alternative fuels, such as ethanol, solar, wind and fuel cells are all important steps. I am against outrageous subsidies to Big Oil that are already making record profits. I also believe that incentives that increase consumer acceptance of these technologies ultimately increases market demand for these products and reduces costs through increased volume, as evident by the demand for hybrid cars in America. Sadly, the energy legislation that passed the Congress last year has no true commitment to alternative sources of energy.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

Thank you for taking the time to look over the Democratic Real Security Agenda. As the Agenda makes clear, energy independence is a key national security issue and Democrats are committed to achieving energy independence by 2020. We can start by significantly increasing government investment in the technologies behind bio-fuels, solar and wind power, geothermal energy, clean coal, and fuel cells. We can implement the Democratic Innovation Agenda, which will increase the number of scientists who could potentially discover the next breakthrough in energy technology. We can promote hybrid and flex fuel vehicles through targeted tax credits. And lastly, the government can promote energy efficiency and energy conservation by leading through example: for instance, all new federal buildings-and to the extent possible, all existing federal buildings-could utilize "green" technology to conserve energy and achieve revenue savings for taxpayers.

  • Congressman Ryan

President Bush keeps saying that Saddam was give every opportunity to disarm before we went to war. However I remember that Iraq did submit several CD's, DVD's and hundreds of pages of material before we invaded their country. No one ever has said what information that all that material contained. Does anyone in congress know what happened to all that material and what information it contained?


The key issue here is oversight. We really don't know what happened when it comes to the issue of manipulated pre-war intelligence. Democrats have been calling for hearings into these issues for years now�in the House our calls for oversight of the war have fallen on the deaf ears of the Republican majority.

  • Congressman Meek

I wasn't in Congress during the lead-up to the Iraq War so I can't speak to what information was turned over to Congress at that time, but it appears now that indeed Saddam-at least on the question of whether or not Iraq possessed WMD's-was telling the truth. Had the Bush Administration let the intelligence guide its policy rather than the other way around, perhaps we would not be in our present situation. And if President Bush had built a broad coalition with our allies, the U.S. wouldn't be bearing almost all of the costs of the Iraq War.

  • Congressman Ryan

Since I was serving in the Florida State Legislature at the time, I was not privy to all of the materials and information leading up to the Iraq War. What is clear is our intelligence was wrong, and I believe that we have not fully investigated the breakdown in the intelligence process. Either it was intentionally manipulated, which would be criminal, or it was factually inaccurate which points to a major failure in our intelligence agencies, which is troubling to say the least and even more so if it has not been corrected. The Republican leadership in Congress has rejected repeated attempts by Democrats to investigate these intelligence lapses and has completely abdicated its oversight role over the war in Iraq.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

What do you think the Democrats need to do to take back the House and Senate in 2006?


Is the persistent accusation of leadership malaise in the Democratic camp a reality or another tactic of the Republican spin-machine to instill defeatism in our ranks? If it is the former, is the Democratic Leadership Council to blame? If it is the latter, who do you consider the leaders of your Party?

-Kathy Barbour

Democrats must aggressively challenge the Republican Congress' corruption, incompetence, and cronyism while simultaneously laying out a positive agenda of reform-new ideas that will excite and motivate Independents to vote Democratic.

[Regarding the second question:] I believe it's a tactic of the Republican spin-machine. Democrats are unified to an unprecedented degree and continue to challenge the Republican Party on numerous fronts, including homeland security, social security, veterans benefits, economic stimulus, and fiscal responsibility.

  • Congressman Ryan

One, I think that when Democrats show how America can do better, then we win. We can show them how there is a better choice than leaving 46 million Americans without health insurance. There is a better choice than privatizing Social Security. There is a better way to provide drugs for seniors than protecting profits for the drug companies. And we can do better than tax cuts for the top 1% while slashing social programs and running up the budget deficit. If we do this, and talk about how to do these things better, then we win. We also must restore American's confidence in their government which has been badly shaken by the Republican culture of corruption cronyism and incompetence. We have recruited strong candidates who are committed to restoring this confidence.

Your second question: Being a member of the House of Representatives, I have the biggest interaction with the Democratic House Leadership, specifically House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman James Clyburn. And of course, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is chaired by Representative Rahm Emanuel. I believe that the leadership I have seen since coming to office last year has been sound and that our party is fortunate to have such dedicated and experienced leaders in the House. I believe that we have been highlighting specific policy differences between the parties, most recently with the Real Security Plan, and that as we get out our message that Americans deserve truth and competence from their government then we will win.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

I think Democrats are doing a good job in illustrating the need for change in our country, a necessary step in winning back Congress. We are working to roll out clear proposals, like our Real Security agenda released last week, that detail where Democrats stand on issues of critical importance. There will always be criticism of our proposals and plans, and the Republican leadership is certainly on the run, propagating misinformation about where Democrats want to take this country.

The Democratic Caucus in the House certainly has a formidable leader in Nancy Pelosi. She has pulled our Caucus together and we have had record levels of unity against key Republican legislative initiatives. She will make a great Speaker come next Congress.

  • Congressman Meek

The commissioner of Social Security was on C-SPAN and she made [the following] statements.

  1. She said that money borrowed from the fund was covered by treasury notes and does not have to be paid back. True or not true?

  2. She also stated that Bush's plan for private accounts was a viable plan. True or not true?

Dennis Smith

We pay interest every day on money that is borrowed through the sale of treasury notes. The money has to come from somewhere and in the case of treasury notes it comes largely from foreign governments such as communist China.

Not true. President Bush's plan subject the retirement benefits of American workers to the volatility of the stock market and require trillions of taxpayer dollars just to set up.

  • Congressman Ryan

This is just more smoke and mirrors from the Bush Administration on the true state of Social Security. First, since President Bush and the Republicans in Congress want to end the social safety net of Social Security and privatize it, then they must make it seem that Social Security is in peril. Fortunately, it is not... for at least twenty five years; so we have the time to make the adjustments needed to extend Social Security to last our lifetime. Second, they continually borrow from the Social Security trust fund to pay for their tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% of the population and other irresponsible programs. The Social Security trust fund should not be raided to pay for Republican's out of control spending, but should be preserved for our retirement.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

This Administration loves to confuse the American public about where money goes, how much is left where, etc. The fact is the President's plan to privatize Social Security is dead in the water. He took his flawed privatization plan to the American people, in forums across the country. However, the more he talked about his plan, the less popular it became.

  • Congressman Meek

What will you do to break up the consolidation of the media that has lead to former news organizations serving as de facto propaganda outlets for the White House?

Mike Dixon

Well, while the consolidation of media, particularly at the local level is a big concern of mine, I wouldn't go as far as you do in your assertion about them being simply White House spin-machines. Monopolistic control over media outlets limits opposing views and is not beneficial to society. No one company should have a monopoly over the media in your town.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

There are very limited courses of action one could take to break up media conglomerates, but one thing that would help at least ensure all viewpoints are heard on issues of public importance would be for Congress to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine (abolished in 1987). The Fairness Doctrine stated that broadcast licensees were public trustees and obliged to provide a reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting viewpoints on important controversial issues. I co-sponsored a measure in the 108th Congress to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine.

  • Congressman Ryan

Well, I think there are certainly news outlets that fall on both sides of the political spectrum. That being said, if the news was so slanted to the right, would President Bush be polling at record lows? There are certainly right-wing sources of information, but if they are de facto propaganda outlets for the White House, they are doing a very poor job.

  • Congressman Meek

In the current political climate, I find that most of my peers might have a knee-jerk identification with one party or the other, but that when pressed, they cannot truly identify with either... What do you think is an effective way to get the 30-40 year old group to trust that the two major parties can effectively do their job again?

Dave Atlanta, GA.

I think the "kneejerk" reaction you are talking about has something to do with the intense political polarization from which our country suffers. The last presidential election exacerbated this problem with the President running on a scare-tactic agenda that had little to do with the real issues faced by Americans. Democrats have been focused on promoting solutions to the problems faced by every day Americans. I think promoting a real discussion of the issues will help most Americans make better decisions about their party affiliation.

  • Congressman Meek

Public Officials need to communicate in media outlets that appeal to the 30 something generation. Web sites like RawStory.com as well as MTV, blogs and more youth oriented radio are all ripe for politicians to voice their views. Elected officials must not talk down to younger voters, but we must address the challenges facing them: housing affordability, the costs of higher education, health insurance and talking to them about why they should care about the ballooning national debt.

But, this is a two-way street. If younger voters want politicians to pay attention to them, then they need to take their share of the responsibility for the direction of the country and get out there and vote. I will give you an example from my primary in 2004. While I live in a strongly Democratic District and was running unopposed in the primary, the primary was deciding two hotly contested state-wide races, one for the Senate and one for the Governor.

Only 963 out of 51,305 who voted in the primary were less than 25 years of age -which is a little less than two percent. What message does that send to politicians? It says that you can ignore young voters and get away with it. That is obviously not my approach. In fact, I do the opposite by reaching out to students through forums at local universities, and doing all I can to inspire young voters to do their constitutional duty and effect outcomes of elections.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

One of the most important things we can do to get younger voters (18-35) involved in the political process and trusting of the parties is to 1) show them how decisions made every day by Congress significantly impact their lives and 2) show them how a particular party (hopefully the Democratic Party) is better at making the right decisions.

  • Congressman Ryan

Millions of Americans are questioning the official story of what happened on 9/11, based on a growing body of evidence that conflicts with The 9/11 Commission Report. Do you intend to respond to these questions, and would you be willing to support an independent investigation made up of impartial experts, rather than Administration insiders?

Martha San Diego, California

I believe the 9/11 Commission did an extraordinary job at uncovering the truth of what happened on that tragic day. My greatest disappointment is that the Bush Administration has done such a terrible job at following the Commission's recommendations for make our nation safer. Instead, President Bush would rather give tax breaks to millionaires than follow the Commission's recommendations.

  • Congressman Ryan

One thing that will always persist in America are conspiracy theories. Did we know about Pearl Harbor, Who Shot JFK, and was TWA Flight 800 shot down, etc? I feel that the 9/11 Commission Report, was both comprehensive and balanced. The commission was made up of 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans and several of the members have been openly critical of the Congress and the White House for not implementing the commission's recommendations on how to improve the overall security of our nation.

People on both sides of the political spectrum accused the other side of using the commission to serve their political agenda, in other words, neither Democrats, nor Republicans, were happy with every finding in the report. That indicates to me that this commission was not pulling for one side or the other.

What is clear is that 9/11 was an incredible national tragedy that took thousands of lives. This kind of wound on the American psyche will remain with our country for years to come. My personal opinion is that we should learn from the mistakes of the past and move our country forward rather than continuing to pick apart the tragic mistakes of the past.

  • Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz

The 9/11 Commission was composed of a bipartisan group of experts from private and public sectors. I commend Commission's final report and support implementing all of their findings into law.

  • Congressman Meek