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Interview with Congressman John Duncan, Jr. 4-18-11
Interview With Congressman John Duncan, Jr.
Gas prices, the national debt, red light cameras, TVA and the high price for utilities and more were hot topics for a one-on-one interview with Congressman John Duncan, Jr. from his office on Monday, April 18.
No question was off limits as the former Army captain and 23 year veteran congressman sat for an in-depth discussion about issues of concern for all citizens.
Woodward: Let’s start with the topic of gas prices. Why are gas prices so high? What is being done about it, and what can you do about it?
Cong. Duncan: Well, first of all the Republican Congress in the mid 90’s passed a bill to allow drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and, at the most, in an area of 3,000 acres of a 19.8 million acre refuge which is three times the size of the Great Smokies. That would have been a million gallons a day coming down here and gas prices would not be where they are today or header higher. But President Clinton caved in to the environmentalists and vetoed the bill and we have what we have today.
In my opinion, the problem is the environmental radicals who come from very wealthy or very upper income families almost entirely and I guess they are not hurting like most folks. In fact, in this administration, we have an a Secretary of Energy who told the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago that we should be paying the same prices as they pay over in Europe and at that time they were paying as much as $8 a gallon. This is just crazy to me. In fact, if they let the prices go much higher than what they are today, that will put the final nail in the coffin of some of the small towns in rural areas where there are people who have to drive farther distances to get to work and are often working in lower paying jobs. So, I think it is a sad thing.
In the Natural Resources Committee, on which I serve, we passed three bills just this last week, out of committee, to allow increased drilling and production of oil. Some say, “Well, that won’t help prices right away.” I understand that it takes a while to get gas to the market on production that is just starting up, on the other hand, if these other countries, who sell us oil and gas, thought we were going to allow production they would be reluctant to raise their prices. But, these foreign energy producers know that the environmental extremists have so much political power in this country, and I think that they fund them, frankly. Walter Williams, a syndicated columnist I remember reading a few years ago, and I call him a hero, said that very thing These environmental groups keep their donors’ list secret. In my opinion, we can lay the problem at the feet of the extreme environmentalists.
Woodward: I read this morning that OPEC is considering cutting back on production.
Cong. Duncan: Well, we have tried to do something, but the problem is that the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, so it is pretty unlikely that our bills will get through. But, we have gone ahead and done them because if we show really strong support maybe some of the senators who are running for re-election---there are more Democrats up for re-election than Republicans in 2012--will be willing to compromise a little bit and not just cave in to the radicals.
Woodward: What sense does it make to buy oil when we could drill in our own country?
Cong. Duncan: Well, you know, what they say is that we only have two to three percent of the proven oil reserves. Well, let me tell you, two to three percent is an astounding amount of oil. In addition to that, we do not have to produce all of that. All we have to do is to start to produce a little more and some of these other countries will be less likely to raise their prices so much. If we let gas prices go to $5 a gallon or even higher, here we are, we have been in this recession, and we are coming out of it. We have seen that others are saying that their business is coming back up. I have spoken to the heads of some trucking companies who tell me that their business is coming back, too. Economic indicators say that we are headed out of the recession, but, if we go to $5 to $6 a gallon, or even higher, you are going to shut down a bunch of things.
Woodward: You have been in office for 23 years and the country is $14 trillion dollars in debt. Who do you attribute that amount to? The Democrats say it is George Bush’s fault, but Obama has added an additional $3 trillion. What do you think?
Cong. Duncan: Well, I think George Bush is responsible for some of it. I think President Bush did some good things, but he also got us into an unnecessary war over in Iraq and also I think he and the congress allowed both the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan go on for far too long. The most conservative estimate of those two wars is that they have cost us at least $2 trillion in direct spending and over that, actually, and some say much more than that, so that is an important part of the overall debt. But, I will tell you this, for many years, we have had big spending congresses who have been unwilling to say no to anybody.
I will also say that if all of congress had voted like I have voted over the years, we would not be anywhere near this total indebtedness. We would not even be in debt, or it would be very small in relationship to our GNP. But, liberal Democrats, and I can say that because the Democrats have been in control of the congress since the early 1930s, have run up the debts. We have had some Republicans who have gone along with it, and we have just had too much spending. The debt is so deep now that most people cannot even begin to comprehend it. TO BE CONTINUED
Woodward: You have been in congress for 23 years. Have you ever seen the climate as mean-spirited? It seems to me that things are getting rather wicked. What are your thoughts on the bickering back and forth?
Cong. Duncan: I think the climate is the same as it always has been. It is just more noticeable now due to the media. In the old days you actually had people who got into duals. There was a congressman from South Carolina who beat a senator with a cane.
They sent us to a civility conference a few years ago because they thought we weren’t getting along with each other. But, the first speaker was David McCullough and the first thing he said was that a Russian visitor came up into the House Gallery in 1948 and watched for a while and came down and shook his head. He said that the House was the strangest place he had ever been. He went on to say that, in the House of Representatives, a man stands up and says whatever he wants to say and no one listens to him, but everyone disagrees. But after McCullough told that story he said that the Russian said that if he had his life to life to live over he would choose to be a member of that wild and raucous bunch known as the US House of Representatives. So, I know everybody bashes the Congress and the approval ratings are very low, but it is a collection of the finest people you will find any place. Everybody who comes and serves for a while recognizes that and realizes it. In any group there are always a few, but most people, I think almost everyone who serves, thinks it is a special place and most are proud of their service.
Woodward: In the latest budget battle, how did it turn out for you? Were you expecting more cuts? Were you pleased?
Cong. Duncan: No, it was a joke. As a matter of fact, I wound up voting against the final bill. I did vote for the three extensions to try to keep the government going so as to cut the rope from Speaker John Boehner so that he could continue to negotiate. I have no criticism of him. Maybe he got the most he could get under the circumstances. I will tell you that they came up with a $38 million dollar cut, but when the details came out, it turned out that about half those cuts were things that didn’t apply to this year. Some of the cuts were things that were already cut anyway, like $6.5 billion that came back from the Census Bureau that they didn’t use. Then the Congressional Budget Office said that none of the cuts were going to apply to this fiscal year which was what we were talking about. We wound up this year with only cutting $352 million which was nothing---maybe less than l/10 of one percent. It was a joke and used up a lot of time for nothing.
Woodward: Let’s switch and talk about some local issues.
Cong. Duncan: Okay
Woodward: I wanted to ask you about red light cameras. I hear a lot of complaints about them and was wondering what is your opinion?
Cong. Duncan: Well, first of all, the red light cameras have almost nothing to do with safety. The whole situation is that you can never, never, never satisfy government’s appetite for money or land. All this is about is to get more money paid to the government. If it was all about safety, they would not be giving tickets to people for turning right on a red light. But, they have found out that they were not making enough money for giving tickets for people running red lights, so they give tickets for turning right on red. It varies from place to place, but from 60% to 80% of the tickets are for people turning right on red lights.
Woodward: Drivers adapted and stopped running red lights, so the revenue went down.
Cong. Duncan: Right. Plus, the Washington Times had an article just this past week talking about how the red light cameras have actually led to more traffic accidents and injuries due to people slowing down and getting hit in the rear. People are overwhelmingly opposed to those red light cameras, but, let me tell you, those companies come in and spend billions and billions for lobbying state legislatures. We know that two of the largest companies are foreign companies, and over half the money goes to the company.
Woodward: For the second question on a local issue, what are your thoughts about our current city election campaign? We have two strong female candidates and we may elect our first woman as mayor. What do you think about that and the election in general?
Cong. Duncan: It is already a very active campaign. I am not going to make an endorsement in this race. It just is a marvel to me that so few people vote for mayor. When my dad ran for mayor in 1963, he got over 25,500 votes, and Dale Talent, who was the Finance Director and a good friend of ours, got 9,000 votes and Lowell Blanchard, who was the Voice of the Vols, got 7,100. In other words, about 43,000 people voted in that race. My dad won every precinct and it was a good election, but it is sad that they don’t get anywhere near that many to vote in these city-wide elections. I think maybe they are getting around 13,000. Maybe with four good candidates they can stir up a bigger vote this time.
Woodward: I really wasn’t asking you to endorse anyone. I was mainly interested to know what you thought about the likelihood of Knoxville’s electing a female mayor. I would like to see a female elected. I think it is time. What are your thoughts on that?
Cong. Duncan: Well, you have a lot more women in politics now than you used to have and they do really well. It would suit me to have a woman president as long as she had good conservative views like Margaret Thatcher or somebody like that. I think you will see that.
Woodward: What you do think about President Obama? Do you have an opinion that you want to share?
Cong. Duncan: He has been nice to me for the very limited contact I have had with him. He seems to be articulate and intelligent but I think he has followed some very bad policies since he has been in there. I think he is going in the wrong direction on the environment. He has been doing things that are driving up higher utility bills. He has been doing things that has been driving up the price of gas and oil. He has put the country deeper in debt by running up more than $3 trillion dollars in debts in less than two years. He gives these speeches saying conservative things like we have to get spending under control and such, then he goes out and follows policies that are totally opposite of what he just said. I think the country will be better as soon as we get him out of office.
Woodward: Do you see anyone coming along who might be able to defeat him?
Cong. Duncan: I do not know. It may be true that, as some people say, the country is split right down the middle. You have 40% who are Republican; 40% who are Democrats, and about 20% that aren’t identified with a party.
Woodward: Do you think it is possible to defeat Obama?
Cong. Duncan: Sure
Woodward: What is it going to take?
Cong. Duncan: Well, it is going to take a good campaign and somebody who can relate well to ordinary people and a lot of money. President Obama, in his first campaign, raised more money than any candidate in the history of the world. Nobody else has even come close. Both he and President Clinton got an awful lot of foreign money. The biggest lie in American politics is that the Republican Party is the party of the rich. The Democrats who are wealthy outnumber Republicans two to one. Our party is the party of middle income. We have many in middle income, some in lower middle and some in upper middle. We lose the bottom 20% real bad, and we get slaughtered in the super wealthy area. Where we do well with wealthy folks are those who started with nothing and made something and do not want the government taking it from them.
Woodward: Let me ask a few “rapid fire” questions to clear up some accusations made against Republicans?
Cong. Duncan: Okay
Woodward: Do the Republicans want to starve old people?
Cong. Duncan: Gosh, no.
Woodward: Do Republicans want to take school lunches away from little children?
Cong. Duncan: No, of course not.
Woodward: Do the Republicans want to stop women from getting the medical care they need?
Cong. Duncan: No
Woodward: Those questions were just to prove a point.
Cong. Duncan: Yes, well, if anyone thinks that one party cares more about senior citizens or the environment or education, they are just wrong. What is going on is that we have totally different ways in which we think these issues should be handled. For instance, in the environment, it is socialist countries that have the worst environmental records. When governments get too big, they can’t generate enough supplies and food to even feed their own people. You have to allow a free market in order to generate the money needed to care for the people.
On a local issue, I am very upset that TVA has bought into this environmental nonsense from the EPA and has agreed to take sixteen coal-fired plants off line right at the time that we will have a much harder time expanding into nuclear power due to what just happened in Japan. It is going to cost TVA as much as $500 billion to close those plants; plus as many as 400 jobs. Plus, they have to pay a $10 million dollar fine and have agreed to buy into over $350 million for environmental projects over the next ten years. Plus, they have actually said they can do all of that without raising rates. Well, if they can absorb over $500 million dollars in expenses without raising rates---and I find that very hard to believe-- but, let’s say they can. Then, that tells me that rates are too high already. $500 million is a whole lot of money, even for TVA.