Tonight I decided to head up to Germantown and attend the only debate between Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, and Dr. Jim Burkee. They are running in the Republican Primary for the 5th Congressional District. There was a surprisingly large standing room audience there, which was fantastic. I tried to get down as much about the questions and the candidates answers as I could, but my ability to type fast is somewhat limited to C#... not English, so I did the best that I could. I know Steve Egg was there with a tape recorder, and it was also video recorded, so if you want to wait for those sources to surface, I wouldn't blame you. What I have down here is mostly paraphrase... but I believe it to be an honest representation of what was said by both sides. Any of my personal interjection about what was said I've included in square brackets and italicized ().
Some interesting notes before the debate even started. I was chastised by someone for daring to use one of the election boxes as a writing surface for my question card. Apparently they are too fragile for use as a writing surface, but they are perfectly fine to vote with. One of the people helping out was continually chastising people for touching, leaning on, or writing on the election booths. It was her full time job for the night. Afterwards, it was suggested that this was done to prevent tampering. If tampering was a concern (and it should be), then why were they unsecured in a public room full of people. During the debate, nobody was really paying attention to the voting boxes because everyone was watching the debate. Anything could have been done to them at that point.
Of course, no debate would be complete without a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance where we get to be reminded of our duty to God, whether you believe in it or not. I noticed that some people said "under God" in an especially loud and proud manner. It was rather amusing actually.
Now onto the debate.
Sensenbrenner: He introduced his wife, and reminded everyone that this was a Republican primary. He believes that he will be a "strong hand on the tiller" through "hard times". He also made sure that everyone knows he eats a lot at civic functions. [That's probably an unfair interpretation of what he said, but I need to toss in a joke early.]
Burkee: He reminded people that this is a gerrymandered district, and so the primary is really the only chance to vote for someone who will go in office. The primary is about honesty, and how the Republican Party betrayed those who they represented while they were in control. Is it good for one man to go unchallenged in office for nearly 30 years? Burkee was 10 when Sensenbrenner started in Congress. [I was just born!]
Question 1: There has been a dramatic increase in energy costs. What should Congress do about this?
Sensenbrenner: We need a Manhattan project on energy, and have everything on the table so that we don't "ship our money to those who hate us". But that's not enough, because we have to build the infrastructure to transport that energy. We need to build pipelines, and refineries, etc. He was unclear about this, but because the question specifically asked about what "Congress should do", Sensenbrenner wants the Federal government to pay for all of this. He must now be Socialist.
Burkee: He blasted Congress for creating Ethanol infrastructure, which includes Sensenbrenner who voted for that bill. He also wants that Manhattan project. We've been needing this for 30 years, and did nothing... and now Sensenbrenner wants this? Why should we trust him now.
[Boy did Sensenbrenner look pissed. Burkee looks to be wanting to hammer on... to use my own borrowed phrase... "Change we can believe in." I hate this entire idea that both put forward of a Manhattan project on energy. See a good refutation on this from Popular Science. As for exporting money to those who hate us, see Patrick McIlheran]
Question 2: What should Congress do about illegal aliens?
Burkee: The problem with immigration is a problem because Congress has made it harder to immigrate legally. These people are desperate, and looking for work, and living here in the United States in terrible conditions. We place too many caps on legal immigration, and therefore increase the incentive for illegal immigration. Sensenbrenner wants to make it a criminal, instead of a civil crime. Burkee believes in family values, and not splitting up families, which making illegal immigration a criminal offense would do.
Sensenbrenner: The Republican Party is the party of the rule of law. We have to deal with illegal immigration first, because its cheaper to break the law and hire and illegal, then hire a legal immigrant. We need to secure the border, finish the fence, and hire more border patrol officials. We need to electronically verify social security numbers [Shiver... and yet this all warranted applause. He pushed "stopping illegal immigration first" a lot during the whole debate. He doesn't seem to realize that illegal immigration is cause by bad laws regarding legal immigration. You can't do what he's suggesting without changing the law regarding legal immigration.]
Question 3: Are you willing to extend the Bush tax cuts and make them permanent, and also decrease spending?
Sensenbrenner: He likes the tax cuts and wants to make them permanent, and revenue has actually gone up since the Bush tax cuts were put in place. The National Taxpayer's Union has rated him in the top 10 for his votes. The Citizens Against Government Waste gave him a 100 score. [Applause] The House on a whole scored 30.
Burkee: Spending is out of control, and it grew that way while Republicans were in control of Congress. Taxes were not cut under Sensenbrenner, they were deferred, and the bill was given to our children. There were no spending cuts, and therefore the taxes were simply deferred. We added 3 trillion dollars to the national debt. He voted for Medicare Part D, which is one of the largest bills ever passed, and was unfunded. Sensenbrenner has voted against pork for Wisconsin, but has voted for 95 billion in pork for other states. [Larger applause]
Question 4: Is the current size of our Armed Forces appropriate, and should it be increased or decreased?
Burkee: He's an "old fashioned conservative", and goes back to the era of fiscally responsible Republicans... he quoted Milton Friedman. Spending cuts should precede tax cuts, not the other way around. Eisenhower was the only President since the post war to decrease the military and keep us safe. Military spending bills also are crammed full of pork, and that makes it hard to vote against. It's hard argue that government should be small in one place but large in another. It should be small everywhere. [Amen! Applause]
Sensenbrenner: Reagan rebuilt our military and gave our pride back to ourselves, because we ramped our military down too far, especially during Carter. Rebuilding the military costs money. We need to give our soldiers good pay, and good equipment, and give the veteran's administration money for benefits afterwards for those who are hurt while defending our nation. The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. You can't simply vote no on everything. He won't do wrong by our troops. [Applause]
Question 5: Russia invaded Georgia, and has threatened nuclear war against us because of our wanting a missile shield. What should the US do against Russia?
Sensenbrenner: We need to be "energy independent", because oil and gas money goes to them, and so they are more dangerous now than during the 70's and 80's [Exaggerate much?]. We have to be strong, but pragmatic against Russia. We need to build up a coalition of other countries against Russia, starting with Eastern European countries, and including Western European countries. [Sounds like he wants another NATO, and another Cold War?] He also expressed deep support for John McCain for President.
Burkee: Back to military spending. We should spend during war time... but we need to be pay for it instead of using borrowed money, and not use off budget accounting. We also need something like the new GI Bill with Sensenbrenner voted against. That is how we should support our troops.
Back to Russia... if we want energy independence [I'm sick of hearing that phrase already], why give control back to those who haven't done anything for 30 years? And he's glad Sensenbrenner is finally voicing support for McCain, because this is the first time he's heard it. Burkee has supported him from the start. [Applause]
Question 6: What should the US do about Iran?
Burkee: He teaches Middle Eastern history, and our relations were hurt severely during the Carter administration. They are a very young population, and are easy stirred up in nationalism, but its mostly show. Their President would probably use nuclear weapons if he got them, but relations are best put forth using a carrot and stick method. We should treat them like we treat China, and give them chances to enter into the world market. Our tact in foreign relations needs to be more uniform across nations. When you give market freedom to countries, the populations usually demand political freedom, and they become more democratic. [Applause]
Sensenbrenner: We should not engage with Iran without preconditions, like Obama wants to do. [I think he tried to tie Burkee and Obama there, but I don't think it stuck.] They broke international law with the taking of the embassy hostages. [That was 28 years ago dude.] We should have a strong military to act as a deterrent. We have to work with our Western European nations on Iran and tight restrictions if they continue to act as they are.
Back to the military... he voted against the GI Bill because it gives full benefits to people after three years, which means they won't re-enlist, and therefore it would wreck the all volunteer military that we have.
Question 7: What are your Republican Core Values?
Sensenbrenner: Listening to the people, low taxes, small government, etc. He also doesn't bad mouth other Republicans and helps to get other Republicans in office. He doesn't harp on Republicans for what they've done, because they're better than Democrats. [This was a deliberate shot against Burkee, and he became indignant several times like this, almost as if he was offended that someone would dare to run against him in the Primary. Nice view of Democracy he has.]
Burkee: Follow up on military spending... there is no proof they won't reenlist. Congressmen reenlist every two years, and they get lots of benefits. [Tons of Applause]. Sensenbrenner bad mouthed McCain, and also bad mouthed Republicans who voted to de-fund Real ID. [I wish he said more on this.] Burkee has made three simple promises. He won't spend our children's money. He won't take a single penny from a special interest. He has committed to no more than three terms in Congress.
Question 8: What would be your first budget cut?
Burkee: Fan of Paul Ryan's approach to the issue. Put a limit on the money we spend. We use false numbers to balance the budget. It could be 80 years before we balance the budget (according to Ryan's numbers), let alone start paying down our debt. It's that bad. Limit government growth as a percentage of GDP. That way they won't throw us a bone here and there, but then increase in other places. [Applause]
Sensenbrenner: Paul Ryan is my friend, I helped with the numbers he put together, and he supports me. Paul Ryan also helped with the Medicare Part D law. Sensenbrenner would cut ear marks, and won't support or vote for them. Also made inroads in making sure that for every dollar Wisconsin pays to the Federal government, we get a dollar back. It used to be 60 odd cents back.
Question 9: What do you think about the current tax scheme, and what do you think about a flat tax or national sales tax?
Sensenbrenner: The current system stinks. It takes 10 stamps for him to send in his taxes. [Laughter] The only way to do it is to sunset the current tax code, so that there would have to be a complete new code to replace it. We need to have a national debate on this, and we won't get it without sun setting the current code. This happened in Wisconsin with welfare reform and that led to W-2. [Applause]
Burkee: I don't blame Ryan for supporting Sensenbrenner, because he's supporting a co-worker. It takes one stamp for him to send in his taxes. [Bigger laughter] But back to Medicare Part D. The problem isn't the merit of the bill, but rather that it was unfunded. If it's important enough to pass, then its important enough to pay for, instead of giving the bill to our kids. He's glad Sensenbrenner is against pork, but why now, and not 30 years ago? It's too little, too late. He likes Ryan's plan because it is long term, and it's incremental. The problem is so big, that it's too big to change with one bill.
[Owen sends in his taxes electronically for free]
Question 10: Do you think the US should sign the Kyoto Treaty?
Burkee: No, he doesn't. It's yesterday's news anyway, and it was bad because it exempted China and India, who are growing in their pollution output. The last thing we need is something which disproportionately benefits those countries at the burden to ours. But it goes back to energy independence. He's reaching out to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents on this... just like Reagan did with "Reagan Democrats". We can get energy independence, but only with cooperation across the board. [Stop with energy independence already! Both of you!]
Sensenbrenner: He had a hand in killing Kyoto... somehow by whispering in Bush's ear. [I don't understand how really since the Senate ratifies treaties, and the House has nothing to do with treaties.] Kyoto is back in the form of the Warner/Lieberman bill which includes a cap and trade system that will create steep taxes. It will triple the cost of energy and give us $10 gas at the pump. It creates a carbon credit system, and it will kill our economy. He will kill that bill.
Question 11: What would you do to stop trade and budget deficits?
Sensenbrenner: Spend less, and stop piracy of people's intellectual property. It's hard to compete against sweat shop countries, when they're stealing our intellectual property. We also need common sense with trade. He chastised Bill Clinton for NAFTA, etc. and make China "play by the rules" whatever that means. [If Democrats can play to protectionism, why can't Republicans? Did we learn nothing from Smoot-Hawley?]
Burkee: We have to start with energy reform. Most of our trade deficit is made up with energy purchases. Foreigners now own most of our debt, and we have to address that. [Didn't say how though.] Legal immigration reform is also important... it costs too much money for companies to bring in skilled H1-B visa workersr, so they have to relocate to other countries. He likes the idea of "balanced trade" because we don't have free trade now. They should buy from us as much as we sell to them. [Once again, both sides have a fundamental misunderstanding of markets, and free trade.]
Sensenbrenner Rebuttal: [This was the only rebuttal allowed for the night] Sensenbrenner got an increase in H1-B's through Congress, as long as they were educated here. He wants to make sure there are no illegal immigrants here. He wants a speedier, and more humane immigration system. But we'll never get there without taking care of illegal immigrants first, because they're cheaper. [It's really a chicken or the egg argument at this point] No amnesty... because it didn't work 22 years ago and will encourage more illegal immigration.
Question 12: What effect will the change in Pakistan's leadership have on the War on Terror?
Sensenbrenner: We don't know, because we don't know who the new leaders will be. He fears that it will create more terrorism in the region. We have to work with the Pakistan military whether we want to or not, because the political situation there is uncontrolled, and the military is the most stable institution there. [Of course by dealing with the military, it would give it more power, and therefore prevent a stable political structure from coming into play.] He helped author the Patriot Act... and did it in a way that protected civil liberties. [I almost choked there. Owen noticed it, and I swear almost laughed.]
Burkee: Pakistan is a mess, and their border is already being exploited. Our approach to Afghanistan has not been a success, and their government is corrupt, and they're exporting opium. Sensenbrenner passed Real ID... which was an unfunded mandate, and has been rejected by Republicans because they realize now it was a mistake since it's basically a National ID card [Applause], and it is trying to be rolled back. Half the states have voted to not cooperate with it. [The question I submitted was regarding Real ID, and they didn't have time to get to it, so this was the best I got on the issue. I would have liked to have heard Jim Sensenbrenner try to defend Real ID on camera.]
Burkee: Back to immigration. Think back to your Christian values [Groans from audience who thought that was a cheap shot]. We should be about the rule of law, but at what price? Do we split apart families of American citizens? There are 4 million children who are US citizens with parents who are illegal. Are we going to split up their families? Are those kids going into foster families? Sensenbrenner has been in office for 30 years, and at this rate, maybe 30 more. We face a choice of two directions of the Republican Party... the same way that got us into this mess, or turning back to our core Republican values. Our representatives work for us... and I want some customer service. He's been on 5 weeks paid leave for re-election, and he has turned down every opportunity to debate except this one. [Tons of Applause]
Sensenbrenner: Strom Thurmon was a friend of mine, and I'm not Strom Thurmond. [This was regarding the comment that he would be in office 30 more years, but I think it was stupid to associate with a racist bigot like Strom Thurmond]. Thanked people for holding the forum. It shows a clear delineation between him and his opponent. He's been a common sense Representative. [cough] What you see is what you get. He doesn't want to mislead people, and he's been honest. He's provided good customer service, even for getting a passport or disability funds to people coming to his office. He's helped the Republican Party, and wants to continue doing so until "the Lord calls him home" [I thought you didn't want to be like Strom?].
My Closing Comments
Overall I thought it was a great debate, and very energized. Both participants were well prepared, and did a great job. I think they both presented their sides well, and did do a good job and showing the differences between themselves. I only wish that they had more of these debates. Burkee offered to debate Sensenbrenner any time next week if he'd like. Sensenbrenner didn't accept. I hope he changes his mind. The 5th District is large, and it would be good to hold one of these forums in several locations across the district so that more voters have an opportunity to see both of them in this type of setting.
After watching this debate, I feel very happy about voting for Jim Burkee. I think he really hit home some important ideas, especially ones that many Republicans talked about 2 years ago, about how the party has lost it's way. Sensenbrenner is partially responsible for that, and it's time that he is held accountable.