Nolan on the issues

The Minnesota Newspaper Association distributes a survey every two years, asking for feedback from candidates for congressional and judicial offices. Below are the complete responses from 8th District DFL candidate Rick Nolan.

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

Rick Nolan, DFL candidate for the 8th Congressional District, Minnesota

I was born and raised on the Cuyuna Range in Minnesota’s 8th District. I raised my family here. I hunt, fish, garden and harvest maple syrup. My wife, Mary, and I live on a small farm near Crosby. After serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress, I was founder and CEO of the Minnesota World Trade Center Corporation under Gov. Rudy Perpich, helping to create 328,000 jobs. I ran a local sawmill and pallet factory and am Chairman of my township planning committee and active community volunteer.

Top priority: If elected, what is your top priority for 2013? Why are you running for office?
After raising a family in northern Minnesota and spending my life in business, elected office and community service, I feel I bring a wealth of experience to this campaign. My roots are in this district, and I feel I understand what the people of this district want because these are the same thing I want for my friends, family and neighbors.

We have reached a tipping point in our nation. The middle class is being crushed and the opportunity to leave a better future for our children, for the first time in our nation’s history, is in serious doubt. We must return the balance from focusing on the super rich and protect the needs of the hard working middle class. My priorities are as follows:

• Job creation and restoring economic power of the middle class;

• Preserving and protecting Social Security, Medicare and the social safety net from assault by the Republican right wing, including fighting back on the war on women’s health care and reproductive choices,

• Changing the way we do business in Washington, D.C., including public financing of campaigns and creating more incentives for bi-partisan legislation, and

• Refocus our national budget priorities by ending the wars of choice abroad, reinvest in our nation’s infrastructure, education, research, new technology, and many other pressing domestic needs.

Foreign affairs: Do you support the current schedule for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan? Should Congress and the president pursue additional trade pacts? If so, with whom?

We need to remove all US troops from Afghanistan, now. Reinvest those billions in savings into rebuilding the United States. Creating an infrastructure that will support the growth of business and create income for the middle class.

As manufacturing jobs were sucked into low-wage regions of the world devoid of rights for workers, the American middle class was decimated. Middle class Americans felt the void left behind by so call “free trade agreements” while corporate America made bigger profits for the richest Americans and took advantage of tax loop holes for shipping jobs overseas.

Over a decade later, the time for conjecture and promises is over: the data are in and they clearly show the damage NAFTA has wrought for millions of people in the U.S. Yet the same interests who got us into NAFTA have expanded it to include 31 more countries in Central and South America through Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).. These trade agreements were sold to Congress, and to the American people, as “Free Trade” agreements. Nothing could be further from the truth.

• The people who lost their jobs when 354 textile plants closed, just since 1997, are not nourished by this alphabet soup – the people in Asian sweat shops are.

• The farmers in Iowa, and across the country, whose exports are declining, are not nourished by this alphabet soup – non-American farmers are.

• As our trade deficit worsens, our trading partners get healthier, while Americans suffer.

• We need to stop the use of international tax games in offshore tax havens which costs the U.S. Treasury an estimated $100 billion each year in lost tax revenues.

• We need to end international corporate tax loopholes that provide incentives to invest abroad instead of at home, shipping jobs offshore and harming our local communities. The current law says you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Brainerd, MN and that is wrong.

I will sponsor legislation to close tax loopholes that encourage the movement of jobs and investments overseas

Health care: Federal health care reform has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the law stand in its current form, or should it be changed? If you support changes, be specific.

When it comes to health care reform, regardless of one’s politics, it is easy to agree that any reform should 1) increase access for the uninsured, 2) control rising costs and 3) improve patient safety by improving quality of care.

• IMPLEMENT AFFORDABLE CARE ACT REFORMS: The Affordable Health Care Act will make significant improvements in our health care system by insuring that all Americans pay for health insurance, that no one can be denied care because of a pre-existing condition, and that dependent children up to age 26 can be covered by their parents policies. This will greatly reduce health care costs and make sure that Americans who previously were denied coverage can now lead healthier lives.

• PROTECT MEDICARE: We need to continue to protect Medicare and the benefits that our seniors have earned. We need to make reforms to Medicare to eliminate fraud and abuse from the payment system, as well as fund Medicare Part D.

• CREATE A PUBLIC INSURANCE OPTION: However, I do not feel the current reforms have gone far enough to address the rising cost of health care and the bloated private sector bureaucracy which is organized to deny health services in order to maximize profits. I favor an optional government run health insurance program to offer private firms competition for the health insurance consumer. Consumers will choose the program that provides the best qualify care for the lowest cost.

• MOVE TOWARD “MEDICARE FOR ALL”: If the reforms currently initiated are not able to achieve significant results, I am open to additional reforms, including a system that would provide the great benefits and coverage of Medicare to all Americans. This could provide universal coverage of all Americans in an affordable and efficient way.

Education: What role should the federal government play in ensuring that U.S. graduates can compete in the global economy?

I am a strong proponent of federal funds for basic and applied research in our nations universities, and will support similar proposals for other academic institutions throughout the nation. However, the cost of higher education is quickly getting out of reach for many of our high school and college graduates, and this crisis must also be addressed.

A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. It is essential to maintain the core federal student aid programs, in particular the plan to ensure that the current Pell Grant maximum award level would remain at $5,550 or increased. In addition I support the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), the Perkins Loan and the Federal Work-Study programs.

Cutting the Pell Grant program – the ticket to the American Dream for 9.4 million college students this year alone – is exactly what you don’t want to do in an economic recession. We need to ‘out-educate’ to meet the challenges of the future.

I am at lost to explain how the conservative Republicans can justify advocating cuts of the Pell Grants while working to keep tax breaks for the pampered and prosperous.

It’s also about the future of this country.

These students are the nation’s future taxpayers and homeowners. They are being trained for much-needed jobs in health services, education, law enforcement, and other fields. I don’t think you can say that you have the best interests of this country at heart and cut Pell Grant. It’s like cutting seed corn and expecting to eat next year. An educated workforce is essential to our survival. A recent Georgetown University study shows that, by 2018, the United States will need 22 million new workers with college degrees to meet the burgeoning needs of employers – but it likely will fall short by 3 million. We need to encourage low and middle income families to encourage their children to attend college. To do this we need to assure they can afford to attend.

Technology will continue to accelerate in the 21st Century and our nations students must be better prepared. Math and Science Education is key. I strongly support the STEM program for accelerating Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics programs in our entire educational system. I am proposing a United States Technical Institute for Mining and the Environment (TIME) to accelerate mining technology to meet increasing environmental standards and concerns. One of the key features of this proposal is an educational outreach effort to demonstrate to children in the 8th district, how STEM education will be relevant in their lives and future careers. Such an institute is envisioned as a world class research center, advancing the technology of mining and improving the environmental impacts worldwide. I believe it will increase the international academic standing of UMD and the Natural Resources Research Institute.

Energy: Do you agree with the science of global warming? Should the United States be more or less aggressive in its pursuit of renewable energy sources?

The science on global warming is overwhelming and undeniable. Our polar ice caps are melting and worldwide, average temperatures are rising and weather patterns are becoming more and more unstable. Renewable energy is both an imperative economic and environmental choice.

• INCREASE ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PRODUCTION: Wind, solar and geothermal energy sources are both renewable and relatively inexhaustible. Ultimately, these will be the energy sources we will need to rely on for the environment on our planet. The USA invented this technology and is currently losing this industry to China. We need to invest in research and development, expand subsidies and tax incentives to insure a strong home grown green energy industry.

• PROMOTE RENEWABLE BIOFUELS: We must move away from over-reliance on imported oil. It is dangerous to our national security and national economy. Biofuels, such as ethanol from corn production is becoming a major source of renewable fuel. However, cellulose from wood fiber and switch grass, which can be produced in abundance in the 8th district, is a very efficient alternate which would not impact on food prices.

• IMPROVE AND EXPAND MASS TRANSIT: High speed passenger rail service connected to urban mass transit systems can significantly reduce our individual energy and carbon footprint. China and Europe are heavily investing in this infrastructure, which will reduce the cost of transportation for their societies, improve environmental impact, and enhance the quality of life. By reducing unnecessary military expenditures, we can greatly expand our public investment in this area.

Social Security/Medicare: Should these entitlement programs be left status quo, or should be they scrutinized for budget cuts?

Social Security:
• SOCIAL SECURITY CANNOT BE PRIVATIZED: Social Security is an earned benefit by Americans through contributions made every day of their working life. I will not, under any circumstances, allow Social Security to be privatized for the benefit of Wall Street brokers.

• NO REDUCTION IN BENEFITS: I do not believe that the age of eligibility should be lifted and I will not support any reductions in benefits allowed under current law. I do not support means testing for benefits, either.

• REMOVE INCOME CONTRIBUTION CAP: I favor removing the income cap on Social Security contributions. This change will create a surplus in the Social Security account that will help address the demographic impact of retiring baby boomers.

• EXPAND WORKFORCE CONTRIBUTIONS THROUGH JOB GROWTH: Restoring the American economy and moving toward full employment will have a major impact on Social Security contributions, and should be our first priority.

• I WILL NOT SUPPORT REDUCTION IN BENEFITS: Medicare, like Social Security, is an earned benefit that American workers paid for the first day they ever went to work. They have every right to expect this benefit. Medicare and Social Security together are essential to the economic security of older Americans. I will not support any reduction in the benefits received under this program nor will I support any policies that would have seniors depend on health insurance industry accountant decisions for their critical care. I will vigorously oppose any effort by Republicans and Chip Cravaack to turn this into a voucher system that could add $6,400 in annual out-of-pocket expenses for seniors.

• FIRST ADDRESS RISING HEALTH CARE COSTS: Medicare is under fiscal assault as a result of health care costs skyrocketing out of control. We must first address the need to control the cost of health care, or we are trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. There is no reason we cannot empower the government to negotiate for volume discounts with the pharmaceutical industry. We also need to crack down on fraud within the system, the proliferation of unnecessary procedures to boost reimbursements and the excessive administrative costs if we are going to bring down expenses

Economy: The national economy remains sluggish. What steps do you support to stimulate the growth of jobs?

I am proud of my record as a small business owner and my work as founder and CEO of the Minnesota World Trade Center Corporation under Governor Rudy Perpich. Rudy Perpich launched many economic development initiatives which together helped create 328,000 jobs during his administration. The Minnesota World Trade Center was one such project and created hundreds of good paying jobs and put Minnesota businesses on the map of the global economy. I understand how to develop our economy and will roll up my sleeves to make sure we create good-paying jobs and rebuild the middle class. We need to start by investing in our local natural resource based industries: mining, timber, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and shipping.

The federal government should

• INVEST IN INFRASTRUCTURE: We need to end the costly war in Afghanistan now and stop nation building abroad where it’s not wanted and not welcomed. We need to use these dollars to help balance our budget, begin re-investing in our crumbling national infrastructure. We need to be building and resurfacing critical highways, replacing bridges, building and modernizing public facilities such as waste water treatment plants, and investing in modern high speed rail, universal broadband and wireless internet access, as well as expanding investments in education and human development.

• END BUSH TAX CUTS FOR RICHEST AMERICANS: We need to continue the current tax cuts for working families, small businesses and individuals earning less than $250,000 per year, increasing to the Clinton-era tax rates on the amount of income over $250,000, in order to help address the federal deficit.

• CHANGE TRADE POLICY: We need to change tax and trade policies to incentivize American companies to keep manufacturing jobs here in the USA, and end policies and programs that incentivize US-based multinational companies to outsource or move their operations abroad.

Agriculture: Should changes be made to current agriculture subsidies? Be specific.

I have been a lifelong supporter of the American family farm system. It operates at optimum efficiency and helps make the USA the breadbasket of the world. That being said, I am not a fan of unlimited subsidy payments to large corporate farms. Reasonable payment limitations are necessary to support average sized family farm operations.

I support the current Senate passed Farm Bill, and hope the Congress will enact it as soon as possible, to help relieve suffering in rural America as a result of the recent severe drought affecting nearly the entire Midwest from the Appalachians to the Rockies, including portions of Minnesota. Whatever changes are finally enacted must be of an incremental nature, however, otherwise major disruptions in our nation’s food supply could result.

My principles regarding the major farm commodity programs are as follows:

A farm program should recognize the market realities of the fundamentally unique business of farming. Such a program should include these basic provisions:

• Price support and income support mechanism for wheat, feed grains, oilseeds, rice and cotton that establishes a floor under market prices and enables producers to obtain their income from the marketplace;

• Price and income supports should primarily be provided by CCC non-recourse, commodity loans;

• Loan rates should be adjusted annually to reflect the effects of inflation and productivity;

• Producers without access to storage should be provided with a provision to be protected by the price support loan;

• Loan maturity periods should be extended at the discretion of the producer, for up to 18 months to provide producers maximum marketing flexibility;

• Price support and CCC loan levels should be set at levels to ensure producers have the opportunity to receive a fair return on their investment. The loan should not be for less than the USDA national average cost of production. CCC loan levels should be adjusted annually to reflect inflation and productivity;

• Price supports and CCC loan levels should be annually balanced in an upward manner to ensure equity in support among commodities in order to prevent market and planting distortions;

• A farmer-owned Strategic National Food, Feed, and Biofuels Feedstock Reserve should be established for all storable commodities to ensure consumer food security, livestock feed supplies and national renewable energy needs in times of short supply.

The following criteria should apply:

• Feedstocks should be held off of the market in times of adequate supply;

• The reserve should be opened for entry whenever ending stocks ratios reach a predetermined trigger level and will be sold at a value at least 10 percent greater than current market price;

• Storage rates for reserve commodities should be paid to the farmer in advance and be set at the prevailing commercial storage rate; and

• The reserve shall not be considered in the national stock;

• The secretary of agriculture should have discretionary authority to institute a short-term, inventory-management program;

• Allow the secretary of agriculture the authority to manage price-depressing surpluses by providing producers incentives to plant dedicated energy crops on acres which are now, or may be produced, in surplus;

• Commodity support based on actual production history (APH), where available. For cases without APH, the program yield cannot be lower than county Farm Service Agency yields. Additionally, we urge the establishment of APH floors to protect producers in the event of successive crop failures;

• Planting flexibility;

• Low-interest grain storage facility loans should be made available to producers;

• Each farm operator and crop share landlord should be eligible for maximum loan volume targeted to family-sized producers;

• Farmers should have the right to periodically update acreage bases and proven yields on all crops for each farm; and

• Farmers should have the option to store forfeited grain and receive storage payments until final sale is consummated

Immigration: What should be the tenets of any immigration reform legislation?

America’s employment-based immigration system is broken. The programs for admitting foreign workers for temporary and permanent jobs are rigid, cumbersome, and inefficient; do too little to protect the wages and working conditions of workers (foreign or domestic); do not respond very well to employers’ needs; and give almost no attention to adapting the number and characteristics of foreign workers to domestic labor shortages.

I support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes major interconnected pieces. Immigration reform must fully protect U.S. workers, reduce exploitation of immigrant and guest workers and reduce the economic incentive of employers to hire undocumented workers and guest workers rather than U.S. workers.

The vulnerability of undocumented workers, has driven down labor standards for all workers. Reducing exploitation of undocumented workers would help all middle class Americans. This can best be done by a independent agency or commission assessing and managing future flows, based on labor market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need. As many Americans look at retiring we will need to find additional workers, especially for physical labor intense jobs.

Border security will not make a dent in the 40 percent to 45 percent of unauthorized immigrants that did not cross the border but overstayed legally obtained visas. Border controls, are best used to address criminal elements entering the U.S. We need accurate immigration quotas that reflect the need for workers and penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers to reduce illegal immigration.

Other issues: Are there other issues you want to address? 

Northeastern Minnesota is well into its second century of iron ore mining and is on the threshold of a next generation non-ferrous minerals production era. The copper-nickel ore found in what is referred to as the Duluth Gabbro Complex has been identified by minerals experts worldwide as the second largest undeveloped copper-nickel ore reserve in the world. In fact, a host of strategic minerals are found throughout Northern Minnesota, including the nation’s largest concentration of manganese in the Cuyuna Range, with cobalt, gold, and many other critical minerals in abundance.

Iron is essential for our national industry. Copper and nickel have recently seen demand soar as the nation becomes more dependent on cellphones, laptop computers, and more sophisticated communications technology. Cobalt and manganese are required for the alloys used in jet engines. In fact, these minerals will be essential for a national shift toward renewable energy. Electric cars require nearly twice the copper of conventional vehicles, wind turbines require copper and many composite alloys, solar power generation and the instrumentation needed for their optimum efficiency all demand these and many other critical mineral elements.

The life of the Mesabi Range ore body was extended by more than a half century thanks to the pioneering research led by the University of Minnesota’s Dr. E.W. Davis in the early part of the 20th century. Critical research, funded by a new government entity, the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Commission (now Board), created a unique public-private partnership, and yielded an economical process to extract iron units from low grade taconite ore.

We need that research model to enhance taconite operations today and to secure the future of nonferrous mining tomorrow. The emerging “sulfide mining” controversy gives us a chance to reflect on where we are as a nation on such issues. The US Bureau of Mines was closed by the Congress in 1996. Since that time we have done little to help our domestic mining industry or the environmental community to solve the difficult issues we face as a nation in developing our strategic mineral resources.

Few will argue that we need more advanced, efficient and environmentally sound technology going forward in the long term. I am willing to help any and all parties in whatever way will be the most productive to move the current Northeast Minnesota projects forward, but I realize that much more needs to be done, both here and nationwide.

PolyMet, Inc., has demonstrated an ability to process copper ore and meet the nation’s most stringent 10 parts per million sulfide standard, which will protect our native wild rice industry. We must press forward with permitting this mining operation as soon as possible. It is my believe that the Twin Metals project currently in development will also meet with rapid approval.

Here are my priorities:

• We need to create a sustainable mining economy that will produce good paying jobs in a healthy and safe work environment that will last for decades to come.

• We need to be able to advance the technology such that environmental reviews are thorough, rapid and non-controversial.

• We need to generate far less waste rock and tailings and extract more mineral from the various grades and types of ore we have, at a higher profit margin.

• We need to leave behind an environmental footprint for future generations that will be an asset for the people of Minnesota and the nation, and not a liability.

To accomplish these goals, I will work with Congress and the Administration to speed up the federal review process, and to fund appropriate technology research, including a world class federal research and development center for mining and environmental technology.