DM – You recently authored a new Bill titled MASC (Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities), can you please explain what this will do and the impact it will have.
LB – Five years ago, when I was mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, I introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, the first law of its type at the local level in the country. When I did, and after city council courageously approved it, the City of Hazleton was immediately sued.
Years later and we are still fighting that legal battle to enact our law and protect our legal, taxpaying residents and Hazleton’s small budget.
But across the country, more than 100 cities have elected officials who knowingly and willfully defy federal immigration law. They create so-called sanctuary cities – and they create safe havens where illegal aliens can hide and continue to break our laws.
These sanctuary cities are not punished. In fact, they’re rewarded – with billions of American tax dollars each and every year.
That’s why I was proud to stand on the steps of Hazleton’s City Hall where I began this fight five years ago to unveil my first piece of legislation, the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, H.R. 2037.
The MASC Act will crack down on cities whose elected officials have willfully chosen to not enforce immigration policy by withholding all federal funding from them as long as their sanctuary policies are in place.
In early May, in a small borough in my district, a police chief stopped an illegal alien who has been in the country for six years. This man didn’t know his address. He had an arrest record. He had no job. He had $3,000 in cash in his pockets. He had two public benefit access cards.
And the federal government told the police chief to let this illegal alien go.
Members of Congress have made a commitment to stop waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs. But elected officials of sanctuary cities are helping people defraud the federal government. If we are serious about cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse, we cannot and should not let elected officials of sanctuary cities get in the way.
But more importantly, this is a serious national security issue. We should not have American mayors making it harder to keep Americans safe.
Five of the 19 September 11 terrorists were here illegally, staying in the United States after their visas expired. It’s been 10 years since those attacks, yet this serious national security problem still exists. A government study released in May showed that almost half of all illegal immigrants in the United States entered the country legally, then remained here after their visas expired.
We have 80-year-old grandmothers and six-year-old children getting touched at airports in the name of national security, but we have mayors in this country who create safe havens for would-be terrorists.
Our visa system is broken. Our borders are far too open and not secure. And we have elected officials who create safe havens where an illegal alien’s immigration status and identity are not only protected but are withheld from national security agencies.
This is unsafe, it is unwise, and it is easily fixed: If you ignore federal law, you get no federal funding.
Cracking down on sanctuary cities will make sure that federal immigration law is enforced all across the country. It will eliminate safe havens for terrorists. And it will help keep Americans safe.
DM – Currently, the debate on Capitol Hill is centered on raising the debt ceiling. What are some things you would like to see cut in order to raise the debt ceiling?
LB – First, let me say I agree with the premise of your question – we must tie any raising of the debt ceiling to serious and substantial spending cuts. I’m the father of four daughters, and I know that if any of them came to me and told me they maxed out their credit cards, the last thing I would do would be to call the credit card company and ask that their limit be raised. I’d insist that she pay her existing obligations and cut her future spending so it never happens again.
It’s a shame that we have to treat Washington politicians the way we treat our children.
One of the things we can do is eliminate, or at least reduce, the duplicate government programs we have. A report from earlier this year said there are 56 federal programs to help people understand finances, 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality (spread over 10 different federal agencies), 47 federal programs for job training and employment. Fifteen different federal agencies are responsible for food safety programs. There are 52 federal programs to fund entrepreneurial efforts. While those are all great goals, the problem is that each program has its own bureaucracy, and each agency has its own administration. By one estimate, duplicate programs cost American taxpayers between $100 billion and $200 billion a year.
We also need to get serious about cutting the wasteful spending. I know it’s been said before, but we cannot keep heading down the same path we’ve been on. There’s a group of auditors out there saying that 22 percent of federal spending does nothing. That’s more than $1 out of every $5 we spend.
There are ridiculous programs that we fund with American tax dollars, like the United States Institute of Peace. We just sent this group more than $40 million, and what do they do? According to its Web site, it wants to “prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide” by “empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe.” Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because those are also the goals of our State Department. Yet taxpayers fund an entirely separate organization – an “institute” that just spent $100 million building a Taj Mahal headquarters in Washington.
We live in difficult times, and the American people are making due with less. It’s not too much to ask that the federal government do the same. One way to do that is by cutting spending on ridiculous programs.
DM – As a member of the Small Business Committee, what are you doing to help small businesses during this tough economic time?
LB – As a former small business owner, I believe Washington needs to understand that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Small businesses in my district have been crippled by government over-regulation that’s being enforced by bureaucrats who have little, if any, private-sector experience. That’s shocking to me. Americans understand that small businesses create seven out of 10 new jobs in America and are the economic engines that can lead our recovery – but that’s only if the federal government promotes pro-growth free market policies.
The Small Business Committee has welcomed the input of small businesses from around the country. We’ve heard from entrepreneurs about how tax complexity hinders their small businesses. The economy is still unstable and it is difficult for them to commit to any kind of growth or expansion. The Small Business Committee encourages Congress to listen to our small businesses and simplify the tax code.
We’ve also heard from small businesses that rely on oil and gas to operate. We’ve told Congress not to restrict the production of domestic energy resources. In Pennsylvania, we have large quantities of Marcellus shale, which is supposed to contain largely untapped natural gas reserves. Our proximity to the major population centers of the East Coast in the new era of high gas prices means this shale could play a powerful role in future debates over natural gas. In fact, there’s more natural gas under our feet in Pennsylvania than oil in Saudi Arabia!
Our committee also marked up H.R. 1425, the Creating Jobs Through Small Business Innovation Act of 2011. This legislation modernizes and reauthorizes both the Small Business Innovation and Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program. These programs provide grants and government support to innovative small businesses.
Finally, I hold small business roundtable meetings in my district so I can hear firsthand what I can do to assist small business owners in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Topics include how federal overregulation hampers business growth and expansion, legislative reform, and the different needs of businesses and industries of various sizes. The discussions we’ve had so far have been extremely helpful, and the free flow of ideas and comments between panel members is fantastic.
DM – In Congressman Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget, he proposed to simplify corporate business taxes and lower the overall rate to 25%. What are your thoughts on this proposal?
LB – I support any effort to simplify the tax code and improve America’s strategic position in the world. I’ve said it before – we’re struggling economically isn’t because Washington taxes too little, it’s because Washington spends too much and taxes too much. Our tax code needs to be reformed in order to make our nation more competitive globally. Our tax system is incredibly complex, and businesses of all sizes spend countless hours trying to comply with the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, the IRS estimates that individuals, families and employers spend over six billion hours and over $160 billion a year trying to figure out how much they owe the federal government.
Chairman Ryan has made an honest effort to confront the challenges we face with the federal tax code, with Medicare, and with spending in general. While I am not saying the plan is perfect, I am happy our party is not turning a blind eye to our country’s problems. Our nation will return to greatness when we reform, reorganize, and restructure our nation’s social programs and complex tax code.
DM – How will lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% affect small businesses?
LB – The United States has one of the highest – if not the highest – corporate tax rates in the world. That’s one of the reasons why companies don’t want to stay here. Lowering our nation’s corporate tax rate will help us improve international competitiveness and stimulate the economy. If the economy is growing, small businesses will also grow and hire.
However, we can’t solely focus on corporate tax reform. This administration needs to do a much better job of listening to the concerns that small businesses have. I came to Washington to change the way our government operates. I’m willing to work with anyone to serve my constituents and my country. We have had no major tax reform in the past 26 years. The system is broken. Small businesses often lack the resources to hire accountants or lawyers, and small firms pay 67 percent more to comply with the tax code compared to large firms. Why is our government crippling the very institutions that can stimulate our economy? Many small businesses are being audited because they simply don’t understand the tax code.
DM – You recently wrote an Op-Ed in support of Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. A lot has been made over this being an attack on the elderly. Can you please set the record straight about what this plan truly entails?
LB – There’s been a lot of misinformation about the Medicare reform plan. My political opponents, for example, are making robocalls and running radio ads that are scaring senior citizens. My office gets phone calls from crying widows who have been tricked into believing that their Medicare is going to be eliminated. It’s disgusting.
Let me clear things up right now: those who are 55 years of age or older will not have their Medicare benefits touched. Period.
My political opponents say that the plan we passed will “end Medicare as we know it,” but what they don’t tell you is that Medicare will end as we know it anyway – because the program will be broke within about a decade. Starting this year, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every single day, and that trend will continue each and every day for the next 19 years. The last of the Baby Boomers won’t reach age 65 for two decades. At that point, it is estimated that Medicare will be covering more than 80 million people. For comparison’s sake, at the end of 2010, about 46 million elderly and disabled people receive Medicare benefits.
Those under 55 will never receive any form of Medicare benefits unless we initiate serious and substantial reforms.
The reform plan we passed will make sure that those under 55 will have access to Medicare benefits. Under the reform, Medicare recipients will be able to pick a health insurance plan and the government will negotiate with the insurance companies and subsidize the cost. Competition will drive the price down. Medicare recipients will have access to the same health insurance plan as members of Congress. Wealthier beneficiaries will receive a lower subsidy, the sick will receive a higher payment if their condition worsens, and lower-income seniors will receive additional assistance to cover their out-of-pocket costs. The average Medicare recipient will receive a subsidy of about $15,000 a year.
These simple but necessary changes protect the benefits of today’s seniors and near-retirees, and they reform the Medicare program before it goes broke. Medicare reform also ensures that the program exists for future generations.
When I explain the plan to constituents, especially those over 55, you can hear their sighs of relief. You can see their tension evaporate. When they learn about the plan, senior citizens support the Medicare reform plan.
But the whole Medicare debate has been reduced to lies, scare tactics, and sound bites. It isn’t fair, but that’s politics.
DM – You are a co-sponsor to H.Res 137 – “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States Postal Service should take all appropriate measures to ensure the continuation of its 6-day mail delivery service.” In 2010, USPS suffered a net loss of $8.5 billion. Why is it important that USPS continue to operate 6 days a week?
LB – The answer is simple – I received an overwhelming amount of mail from my constituents asking me to protect six-day delivery. I work for them, and their concerns come first. This would be the most radical change in the 230-plus-year history of the U.S. mail delivery system.
The Postal Regulatory Commission found that eliminating one day of mail service would cause 25 percent of all first class and priority mail to be delayed by as long as two days. Many of my constituents live in rural areas. Many of my senior citizens receive their prescription medication through the mail. It’s important the Postal Service continues to provide consistent service to them. An elderly constituent living in a rural area might not be able to wait that long for their prescription medication or their Social Security check, especially if it’s also a holiday weekend.
My constituents expected me to come to Congress to cut spending and reform Washington’s broken ways of doing business, but not at the expense of a service all of them benefit from. The postal service has been delivering mail six days a week since 1912, and I expect they will continue to serve my constituents with integrity and reliable service.
DM – As you may know, my organization, Citizen Outreach, along with Americans for Tax Reform and the Daily Caller will be hosting the 2011 Conservative Leadership Conference and GOP Presidential Debate in July here in Las Vegas. What traits are you looking for in a presidential candidate?
LB – Strong leadership skills. A clear vision for America’s future. An understanding of economic principles, preferably with real-world experience in the private sector or experience as an executive. The belief that the United States is the greatest country on Earth, and the drive to make sure we are the greatest and remain that way.
DM – What are the issues that are going to dominate the 2012 election cycle?
LB – The economy will be the number-one issue, and that includes creating jobs, lowering our debt, reducing federal spending, and simplifying the tax code and reducing business tax rates. I think other issues will be reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, maintaining a strong defense system, curbing illegal immigration, and restoring our place and status in the world.
Thank you for your time Congressman.