Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 21, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Rep. Harry Mitchell


  • Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell visits Horizon to talk about the economy, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the new G.I. Bill legislation he's co-sponsored.
Guests:
  • Harry Mitchell - U.S. Congressman


View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, and thanks for joining us tonight on "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

>>Ted Simons:
Fifth Congressional District Congressman Harry Mitchell has a significant victory to his credit. Late last month President Bush signed the Webb-Mitchell Bill into law. It expands funding for the college education of veterans. This new GI Bill covers veterans who have served since September 11th, 2001. Joining to us talk about that and more, Congressman Harry Mitchell. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

>>Harry Mitchell:
Thank you. Thank you Ted.

>>Ted Simons:
The GI Bill, first of all, how is this different from what we used to think of as a GI Bill?

>>Harry Mitchell:
This is very much like the one that occurred right after World War II. And what we've had up until now is a peace time bill. It really doesn't serve the needs or even fulfill the promises we've made to these soldiers. We've got a different kind of soldier, also. This is a volunteer army, and we're using a great number of reservist and National Guard. So this particular bill will provide tuition to the highest priced tuition in state college, it will provide a living stipend, books, and fees. But even what's better about this one, even than the original one after World War II, it provides transferability. So if someone wants to, and this is one of the concerns that people had about -- what about these people who are -- how do we keep them in? What about career military? A person can transfer their credits to a spouse or to a child. So this is even better than when we had after World War II, which created the greatest generation.

>>Ted Simons:
Indeed. A lot of things, though, to provide there. Concerns about the cost?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Yeah. The cost, it's part of the war, the cost of the war. You don't have veterans without a war. So it's being paid for the same way we pay for war, and as a result, that's how it's going to be done.

>>Ted Simons:
Critics, including Senator McCain, say benefits are so good, people are basically might leave to go ahead and cash in. Your response?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Well, I think in order to retain someone, you have to recruit them. If you talk to the military people that I've talked to, they think this is a great recruiting tool. But in order to try to encourage people to stay in, those that can -- do want to stay in longer than their first tour, they can transfer their credits to a spouse or to a child. So it's just not for the one who is serving a short period of time and getting out. I think you're going to find this is a great recruiting tool.

>>Ted Simons:
Any thought to maybe a more tiered style of benefit?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Well, it's tiered based on the number of years you have in combat. You can get the maximum if you spent three years in the service since 9-11. And I think this is -- this is great for our economy, because this is like a stimulus. This is money that's going to be spent in universities, it's going to be spent for housing, books, it's money spent right here. Plus, the important thing is, we are educating, leaders. Many of these people come back from overseas, Afghanistan or Iraq, and they're a different person. They're more mature. They've got leadership skills. And the kind of people we really want in our economy. I think you're going to find this is going to create the next greatest generation.

>>Ted Simons:
There's also a program that you support here, the Military Health Training by way of Scottsdale Healthcare, this public-private partnership deal. How does this work?

>>Harry Mitchell:
It's terrific. Most of my career was spent in city government, where we relied on public-private partnerships. And this is with the Trauma Center in Scottsdale health care. It's providing training for the military. Training in trauma that they may not get until they actually get into the theater. So it really helps both the Scottsdale, our community in this area, but it also helps the military. We get training; we get to give training to the military. They in turn provide extra hands if we had an emergency or disaster here in this area. So it's really symbiotic. When you find the military, we're talking about reservists, from -- Scottsdale Healthcare is the first and only hospital to allow all the branches to come in and get this trauma training that they may not get until they actually get in the theater. That said what good about this.

>>Ted Simons:
We've talked about the GI Bill, about military health training by way of Scottsdale health care. A lot of veterans, we can talk maybe later a bit about the suicide awareness campaign you're pushing regarding veterans. A lot of veteran's things, you're the house committee on veteran's affairs subcommittee chairman. Were you as -- I don't know, up to speed, I guess, for lack of a better phrase, on veterans' concerns before this chairmanship?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Actually, the chairmanship helped a great deal, but there are a number of -- I think it's easy to see we've neglected veterans. It wasn't too hard to find out what needed to be done. Lots of veteran's organizations, veterans themselves, we have a large number of veterans in our community. And we find out what their needs were. In terms of education, and training, and health care. Not only veterans, but we're finding out even the transition between the D.O.D., Department of Defense, and veterans administration. There needed to be some improvement there. So -- we also found if there were problems in some of the Department of Defense hospitals, like Walter Reed, you might find these same things in veteran's hospitals. I can't believe the outpouring and the support that veterans have in this country at this time. And we have supported them; we've given veterans the largest increases in health care in the 77-year history of the V.A. People want to help the veterans. And I think because this is a different kind of war, we're talking about all volunteers; we're talking about National Guard, reservists. And they're doing something that most of us are not doing. So they need to be repaid.

>>Ted Simons:
And support for veterans obviously something that you're going to find very few enemies on as far as politics are concerned. However, the energy crisis right now, there are opinions all over the map. Let's start with the concept, and one of the most divisive ideas, that is drilling for domestic oil. Should we be doing that?

>>Harry Mitchell:
I think we've got to find a way to increase our domestic production without a doubt. And in fact, one of the things we voted on just before we came home this weekend was a bill that would require oil companies to exercise the leases they have. There's about 10,000 leases on oil properties that are just being stockpiled by the oil companies. We're saying, drill on those. They've already got permission to drill. We've also said up in Alaska, the National Petroleum Reserve, 20 million acres. In fact, oil companies are there. We encourage there be lease sales every year. There's no real easy answer. The $4 gasoline price, we're competing with the world market on this. Americans are driving less now than they have in years. Gasoline consumption has gone down. But you notice the price hasn't gone down so much. It's because it's a world market, and there's a lot of things that are involved in trying to keep the price down.

>>Ted Simons:
Back to the legislation were you referring, to the drill act, criticism on that was it was too punitive? It's basically a use it or lose it to the oil companies. Sometimes it takes decades to get their act in order on a drilling field.

>>Harry Mitchell:
Absolutely. And that's just shows that the people who want to drill right now, they've already got leases. They need to drill. We were told by oil companies a couple things -- one, they don't have the equipment. And they don't have the manpower to go out and drill immediately. So it is not really punitive, because we set a good faith effort. If you are -- instead of just stockpiling these leases, if you are making an effort to provide oil -- even if you drilled in a new spot today, everybody, I've not seen anyone who disagrees; it will take 10 years at least for that oil to get into the pipeline for our gasoline. What we need to do is not only -- we're concerned of course about the short run, and we're doing things about that. We've increased the miles per gallon on cars, first time in 30 years. We've stopped taking in money -- taking in oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We're doing a number of things along this line, but we have got to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.

>>Ted Simons:
Last question on that -- what can government do if anything, to change a volatile marketplace?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Well, that's very difficult. The airline industry has come to Congress saying, you know, we ought to have more oversight over speculators. There are people they believe who are buying oil who will never take possession of it. They're buying it and waiting for the prices to go up. This is what the airline industry says. And of course you know, oil is traded in dollars, the American dollar is down. All of these things help contribute to a high price. And I think that what the government has to do is show that we are doing -- that we're recognizing -- I pay the same amount that you pay, and everyone else pays. And we're trying to do everything we possibly can to hold this down. But I think you'll find that ridership and mass transit is up, which may be good for not only our economy, but it's good for our environment.

>>Ted Simons:
And I mentioned government assistance, because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that whole situation now is being helped by the government. Your ideas? Was that a good move?

>>Harry Mitchell:
It hasn't been finalized yet. When I left this last week, there were a lot of moving parts. The president had his views on it, the Republicans had their views on it, and the Democrats had theirs. The lending industry. And there wasn't a consensus yet. I think where -- what most people believe, there needs to be money for those who are -- who have -- who are creditworthy, who want to buy a house. It's not only good for them, but good for our economy. We hope Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can do the job that they were intended to do. They've processed over half the mortgages in this country. And it's important that we do something, and I think it's going to be coming up this week.

>>Ted Simons:
And yet stock prices, their stock value down 80\%, something along those lines in a year, and you've got basically people saying, wait a second, not only Bear Stearns but Fannie Mae, and the whole nine yards, I[ndy]Mac Bank in California, the whole situation, people are not being punished as much as they should. I'm not saying the average Joe and Jane, I mean the officials and the investors aren't assuming the risk when these things start having trouble.

>>Harry Mitchell:
There's a lot of moving parts on this. People that should be held accountable. And I think they will. I believe, and I'm not certain on this, but even the Bear Stearns stock, it went down to $2 a share, which is what the shareholders -- some people did lose, but what you're talking about, that might have been you or I. What about the people who led us into that -- I think a lot of people that we need to re-look at our regulation of these industries.

>>Ted Simons:
More oversight, more regulation needed in the banking industry?

>>Harry Mitchell:
I think if there is, we have to watch that we don't go overboard, because -- and have a reaction or have some unintended consequences. I think most people agree there should have been some -- a little more oversight with these mortgages, because things happen that shouldn't have happened.

>>Ted Simons:
You voted for the stimulus checks. Correct?

>>Harry Mitchell:
Yes.

>>Ted Simons:
Are you seeing any indication that -- I know it's a little early still, but is there any indication those things are being used for anything other than paying down debt?

>>Harry Mitchell:
They're paying for gasoline. I think that my understanding is that it's helped some. And when it runs its course, we're going to see what happens if it picks up afterwards. But I think things I've read is that people not only are paying down debt, but they are also buying. And of course as we get close to the beginning of school year, hopefully people will pick up the spending.

>>Ted Simons:
I want to ask about ear marks, because much of the Arizona Congressional Delegation, at least some prominent voices, are just against ear marks all together. I'm assuming you're not. Why?

>>Harry Mitchell:
A couple things about ear marks. First of all, ear marks, we made some ear mark reforms at the beginning of this Ccongress. To make them transparent. Where people got in trouble, they would drop these air marks in without anybody knowing about them in the dark of night. Every ear mark that I ever requested, every request has been on my website. It's all been for public purposes, rather -- inner operability, emergencies, services, help for Sky Harbor, or Phoenix-Mesa Gateway. They've all been listed there. I think the argument is also as a congressman, I represent a lot of cities. There's mayors, school board, these are the people who know what their constituents need, what's needed. And the idea is that you can better judge what is needed in a district than some bureaucrat. What you're doing is leaving it up to a bureaucrat in Washington to decide where the money should go. The money is going to be spent. There's no doubt, there are abuses, the bridge to nowhere, the Duke Cunningham's, these were abuses that I think we've corrected by having more transport - more transparency, and the fact you have to list -- I have to sign a paper saying no one in my family will benefit financially from any of these. And of course the real transparency, they're on the website. Check them out.

>>Ted Simons:
Last question, I'm going to ask this because of the idea of ear marks. I'm sure it will come up in the campaign that's coming up here. You've got, I've lost count, five, maybe six, maybe it's back to five Republicans on the other side that seem to be awfully eager to take you on. Is that a little disconcerting to know the other side can't wait to get at you?

>>Harry Mitchell:
No. You know, of all my elections I've won, and I've had some- this is my 17th election from city council, to mayor, to the state senate, and now to this, I've all been in Republican dominated districts. I feel I work well back and forth. My training really was in city government, where there was more compromise, and you try to solve problems. And I think that that's trade over. This is what I'm trying to do in Congress. So I expect that. This was a long Republican held seat in a Republican district. So I expected competition. But we're ready for it. I'm excited about the campaign. I'm excited about buying my -- about my first term in Congress.

>>Ted Simons:
I lied this, is my last question -- as far as Barack Obama is concerned, some are saying, are concerned at least, in his camp and those further left, that he is veering too far toward the center, some say too far toward the right. Your response?

>>Harry Mitchell
Well, I think he is a very practical person. And I think people want to see a change. I think he represents that change. And he can't be all things to all people. He's got to understand that he's got to forge compromises, work together. And I think that's exactly what he's trying to do.

>>Ted Simons:
Congressman Harry Mitchell, always a pleasure. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

>>Harry Mitchell:
Thank you.

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