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Q&A with Doheny

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The following is a transcript of an interview I had on Sept. 20 with Republican Matt Doheny, who is running for Congress. At some points, it has been edited for clarity.


BRIAN AMARAL: How do we tame the debt? What are your ideas?

MR. DOHENY: No. 1, we have to stop annual deficits. The most troubling thing, if you look at President Obama's run rate budget, which is a fancy way of saying his projections, on average, it's a trillion dollars of debt each year. At the end of the day, we probably have to pass a balanced budget amendment to make it structural so we cannot spend more than we take in in Congress. Shrinking the debt, we can't do it by running deficits every year.
No. 2, we certainly have to live within our means. We're going to have to make some tough decisions about the overall size of government. We have to reduce the size of government. Part and parcel of that is the practical reality that every program and every stimulus that Obama wants to pass and Owens votes to pass can't be passed anymore. It's been a failed policy. A lot of this campaign is going to be the second element, which is growth. Growth is the key. Everybody talks about jobs. I'm going to talk about growth. More people working, more people doing better than they've done before, leads to more income, which leads to greater taxes. It's as simple as that. As a businessman, as someone who deeply understands the economy and turning companies around, you have to grow. You have to have more people

BA: How do you grow without spending?

MD: This is fundamental. Right now, government does not create jobs. It reallocates capital. Just think about the most recent example, Solyndra. The solar company in California. It had to file for bankruptcy. Half a billion in tax dollars is being thrown down the toilet. Government should not be in the business of picking winners in losers, because they flat out can't do it and it's a misallocation of capital. Same thing you saw with ethanol, same thing you're seeing with the auto bailouts. If government picks winners and losers like Obama does and Owens wants to, we're going in the wrong direction. That spending is going to be no different than hiring people to go out and dig a ditch and fill it back up. If we're talking about tax policies that will lead to job creation, you have to talk about giving entrepreneurs... this is nothing fancy. If you're sitting back and saying, "If I'm going to take a risk and there's going to be more regulation, I don't really know where the federal government stands and they're going to tax me as I become more successful, that doesn't seem like a real good idea and opportunity." Right now, you have people who should be investing who are sitting on the sidelines. People still have to live, but people still have to make a purchase, in terms of a car or another big purchase, people don't know what's going to happen. For God's sake, the S&P just downgraded the U.S. debt. We have the largest debt in U.S. history. We have unemployment levels we haven't seen since World War II for long periods of time, for God's sake. It obviously spiked up, but it came back down. We have to change that mentality. The way to do that is to give people the reason to invest. It's not spending. It's giving people the opportunity not to worry about their own future. That's what we need to make sure. We're still living in America. We have great enthusiasm to have a better life for ourselves and our grandkids. But you have to make sure you have a level playing field and you don't penalize people for taking risks. When we talk about spending, we make sure that we're talking about military, the courts and the Army, police, the things we can't do alone, i.e. infrastructure, that's what we have federal tax dollars for. When you have Obama and Vice President Biden deciding who's going to be a successful solar company, that's just wrong.

BA: Democrats are saying that we need to raise taxes as part of a so-called "balanced" approach to the debt. Where do you stand? Will you ever vote to raise taxes if you're elected?

MD: Right now, we have a spending problem in the United States. Last year, the federal government took in $2.2 trillion of Americans' hard-earned tax dollars. Still, Obama and Owens were able to spend a trillion three or a trillion four, I forget what the final number is, money beyond that. We have a spending problem. We have to stop out-of-control spending. Taxes right now are plenty high. I don't think they do want to talk about creating jobs. I know what it takes to create jobs. We have to talk about growth. People don't start businesses just to create jobs. They do it to make a profit. To do that, they need to hire people. So it's the growth. It's the growth of that business that will lead you to hire three more people, five more people, build an addition and hire 10 more people. So to basically penalize people by raising taxes is going to have a disincentive. It's going to work exactly against where we are right now. So it is a flawed policy for the time right now, when we need to encourage growth which will get us job creation.

BA: Let me paraphrase. Tell me if I'm on the right track. You're saying, the situation we're in right now, you don't think we should raise taxes right now...

MD: We should definitely not raise taxes right now. Without question.

BA: But in the future, if a situation is different...

MD: In the future... right now, we have $2.2 trillion, to bring more revenue in, you have a growing economy. You make more, you pay more. You don't need to raise tax rates, you have to have growth. We're not raising tax rates. We want to make sure that everyone has a job and is maximizing their God-given gifts in the workplace.

BA: Staying on debt, entitlement programs. What if any changes should be made to the Social Security program?

MD: We're going to talk about this through the campaign. Social Security, taking a step back, we passed Social Security in 1935. Right now, the challenge is become, it's unsustainable at its current rate. There's a date 25 years out that the trust fund will run out and benefits will just drop off a cliff at that point for people who are just getting on there. I just turned 41. For people in my generation and younger, like yourself, Social Security, people don't even believe it's going to be there. We need to have structural reforms. Look, neither Obama nor Owens have said Owens. They've failed in terms of leadership. They've been absolutely silent. It's an absence of leadership. Show the country where we need to go on those topics. Neither Owens nor Obama will say one thing in terms of how to get these programs, Social Security in particular, extended out for people my age and younger, because right now, it's not going to work in the current trajectory.

BA: Do you have any ideas? You're saying Obama and Owens haven't offered any ideas, but as far as specific changes...

MD: Through the campaign, we're going to talk about specific changes about what elements of the current system we need to refine so that literally, people can rely on it my age and younger. It becomes very technical. Part of it is, I've had to read up on how Social Security really works. Some of the actual mechanics, from the ages to the benefit formulas to the payout schemes to how it gets finances, there's an education process as well.

BA: Same question for Medicare.

MD: Sure. Medicare is equally troubled as an entitlement. It certainly has to get fixed. It gets into the health care question as well. Part and parcel of Obamacare is, it cuts $500 billion from Medicare. That's a cut, No. 1. No. 2, Medicare at its current run rate is not fiscally sustainable. We have to go through a process to make sure we change it structurally. My mom is on Medicare. There's plenty of people who have moms like my mom who is on Medicare. We have to make sure that, certainly, people who are my age who will become older who want to have the ability to be able to use that system, right now, it's essentially going to go broke. Medicare is going to go broke on an even shorter timeframe than Social Security. So we need to have fundamental reforms. You can talk about Paul Ryan, he stuck his neck out there. President Obama, Bill Owens, our local congressman, has not put forward any policy that says, This is the dialogue and we need to come to an understanding and pass legislation so that Medicare will stay Medicare and benefit people as they get older. It'll be fine for today; what about 25, 50 years from now? A failure of leadership from Owens, a failure of leadership from Obama.

BA: I'm wondering, specifically, I want to ask the portion about Medicare in the Paul Ryan "Path to Prosperity" budget. It would change Medicare to a system where seniors could choose health-care plans from a government-run health exchange. What'd you think of that plan?

MD: First, you have to look at the Paul Ryan budget in its totality. I probably would have voted against it. Why? It wouldn't balance our budget. We wouldn't get to a sane fiscal point for 50 or 52 years. We have to deal with the challenges before I die. I hope I live that long. If you talk about deep structural issues that affect our economy, budget is No. 1. With that plan, you say, "Hey, look, we're going to go ahead and be for something." It's an attempt. We have a failure of leadership and a failure from our president. Right now, I don't think our Congress has passed a budget since Bill Owens has been in Congress. They haven't passed a budget. Just continuing resolution. Show me a budget that doesn't have a budget. You have to live on a budget, you have to make the tough choices when you plan out and go forward. At the end of the day, the Democrats are abdicating their leadership and you have the president not leading at all.

BA: What about those changes to Medicare in the Ryan budget, though?

MD: Look, we have to deal with the big structural impediments. Obamacare needs to be repealed; hopefully, I'll be part of a majority that repeals it, or the Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional. Right now, you're taking money away from Medicare on top of the fact that government's going to be in control of your life. The challenge with Medicare as you're talking about it, it's not really about the Ryan budget, it's about the structural elements. When you have a situation where you as a consumer, whether you have a company health plan that has unlimited tax deductability or a government health plan called Medicare, you don't have to make the choices. We have to get to a point where people have to make choices. At the end of the day, what we're looking at is a situation of uncontrolled spending. Unfortunately, right now, no plan is on the table that is going to change that. Obamacare is not going to change the cost curve of health care. It's simply not. RIght now, we have to make those decisions in a bipartisan way and get it through Congress and signed by the president. Paul Ryan, that's one particular offering. There's many plans, from liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans and not for profits and think tanks. We need to come to a solution, but we have to have leadership at the top, and right now, we don't.

BA: Is that too radical of a change? To change it from a guaranteed program run by the government to a place where private companies are insuring the beneficiaries?

MD: To answer your questions... I'm just saying, you're at a point where, Medicare is going to run out of money. It is going to become an insolvent program. The question is, how do we keep Medicare as an actual government program that will maintain quality coverage, because I don't think we have that right now, for seniors. What seniors should have is what every member of Congress has. In the short-term future, this program is not going to be there. It's going to become insolvent.

BA: I won't belabor the point any more. Would you support any cuts to defense that would hurt Fort Drum?

MD: No. [Pause.]

BA: Simple enough. There we go.

MD: Fort Drum is a crucial part of the military. When they're talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, they're talking about our soldiers. As someone who is a conservative, you have to believe in a strong defense. That's why we changed the future of our country and the world, when [President Ronald] Reagan built up our military and effectively ended the Cold War. We have different challenges, from al-Qaeda and from other rogue nations and emerging nations like China, we have to have a robust military. Within that world, certainly there are government programs we need to curtail. That needs to be done through the Department of Defense. Our former congressman, John McHugh, can lead that as well. Right now, in terms of those types of things in the Defense Department, at the end of the day, we have to make tough choices, but clearly, Fort Drum is a key jewel of the military of our United States. And military defense is Job One of the federal government.

BA: What about making troops pay more toward their health care?

MD: I think I don't know enough, plus, there's so many different proposals out there. One of the challenges where we have, soldiers, we see, living in Watertown, you see soldiers every day, making sure they have a living wage and the benefits to make sure they're happy, productive members of society even though they're proudly serving our military.

BA: Dairy policy. This one is from Marc Heller, our Washington correspondent. I'm just going to read what he told me to ask you. What ought to be done in light of budget realities, with direct payments to dairy farmers when milk gets below a certain price? Do you support continuing those direct payments?

MD: Part of the campaign is, we're going to have the opportunity to get in-depth on everything from entitlements to the budget deficits to growing the economy to job creation, including dairy policy and military policy, we're going to talk about it. Some of the stuff gets very specific. It needs to be part of the overall context of what I'll call a Doheny plan. Farming is a huge asset here. It's really manufacturing here, whether it be dairy or cows or crops. It's very, very important. You asked me a technical question about the MILC program, we have to take a step back and say, "What are we trying to accomplish overall?" Do we want to have situation where we're having government dictate outcomes, or do we want to have farmers to have a wider range of what we have control over? We need to have that conversation in the context overall of how the government deals with farming and specifically dairy farming. In terms of granular questions like that, we'll provide our view on how the dairy industry can be enhance. Up here, equal to Fort Drum and key industries, agriculture and dairy us right up there.

BA: Does government give too much money to agriculture? You mentioned before that the government shouldn't be picking winners in losers. How is that different here?

MD: Government picks them in specific industries, whether it's GM or Solyndra or particular ethanol makers. But look, subsidies do not lead to economic growth. It's a question of, how do we refine the system? People have relied in the current structure, and we can't change things overnight. We need to make sure the programs we do have maximize economic growth. That's how jobs are created. Any policy in terms of dealing with agriculture and subsidies like that has to be growth-oriented, where people get incentives, rather than disincentives.

BA: Should the Bush tax cuts be allowed to expire? Is that a tax hike, in your mind?

MD: Right now, let me take a step back. That's the law of the land. Tax policies, right now, we should not raise taxes. So the answer to your question is, No, we should not raise taxes. Why should we go ahead and use the Obama and Owens method of punishing people for taking risks? I don't think our current congressman understands it, and I don't think our president does, as well. Raising taxes will lead to less growth. To go back to the 2000, 2001 level, is going to have an even more negative impact on the economy. We need to make sure of the regulatory world and make sure people don't get punished.

BA: Last question. The most nakedly political. Because of redistricting, you're not sure where you're going to be. If you end up on a district with a sitting House GOP member, would you engage in a primary?

MD: I just want to make sure the readers understand, we truly think there's going to be a north country district. When you have three boundaries, that's a huge advantage in terms of maintaining a north country seat. And there's a continuity in interest. There's a difference between being in Albany, Rochester or even Syracuse, for that matter, versus the north country. We're essentially a rural area here with common ties that I think will be continued and should be continued. Historically, there has been a north country seat. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have announced. There will be a north country seat. There's a current congressman that needs to be replaced over in Plattsburgh.

BA: There is a chance, though, that it stretches into Onondaga County...

MD: It could stretch into anywhere. Gerrymandering is unbelievable. I might disagree with some of the things that [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo does, but he's like, "Hey, we want to have rational districts." A rational district would be a north country seat, north of Albany, north of Syracuse, from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain. I think there's a lot of places that could be added that would continue the north country way of life and would make a lot of sense.

BA: What if it is irrational and it does go into Syracuse, and you're in Ann Marie Buerkle's district? Are you going to primary Ann Marie Buerkle?

MD: Forget about hypothetical questions. We have a long way. We'll answer that question when the time comes. We're out there working very hard to get the Republican, Independence, which I had last time, and the Conservative line, which I didn't, lines. We're out all over the district.

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