This is the Q and A between Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and South Carolina senior Senator Lindsey Graham at the Ag Summit March 7, 2015 in Des Moines.
R: Well, senator, welcome.
G: Glad to be here. Eat more bacon.
R: Thank you for bringing Charleston, South Carolina, weather to Des Moines today. Or at least something close.
G: Come to Charleston. It's good.
R: Let's get started.
R: You've been a strong proponent of national security, energy independence. Where does ethanol fit in on that and how do you view it?
G: Every gallon of ethanol that you can produce here in Iowa is one less gallon to have to buy from people who hate your guts. So keep it up. As Chuck says, "Ethanol is good to start the day with."
R: So what about wind?
G: What about wind? A lot of it in Washington. Wind, nuclear, solar, oil and gas, ethanol, biomass, count it-
Audience member: Coal.
G: -coal. Where's the coal dude?
Audience member: Here.
G: If we got it, let's use it. If we can invent it, let's invent it. If we can get off dependency of foreign oil, let's do it. If we can clean up in the environment, good for us all. Everything, all of the above. Get on with it. What would Putin be without gas? I'll let you think about that for a minute. Just think how the world would be, no joke, if we weren't dependent on fossil fuels from people who hate our guts. We borrow money from a communist dictatorship in China. We take $400 billion a year, the money that we earn here in America to buy oil from people who don't like us. Let's break that. Let's stop that. Jump in here anytime if you like. Sorry.
R: South Carolina has a significant infrastructure on export, and in particular the ports in South Carolina.
R: One of the challenges with agriculture is efficiently exporting the products. One of the challenges for the Midwest is the age of the locks and dams on the Mississippi River. What's your perspective on how this country deals with the aging infrastructure problem that at some point will make it non-competitive?
G: Our infrastructure is falling apart in front of our eyes. Anybody been to China lately? Anybody been to the Mid-East? The Charleston port needs to get to 52 feet to service the Pan Am ships that are coming through the Panama Canal. In the next decade, most of the ships on the ocean are going to be three times larger than they are today. To come through the Panama Canal, they have to widen it, then they have to come to a port that can service these ships. So from a Charleston point of view, we've got to get our port deep enough to service these ships 24/7. The Mississippi River is getting clogged. The Army Corps of Engineers is over-tasked. The lock and dam system is falling apart. There's one lock, the Olmsted Lock and Dam takes a billion dollars out the inland trust fund. So the financing is not there to repair the lock and dam system. I am working with Democrats and Republicans to create about a $20 billion account that will deepen east coast ports, modernize west coast ports, and deepen and improve the inland waterways so we can get our products to and from the world. To me, this is an economic necessity. The Mississippi River needs to be dredged continuously, and the ports need to be modernized. And you're not going to get what you want without working with a guy like me. I'm not going to get what I want on the East coast without working with the West coast, and the Mississippi River, and all other inland port-ways. This should be a challenge of our time, is to modernize our infrastructure.
R: So how does that fit in with the trade promotion authority, and having that, if you were president would you want to have that going forward? How does it fit in with TPP and in the U.S. exporting those products and those agreements?
G: Well the more markets the better, right? The more people that want to buy Iowa stuff the better. How do you get your stuff to where they want to buy it from? And when you want to buy something, how you get it here, that's why you need to modernize your infrastructure. I will vote for the TPA and the TPP under one condition: that we deal with the currency manipulation. Trade is a two way street. Exporting is good, right? You export corn and God knows you've got a bunch of hogs. So the bottom line is that imports are part of trade. Here's what I will not tolerate: a communist dictatorship, the Japanese, or any, the China or any other country cheating us out of jobs. By them manipulating the value of your money, you create a discount on products made in your country. I will vote for TPA and TPP if we allow a provision in the trade agreement that would allow us to bring an action under the U.S. trade representative for currency manipulation to be an unfair trade practice. The GMOs are the same type problem. When the Europeans try to ban GMOs in Africa, when they tried to use GMOs as unfair trade practice, we need to push back. And I want to talk about GMOs if you don't mind.
R: Yeah, go ahead.
G: Anybody been to Africa? It's a continent that is going to be the prize of the 21st century. Communist Chinese are all over Africa. Radical Islam is moving in, and I'm not a farming expert, don't claim to be, but the farming practices in Africa are 150 years old. Land grant colleges throughout America can help the African farmer to go from a subsistence farming to actually creating money, disposable income. And the European policy, in not allowing GMOs to be introduced into Africa and embargoed, locks the African farmer into yields that are just ridiculously low. Not using drought resistant seed is starving people. And I think what the Europeans are doing are immoral and if I was president of the United States, we'd have one hell of a debate about this.
R: The present debate in this country about labeling of GMO product versus organic, what's your view on that?
G: It's a back door way to put you out of business. Now I'm a nuclear power guy. France has about 70% of their power comes from the nuclear industry. Surely, we can be as bold as the French. I thought in Des Moines that wouldn't work, but it does. The bottom line, here's what I think: I think we're going to have to push for good science and not political agendas. If you can prove to me that a GMO, a strain of GMOs are bad for human consumption, I will listen to what you say. But these people are on a crusade. They want to destroy your industry. They want it to die, Africa and everybody else in the world, the product of good science. And this labeling effort is a back doorway to do it. They try to make it hard to dispose of nuclear waste because if you can't dispose of the waste you can't build new reactors. So this labeling effort is a back door way to shut you down. And we're going to push back.
R: As we think about the environment, and we think about the challenges of maintaining and improving that, and in terms of nutrient run-off and a variety of government programs that have been here over time. The conservation reserve program, and you're familiar with the filter strips, the wetland reserve programs. How have they worked and give us some examples in your state where that's been successful at managing that if you support those programs.
G: Well I'm a big believer in conserving land for future generations. Voluntary is better than mandatory. Incentivising people to put land in conservation easements is a good thing for the next generation, I think is sound land management. Count me in, in that regard. But there is an out of control effort in Washington not to protect the environment, but to control the economy. The EPA regulation on carbon, if it becomes law, is going to make it very hard for every farmer in Iowa and every manufacturer in South Carolina to stay in business. The U.S. Waterways, the waterways of the United States. Every wet spot on the ground's going to be regulated by the federal government. Having a pure, clean environment should be the goal of every American, and the goal of the Republican Party. Having a bureaucracy in Washington that's unelected, we should control that. You can vote for me. If you don't like me, if you think I'm doing something bad, you can kick me out of office. There is no way to get to the EPA. So we've got to bring these people under control.
R: In thinking about government policy, and in particular, tax policy and there's a lot of debate going on in Washington today about changing the tax code about capital gains.
R: And basis that's important on how that's viewed to a number of farmers in the audience, and the estate tax. How do you take that all into account as you look at the tax code on capital gains, and in particular, in the estate tax?
G: If I were king I would be benevolent... with a streak of cruelty every now and then just to keep everybody on their toes. The bottom line is, a tax code that would eliminate the death tax would be a great step in the right direction. The increase in the exemption has been good for people who own land. Family businesses have a hard time, Bruce, getting to the third generation because you have to buy the business back from the government. With a $5 million plus exemption, and there's a way to value farming based on the actual lay of the land in the farming community that's better for farmers. The tax code is a social engineering document. It's not designed to collect taxes as much as it is to run our lives. The Republican Party, if it stands for anything in 2016, should stand for the following: If you allow us to have the House and the Senate and a Republican president, we promise you a flatter simpler tax. We promise you a tax code you can understand, that you can plan around. And to our Democratic friends, if you want to fight, you're going to have one hell of a fight. Because tax policy is about job creation in this country and the more certain you are about what the policies of taxation will be from year to year, the better you can plan your business. That's why this ethanol mandate's been in the energy bill 2005 and 7, we got to make sure that when we create infrastructure around a mandate, that you haven't, that you can continue to invest because of certainty.
R: One of the challenges for rural America is quality jobs. A number of people have to drive up to 60 miles a day for those jobs. How do you change the economy in rural Iowa, and rural parts of this country, to do better?
G: Thank God for co-ops. Thank God for electric co-ops. I come from a very rural state. The infrastructure created job is road, bridges, highways, water, and sewer. If you don't have that infrastructure people are not going to go and develop economies in the rural area. Connecting the rural America to affordable, abundant energy is what the co-ops have been all about. Rational energy policy helps everybody. Having your schools tied to the internet so that a kid in Iowa or South Carolina has the ability to listen to the best minds of our time. There is an explosion of technology going on and the goal is to make sure that rural America is not left behind. The life in rural America is a good life, but it's under siege. Because rural America is about taking a risk. I grew up in central South Carolina. My family owned a liquor store, a restaurant, and a pool room. Everything I know about politics I learned in the pool room. That's why the Iranians are lying through their teeth.
That small business, family farm, convenience store, you fill in the blank, is the heart and soul of our economy and the heart and soul of America. For rural America to survive, you got to be rewarded when you take a risk, not punished. You can't lose your business because the government makes you buy it back because of an estate tax that's run amuck. You can't have a regulatory environment that drives the cost of doing business so that your kids can't maintain the family farm. Everything to me is about the next generation. Fixing the entitlement problems, anybody here born from 1946 1964? We want our money. Anybody born after 1946? Good luck. The biggest challenge for rural America, urban America, America, in general, is that 80 million baby boomers, Bruce, are going to retire in the next 20 years. We're going to wipe out Medicare and Social Security. When I was born in 1955 there were 16 workers for every Social Security retiree. Today there's three, in 20 years there'll be two. Unless we have a baby boom, we're going to need workers from outside this country.
We need immigration reform that will supply us the labor to keep rural America working. We need tax policy that will reward risk, and if we don't adjust the age of retirement and deal with Medicare and Social Security before they're taken down by the baby boomer retirement, the whole economy goes with it. By 2042 all the taxes we pay go to pay the Medicare/Social Security bill. Strom Thurmond had four kids after he's 67. If you're not willing to do that, then we need immigration. And one last thing, if I were lucky enough to be President of the United States, the mission of my presidency would be very simple. It's to make sure that the baby boomers can retire in dignity, but you don't destroy their grandchildren's future in the process. I would ask people in my income level to give up some of the benefits promised because we can't afford the bill that's owed. I would means-test benefits and I would ask younger people to work a little bit longer because we live so much longer.
If you're not willing to do that as President of the United States, then you're not who we need because there is no way to grow the economy or cut spending enough to deal with the retirement of the baby boomers. Eighty-trillion dollars has been promised in benefits. If we don't reform that promise, America becomes Greece. It's the biggest issue domestically. Foreign policy-wise, is keeping radical Islamists away from weapons of mass destruction so they don't kill us all. Those are the big challenges for the next president.
R: So as we think about, and you made the comment on immigration, and as you're aware Ag is dependent upon legal immigrant workers to do a variety of jobs.
G: And illegal immigrant workers.
R: So how does that get fixed? So that employers know when they go through the process that they're legal, they're E-verified, and that they can stay here and do the job?
G: How many of you are married? How does a marriage work? It's give and take. You need workers, right? Legal workers because you can't find workers native born sometimes. If you're in the meat-packing business, good luck hiring people to do that work. A lot of them come from overseas. How did 11 million people get here illegally? Obviously a lot of us looked the other way. Have you ever met an illegal Canadian? I haven't either. They come to Myrtle Beach in March, they go swimming, and go home. We're glad to have them because nobody else will go swimming in March. Maybe in Iowa, maybe that's warm to y'all, but it's not to us. Here's how you fix it: you secure your border. Do we all agree with that? All right. If you can walk across the border, you'll never fix it.
All the hijackers on 9/11 were visa over-stays, so you've got to fix that. If you can get a job in America illegally, they'll keep coming no matter how big you build a wall or fence. You got to control who gets the job, and you've got to give access to legal labor so employers are not encouraged to cheat. As to the 11 million, they're all not going to walk back to where they came from. Crooks are not welcome. Gang members are not welcome. But we need a rational solution to the 11 million because no Democrat is going to give us everything we want without getting something. And you know what the Democratic Party is insisting upon? A better life for some of those who live in the shadow, but they will agree with me that crooks are not welcome to stay. But there are people in this country, have been here for generations, that have American born children and grandchildren, and I've got one solution to this problem: be practical. Get it behind us. I don't want a third wave. Fix it so you don't have 11 million 20 years from now.
As to the 11 million, some can stay and some have to leave, but here's the conditions of staying: learn the English language or you can't stay. Get in the back of the line, pay taxes, and wait 10 years before you can even apply for a green card seems practical to me. But I promise you one thing: there will never be an immigration reform bill where you get everything you want and the other side doesn't get anything. That's called "life." I want to get this thing fixed and behind us. It's hurting the Party. It's a national security nightmare. It's a cultural problem, and where do the workers come from in the future?
So I'll end with this: I want to replace a broken immigration system with one that works. In the future, if you get a green card you get points because you can speak the language, and you have a job skill that we need. In other words, we get to pick who comes rather than having to choose from people who are smart enough to get across the border. That's what I want. The only way I'm going to get that is to deal with Democrats. Any Democrats here today? Well, you're a lucky man. I wouldn't have raised my hand if I were you. So I'm going to end on this: I've enjoyed being in Iowa, but how the hell did y'all vote for Obama twice? Don't do that again.
R: Thank you. We're out of time.
G: Thank you very much.