Santorum Pushes Market-driven Solutions

Oct 13, 2015

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in Iowa.
Credit John Pemble

This is the Q and A between Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at the Ag Summit March 7, 2015 in Des Moines.

R: Senator Santorum, welcome.
S: Thank you, Bruce. Good to be back.
R: Hey, before we get started, while I was out back, and I won't take away from your time, we'll add to it a second.  But, I just had to mention, that we had a compliment from one of the East coast newspapers, and I promised not to identify which one it was, but they thought it was really terrific that we were working on-time, but they had an actual complaint that next time they wanted us to serve pork tenderloin. Not to give you any hints, but the paper that it was, we'd clearly like to highlight that they love pork tenderloin.
S: The best here at the Iowa State Fair. That's for sure.

R: Well, you've spent a lot of time in Iowa.
S: I have.
R: Is there a town in Iowa you haven't been to?
S: Oh, yeah, a lot of towns in Iowa I haven't been ... I've been in every county in Iowa, but not in every town in Iowa. It teaches you something. When I was in Pennsylvania, I was the first Senator in 100 years to serve on the Senate Ag Committee. The first Pennsylvania Senator, even though agriculture was our number one industry. The reason I did is because as I traveled the state of Pennsylvania, and as I've traveled, now 30 states when I campaigned in 2012, one of the things I realized, and it's pretty obvious, if you just look at the numbers, we're depopulating rural America. Cities are getting bigger, metropolitan areas are getting bigger. Life is getting harder, the economy's getting harder in rural and small-town America. I see it in Pennsylvania where traditionally the highest unemployment rate in my counties were not in the inner city, they were in my rural counties. That's the same thing here. As you've seen, industries that supported these small towns, manufacturing, processing -- in Pennsylvania, timber, coal -- here, agriculture. For a long, long time, I know we've had an Ag revitalization here in the last 10 years or so, but for a long time, rural America really took it on the chin.

I know you're going to ask me questions, and we'll get to those details about particular subsidies or particular mandates, and I just want everybody to put things in perspective, particularly those who don't come from small town or the cities or rural America. Think of all of the subsidies and mandates and things that we do for the major cities of this country. All the money we pour in there, everything from mass transit to housing subsidies to a whole host of other things that we do to have the government help provide a quality of life for those in the metropolitan areas. Most folks out here in rural America are just, "leave us alone." "Give us a shot," is pretty much what I heard. The issues that I know you've been discussing here today are really just part of that, is really just giving rural America a chance to come back. I'm actually bullish on rural America. I’m bullish on our ability to be able to pull and attract people back because of the quality of life that's here in rural areas of our country, but not just that. Technology is allowing you to be more in touch and be able to do things, not having to be in cities. I would just say that I know everybody's focused on the minutiae of the issues that you're going to be dealing with here in the upcoming presidential campaign, but I think it's really important for whoever has a vision to help the hard-working people who have seen their towns dwindle and their town squares hollow out and to see their schools shrink, to have a hope that a better day is coming and that you have folks who have them in mind when you're putting programs together for all of America, not just where the population centers are.

R: Let's talk about a couple of those. What about broadband? Access to healthcare? How do we change that in light of today, in particular with Obamacare?
S: Again, all of these things have to be market-driven. That's really the most important thing. We have to create market-driven solutions to these problems, and whether it's healthcare ... You're looking at the guy ... anybody here have a health savings account? Raise your hand if you have a health savings account. I've got a few who have health savings accounts. I know Al Gore invented the internet, but I invented health savings accounts, believe it or not. I was the first member of Congress, back in 1992, to introduce health savings accounts in the United States Congress. That is a consumer-based way of putting you, the patient, in charge of your healthcare. It's no government money with the exception of a bank account that has interest bearing without having to pay federal taxes on it, but it provides the consumer the power with that health savings account to be able to go out and purchase their health insurance directly, have a high-deductible insurance policy. Every company that's using it, it's been successful in driving down costs. It provides maximum choice and flexibility. That's a solution that doesn't need to have all your money and all of the power go to Washington for them to pick your plan and tell you what you're going to be covered, tell you how much you're going to be paid, tell the insurance company how much they're going to spend on marketing and advertising and overhead and accounting and legal, and they do. That's what Obamacare does. We have to trust you. If you think about the solutions that we can put forward for all Americans, not just rural Americans, but all Americans, that do what I know is very important out here in rural America, which is to keep your freedom, to keep your choices, to have that flexibility. Those are some of the ideas that we've talked about.

R: Let's switch gears. You've been a strong supporter of the RFS.
S: I have.
R: Why?
S: Oh, a whole laundry list of reasons. I'll throw the reason I suggested before, which is the importance to rural America, and it is very important to rural Americans. It's important in my state of Pennsylvania. It's important. We have ethanol plants in Pennsylvania. I don't know how many ... You probably know how many states they have them in, but a lot of states across the country. I support it, number one, because liquid fuels, historically, has been a big problem for us in this country from a national security perspective. I, as you know, from the last time I ran, I ran on a program called "Made in America," which is invest in American manufacturing and processing. Try to reclaim our industrial heritage and make more things here. Be more energy-independent. Be more independent from the standpoint of our national security and making our national security products here in America. All of the things that come from freedom and independence and putting people to work here in America again. If you just look at the reality of the middle of America hollowing out, wages stagnating, even as unemployment rates are going down, wages are still stagnating and dropping. Median income in this country is falling. Why? Because we are not producing products and services that are high-valued services. That goes to manufacturing and processing, and the key to that is energy. So, energy independence is the key, and so one of the reasons I supported the RFS was from a national security perspective so we could have a domestic source of liquid fuels here in America. So, that's number one. Number two, because it's a product that has shown over the years to have become efficient, have, it's amazing to me, as we've seen the tremendous innovation that's gone on, a continuing innovation, to, every time, I remember in the last campaign, not that we're in a campaign, but the last campaign, that I would go to...
R: We're not?
S: I'm just clarifying. The FEC is watching, just so you know this. In the last campaign, I would go to New Hampshire and I would get hit every time. You guys need to know this. They'd say, "Oh, you know, it takes more energy to produce ethanol." You've probably heard this a million times, right? Well, that's not true. One of the things that I felt was really important was to get out there and say how important it is to show how efficient ethanol has become, how important it is from the standpoint to improving octane ratings, all of the things that ethanol can bring to the table. I just thought was an important thing. And it creates jobs in small town and rural America, which is where people are hurting. We have to look at where people are hurting in America and have policies to make sure that they have that ladder to climb to the top.

R: Okay, so what about wind energy?
S: You can applaud at your leisure. Any time.
R: Where does wind energy fit into that?
S: I support wind... As you know, the RFS is a mandate. It is not a tax subsidy.
R: Back to you, and you articulated pretty well, and why do we or the industry or anyone have trouble understanding market access and if we didn't have the RFS, we'd be mandated to use oil?
S: Thank you for bringing that up. Market access...
R: Why is that so hard to get across?
S: It isn't hard to understand. You have energy companies that are vertically integrated, and as a result of that vertical integration, they want to deny access to our... Look, they pump this oil out of the ground, and they want to put it in the vehicles. And so, you having that access is a very important part of that. It's not hard to understand. It's an important part of the reason for the RFS, and it's also an important part of understanding the energy mix when it comes to renewable energies.

I read an article just a few months ago from some of the power companies complaining about the RFS, calling for the end of the RFS, saying this is a burden on the power companies. You read the article, and you can say, "You know what, they might have some legitimate concerns with the amount or the dollar amount, the amount of the credit," and given energy prices today, which, as you know, thanks be to God because of fracking and other sorts of energies that we've seen, energy prices stabilized in this country and actually come down, and so I think you have to look at the wind tax credit and say we have to adjust it based on market conditions. The fact that the administration has frozen on this, I suspect for political reasons, and not been willing to put forth what they want to do and whether they want to extend it, how they want to extend it, to work with Congress. I know this is a big step for the administration, to actually try to engage Congress and say, "It's now expired again. Is there a path to where we can extend this, phase it out potentially, or lower it so we can get more bipartisan support to have this continue?" But those are things that as a president you need to do, and you need to have an industry. We're doing the same thing with ethanol. The president hasn't acted on ethanol either. We have to have predictability. You can't have these programs in place and have them, as what happened with the ethanol subsidy, just go away. You can't start something with a government program and then just sort of pull the rug out from under it without having an adjustment period of time, and I think that's what leadership would do.

R: Switching gears, let's talk immigration. Washington seems to not be able to figure this out. What would your plan be on how you deal with the global immigration? And then, second part, the immigrant labor that's so important to agriculture, on the H-2 temporary visas, E-Verify, that are important workers to have stability with, that they'd be legal? What's your idea of an immigration plan?
S: I think everyone who has been on this stage, and I don't think you'll talk to anybody in politics who will say that the immigration system is working. It's not working. But, I think you're going to get a little different answer from me because I think the immigration system, historically, believe it or not, immigration has been historically a bipartisan issue. It is not anymore. I will lay out why I think some of the reasons for that. But immigration, historically, has been a bipartisan issue. If you look at, even the ones in the 90's, and under Reagan, it was a bipartisan issue. Why? Because by and large both parties were looking out for the national interest. They were looking, what is best for America? And, particularly, what's best for the American worker? That's what immigration policy should be about.

I'm the son of an immigrant. My grandfather came here in 1923, right after the 1921 Immigration Act, which shut down immigration in this country dramatically, followed by the '24 act. My dad had to live seven years in Italy under fascist Italy, dressing in Mussolini's brown shirts and marching at school, dealing with fascist mobs, before he could come to this country after my grandfather became a citizen in 1930. My family understands family separation. I always used to ask my dad, "How was it growing up there without your father, not seeing him for 7 years?" His answer was, "America was worth it. It was worth the wait." We have to look at it as America as we want it to be is how we should be approaching this immigration system, and it's not just about illegal immigration, but it's also about legal immigration.

Bruce just talked about a couple of Ag workers, H-1B workers, which are high skill workers. I don't know if you saw the other day in California, there was a firm that had 700 highly-skilled computer programmers that were working, and they were systematically replaced with people from India. They had to train them to replace them. These programs shouldn't be in place to replace American jobs. H-1B visas should be for truly highly-skilled people who can come here and create jobs and produce and create economic vitality in the economy. Ag worker program doesn't work. No one says it works. We need an Ag worker program that works. We need to have immigration, legal immigration that is reduced. We have the highest number of illegal immigrants in America in the history of this country, when it comes to working-age people, age 18-65.

If you go back and look at 2000, the number of people working versus today, the number of people working, who are native-born, there were 6 million net new jobs created. Every single one of those net new jobs is held by someone who's not born in this country. There are fewer native-born Americans working today than there was 15 years ago. That's why wages are down. That's why median income is down. Now, it used to be the Democratic Party was the party of the worker. The unions would come in and say, "Hey, we need to do something, look what's happened to the American worker. We need to adjust our immigration policy." And yes, we need to create an Ag worker program to make sure that those jobs, which certainly, I agree, are not jobs that Americans are jumping through hoops to do, but we have to look at the rest of immigration and say, "We need a better mix of folks who are coming in this country from a skill level, and we need to lower the numbers.”

The answer is, "Yes, we need to secure the border. Yes, we need to have programs that work for different industries in this country. Yes, we need E-Verify, but yes, we need to reform our legal immigration system in the national interest."

R: You come from a state that has emission issues. A little bit different than Iowa on runoff issues. How can market-based solutions be a solution to the greenhouse gas issue?
S: I sort of start from as being someone who's not particularly sold on the idea that the science has decided on this issue. I think there's a lot of... any time someone comes at you and says, "We can't debate the science anymore; it's decided," then you have political science, not climate science. That's pretty much what we have in this debate. We have political science.

We have people saying, "Well, we can't really debate this anymore. The earth is warmer, and as a result, we have to do something." There are a myriad of factors as to why the earth is warmer, and one of them could be CO2. For us to develop a bunch of policies that are oriented toward reducing this one rather miniscule gas in the atmosphere, that is going to cost American jobs, particularly some of the things the Obama administration have a cap and trade, which is a disaster, is wrong-headed.  On the other side, we need to be good stewards of our environment. I consider myself a conservationist. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, and you see pictures of my hometown and Pittsburgh, which was near my hometown, and you can't see. If you were from here to that wall away, you couldn't see the building, that's how black it was. So, I get how important it is to have clean air and clean water, but we have to have solutions that do not disadvantage people in this country. Market-based solutions that do not disadvantage workers in this country. I think our first order of business, if you really want to have a strong environment, you go to any country that has a failing economy, and you'll see that the one thing that is absolutely certain, the environment is in a horrible state because it's the first thing to go if people are suffering. We have to make sure in America today, where still 60% of Americans believe we're in a recession, we have to make sure that we strengthen the vital middle of America. That's why I go around everywhere talking about how important it is, whether it's immigration policy, whether it's environmental policy, whether it's all of the things that we've talked about here today, that we look at the American worker and how we're going to improve their quality of life first.

R: As you think about science, and what's your perspective on GMO, biotech, whether there needs to be labeling with organic food or labeled "GMO"?
S: I have not seen a single study that suggests that GMO for scientific purposes, again, I'll go back to the argument I just made, show me the science, and not political science, but the real science, on this, and show me the real science on GMO. I've looked at the real science on GMO. There's no reason scientifically to label a product that is identical to another product just because there was, somewhere in the stream, was some genetically-modified organism. Whether we end up doing something like that, first and foremost we should do it at a national level. We have to preempt the states from going off and requiring food companies and other people to have 50 different labeling requirements. I'm not a big federal government guy, but I do believe the federal government needs to step in for inter-state commerce purposes, which is clearly allowed under our constitution and set forth a standard for people to live by, but it has to be based on science. Again, not political science. What you see, whether it's on the climate side, whether it's on the GMO side, whether it's on a lot of different issues, is you see these issues coming up as an opportunity for people in Washington to run your life, to tell you how to do things and to control different options and choices for you. I think that should be based on science, not politics.

R: Thank you, Senator Santorum. We're out of time.
S: Okay. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.