Braley Versus Whalen in Iowa’s First Congressional District Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Tuesday, 31 October 2006 22:47

With Representative Jim Nussle not seeking re-election and running for Iowa governor, Iowa's First Disrict seat in Congress became one of the country's most-watched races.

But with so much attention and money lavished on the race for its national political importance - control of the House of the Representatives could be decided here - there's been much less focus on the candidates and their views.

The Reader recently interviewed Democrat Bruce Braley (an attorney from Waterloo) and Republican Mike Whalen (founder, president, and CEO of Moline-based Heart of America Restaurants & Inns) in five subject areas. The audio from those interviews is available at (, along with an interview with Pirate candidate James Hill. Independent candidate Albert W. Schoeman of Waterloo is also running.

The major-party candidates' positions on hot-button issues - such as Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthy - are well-documented, so we tried to ask questions to complement other news and information sources.

We first asked the candidates why independent voters and those from the other party should vote for them. Both sounded a note of bipartisanship.

"I have a demonstrated history of working in a bipartisan way to solve problems, and that's what's missing in Congress right now," Braley said.

"For 28 years, I've gotten up tried to make something positive happen," Whalen said. "That's a much different mentality than I think prevails ... in most of politics and in Washington, where the world is seen too much as a zero-sum game ... . I don't believe that there has to be a winner and a loser. I believe that you can reach out to people who don't necessarily agree with you and try to solve some of the things we need to get done ... ."

Beyond that, though, Braley and Whalen articulated markedly different approaches to governing. Excerpts from the interviews with the candidates follow, divided by subject area.



Bruce BraleyBraley: "I expect Democrats to demonstrate new leadership in allowing greater participation, greater transparency, and greater democracy in the House rules once we take over control in 2007. I have received assurances from the current leadership in the Democratic caucus that they are going to allow full participation of the minority party and greater access to decision-making than was allowed in the past under the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

"The rules of the House have to allow greater opportunity to study bills before they are put up for a vote." On the Medicare-prescription-drug-benefit bill and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, "the drafting of the legislation was done late at night by a single-party caucus, often with input from highly paid lobbyists for specific key interest groups; then a very comprehensive and lengthy bill was presented with limited time for debate, with no opportunity to present germane and relevant amendments; and then, rather than following the House rules in terms of the length of period allowed for voting, those rules were deliberately circumvented to allow more arm-twisting to take place, and more favors to be promised to convince people to change their votes. That's wrong. If you have rules, they have to be followed.

"The bigger problem ... is not the length of time that's allowed for the vote; it's the length of the time to study the legislation." Braley said he supports a proposal by House Democrats that would mandate a 24-hour study period for legislation at the subcommittee level and prior to floor consideration.


Mike WhalenWhalen: "So much of the country is gerrymandered; that puts people into relatively safe districts. If you have a district where you can almost be assured of re-election regardless of what you say or what you do, that's a little like being in business and feeling that you can make a profit no matter how you treat your product, or your customers, or your employees. That doesn't result in a very good outcome in business; it doesn't result in a very good outcome in politics. ... That attracts increasing partisanship.

"You add on the fact that jet travel is so easy. Everybody leaves out-of-town all the time; nobody has to sit around and talk to each other. You get a lot of stalemates."

Whalen did not advocate any procedural or electoral reforms in Congress. "The way you change Congress is change the people," he said.


International Relations

Braley: Said he would support military action against North Korea or Iran only as a last resort, "and then only if we use the same type of doctrine that we followed under Colin Powell ... which is that you have the support of your allies in the region, that you have a clearly defined military objective, that you have a clearly defined plan to win and to keep the peace after you win."

Braley said that Congress can exercise oversight of foreign policy with the power of the purse. "Congress has abdicated that [constitutional] role by allowing the president to pursue his foreign-policy agenda without the necessary checks and balances that are required. Congress has the power to authorize appropriations for the president's foreign-policy agenda, and Congress needs to have oversight and hearings to hold the president accountable for the promises he made to the American people at the time he committed our troops to Iraq and other military obligations."

When asked whether he supported withholding appropriations for war efforts, Braley replied, "No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is Congress has an incredible role and a responsibility to use the resources of this country wisely ... . As a last resort, that [appropriations] is exactly a tool that Congress has used, and that many Republicans serving this state in Congress have agreed to as an appropriate use of legislative authority. ... It is a tool available as a last resort."


Whalen: Supports pressuring China to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea. "Iran is much more difficult. ... The first step we need to do is not abruptly withdraw from Iraq and create a vacuum for Iran to dominate. Second, I think you're seeing the right steps being done with trying to put an international coalition ... to bring economic sanctions to bear on Iran.

"To speculate on the nature of what military action would look like at this point is way, way premature. First of all, ... there would have to be an overwhelmingly compelling case coupled with a clear exhaustion of other means and a whole lot of other factors come together to really bring that consideration to the front, and I don't think we're even close to that point."



Braley: "We need to have the type of Apollo energy program that we had when I was a kid growing up in the '60s to put a man on the moon in the next decade." Supports the House Democrats' energy proposal (

"I think that it's a very easy thing to say that within the next 10 years at a minimum, we should have 50 percent of our energy in this country coming from renewable fuels." Federal fleet vehicles, he said, should be flexible-fuel, creating demand. Supports increasing fuel-economy (or CAFE) standards for vehicles. Supports taking away incentives to fossil-fuel developers and investing that money in renewable fuels.


Whalen: Would not commit to a specific percentage goal for renewable fuels. "It's great to have a vision like that, but I think the more particular thing is I've said that just in the First District, we need to have 60 places to get E85 gasoline. ... There's still only one or two places.

"Even if we didn't displace any more than 10 or 15 percent of the motor-vehicle fuel [with renewable energy], we would have a certain and clear and distinct impact on the market.

"We need to make sure that the current subsidies for both ethanol and biodiesel are in place, to the extent that we need to continue to maybe provide some kind of secured financing structures that would help make sure those kind of bio-refineries can be developed, with some level of financial assurance but without a direct subsidy to their development. ... If there were some kind of structured support for that in terms of limited loan guarantees or such, I think those are things we need to look at."

Supports creating incentives for energy conservation through the tax code. "Why not say there's a one-year deductibility for conservation-oriented investment? ... The government will come out ahead, because those cost savings will kick in and result in higher productivity, and that always yields more government revenue.

"I would not pass higher CAFE standards for American auto industry. The market has sent a strong message to Ford and GM and Chrysler and the other members of that industry that the American public is voting with their dollars toward more efficient cars."


Jobs, the Economy, and Taxes

Braley: Supports plain-English drafting of the tax code and repealing tax cuts for wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Supports consolidating existing education tax-credit programs and "rolling them into a single tuition tax credit for families." Education, Braley said, leads to jobs.

Whalen: "At a national level , we have to have policies that make sure that American jobs are put first. Anybody that doesn't think that we couldn't have an explosion of investment, for example, in manufacturing doesn't understand how people would respond to a tax code that would put American jobs first. Instead of three-, five-, or seven-year depreciation for new capital equipment, if we had immediate deductibility or much more accelerated deductibility ... what has already been a pretty good robust economic growth in the last few years could be an explosion. ... Jobs follow capital investment."

To compete in the global marketplace, "that doesn't necessarily mean we have to have the cheapest labor, by any means. It means that we have to have a favorable tax climate, a well-trained workforce. Certainly we have the most stable and secure economy. Those things mean that we can have an explosion."


Health Care

Braley: "We need to move toward a universal health-care system. Now I'm not talking specifically about a single-payer system right now. I'm talking about a combination of existing governmental programs - like Medicare, Medicaid, the VA system - and private health plans that are available, but expanding access to those uninsured Americans through a combination of those plans."

Braley attributed rising health-care costs to "the influence of powerful lobbying groups like the big drug companies and HMOs." They opposed a patients' bill of rights, he said, and the Medicare-prescription-drug bill was drafted by lobbyists "who stood to gain billions of dollars in additional revenue from that bill."

Whalen: "I certainly would think that step one is the use of health savings accounts, so that the consumer understands that when they go and consume health care, they are spending their own money. ...

"We need to have association health plans, so that small businesses and individuals can get together and buy health insurance and negotiate at the aggregate level like bigger companies.

"There's no single-bullet thing to really reform health care. There's about a hundred different steps that we need to take. The problem is we're not taking them fast enough."

On the rising cost of health care, Whalen noted that "health care is a premium good. ... Pretty much across the board, as personal income rises ... one of the first things people ... desire to consume is more and better health care.

"Second, you have a problem with ... the constant threat of lawsuits. You're driving doctors out of practice is some cases. You're forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine, where they order an array of tests that they might not feel is really needed, but they don't want somebody to come and second-guess them."

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