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Candidate Profile: Robert Cramer


Read this candidate profile of 3rd District Candidate Robert Cramer. He was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series.

Can you give me an example of an experience you have had that prepared you to be a member of Congress?

I believe what prepared me for Congress is really a career in business, and getting that depth of business understanding, and starting to see how all these rules and regulations coming out of Washington can kill jobs or encourage job creation. To nail it down to one experience, I’m not sure I could do that. I would say, serving on a school board for 9 years helped me understand how to communicate with my constituents and serve the people. Taught me how to work with an administration and find win-win solutions. But most of all I think it comes from a life experience of having a career in the business world.

What do you think is the one thing you can do in Congress to help create jobs in Iowa?

I think the main thing that is holding businesses back from hiring people are the job-killing regulations coming out of Washington. And the biggest culprit is Obamacare. You probably hear a lot of people talking about it. But it’s probably the easiest target.  It’s kind of an example of the federal government trying to do too much, spending too much, taxing too much, and also mandating too much, forcing people to do things they don’t really want to do.

So what it’s doing is… all these businesses, I’ve heard they’re sitting on up to 2-trillion dollars of cash that businesses have, that they’re sitting on the sideline because they can’t see to the future to see if the future is going to be better or worse. They’re just sitting on the sidelines and everybody is stagnant. And the big fog or cloud that is keeping them from seeing that brighter future is Obamacare. They just don’t know how much Obamacare is going to cost.  They’re not even sure which Obamacare is going to be enforced.  So it’s that uncertainty that’s keeping them on the sidelines. So I think the best thing Congress can do is to remove Obamacare and then replace it with some good marketplace solutions, that will help with the healthcare problem, that will also give some certainty to businesses to look to future and say ok, I think the future is brighter.  I’m going to start hiring and start to expand my business. And then it starts a snowball effect, as the next business says oh people are starting to get hired now, there’s going to be more demand for my product, I’d better hire more and gear up. It starts to snowball to get the economy rolling and helps everybody from the person looking for a job, to the person who wants a better job, and to the person who likes their job but their wages have been stagnant for the last 8 years.  They’ll finally start to see those wages rise as we get the economy rolling.

Just to clarify, you would push for a full repeal? Among the Republican party, there’s a bit of a divide. Where do you stand?

I think if you take out the pieces of Obamacare that people really don’t like, which includes some of the mandating and government control, then the whole plan falls apart. I believe you do need to repeal the whole thing, which should be the first goal, and then replace it with things like allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, by doing some pooling of smaller businesses so they can act as a bigger pool and help their pricing.  And then also encouraging Health Savings Accounts, which we do at Cramer and Associates, which allows people to pay for their deductible and medical expenses out of pre-tax dollars. And that keeps people focusing more on what do things cost in the medical world, and that will help bring down prices as well.

A March Iowa Poll shows 65% of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage.  Would you support a minimum wage increase?

There’s an example of a lack of understanding, on the administration’s part, of how to help people on minimum wage. If the government comes in and mandates it, what that means is businesses who don’t have the luxury of raising their prices, you’ve just priced people out. And so some people are going to lose jobs. There’s been non-partisan studies that show how many jobs would be lost if the government comes in and mandates a new minimum wage. What I’m talking about is to try and get the economy going again. I think back to the mid-90’s when Bill Clinton actually joined with Republicans and balanced the budget.  They did welfare reform and they also cut some taxes. The economy took off, and even at McDonalds, they were paying at that time in the mid-90s, 20 years ago, I saw they were paying 10 bucks an hour. And that’s because when the economy’s rolling, there’s more demand for labor, the price goes up. But when the government tries to artificially do it, it just means that people lose jobs and businesses go out of business.

The proposed changes to the renewable fuel standard seem to signal that the administration may move away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. What would you do (in Washington) to work in a bipartisan manner on energy policy that would benefit Iowans and still have national appeal?

I believe we have a great opportunity in the world of energy. I would support any of the forms of energy that can be efficient and safe. One area that we’re finding out we have all kinds of resources are oil and natural gas. I think the government can help by speeding up the process to allow that oil and natural gas to get to the market, which will help drive down gasoline prices, which will help every Iowan and really help this economy.

On renewable fuels, I think it was the right move to get away from subsidizing, and I think we need to get all these energy sources weaned off the government and free of subsidies. That’s the long term goal. But I do support keeping the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate for now, to make sure that ethanol has a way of getting to the market place, and the oil industry can’t just squeeze it out. So I think we’ve found a good balance for now, and the long term plan is to get everyone free from government help.

To clarify, that balance would be the one proposed by the EPA or the one we had before.

Yeah the one we’ve had before. As it is now, where they’ve removed the subsidy but they have kept the mandate, that’s the one I would support.

You’re campaigning to join Congress at a time when its approval ratings are some of the lowest in history… hovering in the low to mid-teens in most cases.  How did we get to this point?

I believe there’s definitely a lack of trust, and we need to put that back into government. And when I tell people I’d like to raise the trust factor in Congress, usually the answer I get is, ‘well, good luck.’ My answer is, we’re about as low as you can get, I don’t know if you can get any worse. Here’s what I think needs to happen. I think one, you need congressmen and women who have principles. And they clearly say what those principles are, and they stick by them, and don’t waffle on principles. But they negotiate on how to implement policy. And so the second piece is to be persuasive, both with peers in Congress and also with the public, to help change hearts and minds. I believe we as conservatives have the right answers for this economy that help everybody.  And we just have to articulate that so everybody understands where we’re coming from. And then third, you’ve got to be productive. We’ve got a Congress that hasn’t gotten anything done, and so we need to, at the end of the day, still get something done. And so I think if you can have principles, be persuasive, and be productive, that we can start to raise that trust level back into Congress, and the approval rating will follow.

In what areas can you imagine compromising with the other party to get something accomplished for Iowa?

For example, when it comes to balancing the budget, I think we have to start with that premise that we all agree you can’t spend more money than what comes in. I have to balance my budget here at Cramer and Associates, every one of us has to balance our budget at home, so Washington needs to do that too. So then where you compromise is, how do we get to that balanced budget?  I’m proposing we do that in five years. If the other side came to me and said no, it has to be 7, ok that’s all negotiable. Or, do we trim this agency by 10 percent or by 12. Let’s negotiate that.  We can work through that. If you can start with the principle of you can’t spend more than you bring in, then how we get there can be negotiated and we can work on that.

Nearly every candidate running for office says they want to cut government waste and bring down the deficit.  Name a program or department you would cut, and why?

I think what happens is the government is so big that nobody has control of it, and the spending is just out of control. I compare it to a construction project. If you’re doing a little home remodeling, and you’re going to spend $1,500, you’re going to be watching every dollar that went out the door. Here at Cramer and associates, we might do a job that’s $50,000, or the biggest job we were ever a part of was $90 million. Well, the bigger the project gets, it’s just physically impossible to have the time to track every dollar. So now you’re maybe only tracking, looking at the big numbers, every hundred thousand or something. Now take that to the government where now they’re spending trillions, and it’s just too big to control. It needs to be limited, and then have a limited government, that will actually result in unlimited opportunity for us here in Iowa. One program I would take a look at—I served on the school board in Johnston for 9 years—and what I realized if you want to have a really good education system for kids, you ought to get the federal government out of the way. So I think we could drastically reduce or eliminate the federal education department and focus on doing the best we can here in Iowa. 

In your opinion, are we spending enough on national defense?

We’ve got to have the best and most powerful armed forces in the world, mainly so we don’t have to use them.  So it’s peace through strength. I’m not exactly sure what the right number is. But I’m sure there’s always ways to improve and to streamline.  But we definitely have to have the funding that’s appropriate so we can be the world’s most powerful force. And then we can use that force for good.

Immigration reform is an issue important to Iowa, but has stalled in Congress.  What immigration reforms would you support?

At our company, about a third of our employees are Hispanic. We use E-Verify, which is a system on the internet where every person we hire, we check their paperwork on E-Verify. So we know everyone working here has legal documentation. And to be fair to them, we think that should be consistent across the country. I think all businesses should be required to use E-Verify so employers know.

Then, I think the first step is enforcing the laws we have. We secure the borders and the ports, and everything just for national security purposes. We have to know who’s coming into our country. And then not move to amnesty or trying to get citizenship for people that are here. That once we’ve secured the border and we’ve got businesses focusing on hiring people with proper documentation, then we can have a discussion about all the people who are still here.  If we can come up with some way of them paying a back fine for breaking the law, and then still have a way of getting some sort of a work permit, so they can be working here. And if they want to become citizens, they can get in line with everybody else and work towards citizenship.

According to figures from NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.  Do you believe the science, and should government act on this issue?

I’m very skeptical of the 97%. Even after that statistic came out, I’ve heard of several different organizations and different ones coming out and saying oh no, we’re not a part of that. And it’s unfortunate that it appears we’re having a hard time trusting our scientific community as we find out that there’s such a dogma for climate change that people who don’t espouse that are almost being bullied into silence.

Whenever I hear the president say the consensus is done, the science is settled, we don’t need to debate this any longer, my red flags go up all over the place saying oh wait, I thought that’s what science was. Going against consensus and pursuing the truth, not necessarily consensus in science.

So call me a skeptic. I haven’t heard anything yet that sounds like a plausible explanation of what we can do to change human behavior that would have an actual impact. Instead all I keep hearing is how they want to change policies and change taxes and take more of our money to get to one of those ends. I’d be very skeptical and I’d like to see more science in that regard.

Everybody’s in favor of clean air and efficient economy. I’d like to find win-win solutions. What I’m hearing now for expanded emission control is really just going to hurt the American economy and kill American jobs and have no impact on the worldwide atmosphere.

The U.S. House has held dozens of votes to either repeal, defund or otherwise dismantle the Affordable Care Act.  President Obama will not sign legislation repealing, defunding or dismantling this legislation.  But, the law remains unpopular… with most polls showing more people opposed to, rather than in support of the law.  What are your ideas for revising the Affordable Care Act?

I do think it needs to be repealed, and as the Republicans take control of the Senate this fall, I think the president will have a harder time hiding behind Harry Reid and the Democrat Senate. And maybe he won’t.  Maybe he’ll just heel in and still won’t move along with the will of the people. But I think the will of the people is to replace this Obamacare with the real market solution that can help bring down the cost of insurance and make it more affordable for more people without the government taking over the whole sector of the economy and forcing people to cover things they don’t want to cover and forcing people to buy things they don’t want to buy.

Is there anything you’d like to expand on at this point?

I would just say that our message of being both the business guy and the conservative that will fight for our values has been received very well. We seem to really be building some momentum as we go towards the last week of the campaign and the primary. And I think my message is that I’ve done that. A lot of the candidates are talking about how can we create jobs, what should we do, and I say, well, I’ve created jobs. We want to balance the budget, I’ve balanced a budget. And I think some people say do you have the courage to stand when there’s a lot of political pressure trying to push you one way or another. And I think when it comes to standing firm on our principles, they saw when we went through a Board of Regents confirmation process last year, that even though the other side was being unreasonable and telling them a litmus test for me serving, even though they thought I was qualified, I was able to stand up to them in a winsome way that was respectful, and yet did not back down for political reasons. I think they found that guy in me, and I can go to Washington and be the bridge builder.

Robert Cramer's website