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Candidate Profile: Rod Blum

rod blum
Rod Blum for Congress
Rod Blum for Congress

Read this candidate profile of 1st District Republican candidate Rod Blum. He was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series.

The U.S. House has held dozens of votes to either repeal, defund or otherwise dismantle the Affordable Care Act.  President Obama has made it clear he’s not interested in signing legislation that does any of those things.  But, the law remains unpopular according to most polls.  Do you support reforming the law and what are your ideas for revising it?

I support fully repealing it and starting over. I think the law is very flawed. I believe in free markets, I believe in the miracle of competition, and I think the free market and the competition has given us the highest quality of living in the world. We need the free market to work its miracle in the health care sector of our economy. We need more competition not less. Competition will always drive prices down; the free market always drives prices down. I think we have the highest quality of health care in the world, but we have to find a way to drive the process down. The middle class family is getting priced out of the health care market, and I understand that. My company has had a 73% premium increase in our health care prices. The best proven way to decrease health care prices while keeping the quality good is through competition and the free market system and we haven’t had in a long time. The only way the government can keep prices down is to ration, and I have yet to meet an American who is okay with rationing. We need to get more competition, the free market involved, and then the prices will decrease while keeping the quality. 

You’re a businessman from Dubuque and a real estate developer among other things.  How have those experiences prepared you to serve Iowans in congress?

I think we need more small business people in Washington D.C. I’ve often said if Congress had to take an 8th grade economics test, I wonder how many of them would pass it. We need more people in Washington who have met a payroll. I have met a payroll every year for 24 straight years and I’m still meeting a payroll.  I’ve balanced a budget every month for 24 years. I think we have the finest small business people in the world here in America. 60 - 70% of new jobs created are created by small business people. Ask me how do we get the economy going? I say – we have great small business people in America. We need to get out of their way with burdensome regulations, and we need to get out of their pocketbook with the highest corporate taxes in the world. I understand what makes businesses grow, I understand what makes the economy grow, and I understand how prosperity is created - only created in the private sector. Government does not create prosperity; it’s only created in the private sector. This is the worst economic recovery we’ve had in the United States following a recession. We need to get this economy booming again. If we did, we’d have 10-15 million more jobs, young people would have tremendous opportunities again.

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 do you think we got to that point?

I think people are tired of career politicians. I am for term limits. I think the founding fathers envisioned people putting their job aside for a few years and then going to Washington D.C. and serving the country and then coming back and resuming what they were doing. We need term limits; and I am definitely a term limit supporter. I would support a constitutional amendment to enable term limits. A lot of these guys and women have been in Washington so long they lose touch with their constituents and with reality. I think people are so tired of politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouth. You listen to them and think, well, that sounded good, but what did that person say? You know, they’ve mastered the art of double speak. I think the people of Eastern Iowa are adult enough and smart enough that they can handle the unvarnished truth. They can handle a shared sacrifice if that’s what’s required to handle certain problems or issues, like balancing the budget. I think they are looking for… I think they are thirsting for, genuine, authentic leadership. And that is in short supply in Congress.  And I believe I’m one of those people and we need many, many more of those types in Congress.

One of the things this Congress has been known for is their inability to compromise on certain issues, something that I think a lot of voters would say is necessary from our Congressmen and women.  What, specifically are some of the things you would reach across the aisle for compromise?

I subscribe to the Ronald Regan philosophy of compromise. You know, if we get 60-70% of what we want, that advances our principles in a bill, then let’s sign that bill, and we’ll come back another day for another 30%. If a person isn’t willing to compromise, if it’s all or nothing, I don’t think that person belongs in government because the nature of government is give and take, and is compromise. And elections have consequences.  The side that wins, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, wants to advance their agenda. I want to advance my agenda of liberty and freedom and fiscal sanity, personal responsibility and free markets. I will go to Washington, and I will fight for those things and I will fight for Eastern Iowans. But at the end of the day, if there is a bill that has 60-70 percent of what I want, and 30% of what I don’t want -- that’s a pretty good bill. I would sign onto that bill.

There are areas where I’d work with the Democrats. They are good people, and they want to help the country. I don’t want to go there and fight every day. Bruce Braley, I don’t agree with him on most things. But I do salute him on what he’s done for veterans. I would try and continue that effort if I were in Congress. I would work tirelessly on behalf of our veterans and making sure they are taken care of. Other areas I think I could work quite well with Democrats on would be spying on our citizens in the name off national security. I don’t agree with what the NSA is doing. I think we need to protect our rights to privacy guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights. I also don’t think we should be policing the world with our Department of Defense. I think I could work with Democrats on some of those issues.

I think we should have the strongest defense in the world because that’s one of the enumerated powers in the Constitution is to protect us, but to be involved with endless wars is not a good thing. We need to be very, very careful when we consider putting our nation’s finest sons and daughters into harm’s way.

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

Well not only create jobs in Iowa, but create jobs across the country. Like I said, this is the worst economic recovery in United States history following a recession. We need to reduce our corporate tax rate. It’s the highest in the world, and that’s not a good thing. We need to decrease that. It’s a global economy. We have to compete globally, and when we saddle American businesses with the highest tax rates in the world, that’s obviously not a good thing. At the same time, if we reduce tax rates, we need to reduce crony capitalism. I don’t believe the government should be in the business of picking winners and losers, or as someone told me on the campaign trail the other day, picking losers and losers. Because when has the government ever picked a winner?  The free market should do that. We need to get rid of the corporate loop holes in the tax code and crony capitalism and big companies like General Electric making 14 billion dollars a year should be paying something in United States income tax. Two years ago they paid zero - in fact, they got a refund. We need to reduce regulations that cost businesses more than a trillion dollars a year, and ultimately those costs are paid by the consumer.  

Ultimately the biggest thing holding businesses back is uncertainty. American business is sitting on a record amount of cash, and they are sitting on it. They are not growing or expanding their businesses because of the uncertainty. There’s so much uncertainty surrounding Obamacare and so much uncertainty that surrounds this administration. This administration is viewed quite frankly by small business people as being anti-businesses. Small businesses are afraid to expand because they are afraid that there are new taxes coming down the pike, new regulations coming down the pike and no one knows for sure what the cost to businesses will be for Obamacare. We need to reduce the deficit, balance the budget. I’m for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and limit spending. All that public sector spending crap crowds out private investment.

We need to fully develop American energy sources. We should be energy independent. And we have the ability to be. And energy is a big cost of American manufacturers, it’s their second largest cost. Anytime we can reduce the cost of that it’s going to help American businesses. Lastly, we need to reduce lawsuit abuse or tort reform, especially in the health care industry. Many physicians, or all physicians, practice “defensive medicine.” They order tests that are needless.  They do it to avoid being sued. Tremendous, billions of dollars are being wasted by nuisance lawsuits. If we can do any one of those things, that will help the economy in Eastern Iowa. Hopefully we can do all 6 or 7 of those things I mentioned, then we could get this economy booming again and create tens of millions of jobs and like I said earlier, create opportunities for our young people. The unemployment rate for our young people is around 20-25% and that’s not good.

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

Well if you’re asking me, do I want people on the lowest economic rungs to make more money? Absolutely I do. In fact, I want everyone on every rung of the economic ladder to make more money. But when we legislate a minimum wage increase, the Congressional Budget Office, who is nonpartisan, has done an analysis of this and has said it will cost around 500,000 jobs. So I don’t think our economy’s at a point where we can afford to lose another four or 5,000 jobs.  And a lot of those jobs are probably held by young people. Minimum wage jobs are entry level jobs; they aren’t meant to support a family. They are not meant to be long term. I worked minimum wage jobs when I started out and probably most young people have. They are, like I said, entry level. You aren’t at minimum wage long and you move up. Hopefully with economic mobility, if we had a booming economy, you’d move up to a higher paying job with more responsibility. I don’t want to see us put 500,000 young people out of a job. I like the kind of minimum wage they have in North Dakota right now. North Dakota’s economy is booming. The starting wage at McDonalds is $15 an hour, and the stating wage at Wal-Mart is $18 an hour. That’s just because the economy is booming. That’s the kind of minimum wage I can get behind because there are no jobs lost. It’s just because of a booming economy. We need that here in Eastern Iowa, we need that across the United States of America. And then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion about minimum wage.

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

I was aware of that news. I think the Obama Administration seems to be moving away from grain based fuels. Ethanol and grain based fuels are obviously good for Eastern Iowa. They are good for Iowa. Lots of my constituents here in Eastern Iowa, their jobs, their incomes, their livelihoods are dependent on our agricultural economy doing well, and it’s doing quite well now.

That being said, I also believe in the free market, and I don’t like to see the heavy hand of government involved in the private sector. Over time, I would like to see the government get out of the ethanol businesses and get out of the renewable fuels business. It makes sense for the government to give some incentives to kick start these industries to allow these industries the time to build the infrastructure as required to get a fledgling new product off the ground. That makes sense to me. I think we should stay in the ethanol business until we stop bailing out and we stop subsidizing big oil. When we stop subsidizing big oil, then perhaps we can stop subsidizing ethanol. I can’t think of a reason why we should be subsidizing big oil. They don’t need our tax payer dollars. As long as that continues, I’m okay with subsidizing and mandating ethanol because it helps Iowans out. 

Even with a former Iowa governor heading up the Ag Department, farmers were kept in limbo for years over the new farm policies. For example, the Farm Bill that was supposed to be renewed in 2012 wasn’t signed until February of this year. How will you represent the interests of agriculture and rural communities in an environment and from a district that is heavily urban?

You know, I think the farmers’ interests are the same as any small business owner's interests. I view a small farmer as a small businessman. They make tremendous investments in their business and as a small businessman myself, I get that, to the extent that Iowa farmers are small business people, which they are.  They have my support.  I will do everything I can to help them grow their businesses and employ people. And their products are exported, you know, obviously, around the world. Anytime a state or a company can export, that helps build our prosperity and build our country and build our state’s wealth. We are definitely a net exporter when it comes to agricultural products in Iowa. As far as the farm bill goes, we’ve stopped direct payments to farmers, and I think that’s a good thing. Secondly in the farm bill, I’d like to see the food stamps component separated from the ag component. I think the food stamps are probably 80% of that total farm bill, so it gets a little distorted as far as dollars go when we talk about it in aggregate. I’d like to separate that and let each program stand on its own.

We’re using yield insurance and price insurance now, and I think it’s good the farmers have a safety net for a couple reasons. For one, they are subjected to the weather, and most of our businesses are not subjected to weather. If they have a severe drought or severe rains, their entire year could be wiped out. And as a country, we can’t afford to have half of our farmers wiped out in the same year. That would be a total disaster.  We wouldn’t be able to produce enough food.  I did see that Senator Grassley opposed the farm bill because 80% of the benefits of the agriculture portion of the bill went to 20% of the farmers, meaning the largest farms and the corporate farms. Once again, I don’t think they need our tax dollars. So, I would agree with Senator Grassley on that, I’d like to see the safety net and the majority of the farm bill be going to the smaller family-owned farms.

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 look at this a little bit differently than some politicians, and I understand human nature. No one wants their ox gored, and no one wants their favorite programs cut. I think when we start looking specifically at cutting programs, those groups are up in arms and they are protesting and they get newspaper coverage, we all know how that ends. What I am in favor of is something called the “Penny Plan.” It reduces across the board, every program. It reduces spending by 1%, 1 penny on the dollar. I ask people how much they think government wastes, and the estimates range from 20% to 60% in the answers that I get. Everyone understands there is fraud and abuse and waste, and there is a lot of it in the federal budget. To cut 1% from every budget is doable, and if we did that for 4 years, if we cut 1% across the board, we’d have a balanced budget. In fact, we’d have a surplus. So that would be a wonderful thing, and we could cut that 1% sheerly out of fraud and waste if we had to. So that’s what I’m in favor of instead of looking at specific programs and saying this or that needs to be cut.

Are we spending enough on national defense?

Well, that’s a hard question. Saying enough making the question difficult. I am not a defense expert. If I go to Washington D.C., of course I will learn more about it. As I said earlier in this interview, one of the enumerated powers in the constitution given to the federal government is to protect its citizens, and obviously I agree with that. As such, we should have the most powerful military in the world. We have the most prosperous country in the world, and we stand for good, and that’s obviously a good stance to have around the world. We need to protect our citizens, and we should have the most powerful military in the world.

Is there waste in the Department of Defense? I’m sure there is. Like I said, there is waste and fraud in every department in the federal government.  It’s grown so big and it’s to the point that it is out of control.  I don’t even think that the President or the cabinet secretaries can even control… When you have 16-20,000 employees and your budget is 1 trillion dollars, it’s incomprehensible to me.

So we need to make sure our military is modernized, and that we give our brave soldiers the best equipment and training that they can get. But it’s a different world.  Different kinds of wars are fought today than they were in WWII for example. We need to make sure we’re prepared for those types of things. You know, I don’t know how much is enough, but I think we should make sure we have enough to protect the United States citizens and protect our country.

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

On the immigration issue, I always answer the question with a two pronged approach. The first part of my answer is as a Christian, I have tremendous empathy for anybody who wants to work hard, and a lot of the work that illegal immigrants do is back breaking. They are very, very tough types of jobs. I have empathy for anyone who wants to work hard to provide for their family. That being said, we are a nation of laws.

The first thing we need to do in this discussion of immigration and illegal immigration, we need to secure the border. In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President, we granted amnesty to people that were here illegally and we said, “that’s it, we’re going to secure the border.” The federal government never followed through. The problem only got worse. Then in 2003 or 2006, when George Bush was President, we had a Build the Fence or Secure the Border Act. We were supposed to build a 700 mile fence along the most porous areas of a 2,000 mile border with Mexico. Thirty-six miles got built out of 700 that were supposed to get built. The federal government has let us down twice, so as a citizen, I say why would I ever believe the federal government when they say we’ll secure the border. I don’t believe them. What I say is, let’s secure the border first, let me see that secured, and then we’ll talk about the rest of the illegal immigration problem after that is done.

We need to reform the system.  The system is broken, especially when it comes to H1B visas, especially when it comes to highly skilled people in science, technology and engineering. We educate those people here in the United States, and then because the system is broken, we end up forcing them to go back to their own countries when they want to stay here. We need to reform that system; we need to reform the work visa system. I think 50% of the people who are here illegally have outstayed work visas. We need to do a better job of verifying those and checking on those. After we’ve done these other things, I’ve heard lots of ideas of things that can be done, such as – have them get in the end of the line for legal immigration, or having businesses or families sponsor them. I’ve heard lots of ideas.  Some of them are very interesting and very good, but first of all, we need to secure the border.  

According to figures from NASA, Ninety-seven percent 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?  Should government act on this issue?

Well, it’s interesting. I can see why the average citizen is skeptical about  this. I guess you can put me in that camp. I’m skeptical. I am old enough, and I’ve been through this enough that it makes me very skeptical.  Because I remember the 1970s, and there was a cover of Time magazine that showed the polar ice caps of the planet. And it said that scientists were thinking that we should spread ash on the polar ice caps, and that dark color, that black color would absorb the heat because we were heading into a period of global cooling. They were afraid our planet was going to be frigid and frozen. That was in the 1970s, during my lifetime.

We go from that, to now global warming, and that’s been changed to climate change. I’m not a scientist, and I know most scientists’ paychecks come from the federal government, and so right away that makes me a bit skeptical.  Thirty  years ago we were going into a global cooling period.  That makes me skeptical. The plant is 4.5 billion years old.  Billion.  I guess I say, how long of a time frame does it take to make a trend? Does 20 years make a trend? I don’t believe the planet has warmed in the last 17 years, so is that a trend now? I even look at 20, 30, 40 years out of 4.5 billion and think, well, is that a trend? So, I’m not sure, I’m not sure.  And I think we have to be very, very careful when it comes to regulations.  I mean, in the United States, when it comes to trying to regulate climate change, our economy is really barely moving along, it’s trudging along and for every regulation you put on to business, every regulation hurts, so we have to be very cautious of that.

Rod Blum's website

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk