Video Replay & Transcript: GOP Candidates Rip Rep. Kline On Budget Vote

All four Republican candidates vying to replace retiring Rep. John Kline (R-MN) say they would have voted differently than he did to approve the budget and raise the debt ceiling.

During a short debate on Twin Cities Public TV, David Gerson, John Howe, Jason Lewis and Pam Myhra said they opposed raising the debt ceiling, even though doing so averted the catastrophe of the government defaulting on its debt.

The Minnesota second congressional district race has been rated a toss up for the upcoming 2016 election. Only 12 of 435 congressional races are considered that wide open.

All candidates except Howe said they would not run in a primary if they didn’t get the Republican Party endorsement. Howe said he may still choose to abide by the endorsement, but wants to see who else gets in the race and if they will also abide by the endorsement.

The debate in the TPT studios lasted about 15 minutes. The four will have much more time to cover the issues in depth when they debate on November 19 in Inver Grove Heights. The two DFL candidates for Kline’s seat — Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence — have yet to announce any debates.

Complete transcript and video of the debate

Click to jump to topics: Budget|House Speaker vote|Syria|Tax Policy|Presidential Candidates|Insider Or Outsider?| Immigration Policy|House Freedom Caucus | Abiding By GOP Endorsement

Eric Eskola: Representative, let me ask you right out of the gate here, how would you have voted on the budget deal that raised the debt ceiling and raised spending by $80 billion?

Myhra: I would have opposed it.

Eskola: Why?

Myhra: It’s too much money. There was no attempt to reduce spending, reign it in. Too much money.

Eskola: Jason?

Lewis: Of course. Two things happened this week in Washington that shows how off track we are. One they undid the budget sequester- the 2011 budget caps. 80 billion dollars. They raised the debt ceiling unlimited through 2017. And then today we find out we’re going to send troops, literally boots on the ground, they call them special ops advisors, into Syria. And then we wonder why we got a 20 trillion dollar debt. This is the sort of thing that makes people rather upset and I don’t blame them.

Mary Lahammer: Anybody a yes vote though? John Kline was a yes vote on this.

Howe: I certainly wouldn’t have voted for it. I think the American people need to understand the debt is just dragging us underwater. You know we’re 18 trillion dollars in debt, we have 120 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilities and I think the American people need to know that we’re borrowing a million dollars a minute and it needs to stop.

Gerson: I think you’re hitting the nail on the head. The elephant in the room is that John Kline voted for this bill. The majority of Republicans voted against it. We’ve been part of a grass roots effort to hold our representatives accountable and that’s what our campaign has been about in 2012. We want to bring this Republican party back to the people. We want principled representation and we want our party back and we want our country back.

Lahammer: OK let’s do another vote. Remember there’s no maybe button. Get your finger ready to press yea or nay. Speaker Ryan – is he a yes or no vote for you?

Lewis: I would have voted for speaker Ryan

Myhra: Yes

Howe: You know I think we need to bring our party together as Republicans.

Lahammer: Yes or no button.

Howe: I probably would have voted for him, yes.

Gerson: I’ll give him a chance. Absolutely

Lahammer: OK

Eskola: How do you assess how the House and Senate under GOP leadership is doing just in general?

Howe: Well you know Eric, I think the problem that we’ve had not only in our country, but also you know in our state, is leadership. We need to elect people that will go and stand by their principles and certainly I hope that in this election that people are looking at not only what somebody says but how they live their lives.

Lewis: You know Eric, budget sequestration is a perfect example of how there’s only one party in Washington and it’s the establishment party. The Democrats and the Republicans, the big government Republicans who want to bloat the pentagon and other things got together with the Democrats who wanted to spend more on social welfare and they undid the only thing that was holding down domestic discretionary spending – the budget sequestration – which the president and Republicans had agreed to. Now they got together and they undid it in a back room deal. That’s why people are mad.

Eskola: How do you think the Republican Senate and the Republican House are doing?

Myhra: Well I think the change of Boehner going out and new leadership, I think it’s a good move and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.

Gerson: I think we can’t just talk about leadership in general, we have to hold these people accountable. Boehner has been a weak leader. We’ve had the House Freedom Caucus hold him accountable. They held Kevin McCarthy accountable and he had to step down. McConnell is certainly not upholding our principles and we need representative that are unscared to go to Washington, maintain their principles and take on the leadership and talk about the people not just the process.

Lahammer: So so far most of you I think are agreeing on issues. It’s a Republican debate, let’s find out where you disagree. How do you differentiate yourselves from one another.

Lewis: I’m not trying to look at my three friends here and say where can I disagree. I can tell you what I believe.

Lahammer: Right. How are you different?

Lewis: And I believe we don’t put… look we’re trying to fight everybody at once. We’ve got Bashar Assad in Syria who is not a nice guy. But he’s fighting our principle enemy sunni extremists, Islamic State. Why are we going to put troops on the ground though under this administration, special ops forces on the ground, mission creep, and try to take out another strongman … and by the way we’ll be dropping weapons that ISIS already has and will be getting more of, so I guess if you want a hard position, no troops in Syria and no refugees coming back from Syria.

Eskola: How about this Syrian question?

Myhra: The Syrian question?

Eskola: Yeah do you, do we need more troops there? Lindsey Graham has talked about maybe sending boots on the ground there as an example.

Myhra: Um. Not now. Not now.

Eskola: OK. Senator?

Howe: Well certainly I wouldn’t be in support of the Iran deal. And I think that we can’t … you know the world is a dangerous place, we really need to look at what our best interests are and if there are security issues against United States. And we need to think hard about that. But we can’t be making agreements with people that aren’t going to abide by them or chant death to, you know, America.

Eskola: Boots on the ground in Syria?

Gerson: I think we can’t lead from behind the way Obama has. And they’ve left a vacuum of leadership that Russia has filled and I think we need to act appropriately

Eskola: How about some tax policy. Let’s see I think with Speaker Ryan, he’s Ways and Means Committee chair formerly and I would think tax reform might be on his agenda. What would you like to see in federal tax policy?

Myhra: Simpler would be better. Ah, but , ah the flat tax and the fair tax have been in committee for so long and the um ah… I think we should be looking more at reducing spending. I guess that’s part of what I’m looking at is responsible spending and I think people are taxed enough. We shouldn’t be increasing taxes by any means but I really want us to look at our expenses, how we’re spending and of course today we didn’t, we didn’t cover that at all. We just increased…

Lahammer: Jason, tax plan?

Lewis: Well look we just collected a record amount of tax revenue in fiscal 2015, 3.2 trillion dollars. Record amount. But we still have a deficit of 400 billion dollars. We’ve got a problem with corporate welfare starting with TARP, the stimulus plan, the carried interest, capital gains, carve outs that allows GE not to pay any taxes a couple of years ago. None.

Lahammer: What about flat tax?

Lewis: Well wait a minute, let me get to that. You, you take away the corporate welfare. You undo the carve outs for wind and solar and all the other giveaways and then you lower and flatten the rates for everybody else. That’s why some of our rates are so high while GE doesn’t pay income taxes.

Eskola: Mr Gerson?

Gerson: I agree we have to eliminate these special interest loopholes. We have to eliminate the lobbyists getting in there and having special carve outs and we need to go to a flatter, lower tax rate.

Howe: Well you know as Senator I advanced the plan in Minnesota to eliminate the personal income tax and go to the straight consumption tax. And certainly when we look at corporate taxes we’re just chasing people overseas. We’re chasing people out of our country. You know if we had a more moderate, a more fair tax system in the United States, we could keep that revenue here. You know, people have choices. Corporations have choices. When you’ve got a 73,000 page tax code, people hire, the big corporations, hire people to find the loopholes in them so they don’t have to pay taxes. We need to have a more tax rate that is a effective rate that more… mirrors what it should be other than having this really high rate and everybody looks for loopholes.

Lahammer: Let’s talk presidential politics. The debates have had record ratings. Lots of different front runners. Who are you liking, interested, supporting so far?

Lewis: Well I’ve always been a big fan of Rand Paul only because he’s willing to take on the sacred cows and cut spending across the board. There can be no sacred cows when we’ve got a 20 trillion dollar debt or approaching 20 trillion. Interest on the budget is going to be 800 billion by 2025 according to the CBO. 800 billion dollars.

Lahammer: OK let’s come back to …

Lewis: Let me just say one more thing. But I am not afraid of Donald Trump as some of my friends in the establishment are.

Myhra: You know there are wonderful candidates out there. I’m very excited about watching the debates and hearing what’s out there. I’m also the vice president of the Minnesota Federation of Republican Women and as such a practical matter I’m not supposed to be endorsing any presidential …

Lahammer: Who do you like? Who is impressing you so far?

Myhra: I can’t say.

Howe: I can say this much. When you watch the debates the American people have just got to be amazed at the Republicans have such great candidates. What do the Democrats have to offer? They’ve got left and far left you know.

Lahammer: So who do you like?

Howe: I like Ben Carson personally. But I think that uh.. I’m not 100 percent made a decision who. That’s why we need these debates. But we have a great bandwidth of candidates on the Republican side so I’m proud of that.

Lahammer: Dave who do you like so far?

Gerson: I think what’s important about this presidential candidacy is that , what we’re seeing is that people are tired of politics of usual. And what you’re seeing is that the establishment status quo candidate isn’t going to be coronated this session. And that’s what’s exciting. People are standing up and saying we’re no longer going to accept politics as usual.

Lahammer: So that actually leads me to another issue I want to talk about which is insider versus outsider. So make your arguments because there is a lot of appetite right now on the presidential race for an outsider. What’s the case, insider or outsider?

Lewis: I mean look, it’s not a matter of whether you’re inside, outside or whether you live here or live there. It’s a matter of whether your views best represent the district. And obviously I think my views best represent the district.

Lahammer: Should you have to live in the district?

Lewis: I mean the founders were right. Your views ought to represent the district. I live on the border. John Kline ran twice to represent me. My school district’s in the district. I’m there every day. I’ll stick with the founders on that one and let, let your views represent the district and that way the people actually get representation.

Lahammer: OK. Insider or outsider?

Myhra: I really think we need to have someone who’s trusted and experienced and also determined and my experience both in the legislature and as a certified public accountant and mom, middle class mom, I think that really works for me.

Lahammer: OK another fellow lawmaker…

Howe: I would say I’ve spent the majority of my life building a business and raising a family. You know I grew up on a Minnesota farm. I was raised in Minnesota. Grew up without running water to start with ….

Lahammer: Are you an insider or an outsider?

Howe: I would say I’m an outsider, because less than 10 percent of my life has been spent in poetics. I don’’t, I’m not running for congress because I need a job. I’m running for congress to address the debt issue. The debt is going to pull us under and that’s my main issue.

Lahammer: David?

Gerson: I couldn’t be further outside. I’ve been standing with the grass roots since 2012 taking on a six-term incumbent and powerful chairman because he wasn’t representing us and upholding our principles and supporting a failed leader in John Boehner. And we know that this is the year where people are no longer going to trust the political class and it’s going to be the grass roots that’s going to stand up from the outside and change DC. It’s not going to happen from the inside out. It’s going to happen from the outside in.

Eskola: What should congress do about immigration policy?

Myhra: We should strengthen the borders, for sure. Absolutely. And we should be following the laws. They should be enforced. And we should also have reform for the visas. Visas …ah when their visas expire, we should be sure that they are going back to their homes.

Eskola: Deporting the 11 million illegals?

Lewis: That’s always a false dilemma. You’re not going to round up 11 million people and send them home. We can’t physically do it. What you can do is stop the problem from getting worse. Right now across the states about 84 billion dollars a year for education, corrections, medical care all mandated by the federal government. It costs 113 billion total . So what I’m saying is you stop the immigration especially low-skilled immigration that comes in and lives on public assistance and you reform the H1B program, you reform the work visas so we keep the high-skilled immigration. But you got to protect the borders. that’s issue number one.

Howe: Well part of the, part of it is free markets and the other thing is we certainly have to address sanctuary cities in our country and if some city’s going to offer sanctuary cities, well they shouldn’t get federal funding. Ad so we need to address a lot of different issues on it.

Lahammer: OK. David immigration?

Gerson: Immigration is so important to our country. We’re all immigrants. Legal immigrants have done so much to better our economy and become assimilated to improve our culture and improve our workforce and we need to address that but we have to implement rule of law. We can no longer allow for undocumented workers to (inaudible) our cities

Lewis: You know the late great Milton Freedman who was a Libertarian by nature and believed in the free flow of capitol and labor across boundaries came late in his life, he and his wife Rose, late in their life said you ideally would like open borders with capital and labor to flow but you can’t have open borders with a modern welfare state. and that is absolutely true.

Lahammer: OK next question. Freedom Caucus. Would anybody join the Freedom Caucus?

Howe: Well certainly I’ll take support where we can get it. You know to win this election. We’re really in a swing district and…

Lahammer: Right but if you win and go to Washington 39 Republican members of congress in it would you want to be part of that group?

Howe: I think it’s always good to be… have your ears open and listen. I’d have to see once I get there.

Gerson: Absolutely. I am going to congress to join the House Freedom Caucus. There is no doubt about it.

Lahammer: Representative Myhra?

Myhra: I would go there and see.

Lewis: Seeing how I’ve interviewed most of them on the radio I would probably join the Freedom Caucus.

Lahammer: You’d be in a lot of trouble if you didn’t I think.

Eskola: Is there a ripe vein of opposition research in your past radio … I mean you have 20 years of radio comments that opposition research could go through.

Lewis: Yeah I was really worried about that Eric and then I thought for a moment, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, I think I’m safe.

Howe: I think it’s worth noting that he did take the digital library off the website so… it kind of reminds you of somebody’s email. So I’ll just sit and leave it at that.

Lewis: John wants more softballs.

Eskola: Who’s going to…

Lewis: But I didn’t vote for a bonding bill that gave Mark Dayton a blank check.

Lahammer: So let’s talk about records because you do have to run on your record.

Howe: Absolutely. I think that’s one thing that Myhra and I, we understand the process. You know Like I said, I’ve limited government experience. I spent one… , I served Mayor of Red Wing you know I have a record there of holding down the taxes and I even vetoed the budget until we got some

Lahammer: You were in a caucus that lost control of the chamber.

Howe: Absolutely. So when you’re in the majority, you have to lead. And it’s tough and I would say having that experience does help you. Having limited experience when you go to Washington D.C. is going to help you legislate. And that’s what you need. So I think it does give you a hand up.

Eskola: How about abiding by the endorsement?

Myhra: Absolutely. Yes.

Eskola: OK

Lewis: Sure.

Eskola: You’re abiding by the endorsement?

Lewis: Oh sure.

Howe: We’ll see who else, who all joins in the race and if it’s fair and concise and the process and the supports it , absolutely. We have to see who is all going to join in and if everybody is going to abide by it.

Gerson: I abided by the endorsement in 2014 when John Kline beat me by less than three percent. I will be abiding in 2016 …

Lewis: But you didn’t abide by it in 2012 and neither did Pam in 2014. So to lecture everybody else on the endorsement issue….

Howe: You cross that bridge when you get there because everybody, everybody wants to ah, you’re going to want to work really hard. I mean this, this election is about the direction of our country and certainly we want to make sure we address the debt issue. And I’m, you can see I’ve made a personal commitment to my campaign, that’s how hard I believe about it.

Eskola: We’re out of time. Great to see you all.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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