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Kind touts deficit reduction, but says debt ceiling must be raised

February 7, 2011
In The News


After surviving a GOP tsunami in western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District last year, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind says it's time for Republicans to start delivering on their promises of fiscal responsibility.

"What I want to hear more from the other side is, what are their ideas for deficit reduction? Because we're not getting much of that," Kind, D-La Crosse, told a WisPolitics luncheon last week.

But a more pressing issue for the new House majority will be the vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which is expected to be reached later in the spring.

"It would be the height of insanity to not have the Unites States of America pay our bills," Kind said, predicting such an action would stall any attempts at economic recovery overnight.

House Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, has said Congress will approve the debt limit increase, but a number of Republicans, including new Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, have opined that the debt ceiling vote would be the first real test of whether Congress is serious about dealing with the country's fiscal issues and must be paired with cuts, spending caps or both.

"There's a certain responsibility that comes with being the majority party," Kind said. "And just saying no is not a very viable option."

Kind said that while the county's entitlement programs require reforms, they won't be accomplished before the nation would have to default on its debts. Moreover, he said any discussion of reducing federal spending must include health care reform rather than working to repeal it, saying "that's where the money is."

And he said Republicans are too quick to take defense spending off the table even as the nation's military leaders ask them to change their ways.

"This blank check that defense contractors expect from the American taxpayer has got to end," Kind said. "That means having to say no to some pretty powerful special interest groups in Washington."

Kind also believes lawmakers should consider farm subsidy reform as another area in which to tackle deficits. Kind has teamed with others -- including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville -- in attempts to make the subsidy system more favorable to small farming operations.

"Things have never been riper or more encouraging from my perspective," Kind said of the current anti-spending environment in Congress.

But he acknowledged that likely won't happen in a farm bill this year. He said House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has indicated subsidy reform will happen "over my dead body," while Republicans have said they won't push a new farm bill until their many new members get acclimated -- or, as Kind put it, co-opted -- to federal ag policy.

"I don't expect a lot of new ideas coming out of the Agriculture Committee," Kind said.

Along with ag reform, Kind says he's confident in his ability to make an impact in the new GOP-controlled House.

First, Kind says he's seen how important minority Dems can be to a Dem administration first-hand during the Clinton years. And secondly, Kind is convinced that any progress made in the split Congress will happen in the "sensible center."

"If anything's going to get done, it's going to get done there," Kind said, who serves as a vice-chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition in the House. "It's not going to get done on either extreme."

But he said all bets are off if Republicans choose to pick fights with Democrats ahead of President Obama's re-election bid next year.

"If that's the goal of the other party, is to do everything in their power to bring President Obama down, then I don't expect a very productive session coming out of Washington," Kind said.

"But if there's a genuine effort to recognize the real challenges that we face ... then there may be an opportunity to bridge the gulf that's been developed in the American political system for too long."