NOOZHAWK: The so-called Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 will expire at the end of this year. On Jan. 1, what will be the new rates of taxation on income, capital gains, dividends and estates, and the per child tax credit? Do you support the expiration of the existing rates or should they be extended? Why or why not?

Rep. Lois Capps

Rep. Lois Capps

LOIS CAPPS: I support extending the tax cuts on all income up to $200,000 for individuals and all income up to $250,000 for families. I also believe we have to fix the estate tax because it will soon revert back to the levels it was at in 2001, which could adversely affect owners of small businesses and family farms in our area. Finally, something most people aren’t talking about is the need to extend the tax cuts that were enacted as part of the Recovery Act in early 2009. Those tax cuts, which gave up to $800 to 98 percent of working American families, comprised nearly one-third of the cost of the entire bill. This tax cut put money directly in the pockets of virtually every working person in this country over the last two years, money that was important for family needs and often spent quickly in local businesses. I think we need to continue that tax cut for at least the next year or until our economy is fully back on track.

NOOZHAWK: A leading national polling firm recently asked Americans to choose between these statements: A) President Barack Obama’s economic policies have averted an even worse economic crisis and are laying the foundation for recovery. B) President Barack Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow job losses. Which statement reflects your opinion and why?

LC: President Obama’s policies definitely averted an even worse economic crisis and we have laid the foundation for recovery. When he came into office, more than 700,000 Americans were losing their jobs every month, and in 2008 alone 2.6 million Americans had lost their jobs. Those job losses began tapering off with the enactment of the Recovery Act and we have actually added jobs in the private sector every month for the last eight months.

But even though all this is true it doesn’t mean that we still don’t have a lot of work ahead of us. The reality is our economy is still sluggish and too many of our friends and neighbors are still looking for work. Some very bad choices over the previous decade put our economy in a deep, deep hole and, unfortunately, it is taking time to get out of it. And while we avoided the worst outcome, we have to redouble our efforts to get our economy fully restarted. That means ensuring our small businesses have access to credit, keeping taxes on working Americans low, and taking steps to promote growing sectors like renewable energy that are creating jobs today and building an industry for the future. But it also means not returning to the disastrous policies of the George W. Bush era that drove our economy into the ditch in the first place.

NOOZHAWK: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio will have risen to 62 percent at the end of 2010 from 36 percent in 2007. In a worst-case scenario, the CBO estimates an increase to 100 percent in 2020 and nearly 200 percent in 2035. What effect does such a debt load mean for middle-class Americans?

LC: The national debt and high annual deficits are serious long-term problems and must be addressed. That’s exactly why I voted to reinstate tough new budget rules requiring that all new spending and tax cuts must be paid for by cuts in other parts of the budget or by increasing revenues. This “pay-as-you-go” rule was partly responsible for eliminating the budget deficit in the 1990s. But it was allowed to lapse by Republicans when they ran Congress so President Bush’s tax cuts and other big spending programs could be enacted. For example, it allowed President Bush to push through an expensive expansion of Medicare without paying for it. And President Bush subsequently never made any effort to provide funding to pay for our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, choosing instead to just add those costs to our national debt.

I’ve also been supporting President Obama’s three-year freeze in most nondefense domestic spending. I’ve voted to cut other wasteful spending, like defense proposals that even the Pentagon has been trying to kill. And I will be ready to examine closely the recommendations of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission when they come out later this year.

Finally, I think it’s important to remind everyone how we got in this mess. President Bush came into office with the federal budget generating huge surpluses. His policies to cut taxes while dramatically increasing spending, combined with the economic meltdown, resulted in record annual deficits, a doubling of the national debt and an economy in complete meltdown. Unfortunately, it will take time to fix the mess he left.

NOOZHAWK: How, specifically, are Americans benefiting from the health-care reform law? What are the disadvantages? How would you fix them?

LC: Reforming health care is putting families and their doctors in charge of health decisions instead of some insurance company bureaucrat. This new law will ensure Americans always have access to quality, affordable health care, and will significantly reduce long-term health care costs. 

Obviously, providing coverage to more than 30 million of our fellow citizens is something we should all celebrate. But the law also improves the health insurance that most people already have and ensures it will always be there when you need it most.

Among its many benefits, health-care reform means insurance companies can never again refuse you or your child coverage for a so-called “pre-existing condition.” It closes the Medicare “doughnut hole” and allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. It stops insurance companies from dropping you when you, or your child, get sick and bans co-pays for some important preventive care screenings. The law is already providing tax cuts for small businesses across the Central Coast that provide their employees with coverage, and it will soon set up a system to allow individuals and small businesses to pool together and benefit from the kind of bargaining power large companies enjoy today.

I think the absence of a “public option” plan to force even more competition in the insurance market is a shortcoming of the bill and will continue working to fix that. I also believe that the provision requiring an increase in 1099 filings for small businesses was misguided and I have already voted to stop that.

Reforming health care is a complicated endeavor but this new law creates an important foundation to ensure quality health care will always be there when you need it.

NOOZHAWK: California’s fiscal health appears precarious. While the state Constitution prohibits a bankruptcy declaration, how much of a federal concern are California’s finances? What can Washington do to coax reform, or stabilization? Will the federal government step in if a bailout is necessary? Should it?

LC: California’s economy is the largest of any state in the Union and is critically important to the overall health of the U.S. economy. For decades, California has dominated high tech and other cutting-edge industries and has been a driving force in our country’s economy and cultural life. And it is critical for the United States that California’s economy recover quickly and completely.

In fact, one of the critically important aspects of the Recovery Act was the assistance it provided to help California and other states deal with the economic meltdown occurring at the end of the Bush administration. Federal funding helped save the jobs of tens of thousands of California teachers, police officers and firefighters. It helped lessen the impact of the severe budget cuts needed to balance the state budget.

NOOZHAWK: Energy security and sustainability are major challenges for the United States. What policies do you or would you support to meet the U.S. energy demand while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

LC: Our nation’s reliance on dirty and destructive fossil fuels imperils our environment and hurts American families. By shipping billions of dollars overseas every year to purchase oil and gas from unstable, often hostile regions of the world, we threaten our economy, national security and the planet’s health.

We must embrace a clean-energy future that invests in energy efficiency, develops renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and reduces global warming pollution. By meeting our nation’s energy challenges head-on, we can create green jobs here on the Central Coast while we all save money on electricity bills and powering our cars. America must be a leader in this important new industry.

Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have pushed for energy policies that benefit consumers and encourage more use of clean-energy technologies. I helped pass legislation that increased fuel economy standards for cars for the first time in 32 years. I also helped write parts of the first-ever comprehensive bill to address global warming, which the House of Representatives approved last year. And I’ve also been a strong supporter of legislation to require that an increasing percentage of our electricity come from renewable energy sources.

To encourage development of new energy technologies, I support policies to extend tax credits for renewable energy use and development, make funds available to our local governments to reduce energy use, and support cutting-edge alternative energy research and development at places like UCSB and Cal Poly. I am supporting legislation to assist small businesses in the clean-energy sector gain access to financing. And to create more “green” jobs now, I support legislation to provide incentives for consumers to make their homes more energy-efficient, using products made here in America and installed by working men and women from our communities.

NOOZHAWK: Surveying the global landscape, what is the most beneficial role the United States plays in world affairs? What should be America’s biggest concern?

LC: The United States is a beacon of freedom and liberty for much of the world. We seek not empire but expansion of freedom and advocate for human rights and justice for all. I believe our biggest national security challenge is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. That’s why it’s so important to eradicate groups like al-Qaeda and ensure that they can’t take haven in failed states, like they did in Afghanistan in the 1990s. It’s also why it’s important to lock down existing nuclear materials and keep states like Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

But we also have other enormous issues that must be addressed. For example, global warming not only imperils our economy, environment and public health, it is also poses huge national security challenges. Military and intelligence experts alike recognize that we must addressing global warming in the interest of our own defense. For example, the Pentagon included climate change as a security threat in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. Breaking our addiction to fossil fuels will not only create jobs and reduce economic disruptions caused by oil spills or other energy market disruptions, it will mean we rely less on energy from unstable or hostile countries.

NOOZHAWK: Is Iran a threat to the United States? What is the best way to handle its apparent nuclear intentions?

LC: Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East, where we have many economic interests, and is a serious threat to one of America’s most trusted and important allies, Israel. Iran, or at least some of its leaders, would like to be a direct threat to the United States and that’s one reason behind its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. But with or without nuclear weapons, Iran poses a clear threat to Israel and to the efforts to bring about peace in the region because of its support of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. That’s why it’s so important to keep up the pressure on Iran.

I support the Obama administration’s aggressive and multipronged policies to deal with an increasingly erratic Iran. It is going to take a concerted, long-term and multinational effort, using all our diplomatic and economic tools, to contain Iran’s ambitions and keep it from posing a threat to our allies and our interests. And while some of the same people who called for the United States to attack Iraq are now trying to push the United States into attacking Iran, I believe those calls are as misguided today as they were eight to 10 years ago.

NOOZHAWK: Highway 101 is one of the West Coast’s most important arteries and the section within the 23rd Congressional District is critical to the movement of goods through the Port of Hueneme, the nation’s largest transit point for agricultural exports. Meanwhile, the roadway between Santa Barbara and Seacliff is essentially a parking lot. Does the district receive federal transportation dollars commensurate with its importance? Why or why not?

LC: Decisions about transportation have to be made at the local level, but the federal government can help provide funding. In Congress, I’ve secured millions of dollars for several transportation projects in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties at the request of local officials. Some of the projects I’ve secured funding for include millions of dollars for road improvements, to build new transit centers, and to implement traffic mitigation measures. These projects reduce traffic congestion, improve public safety and air quality, encourage economic growth, and create good-paying jobs.

I was also proud to support the Recovery Act, which provided funds directly to local transportation agencies to finally complete shovel-ready projects in our area, like the Rice Avenue Interchange on Highway 101 in Oxnard, which helps alleviate the traffic congestion coming in and out of the Port of Hueneme.

I continue to believe that we need to look at all alternatives to solve traffic problems on Highway 101. Experts agree that if we are going to solve our traffic problems, we must take a comprehensive approach, which includes alternatives like rail, increased highway capacity and mass transit. I’m glad our local transportation agencies — the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and Ventura County Transportation Commission — are working together to identify key projects in the 101 Corridor that can garner local, state and federal support. I believe that we can create more livable communities on the Central and South Coasts through improved transportation systems, and that’s what I’ve done and will continue to do.

NOOZHAWK: The 23rd Congressional District is a work of art, boundary-wise. Do you support redistricting efforts to make it more compact?

LC: The 23rd District is an incredibly vibrant and diverse group of coastal towns and cities. We have world-class universities, large and small businesses working on the leading edge of technology, and some of the most productive agricultural land in the nation. We are home to thousands of dedicated men and women in uniform serving at top-notch military bases. We have some of the most beautiful beaches, coastlines and mountains that not only give our citizens great enjoyment, but bring visitors from around the world and make tourism a mainstay of our economy. As in virtually every other state in the country, the redistricting process is handled by the state legislature.

NOOZHAWK: In your travels within the district, what do people say is their most important issue?

LC: Getting our economy fully back on track is the top issue for virtually everyone I meet in the district. They understand the deep, deep hole that was dug in the last decade and how long it will take to get out of it. But it doesn’t make their anxiety about their economic future any less palpable.

But they also talk to me about how we have needed to reform health care to ensure it’s always there when you need it and take steps to reduce the high cost of education, two efforts where we’ve made great progress in the last two years.

NOOZHAWK: Which current or former House speaker do you admire most, and why?

LC: I think the current house speaker, fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi, has been a great speaker. As the first woman House speaker in our nation’s history, she broke through a glass ceiling and that is an incredibly important step for all women — and, I would argue, all Americans. But she has also been instrumental in the enactment of incredibly important legislation that helps all Americans — like measures to reform health care, lower the cost of college loans, reign in the abuses of Wall Street banks and credit-card companies, and improve the care we provide our veterans. And she has done it with a lot of grace.

NOOZHAWK: Will you live-tweet the next State of the Union address for Noozhawk?

LC: I’m afraid not. I’ll be following my mother’s advice to give a guest — and that’s what the president is when he visits the House of Representatives — my full attention.

Additional Resources

» Click here for Lois Capps’ campaign Web site

» Click here for John Hager’s answers

» Click here for Darrell Stafford’s answers

» Click here for Tom Watson’s answers