Keith Ellison Answers Patch Readers' Questions (Part 2)
The Democratic incumbent is running again this election season in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District.
Editor's Note: 5th District Patches recently asked readers to pose questions to incumbent Rep. Keith Ellison and challenger Chris Fields. This week, we are running the candidates' answers to some of the best questions we received. Today, we're featuring Part Two of our interview with Ellison. You can read Part One here. Our interview with Fields ran on Monday and Tuesday. Here is Part One and Part Two of that conversation.
Spirit Medicine asks: There are some who are concerned with the continual growth in the powers claimed by the executive branch of the United States—expansions of authority not isolated to the current administration. What, if anything, are some things that the executive branch under the U.S. Constitution should never be allowed to do?
Ellison: I think that the Bill of Rights lays out several. The executive shouldn’t be able to quarter troops in peoples’ homes. The executive should never be able to arrest you without a warrant or due process or some probable cause. The government should never be able to punish people in a cruel or unusual way, (or) deprive people of a fair trial. I do think that with the growth of drone warfare, it is very important that we remind ourselves of these basic constitutional principles. We shouldn’t be executing people, particularly Americans, without some form of due process when they can be safely arrested.
Dave W asks: Why did you vote "nay" on HR 459, the "Audit the Fed" bill?
Ellison: I voted “no” because under the Dodd-Frank bill, which was passed already, there are already provisions for auditing the Fed. This particular bill would have allowed Congress to put political pressure on the Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates. I think it would be bad for our economy, bad for our country if politicians were able to manipulate interest rates for political purposes. For example, it may be in the best interest of the economy that interest rates go up, but if Congress can pressure the Open Market Committee to keep them low during an election season, that would be bad. It would suit the needs of politicians but not the economy. I think open market transactions need to be sort of walled-off from the political cycle.
Karen M asks: Is it truly the job of the federal government to "create jobs" across the country? If no, then what decisions can Congress make that would allow job growth in the private sector?
Ellison: Congress already employs about 4.4 million people. People who work in the federal government at various points. People who make sure our water is clean ... People in the military. So yeah, Congress creates jobs and appropriates money (for them). It’s simply not true that Congress has no role in job creation. For example, just making sure the roads and transportation systems are working employs people directly, but it also facilitates private sector job growth. Because if you want to get your goods or services to market, you need to get them there on something. Our police force makes it feel like small business owners can open up a business without getting robbed. And that’s the government ... I think there’s an important relationship between the public and private sectors to make sure Americans are working.
Abigail Smith asks: What are your thoughts on the approaching "fiscal cliff" in January, when current temporary tax cuts are set to expire? Would you support a bill that would allow tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans (those making $250,000 a year or more) to expire while preserving tax cuts for the middle class?
Ellison: I would support a bill that would allow the top 2 percent to have their tax breaks expire and preserve them for everyone else. What’s coming up soon after the election is we’re going to see the sequestration cuts looming and perhaps going into effect. We’re going to see the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. We’re going to see the expiration of the payroll tax deduction. And we’re going to have a vote on the debt ceiling … So everyone is talking about a “grand bargain.” What I say is, whatever bargain we have needs to incorporate four things, and I will not support any bill that doesn’t include these four things: Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—that’s one. Two, (it) has a balanced approach of revenue with cuts. I’m not supporting something that only cuts. Both of them need to be (included). Three, the military has to take some hits. There are savings to be had in the military. And military personnel will tell you that. I’m not talking about endangering the troops or anything. I’m talking about things like sole-source procurement … Defense (spending) has doubled since 2001. Is all that necessary? Let’s really look at what we’re doing. And the last one, (there need to be) jobs (created). You can’t just cut your way out of a deficit. You need growth in the economy.
Grant Vlasak asks: Please tell us; what were your reasons for voting "no" on the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA?
Ellison: I was concerned (about) some of the provisions in the bill that would allow for indefinite detention of American citizens. And I believe in due process and fair trials.
Lemmen Kainen asks: It is obvious to almost everyone that the faltering economy is hurting Minnesota families. Predatory lending and criminal foreclosures by banks have forced people from their homes, and often the current bankruptcy laws prevent people from moving forward. Do you have any plans to remove the restrictions implemented by the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005 and also to allow student loans to once again be dischargeable in a bankruptcy?
Ellison: Yes, I do. In fact, I’m working with a friend of mine from Tennessee, Rep. Steve Cohen, to make student debt dischargeable in bankruptcy, as it should be. In regard to foreclosures, the questioner I think has the dates wrong. It was the 1977 bankruptcy reform act that precluded judges from rescheduling mortgage debt on a primary residence. And I’ve been a part of the effort to change that ever since I stepped into Washington ... We’re going to keep on fighting, because foreclosures are killing us. We see some glimmers of hope in the housing market, but if people could stay in their homes, and there could be principal write-downs … that would give some greater certainty to the economy.
Eric Ferguson asks: What can we do to help the participants in the Arab Spring protests?
Ellison: One thing we can do is signal that we’re in favor of greater democracy. I think we should double Fulbright Scholarships and bring students from the region to the United States to study. I think we should increase the Peace Corps’ budget … I think we need to continue to engage (people in that area). We need to look at perhaps creating greater trade with these countries. Not just oil, but actually made goods. And I think we need to look at security in an expansive way, so that it's not all like countries like Yemen, where the leader would say “I’m fighting al-Qaida. Send me money.” And we would. We have to also say, “What are you doing to have democracy?” So there won’t be fertile ground for this kind of stuff. But I do believe that it is absolutely central that the United States engages the Arab world in this Arab Spring period … These people have an expectation that we’re the beacon of liberty in the world. And when we act more like just a country interested in oil, then they’re disappointed. I think we need to really live our values, in all parts of the world … People who have secured liberty for themselves I think have some responsibility to promote it for other people.