The Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus (MDGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders throughout the eight-state Delta region, which stretches from southern Illinois down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Congressman Rick Crawford's Responses to Delta Questionnaire, May 4, 2012

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 08:27 AM

Questionnaire for Congressional Candidates on Economic Issues: Responses from Congressman Rick Crawford

  1. “Big picture” question on your priorities for job creation and economic recovery: It is clear that the economy requires a much stronger recovery to put people back to work, spending cuts, and more revenue to jump-start economic development while getting our fiscal house in order. What are your top priorities in job creation and economic recovery?

From the beginning of my campaign for Congress over three years ago I have said that our huge national debt is the greatest threat to our economy. Our economy will not recover until there is a clear plan from Washington to stop spending money that we do not have and to pay down the national debt. I constantly hear from parents and grandparents who are worried that their children and grandchildren will not be able to live the American dream because our national debt will cripple our economy for generations. Additionally, small business owners tell me they are afraid to hire more workers or expand their business because our economy is so fragile.

In the last three years the national debt has increased by $5 trillion. That’s a 50% increase in just three years. The President has now proposed four budgets with trillion-dollar deficit. This is not how we will restore confidence in the economy and create jobs in the Delta.

In March, I introduced legislation aimed at fixing the problem. My bill, the Shared Responsibility in Preserving America’s Future Act would require Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment in exchange for a 5% surtax on individual income over $1 million a year. Without a balanced budget amendment added to the Constitution, I have little faith in Washington’s ability to kick its spending addiction. Additionally, the 5% surtax on individual income exceeding $1 million a year would generate $400 billion over 10 years that could be used to pay down our national debt. Permanent spending caps and funds to pay down the national debt will be a signal to job creators that Washington is serious about getting the economy back on track and putting people back to work.

Specific to the Delta, we must ensure the viability of agriculture as well as access to quality education. As Arkansas’s only member of Congress on the House Agriculture Committee, I am working with Democratic and Republican members to educate them about the unique concerns of Mid-South agriculture. Earlier this year, I welcomed the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee to Arkansas State University for one of only four field hearings in the entire country concerning the 2012 Farm Bill. This is the first time that my First Congressional District has ever hosted a Farm Bill Field Hearing. During the hearing, members of the committee heard directly from producers about what they need to succeed. The field hearing gave citizens of the Delta the opportunity to have their voice heard before new farm policy is written.

Education is the key to success for young people. I have taken an active role in listening to teachers and administrators on how Congress can improve education policy. Over the last few months I have hosted several roundtable discussions with teachers and administrators to hear directly from them what can be done to better the education for young Americans. Teachers constantly tell me they want to return the responsibility of measuring student performance to states, local school boards and parents. I support legislation that gives local school districts the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their students. For example, agriculture education might not be important to a student in Miami, but here in Arkansas agriculture education is essential.

Additionally, Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP Schools provide a great framework for improving education in the Delta. KIPP schools in Helena-West Helena and Blytheville have been tremendously successful in helping students reach their maximum potential. Expanding the number of KIPP schools in the Delta will improve the entire region.

  1. EPA and other regulations: The Delta Caucus partners are strong advocates for protecting the environment, but there are concerns that some of the new EPA regulations may inhibit job creation or retention and weaken the already fragile recovery. Would you support delaying implementation of EPA and other regulations that would inhibit job creation at least until the economy is fully recovered?

No federal agency better reflects Washington’s assault on rural Arkansas than the EPA. Arkansas farmers and ranchers live off the land, raise their families and earn an honest living by taking care of our natural resources. If anyone understands the importance of preserving our environment for future generations, it is the family farmer.

Not only would I support asking the EPA to delay or reconsider harmful regulations, I have personally written to the EPA Administrator about the overreach of the EPA and authored legislation to keep the agency from harming farm families in Arkansas and the greater Delta region.

In July of 2011, I was part of a bi-partisan group of congressmen who sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter expressing our great concern over a new spill containment rule and the devastating effect it would have on farmers and ranchers. The letter was signed by more than 100 members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans.

In October 2011, I introduced H.R. 3158, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, to change the EPA rule and protect small farmers and ranchers. The FUELS Act would raise exemption levels to better reflect an agricultural producer’s spill risk and financial means. Under the FUELS Act, the exemption level for a single fuel container would be adjusted up from 1,320 gallons to 10,000 gallons, while the aggregate level on a production facility would move to 42,000 gallons. My proposal would also place a greater degree of responsibility on the individual farmer or rancher to self-certify compliance.

After the FUELS Act was filed the EPA announced it would not require agriculture producers to comply with the new rule until May of 2013. However, I am still pushing the FUELS Act to make the rule more workable for small farmers and ranchers. Our farmers and ranchers should be focused on producing our nation’s food supply, not worrying about complying with onerous regulations from Washington.

  1. Health care: The Delta suffers from inadequate access to affordable, high-quality health care. This is harmful both to our health and to our region’s economic situation. What policies would you advocate to improve health care in the underserved Delta?

President Obama’s healthcare reform law that passed Congress two years ago did not address the chief barriers to healthcare in rural Arkansas: access and affordability. I favor a full repeal of Obamacare and a new reform that would address accessibility and affordability issues. We should not be creating new budget-busting entitlement programs when the ones we have are going bankrupt.

When it comes to making meaningful reforms to healthcare, there is much that can be done to improve healthcare options in underserved regions like the Delta. We can start with common sense reforms like:

  1. Allowing small businesses to pool together to purchase plans at lower costs.

  2. Preempting state insurance regulations that prevent individuals from buying the coverage across state lines.

  3. Negotiating the bulk purchase of prescription drugs bought by the world’s largest drug customers, the U.S. taxpayers.

  4. Adopting meaningful tort reforms to limit truly frivolous lawsuits and exorbitant legal fees.

  5. Adding technology in rural areas, using new tools to reduce medical errors.

  6. Making sure no one is ineligible to receive health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

  7. Allowing young people stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 25.

  8. Providing tuition reimbursement incentives to healthcare professionals who commit several years of service in underserved healthcare regions like the Delta.

  9. ENERGY: The expanded use of biofuels and other sources of renewable energy is supported by many people in the Delta as a way to create jobs, develop an independent source of energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil, and promote economic development.

a. Renewable energy: Do you consider renewable energy a priority for Arkansas? What steps would you advocate to promote the development of renewable energy? How would you work with the eight Delta states as well as other states that border the Delta to implement these programs?

Yes, the Delta region’s agriculture sector has the ability to grow biomass – either as a byproduct of commodity crops, or through energy crops. Processors have the ability to extract oils from soybeans, cotton, and rice that can be used as a biofuel feedstock. I have advocated for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) which has enabled growers to plant 6,588 acres of switch grass (miscanthus giganteus) for the sole purpose of being converted into biofuels. The Delta region has several conversion facilities where these raw materials are turned into biofuels and sold commercially. Working with the eight states that encompass the greater Delta I am confident that we can grow the renewable fuel industry.

b. Energy retrofits, the LIHEAP program to aid lower income customers, and energy efficiency are increasingly important in reducing energy costs. Energy retrofit programs such as Arkansas’ Home Energy Loan Assistance (HEAL) program (where the costs of retrofits are paid for by the savings in energy bills) have been successful. Would you support LIHEAP as well as energy retrofit programs similar to the HEAL program? If so, what would you recommend to implement those programs?

President Obama’s budget calls for sharply reducing funding for LIHEAP, and energy retrofitting was a wasteful part of the stimulus bill.

Energy costs are taking up a larger part of the budget for families and businesses in the Delta. We need to have all options on the table as we work to address the rising cost of energy.

c. Gas prices: We know that the federal government cannot totally control gas prices. But to the extent federal actions can deal with this issue, what policies in addition to expanded renewable energy–if any–would you support to reduce gas prices?

As of today, the price for a gallon of regular gasoline in my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas is $3.65. Just one year ago that same gallon of regular gasoline would have cost $2.96. We have all heard news reports that gas could hit a record $5.00 a gallon this summer. At a time when our economy is struggling, higher gas prices will put a huge burden on working families trying to make ends meet. Just a few weeks ago a constituent told me he already spends 20% of his income on gas. The rising cost of gas not only affects Arkansans at the pump, it will also drive up the cost of goods and services.

Our country needs an energy policy that puts all options on the table. The first step toward crafting an “all of the above” energy plan is developing the energy resources we have right here in North America to lower gas prices and lessen our dependency on Middle Eastern oil. We can begin developing our domestic resources and lowering gas prices by:

· Giving full approval to the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone project will hit working families at the pump this summer. We must approve the Keystone Pipeline.

· Opening huge areas in the American West for oil shale development to provide oil and natural gas. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates we have the equivalent of more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. That’s six times Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves, and enough to provide the United States with energy for 200 years.

· The Obama Administration recently announced plans to restrict off-shore drilling for another five years. After the BP oil spill, strict new regulations were put in place to allow for safe and responsible drilling. Now we just need the Obama Administration to lift the ban on drilling and resume the sale of offshore oil leases and expand American energy production.

  1. USDA programs: USDA has a broad array of tremendously important programs to the Greater Delta Region. We support a new farm bill that will fully fund these programs:

a. Rural Development: Rural Development programs are vital for rural small business and job creation, rural housing, infrastructure, expansion of broadband to the underserved Delta, telemedicine, renewable energy, and other constructive activities for rural America. There have been unwise attempts to make major cuts in such programs as rural housing, for example. In the farm bill and other legislation would you support full funding and oppose cuts in USDA Rural Development programs?

Many of the divides in Washington are not Democrat versus Republican divides. A lot of the barriers that we have to overcome are the rural versus urban interests. Without a doubt rural development programs play a large role in helping rural Arkansas – and all of rural America develop stronger economies. During my first term in Congress I have been a strong advocate for our rural way of life and I will continue to promote programs that benefit rural Arkansas.

In March of 2012 I joined with my colleague Leonard Boswell to introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent the Department of Agriculture from closing any Farm Service Agency offices until the completion of proper county workload assessments. The bill, called the Farm Service Accountability Act, would prohibit the closure or relocation of offices with a high workload volume. In January, the USDA announced – as part of a consolidation plan – it would be closing 131 FSA offices throughout the country. In addition to evaluating county workloads, the FSA Act would require the two employee provision to apply when the 2008 Farm Bill was originally enacted in May 2008 to reflect normal levels of employment, not post retirements and workforce caps.

Farm Service Offices provide American producers with the services they need to produce the safest, most abundant and affordable food on the planet. We all know that Washington is trying to do more with less these days. However, we must ensure that decisions coming from Washington do not cripple our family farmers. The Farm Service Accountability Act will make sure that offices with high workloads are not closed. The USDA must recognize the producers’ needs and take workload into consideration before any FSA office is closed.

b. Hunger and nutrition–The Delta unfortunately has extremely high rates of food insecurity, as well as diabetes, obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Would you support full funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, WIC, aid to food banks, school meals, and the other key USDA nutrition programs in the new farm bill and other appropriations?

Our area is blessed to have tremendous people who work to provide nutrition services to our region. The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas in Jonesboro provides over 5,100 people with food every week.

In drafting a new Farm Bill, I am working to root out waste, fraud and abuse so that those who really need nutrition programs are able to receive the benefits.

Many hunger and nutrition experts in the Delta oppose proposals to block grant SNAP and thereby reduce SNAP benefits by $127 billion (over 10 years). Would you oppose this policy?

Block grants have the advantage of giving individual states more flexibility in targeting federal funds. Anytime we can transfer power away from a Washington bureaucrat I think that’s a good thing.

c. Family farmers: While it may be inevitable that some farm aid for higher income farmers may be reduced or in some cases eliminated, there are many middle class, lower-income, and/or minority farmers who need aid to continue their essential work in raising the food and fiber we all use. Would you support full funding in the new farm bill and other appropriations for aid to limited resource and middle class farmers?

Of all the members on the House Agriculture Committee, I am the only representative from the Mid-South. I take seriously my responsibility to voice the concerns of Mid-South farmers and educate members of the committee from other regions about the challenges our producers face.

As the Agriculture Committee begins the task of writing a new Farm Bill I was able welcome members of the Agriculture Committee to my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas for a field hearing in late March. American farmers were the very first small business owners. Farmers know what its like to project input costs, manage risks and balance a budget. In writing a new Farm Bill, Congress should work to provide certainty that protects farmers from natural disasters and volatile markets so that farmers can produce enough food to feed the world’s 7 billion people. I will support a Farm Bill that protects Arkansas agriculture and increases our producers’ opportunities to sell their goods.

Additionally, in February of 2012 I introduced a bill that would give farmers a free-market option to prepare for disasters without relying entirely on the federal government. My bill, the Farm Risk Abatement and Mitigation Election or FRAME Act, would establish tax-deferred farm savings accounts to give farmers a choice in responding to disasters.

Farmers in our corner of Arkansas and across the country face risks and uncertainty each day. Crop failure, changing markets, insect damage, uncertain weather conditions and even natural disasters threaten farmers and their livelihood. The FRAME Act would give farmers the freedom to invest in a personal, private account dedicated to disaster relief. FRAME Accounts would work much like an IRA or Health Savings Account and would give farmers options for contributing and investing.

Like an IRA and Health Savings Accounts, FRAME Accounts would allow contributions, capital gains and dividends to be tax-deferred. Farmers would be able to draw from the FRAME Account if a disaster should occur. Also like an IRA or Health Savings Account, penalties would be imposed if money is taken from FRAME Accounts without a disaster occurring.

  1. The Delta Regional Authority has done a fine job with its limited resources, but has been seriously underfunded throughout its brief history. When the legislation was signed into law in 2000 with bipartisan support, its funding level was envisaged at $30 million annually. During the early Bush administration that funding was cut sharply to $5 million, and since then the agency’s supporters at grassroots, state and federal levels have raised its funding to approximately in the range of roughly $12 million through the energy and water appropriations bill and another $3 million through USDA Rural Development.

The DRA is a relatively new agency in our region: Since its creation ten years ago, the DRA has worked diligently to improve the lives of the 10 million people who live in the Delta. Targeted investments in each of the eight states has created over 6000 jobs and retained nearly the same number of jobs. With a leverage ratio of 23:1, the Delta Regional Authority leveraged $1.4 billion in private investment with DRA projects and helped 17,000 families gain access to clean water and sewer service.

In addition to this impressive targeted investment program, the DRA has many other constructive activities, such as the Delta Doctors Program that has placed over 150 doctors in underserved parts of the Delta; a series of strategic plans on issues such as transportation, health care, broadband and other key issues; the Delta Healthy Initiative and other issues. Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall, the eight governors of the DRA states and the entire DRA team forge partnerships throughout the region. Local development districts are key partners, as are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development offices in the region and state economic development departments.

Given the DRA’s impressive track record, would you oppose cuts to the DRA until the economy strengthens, on the grounds that it makes no sense to cut funding for a program that helps create jobs and improve infrastructure during a weak economy?

The Delta Regional Authority has been an asset to my district in Arkansas and the region as a whole. As Congress works to balance funding needs with limited taxpayer dollars, the DRA’s record of accomplishment should be noted. In the House of Representatives, I am working to educate my colleagues about the work the DRA does and asking for their support to ensure that the DRA can continue serving the Delta.

When the economy recovers and the increase in revenue from having more people at work strengthens the budget, would you support an expansion of the funding at least up to the original level of $30 million?

My chief economic concern is paying down the looming national debt that threatens to rob young Americans from the opportunities their parents and grandparents enjoyed. I am hopeful that Congress can enact permanent spending caps that will prevent our country from spending money that we do not have and that will get our economy moving forward. As our economy begins to recover, I would certainly consider additional funding opportunities for the DRA and the programs they provide.

  1. Finding the budgetary resources needed to invest in the domestic economy: We need for our nation’s elected officials to tell us where they will make spending cuts and where they will raise revenue in order to reduce the deficits and find the funding to invest in domestic economic recovery in the Delta and throughout the rest of the country.

a. Reductions in foreign military interventions and exorbitant weapons systems to provide funds for America’s economic recovery: By far the largest potential areas for spending reductions are the military budget, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. While there are many different points of view, many people in the Delta would not support cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In reducing the deficits, many people believe that one of the key areas for spending cuts is to reduce military spending on foreign interventions and exorbitant weapons systems, in order to have more funds to invest in the domestic economy. (We know that a premeditated, major act of aggression against the United States would of course require the country to defend itself, so that kind of calamitous event would obviously change the situation.) But currently, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, would you agree that military spending should be substantially reduced, and if so what level of funding cuts would you support?

As a former member of the United States Army I know the challenges our armed forces face. I have the utmost respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line everyday to protect the freedoms so many Americans take for granted. My constituents understand the role a strong military plays in protecting our nation and defending freedom around the world.

As Congress looks to balance the federal budget and pay down our national debt, our military commanders are looking at ways to trim their budgets. I am in favor of listening to commanders in the field and military leaders about how they think we can reduce military spending.

b. Revenue from highest income brackets: Even with substantial spending cuts in the military and other areas for reduced spending, the deficit are so massive that much greater revenue will be needed to stop the flood of red ink. Reliable polls show that roughly two thirds of the wealthiest people themselves would approve of this in order to get the deficits under control.

Would you support higher taxes on higher income people in order to reduce the deficits? In particular, would you support a surtax on incomes of $1 million a year? If you would support a surtax, would you recommend a 5% rate or what level would you support?

In March, I introduced the Shared Responsibility in Preserving America’s Future Act which would require Congress pass a balanced budget amendment in exchange for a 5% surtax on individual income over $1 million a year. Without a balanced budget amendment added to the Constitution, I have little faith in Washington’s ability to kick its spending addiction. Additionally, the 5% surtax on individual income exceeding $1 million a year would generate $400 billion over 10 years that could be used to pay down our national debt. Permanent spending caps and funds to pay down the national debt will be a signal to job creators that Washington is serious about getting the economy back on track and putting people back to work.

  1. Priorities in spending: In choosing priorities for spending cuts, many people in the Delta would oppose cuts to programs that create or retain jobs or provide aid for the most vulnerable populations that are most damaged by the recession, especially in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to senior citizens, hunger and nutrition, flood control and disaster relief, veterans and housing; therefore, would you oppose cutting spending for these job creation and vital programs for the most vulnerable populations?

Medicare and Social Security are a promise made to seniors that must be kept. Just last month the Social Security Board of Trustees and the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund announced that the programs will run out of money sooner than expected. In Congress I am working to ensure that current Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries do not see a change in their benefits. Additionally, we must take steps to ensure these programs are available for future generations.

Keep in mind that our nation’s debt is higher than it has ever been. For our economy to recover and job creators to begin hiring more workers, Congress must show progress toward ending deficit spending and paying down our national debt.

Before I cast any vote I think about how it will affect my constituents. I pledge to continue keeping my constituents and their needs at the forefront.

When budgets are tight, rural America seems to be Washington’s target for funding cuts. That has certainly been the case with the Postal Service. Recently, plans were announced to close 3,652 post offices across the country, 100 of them in my district. After listening to my constituent’s concerns I introduced H.R. 3370, Protecting Our Rural Post Offices Act of 2011. H.R. 3370 prohibits the Postal Service from closing rural post offices that do not have an alternative post office within eight miles accessible by public roads. The Protecting Our Rural Post Offices Act will make sure rural Americans keep access to postal services. Americans living in rural communities rely on their post office for medicine deliveries, social security benefits and countless other needs. Access to postal services should not be limited to only urban areas.

  1. Transportation and other infrastructure: There have been very unfortunate and unwise delays in passing the new highway bill. Not only in this bill but in many infrastructure areas, there is substantial support in the Delta for major infrastructure and job creation investments, which would not only get the economy rolling but also repair our seriously deteriorating infrastructure. The WPA investments are a successful model for this type of beneficial investments.

Would you support a major, WPA-like program of job creation by major expansion and improvements in schools, roads (including the Interstate 69 Corridor and the entire Delta Development Highway System plan), bridges, broadband, rails, inland waterway systems and other essential infrastructure?

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have been an outspoken advocate for a long-term Highway Bill to address our nation’s aging infrastructure. A long-term bill would allow entities from the municipal, county, state and federal level to plan well into the future and to provide the roads, bridges and ports that are needed to get goods to market.

Just last week I was named to a Conference Committee of House and Senate members who will be charged with resolving the differences between the House and Senate Highway Bills. It is rare for freshman members to be appointed to a conference committee and I will use my seat on the committee to be a voice for the Delta and rural interests. My First Congressional District has more Mississippi River Frontage than any other in the Delta and I will work to ensure that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is actually used for Harbor Maintenance and dredging along the river.

Additionally, we must also realize that in 2012, information and goods do not just travel on roads and bridges. It is essential that rural regions like the Delta have access to high-speed internet for businesses and educational institutions to succeed. For too long the Delta has been underserved by the status quo. In Washington, I fight everyday for the interests of my district and to educate my colleagues about life in the Delta.

  1. Housing: In addition to the highly unfortunate and ill-advised efforts to cut funding for USDA rural housing programs, many people in the Delta believe that one of the weaknesses of the federal economic recovery programs has been thus far an inadequate program of cleaning up the mortgage and housing crisis. USDA’s new pilot program to help families refinance in the hardest hit states is a good start. But it should be expanded.

Would you agree that much more aggressive action needs to be taken to reduce the numbers of foreclosures and reduce the mortgage debt of many Americans whose housing values have declined?

Nothing good comes out of people losing their homes to foreclosure. I would gladly favor measures that would help people stay in their homes by adjusting monthly payment amounts through refinancing.

There are differing points of view about providing aid to the many home-owners who are struggling with foreclosures or heavy mortgage debt. Some believe that these people made unwise decisions regarding their mortgages and should be punished to set an example and avoid future unwise decisions. Others emphasize more that the recession and housing collapse was so severe, difficult to predict, that foreclosures harm not only the ones who lose their homes but their neighbors who have their housing values reduced, and that the damage to the economy from foreclosures and massive mortgage debt is so widespread that the priority should not be in punitive action against those in distress but in removing this road block to economic recovery.

Many housing experts believe that both points of view have some merit, but they emphasize that no one should pay more than 30% of their income for housing and a program that adjusts the length of payment for mortgage rather than foreclose could serve to fill both needs. The homes could remain occupied, saving property values for neighbors & helping owners keep their homes.

Which of these points of view has more merit, and what is your position regarding an aggressive program of federal aid in reducing mortgage payments and preventing foreclosures?

As I said above, nothing good comes out of people losing their homes to foreclosure. During my first term in Congress I have developed a good working relationship with other members of Congress who represent the Delta. Working together as a coalition of members we can have a greater impact on legislation. I will always put the people in my district ahead of Washington politics.