Guessing where Kurt Bills stands on the issues

State Rep. Kurt Bills

Where does state Rep. Kurt Bills stand on the issues he would face if he was elected to the U.S. Senate?

Beats me. I’ve only been waiting three weeks for an interview so I could ask him.

Bills, of Rosemount, a high school teacher and freshman legislator, is rumored to be the frontrunner for the Repub endorsement heading into this weekend’s convention in St. Cloud. That’s based on the belief that he is a Ron Paul acolyte and that the Paulites have played an inside game to get a lot of delegates slots to the convention.

The other guys seeking the endorsement dispute that Bills will prevail, and I wish them all the best of luck. I just think Rep. Bills ought to tell Minnesotans where he stands on the basic issues he would face if he beats incumbent Amy Klobuchar and becomes a U.S. senator. Bills’ chief rival, former soldier Pete Hegseth, answered my question the week he announced for the Senate, and I was tough on him. But he gets points for explaining his issue positions.

So I’ve been asking for an interview with Bills. I know his campaign manager Mike Osskopp got my emails, because he replied to some of them and said he would look for a time to get me on the phone with the candidate. But he never did, and now he’s ignoring requests even though I told him I would have to write about his candidate’s unwillingness to answer basic substantive issue questions.

I could take it personally, or flatter myself that it’s my fearsome interview style. But as far as I can tell, Bills isn’t giving many substantive interviews that I can find. There’s one quote from him in this Weekly Standard piece:

Bills says he aligns with Paul predominantly on economic issues. “We’re all Ron Paul fans on economics,” says Bills’s campaign manager, Mike Osskopp. When it comes to talking about foreign policy, Bills says, Israel is an important ally and America ought not retreat from the world stage, contrasting himself from some of Paul’s well-known foreign policy stances. But, Bills adds, Republicans have to campaign in 2012 on issues regarding federal spending and the economy, not world affairs.

“That’s not what we win on in November,” Bills says. Osskopp puts it more bluntly.

“Nobody cares anymore,” he says. “We’re all a little weary of war.”

At least one Bills critic has tried to hang even that little remark (which, you’ll note, didn’t even come directly from Bills) around Bills’ neck, calling him the “nobody cares anymore about national security candidate.”

That’s just silly. But it would be well worth knowing how much of Ron Paul’s general denunciation of recent wars and excessive military spending Bills shares.

Now, in the absence of an interview, if I really wanted to know about Bills’ issue positions, I suppose I could go to the “issues” page on his campaign website.

The very first section is his ideas on the federal budget, which is appropriate. Here’s the whole statement:

Federal Budget — The United States Senate should pass a budget; they haven’t since April 29, 2009, which is over 1,000 days. Our national debt now exceeds $15 trillion and is the direct result of unsustainable spending. If we want our children and our grandchildren to live with the same liberty and prosperity that we have, we must reverse this trend. Federal spending per household has grown more than 150% since 1965. The answers are straightforward. As your next U.S. Senator, I will work with fellow members to pass a budget, along with focusing on lowering spending. Unsustainable spending can be curbed by the federal government focusing on what it was designed to do as defined by the constitution.

This is purt near pitiful. For starters, can we stipulate that every member of Congress and everyone running for either house of Congress agrees with Rep. Bills that Congress should adopt a budget. Trouble is that with the House and Senate controlled by separate parties, and the Dem Senate majority being well short of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, the question is can the two parties compromise their very significant divisions over the relative roles of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

The question that Bills, and Klobuchar, and anyone else running for either house of Congress should answer is: What kind of compromise would cut across party lines?

In general, Republican unwillingness to agree to any deal that includes higher taxes on very high-income families and/or very profitable corporations has rendered progress on budget/deficit/debt issues very hard to achieve. There was that moment during one of the Repub presidential debates when every one of the candidates – each of whom claims to be horrified by the growing debt – said they wouldn’t make a deal that included tax increases and spending cuts (each of which would reduce the deficit) even if the deal was $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increase.

So if Rep. Bills would take a question or two on his budgetary thinking, I would ask him if would make a $10-for-$1 deal or even a (gasp) $2-for-$1 deficit-reduction deal.

Take a peek at Rep. Bills’ issue statements on Social Security and health care. He claims to have big ideas for improving them, but he doesn’t specify the ideas.  I think you might have a few follow-up questions.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/16/2012 - 09:50 am.

    budget resolutions

    Concerning senate procedures, I have been informed and to some extent my research indicates, that budget resolutions are not subject to filibuster and therefore can be passed by less than a filibuster proof majority. There are reasons why the senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution, but the need to put together 60 votes isn’t one of them.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/16/2012 - 05:23 pm.

      Budget control act

      It’s just not true there hasn’t been a budget passed. In fact, the Budget Control Act, which put the deal that ended the debt ceiling crisis into law, is a budget. More than a typical budget, which is just a congressional resolution with no force of law, this actually is law.

      But will Republicans get off their “no budget since 2009” talking point. No. It’s false, but it works too well to give up.

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 05/16/2012 - 09:55 am.

    Another worthless offering

    How many more worthless candidates will the GOPers field? One would think that, with the presence of the horrific Bachmann, it ewould be embarassment enough for the state.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/16/2012 - 09:56 am.

    A lawyer’s primer: If you don’t have the law, you argue the facts; if you don’t have the facts, you argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, then you argue the Constitution.

    Facts and positions are nothing but trouble. The less said the better. And if you can wrap in grand sounding pretension and platitudes, then it’s better. It’s a “wink and a nod” type of campaign–politics by dog whistle and publicly undisclosed agenda.

    By the way, on his website positions page, he has it exactly wrong related to “political virtue”.–unlike what he says, “political virtue” is taking the public interest as paramount, not one’s private interests.

    See: http://congress.indiana.edu/why-political-virtue-matters

    Kurt Bills, you don’t know his plans and he doesn’t either. And he doesn’t like political virtue, either.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/16/2012 - 10:06 am.

    No need for an intereview

    Republican positions are perfectly predictable, frankly there’s no need to interview him. The only thing Paulite’s might change is the emphasis on social issues and defense spending. They claim to be big on defense but as a practical matter we all know that if we had a much smaller military we wouldn’t be intervening all over the world, so the logic of non-intervention leads to a forgone conclusion.

  5. Submitted by Eric Black on 05/16/2012 - 10:12 am.

    Hiram is technically correct

    but the kind of budget the Senate can pass with less than 60 votes has no effect. It’s explained here — although your eyes may glaze a bit. Anyway, I stand by my point. Candidates should talk about how they can contribute to actual lawmaking and buedgetmaking in today’s deadlocked climate.

  6. Submitted by Tim Droogsma on 05/16/2012 - 10:24 am.

    Talk about “purt near pitiful”

    I’m not sure if Eric is being intentionally dishonest or just ignorant when he writes that the Democrats’ being “well short of a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority” has anything to do with the Senate’s failure to pass a budget.

    A Senate budget resolution is not subject to filibuster, and does not need 60 votes to pass. In fact, it doesn’t even need 50 votes, all it needs is a majority of those senators voting. For example, the 2009 budget resolution passed on a 48-45 vote.

    (This link – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/jack-lews-misleading-claim-about-the-senates-failure-to-pass-a-budget-resolution/2012/02/12/gIQAs11z8Q_blog.html – is the Washington Post’s “fact check” of the issue of budget resolutions.)

    The Senate’s failure to pass a budget is an incredible breach of its legal obligation, and it’s dishonest of Black to write that “every member of Congress and everyone running for either house of Congress agrees with Rep. Bills that Congress should adopt a budget.” In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said it would be “foolish” for the Senate to pass a budget because it would mean his members – including the hapless senators Klobuchar and Franken – would have to take a difficult vote favoring either a) tax hikes, b) deep spending cuts or c) trillion-dollar deficits.

    So Reid has simply refused for three years to have the Senate Budget Committee produce a budget resolution and bring it to the floor for a vote. It’s a violation of federal law (31 U.S. Code1105(a), requiring both houses of Congress to pass a budget), but Reid, Klobuchar and Franken have ignored the law with impunity, confident that media figures like Black will “have their back.”

    I’m not a delegate, and I don’t have a dog in the Republican senate endorsement fight, but I can’t really fault Rep. Bills for not taking the time to answer questions from a reporter that – at least on the topic of the federal budget – doesn’t really seem to know what he’s talking about.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/16/2012 - 03:37 pm.

      Procedure

      Tim–
      I suggest you look up the sequence of actions needed to get a resolution onto the floor for a vote.

      • Submitted by Tim Droogsma on 05/16/2012 - 06:57 pm.

        Budget resolution process

        Mr. Brandon – The Budget Resolution is prepared in, and passed out of, the Senate Budget Committee, then sent to the floor of the Senate. This is supposed to be done by April 15 of each year. By rule, it cannot be filibustered.

        At least, that’s how it was done during the four years I worked in the Senate for a senator on the Budget Committee. If the process has changed since then, perhaps you can enlighten me as to the changes.

        The Democrat-controlled Senate Budget Committee has not passed a budget resolution since 2009, during which time more than $2 trillion has been added to the national debt, bringing the total national debt to somewhere around $15.7 trillion.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/16/2012 - 10:31 am.

    Check his record

    Rep. Bills has not been in the House very long, but he has nonetheless cast votes and sponsored legislation. As far as I can tell, his votes have been pretty run-of-the-mill Republican party-line votes. His legislation raises some interesting questions. For example, does he think the US, as well as the state of Minnesota, should return to gold and metal coinage as the basis of our monetary system?

  8. Submitted by Ross Williams on 05/16/2012 - 10:34 am.

    How would an interview with you inform people

    This is the internet Eric, people don’t need you to cherry-pick information when you can provide a link. That is, if your goal is really to inform people. Here is the link to Kurt Bill’s stand on issues: http://kurtbills.com/issues/.

    What you appear to be complaining about is that he won’t give you an exclusive interview that will help you to attract readers and sell advertising. That isn’t really the purpose of elections though and Bills has no responsibility to help you do either of those things.

    He is running for the Republican nomination for Senate, a decision made by the elected Republican state convention delegates. How many of those folks are relying on you to inform them? I suspect the answer is close to none.

    If he wins that nomination, he has a lot of time to inform voters about his positions. I am sure he will have a plan for doing that. Whether that will include providing you with exclusive content is another question.

    Frankly, I suspect most voters have little need to know or care what Bills’ positions are. They think Amy Klobuchar has done a good job and plan to vote for her. Unless he can get people to reconsider that decision, his own positions are irrelevant.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/16/2012 - 03:40 pm.

      Swing voters

      Bills will need more than just registered Republicans to win an election.
      It’s those independent voters who will register something other than Fox news.

      • Submitted by Ross Williams on 05/16/2012 - 04:35 pm.

        Swing Voters?

        And how many of those “swing voters” are going to form their opinions while reading Eric Black on MnPOST in May? None. That Bills isn’t willing to spend time right now doing interviews with glorified bloggers is not an indication he doesn’t intend to educate voters about his stands on issues.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/16/2012 - 11:23 am.

    “The United States Senate should pass a budget”

    You’re missing his point. Not only hasn’t the democrat-controlled senate “passed” a budget in over 1,000 days, they haven’t even SUBMITTED one for approval in over 1,000 days.

    Also, I repeat my suggestion that if you’re taking your role as a political journalist seriously, that Amy Klobuchar be asked to answer these same questions.

    I’m still waiting for anyone to ask her anything substantive.

  10. Submitted by Joe Williams on 05/16/2012 - 12:00 pm.

    Senate and budget

    One could argue that the House is just as irresponsible in its budgeting as the Senate.

    Plus, the budget control act was a lot more concrete than a non-binding budget resolution, and the Senate has passed that.

    Interviews are important, and the opportunity to differentiate yourself from another talking-point spewing automaton should be taken at every opportunity, unless that is what the candidate really is. Good luck getting the interview!

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/16/2012 - 12:06 pm.

    Budgets

    Thanks, Eric, for your response. The fact is, like any legislative action intended to have a legal effect, a budget resolution must be passed by both houses of Congress. With respect to the deeming issue, it really makes little sense to deem that something has happened when it hasn’t. The real reason the senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution is political and practical. It would involve choices that are politically unpopular, and legislators have little or no incentive to support politically unpopular measures that have no chance of being enacted into law. In the current political climate, any budget resolution passed by the senate will do nothing more than provide an opportunity for the Republican leadership in the house to hold a press conference declaring it dead on arrival. This dynamic, by the way, is inherent with bicameral legislatures. It works much the same way in the Minnesota legislature. Often there is some sort of charade where the majority party proposes some version of a minority budget, in Minnesota it’s Dayton’s budget, just in order to make the minority take a difficult vote, usually against the budget. It’s the sort of gamesmanship that when either party does it, and both parties do it, isn’t greeted with nearly the scorn it deserves.

  12. Submitted by Eric Black on 05/16/2012 - 12:22 pm.

    I’m responding to Tim Droogsma

    who knows more about politics and Senate procedures than I do. I already supplied a link to the Economist (here it is again)  explaining why a Senate budget resolution passed with fewer than 60 votes has no effect. The piece starts from the very Wash Post piece Mr. Droogsma cited.

    It would be fine with me, in fact it would be good, if the Senate (by which we mean the Senate Dems) would adopt a budget resolution. I give credit to the House Repubs for adopting the Ryan blueprint. But it wouldn’t change anything if the Senate adopted a budget resolution, which would presumably differ on most of its key points from the House majority.

    On the scale from substantive discussion to empty talking point, focusing on the lack of a “Senate budget” is much closer to the talking point end of the scale.

    If I could interview Rep. Bills, I would be happy to ask him whether he embraces the House Republican budget, and if not where he differs with it. That budget answers many of the questions that Bills’ “issues” page avoids. He wants to reduce the deficit. He wants to put Social Security and Medicare on a sustainable basis. He wants to simplify the tax code. He even says he know what it would take to do these things. He should specify.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/16/2012 - 12:22 pm.

    Bills

    In glancing at the link above, particularly with respect to what he says about the fed and money, it’s clear enough that Bills takes Ron Paul’s view of things.

  14. Submitted by Eric Black on 05/16/2012 - 12:56 pm.

    I’m responding to Tim Droogsma

    who knows more about politics and Senate procedures than I do. I already supplied a link to the Economist (here it is again)  explaining why a Senate budget resolution passed with fewer than 60 votes has no effect. The piece starts from the very Wash Post piece Mr. Droogsma cited.

    It would be fine with me, in fact it would be good, if the Senate (by which we mean the Senate Dems) would adopt a budget resolution. I give credit to the House Repubs for adopting the Ryan blueprint. But it wouldn’t change anything if the Senate adopted a budget resolution, which would presumably differ on most of its key points from the House majority.

    On the scale from substantive discussion to empty talking point, focusing on the lack of a “Senate budget” is much closer to the talking point end of the scale.

    If I could interview Rep. Bills, I would be happy to ask him whether he embraces the House Republican budget, and if not where he differs with it. That budget answers many of the questions that Bills’ “issues” page avoids. He wants to reduce the deficit. He wants to put Social Security and Medicare on a sustainable basis. He wants to simplify the tax code. He even says he know what it would take to do these things. He should specify.

  15. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/16/2012 - 01:26 pm.

    Positions? What positions?

    Neal Rovick is right on target.

    From Mr. Bills’ website, a selection…

    FEDERAL BUGDET: “…The answers are straightforward. As your next U.S. Senator, I will work with fellow members to pass a budget, along with focusing on lowering spending. Unsustainable spending can be curbed by the federal government focusing on what it was designed to do as defined by the constitution.”

    What does any of this MEAN? If the answers are straightforward, why not at least suggest what those answers might be?

    FEDERAL RESERVE BANK: “…Stealing the purchasing power of working class people by printing money keeps interest rates low and encourages people to go further into debt rather than save. This is one of the most morally corrupt policies I have witnessed in my study and teaching of economics.”

    One of the very few problems the country has NOT had to deal with since the collapse of the housing bubble has been inflation, yet Mr. Bills devotes more space on his web page to this answer than any other. Why? Yes, inflation can be a problem – but unless it’s out of control, it tends to work to the benefit of borrowers (i.e., workers). DEflation, whereby the dollar becomes worth relatively more rather than less because of a shrinking money supply, tends to benefit those who already HAVE lots of dollars. Can you say “The one percent?”

    HEALTHCARE: “…Obamacare is becoming an even greater infringement on our rights and economy than we ever imagined…”

    The Obama administration’s health care reform package has basically not been put into action yet, nor will it be until next year at the earliest. What rights are being infringed upon by a change in the national health care system that hasn’t even begun?

    “…I will work to slow down and eliminate mandates that expand control over the private healthcare system. Doing so will drive costs down, improve services and provide the patient with control…”

    The private health care system is the PROBLEM, Mr. Bills, not the solution. If you have the money, you can get the best health care in the world. If you don’t have the money, good luck at the ER. That’s why health care reform has been a topic of conversation for at least a decade. My last routine visit to the doctor – 15 minutes, plus the same simple blood tests I’ve been getting done for 15 years to monitor cholesterol and blood sugar– was billed at $688. THAT’S the problem, and no mandates were involved.

    SOCIAL SECURITY: “…I am ready to go to Washington to work with those who are ready to make difficult decisions and reform the system…”

    How? What decisions?

    TAXES: “…Simplifying the tax code and ensuring the best return on the taxpayers’ investment needs to be one of Congress’s top priorities…”

    Who does not want a fair tax code? And how will you “simplify” it?

    TRADE DEFICITS: “…The less the federal government is involved in this process, the fewer lobbyists and interest groups there will be in Washington…”

    First, there’s no proof of this assertion. Second, any nation worth mentioning has its national government controlling its trade policies. To suggest otherwise is foolishness.

    JOBS & THE ECONOMY: “In 1930, federal spending was 3.4% of GDP and the average of government expenditures since World War II has been 18%…”

    It’s Mark Twain’s line: “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Odd – very odd – the Bills would choose 1930 as a year to cite, since the Great Depression was under way by then, and the federal government, in Republican hands, was loathe to spend money on anything, including national defense. No wonder federal spending was 3.4% of GDP.

    …As a public school teacher, I know that the only way my classroom is funded is through a vibrant private sector economy…”

    Mr. Bills has not been paying attention.

    HOUSING: “…The housing market crash was just another great folly of the politicians and bureaucrats who think they can plan an economy better than the market can naturally guide it…”

    There is no free market. Never has been. Never will be. The housing market collapse was brought about by deregulated private “investment” banks driven by greed to package fraudulent securities. Had Glass-Steagall regulations still been in place, there’d have been no “investment banks” (an oxymoronic term), far less inflation of housing prices, and far less likelihood of the collapse we’ve all suffered from.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/16/2012 - 03:48 pm.

      You’re a better man than I am

      I would not have had the patience to wade through this combination of tired bromides, vague promises, and economic hallucination. Thank you for doing it for us.

  16. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/16/2012 - 07:12 pm.

    Senator Bills?

    Fortunately, Mr Bills has as much chance of defeating Amy Klobuchar as I have of winning the Power Ball.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/17/2012 - 10:57 am.

    Who needs the media at all Mr. Black?

    Hey, since we can all just go a candidates web site for the unadulterated truth, what do we need you or anyone else for Eric? Why should any candidate give any interviews at all? And what’s with this thinly veiled attempt to pump up your exposure using poor Mr. Bills as pawn in your liberal game of celebrity? And while we’re at it: why do you hate America?

  18. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/17/2012 - 03:44 pm.

    Heard Rep. Bills

    On MPR this morning. He was evasive. Refused to give any detailed answers and defensively hostile when pressed.

    I woudn’t buy a used car from this guy, let alone give him a position of responsibility and power in the US Senate.

  19. Submitted by Mark Borchardt on 05/19/2012 - 06:48 am.

    Just curious

    I would be truly curious to see a journalist, interview any of the sitting representatives or senators with a list of their previous campaign promises. I would like to see this put against their voting record and against their effectiveness in meeting those promises. And be tough on all of them, why wouldn’t you be. Let’s hold those who have already gained our trust accountable first. I realize this requires more work as a journalist, but it should, after all, be part of the job.

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