Tom Emmer, an attorney and former state legislator from Delano, is the only freshman in Minnesota’s congressional delegation. The 53-year-old Republican represents the Sixth District, which includes large portions of central Minnesota. Twin Cities Business recently spoke with Emmer about key issues. What follows are edited excerpts from the interview.
When you were campaigning, what were the top concerns you heard from the business sector?
TE: They want to have someone who is there that can actually respond to them. It’s a customer service situation. They want to have you available and they want an office that’s responsive to them. In St. Cloud, they want to have quarterly meetings. They want to create a business roundtable so they can get a download on what’s happening in Washington. More importantly, they want to say, “These are our needs, these are the issues that we see.”
Your district has a diverse economic base. Have businesses from various industries raised common concerns with you?
TE: The No. 1 issue that got louder and louder toward the end of the campaign was a concern about uncontrolled and rising health care costs. I was also hearing from our community bankers on a regular basis about Dodd-Frank [the financial regulatory act that became law in 2010]. Everybody was suggesting that perhaps the intent behind Dodd-Frank was a laudable, good-faith goal to protect consumers. But in the end, it has had many unintended consequences that are making it more difficult for community bankers to do their job. The regulatory process has become so severe and so burdensome.
Your predecessor, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare. As a new member of Congress, are you focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act or fixing it?
TE: This is [President Obama’s] signature piece of legislation. The odds of him actually signing a repeal bill in the next two years … I don’t know. I’m not a gambling person, but if I were, I don’t know that I’d bet on that. The administration is, by virtue of [implementation] extensions, acknowledging that the law as drafted does not work.
In the short term, there are going to be specific pieces of the law that will be addressed by Republicans and Democrats alike within the Congress, giving the executive an opportunity to take these pieces out. As far as an overall repeal, obviously we’ll have to wait and see what the leadership does with it.
But I think Republicans need to be focused on making it clear, this was [the Democrats’] idea. A government, top-down, one-size-fits-all federal solution was not the answer. And Republicans need to be focused on creating more opportunities for small employers to pool together and get the discounts that large employers get, tie health insurance to the individual instead of the job and provide for insurance purchases across state lines. At this point, you have to address the pieces of the law that aren’t working, and we have to keep putting out our solutions.
Your neighboring congressman Collin Peterson, a moderate Democrat, voted against the Affordable Care Act. Do you think he is someone you could work with within the Minnesota delegation?
TE: What we need to be talking about are free-market solutions. We need to put people back in charge of their health care. To the extent that Collin Peterson or any other colleague in Congress is interested in promoting these free-market solutions, absolutely I would love to work with them.
A Democratic president and a Republican Congress seem to be far apart on immigration reform. In Minnesota, the Chamber of Commerce has said the current immigration system is “broken and needs fixing now.” What approach do you plan to take on immigration?
TE: First and foremost, you secure your borders. Second, you make sure you identify the folks that are here and try to assist local law enforcement. When the chamber says that immigration is broken, all right, where is it not working? Is it in terms of making sure the process is fair and equal for anyone who wants to come to this great country? Or is it trying to help certain corporations attract some very talented people from across the world in certain work scenarios?
Although the U.S. economy has been undergoing a modest recovery, many American workers are struggling because their wages have stagnated. What do you think needs to happen before workers will start to see their incomes rise?
TE: You’ve got to reduce the overall tax burden on individuals and corporations alike. You’ve got to streamline regulation, eliminate excessive regulation, because that in and of itself creates costs in the private marketplace. And thirdly, you have to have a monetary policy in place that promotes a strong U.S. dollar. If you do those three things, you will see greater and stronger economic growth.
Liz Fedor is the Trending editor of Twin Cities Business.
This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.