When I last spoke with Nebraska’s senior U.S. Senator, Deb Fischer, it was on one of my very first podcasts on The Wheels Down Politics Show. It turned out that I rambled on and on, and only eventually let the Senator get a few words in edge-wise. (Hey, I was new…)
So four months later, we spoke on the phone again, and this time she is the first person I have interviewed for a non-audio format
We sort of free-wheeled it and she hit a number of different issues in front of the Senate and in the public eye…
I asked her about the current Trade deals going through Congress now. (First, I would note that it can be very tricky to distinguish between the TPA, the TPP and the TAA, among others. The Washington Post put together a primer on these.)
But focusing just on the TPA — to give the President the authority to negotiate a trade agreement, then have Congress have an up or down vote — Senator Fischer has a few thoughts:
After the Senate passed the original TPA bill, the House passed their version and it will now come back to the Senate. I am for it. It puts the United States at the table so the Administration can negotiate agreements. Some get nervous about it, or some aren’t in favor because of who is in the White House. But this is for a six-year period, and there will be a new President in January 2017.
I believe any President needs to have that authority so we can export our products. Nebraskans understand how important that is. What carried us through the economic down times is the agriculture economy in Nebraska.
Any large trade agreements take months and months to hammer out. They would otherwise need an OK before they could take that next step, so the TPA helps accomplish that. I support Trade.
But the TAA — the Trade Adjustment Assistance — is another animal, which provides assistance to those who would lose their job because of a trade agreement (however that is defined). This is a Democrat priority. However, the House Democrats didn’t do the President any favors, as Senator Fischer noted:
The Democrats in the House gave a slap to the President. And he hasn’t developed any relationships in his own party to get their support on an agreement that is important to him.
In the meantime the TPA will be on the President’s desk. It’s then up to the President and House members to get the Democrats to vote with him. This is a Democrat program.
And about those Unions, who are the ones preventing the TAA from passing in the House?
The Senate Democrats were willing to go with the combined agreements — but they were Senators from states without a strong Union presence. The Unions threatened to withhold any campaign contributions to any Members who supported this trade agreement.
I get tired of those who scream and yell about the influence of the Koch brothers. I’ve never even met them. Yet the Unions rank way above the Koch brothers in influence. You never hear all of the lopsided stories about the problem the Unions made for the Democrats.
I asked about a recent National Journal story that talked about the political problems of passing the Defense Appropriations bill in the Senate. Senator Fischer noted that this should be the top priority of the Federal Government.
We followed the process and took up Republican and Democrat amendments — and accepted amendments from both sides. In the end only 4 Democrats voted against the bill in Committee. But we are now hearing that President Obama will issue a veto.
This is a bill that authorizes funding for the military. National defense is the number one priority of the Federal government, and giving the military the resources they need is the top priority.
The Defense Appropriations bill is what pays for it, yet it didn’t pass — on a strict party line vote. The American people won’t stand for that — to say we won’t give the money for equipment and training.
This isn’t because because of caps or sequestration — this is because they say we also have to fund the EPA and the IRS. So so we can’t fund the military? This is a Democrat protest.
Senator Fischer also added there is a new benefit to members of the military in the Defense bill, that was never there before — a 401(k) for the military.
This is a new idea for them — which is an old one for people in other professions — just because change is hard. But we are an all-volunteer force and we want to make it attractive for people to stay in. Before, service members could only get a pension if they were in for 20 years. Now, if we can add a 401(k) for people in less than 20 years, it will make the military more welcoming.
Senator Fischer recently returned from a trip to Central and Eastern Europe. Looking at military issues, she had meeting and briefings in Stuttgart with members of the African and European command on issues ranging from immigration to counter-terrorism.
She then visited and met with the Prime Ministers and Defense Ministers and ambassadors in Estonia, the Czech Republic and Romania.
We had classified briefings in Estonia — the first time I had one presented by another country. The Estonians were very open with us.
They have many challenges from their immediate neighbor to the east, Russia. They face cyber attacks from them. Belligerent actions. Troop movements. They belive that Russia and President Putin only respect strength. If the Russians think you are weak, they will push it to the limit.
The Estonians want more Americans there — stationed there permanently and a strong NATO presence. Their hope is that in the event of a Russian invasion, they could hold on for 72 hours before NATO forces could arrive.
They love the United States, for one reason because the US never recognized the Baltic takeover by the Soviet Union.
The Estonians wanted to talk about Russia. The Czechs wanted to talk about Russia. And the Romanians wanted to talk about Russia. They would all feel more comfortable with a NATO presence.
An update on Senator Fischer’s transportation bill — the Build USA Act (S.1296).
More Senators want to learn more about it.
The bill is based on what we did in Nebraska for the buy-back program (not LB84, the specific roads funding bill) where cities and counties can exchange money with the Department of Roads and advance projects that have been held up. It’s an exchange program — which will need a new bank for states to exchange Federal money — and they will still have to meet certain rules, but won’t have to jump through as many hoops for Federal dollars
It works great in Nebraska and would be great at the Federal level.
Finally, with time winding down, I got to ask Senator Fischer about the BIG issue of the day: Changing the face on the $10 bill.
Well, maybe not so much to her…
I get kind of tired of this stuff. What women care about is security — not who is on the $10 bill.
Women want security for families, economic security, national security — what all other Americans want. Sometimes when we look at things like whose face is on the currency, we lose what should be our main focus.
And people don’t carry cash anyway! (laughter)
Symbols are good. I realize that I’m a symbol to many, and I take it seriously. It is moving when people bring their kids here. People especially want their young daughters to stand with me — and that’s important, because we need to show people what is possible. You can be male or female and achieve whatever you want.
And Senator Fischer noted one of HER role models…
(Third District Congresswoman) Virginia Smith was quite a wonderful representative. I have one of her ads, that I found about ten months ago, from her first race. I had kept an old Valentine (Nebraska) newspaper because of a recipe, and as I was going through it, there was a Virginia Smith for Congress ad. So I cut it out and kept it
And it is now framed in my office.
Whew that was a lot of writing!
Next time we’re going podcast.