As part of The 5in5 Project, I spoke with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) about his chances, his focus on attracting national attention to himself and the emergence of his colleague, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the GOP’s vice presidential pick.
A transcript of our conversation, conducted Monday at the Iowa State Fair, appears below. It has been edited for length and clarity:
2chambers: What was your reaction to Paul Ryan’s selection as the vice presidential candidate?
King: He speaks, people listen, he listens to them. Paul listens to me. To have someone who has as deep an understanding of our financial situation and our budget, I don’t think there’s anyone else like that. He’s an outstanding debater, he would love to be debating President Obama directly.
And I think the Ryan selection gives the Romney ticket a chance to take this directly to Barack Obama in a way that probably couldn’t have been done by anybody else.
When I last visited with you in early April, I remember a woman at your town hall meeting in Harlan asking about aspects of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, specifically the changes in farm policy. That budget passed the House — with your support — and the guy who wrote the budget is now your party’s vice presidential nominee. Can you run on a ticket with him when there are farmers in your district who disagree with Ryan’s plan?
I think we already have advanced down that path a ways by eliminating direct payments to farmers. That’s a huge philosophical departure since what we’ve seen since the 1930s. Yes, we’ll stand on it.
And — remember that our farmers in Iowa — who grow corn and soybeans — most of them have crop insurance, so they’re going to be okay. It’s livestock producers who feel the most pressure, because feed prices are going up, and livestock prices are going down.
Let me ask you more directly: If a voter comes up to you and says do you support Paul Ryan’s plan to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in farm and food aid, what’s your answer?
I’d say let’s put that list down in front, because we won’t be making that decision one at a time.
But you did pass the House budget, Ryan’s budget.
But remember, it’s a guideline, it’s a road map. I have stuck with those numbers in that budget, and I plan to stick with them, but in fact, I think we need to be more aggressive.
The farm community has said, we’re willing to take our cuts. If they’re willing to do so, so am I.
What is forgotten is that at least 78 percent of this Farm Bill is nutrition. It’s gotten completely out of hand. Not that long ago, we had about 19 million people on food stamps. The last real number I saw was 44.7 million. And the USDA is spending millions to advertise to get more people on food stamps.
What do you tell that voter who says I can’t support you or Paul Ryan because you’re going to change Medicare?
I would remind them that Democrats have been now for more than two years arguing that Republicans who voted for the budget are for “ending Medicare as we know it.”
That phrase — “as we know it” — will become very well-known as the classic weasel phrase. If you change my hairdo — if you pull one hair out of my head — you have changed my hairdo “as we know it.”
And then Iowans, I think, are probably the most politically astute state that there is, but all I need to do is say, are you over or under 55? The people who will be ginned up on this, I’ve met them, I’ve seen them ginned up and have them come into my town hall meetings. They’re 75 and up — it will not affect them.
I want to ask you some questions that I plan to ask each candidate I speak with this week: What’s been the biggest change in Iowa in the last two years?
We’re working on a new four-lane highway to Sioux City; that’s a big priority for me. That change is taking place, and it’s a clear and it’s vivid.
We’ve had prosperous years, and they’ve been laid over several years to be the best years in agriculture that Iowa has ever had. Ever. That’s built capital. Land prices when I came in were $60 billion; today it’s over $200 billion. So $140 billion in capital sitting around there, you can do a lot with that. And we have.
One of the arguments that the Democrats continue to make against you is that you seem more interested in spending time on Fox News or on radio than you do about the local issues of concern to your constituents. How do you respond to that?
First of all, I wish that she [Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack] would debate me so we could have this conversation face-to-face.
[Editor’s Note: Negotiations over debates continue, but King and Vilsack are scheduled to debate on WHO radio on Sept. 6.]
I have a lot of plates spinning. If I see a little plate where I can get it spinning, I want to get it spinning. I can drive a lot of agendas simultaneously. That’s always been my style. That’s what I had to do to start and operate a business.
But the reason that I do the media that I do is this: I’m moving the political center to the right. There’s no more effective way to do that than to talk to the media. I could, if I wanted to just protect my seat, I could just go around shaking hands and being with people face-to-face and I’d leave this agenda. And I’d vote my district and say I did what I could do.
But I want to move the American agenda in the direction of the belief of Iowans. And that’s my job. So that’s working with the media, and that’s the best way.
Beyond jobs and the economy — if there was a pet issue you could get passed in Congress, what would it be?
I’d put English as the official language out there. It’s an 87 percent issue; it unifies America. I’d put it out there, and it would make us feel good about ourselves again. That’s an easy one to do.
Who’s your favorite Democrat? Or one you admire?
If I actually had that kind of sentiment, it would be foolish for me to say. But I would tell you that the best friend I have who’s a Democrat is Dennis Kucinich. When it was becoming apparent that I was going to miss my son’s wedding because of the vote on Obamacare, we looked to him to come to the wedding with me to cancel each other’s vote out so I could be at my son’s wedding.
He would have done it, but he voted no too because it wasn’t liberal enough for him.
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