U.S. Rep. Tim Walz says he is frustrated by the lack of action on the farm bill and other major pieces of legislation in the lame-duck session of Congress.
"Nothing's happening," Walz, who represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, said Wednesday. "We're not voting today. We're not doing anything. We had a hearing on the cost of snacks on Amtrak trains or something today."
The DFL representative, who won re-election to his fourth term in Congress earlier this month, said leaders from both political parties are not doing enough to make progress on big issues.
Walz discussed the lame-duck session with MPR's Tom Crann. An edited transcript of the interview is below.
Tom Crann: As far as you're concerned, what's going to need to happen to resolve these fiscal issues that are called the "fiscal cliff" by the end of the year deadline you're working on?
Rep. Tim Walz: Well, broadly, compromises. Get a balanced approach. Get a long-term deficit reduction plan but don't do anything that hurts short-term recovery and growth. And I think that's possible, and I also, if we could come together on this, we have tackled much more difficult things in this country, and I really think, you know, the ideologically rigid positions that don't allow any negotiation at all have held us up for two years, to be very honest.
Crann: What about cuts to entitlements, and specifically things like Medicare and Medicaid? Are they on the table as far as you're concerned?
Walz: I tell people I think it's disingenuous for me to be angry about people taking a tax pledge to not say that I would look at anything that's out there, but I also think it's very disingenuous to somehow say that Social Security in any way or what we've done for seniors is added to the cost. And the bottom line for me is that entitlement reform doesn't necessarily require cutting benefits for people. It means being more efficient, which we've also said. And I would argue if we allow the Affordable Care Act to be implemented correctly, that's where we can get a lot of savings.
Crann: Now Senate Democrats are saying today, Harry Reid, against touching Social Security. How about in the House, your colleagues?
Walz: I think that's pretty common, too. I think most of us know Social Security doesn't add to the debt. I've also said if you want to fix Social Security, just raise the withholding up to the member of Congress' salary and leave it at that. Social Security is solvent for 71 years then. So, Social Security is actually the easy fix in this.
It's the Medicare one, and as I've said all along, I'm certainly not turning a blind eye to it, as an aging population and the skyrocketing costs of health care, we've got to do something there. That's why I have insisted, and many great organizations that deliver high-quality health care, we have to change to a well-care system away from that.
And I'm certainly willing to look at how we do that, but I think this knee-jerk reaction that, 'We're going to raise the retirement age,' which you know if you're working at the Swift plant out in Worthington cutting hogs all day, working until you're 70 is a little bit more daunting than sitting in an office and doing it.
Crann: I want you to tell me about the mood on Capitol Hill since the election. Are you seeing more of a spirit of cooperation and compromise now than before?
Walz: Well I think so ... I'm just still assuming that the end of December is the drop dead date, and there's no reason we can't get that done. People have to pay their mortgage on time. People have to go to work. And I don't say that as a cliche. It's just reality. I think that there's more people here (that) get that.
I have to be honest with you, though, I'm very frustrated. Nothing's happening. We're not voting today. We're not doing anything. We had a hearing on the cost of snacks on Amtrak trains or something today. It's very frustrating that what I'm seeing from rank and file members is a sense of doing the American public's bidding, but I have to tell you from what we're hearing out of leadership on both sides of the aisle is it's not as much progress as I'd like to see.
Crann: Let's talk about the farm bill. It expired at the end of September. You've said you want to get a farm bill done in this lame duck period here. What happens if you don't or can't?
Walz: Well, certain programs, the subsidy cost to milk, and I said there's a potential of milk going up to over $7 a gallon because it goes back to the 1940s version. We keep making direct payments to pay people for not growing crops, which makes no sense.
Crann: And that would not be in the new farm bill?
Walz: No. We get rid of those things, we save $36 billion. The reason I'm asking for it is that it gives the security ... both to the growers and to the nutrition programs and things that are out there. We've streamlined the system, going more to a market-based approach on crop insurance, and the fact of the matter is that yes, people use nutrition programs, the vast majority, children and elderly, at a time when the economy is not as strong.
Crann: You're talking about what we call food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Walz: That's right, SNAP programs. And so I've asked for it. It's done. It's written. It's bipartisan. It's got two-thirds of the majority of the House agriculture committee. It's ready to go. It makes no sense for us to not be able to multi-task here. We've got national defense authorization to go. We've got a lot of these things that we should be doing, but as I've said, these week, and I think the public will be very frustrated with this, we've taken two votes on naming post offices, I believe.
Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran.