That’s the No. 1 issue Republican Rep. Robert Hurt says he is hearing about from constituents across Virginia’s vast North Carolina-to-Northern Virginia 5th District.
Hurt is a 45-year-old lawyer born in Manhattan who returned to his Southside Virginia roots to raise a family, and to continue a political career that began locally, moved to Richmond and then went national with his successful 2010 challenge to Democrat Tom Perriello in the 5th District (which has since been redistricted to include Rappahannock County). He easily won a second term in 2012, and now he’s focused on jobs — and keeping his own (“I’m taking nothing for granted,” as he put it) — in the Nov. 4 race against Democrat Lawrence Gaughan.
Libertarian Paul Jones and Independent Green Party candidate Ken Hildebrandt are also on the ballot.
Actor and voter-turnout activist Gaughan, 47, who hails from Perriello’s Albemarle County but moved to Danville — Hurt’s stomping grounds — before the campaign began, has raised just shy of $70,000 for his campaign. As of this week, Hurt’s campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org, has raised $1.14 million.
Hurt spoke to the Rappahannock News on a brief visit Tuesday to Washington, part of his last-two-week push “to see as many people as we can.”
Rappahannock News: In his interview with us this summer, your opponent Lawrence Gaughan pointed to your opposition in your first two terms to various federal job-creating initiatives — mostly in the areas of building transportation infrastructure, health care and education.
Robert Hurt: On the issue of jobs . . . there’s no question that that’s the No. 1 issue facing the district, which . . . if you look at it as a whole, it’s 23 counties and cities, from the North Carolina line all the way up to Fauquier County. But especially when you get to the southern part of the district, we have places with unemployment as high as 10 percent.
It strikes me that we as policy makers need to be doing everything that we can, whether it deals with tax code, or trade policy, or health care policy, education policy, labor policy, environmental policy, or especially energy policy. . . . We need to remember that all those have a direct impact on those who, in the private sector, are creating jobs. And that’s been . . . my policy has been that the job growth that we want to see, across the 5th district, are private sector jobs. And I think the way to promote that, private-sector job growth, is to have policies that make it easier for those small mom-and-pop businesses to succeed, for small farms to succeed.
And if you look at the balance sheet of the spending that goes on in a small business, especially on a farm, energy is, if not the largest, one of the largest inputs into their business . . . . One of the things we’ve seen on the southern side of the state is there’s been an interesting growth of plastics-oriented businesses. They’re very excited about natural gas opportunities . . .
I’m very proud of [my] record on voting for bills that promote job growth. If you look at the House bills that I would say are jobs-related, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of bills that we’ve passed in this Congress that we’ve sent to the Senate [where they] haven’t been acted upon.
RN: These are initiatives meant to create private-sector jobs.?
RH: The bottom line is, we spend $3.5 trillion a year, we borrow 15 cents on every dollar that we spend to support that $3.5 trillion, so all we’re doing every year is adding to the debt, a debt that right now stands at $18 trillion. I think we need to have a robust private sector — a growing, thriving private sector — to help grow us out of this deficit spending, as well as ultimately pay down this debt.
Seems to me that government jobs cost tax dollars, whereas private sector jobs contribute tax dollars.
RN: What do you think about the president’s health care law? The political dynamic could change; if the current polls prevail, there may be a Republican House and Senate. Would you vote to repeal it?
RH: I go on the record very clearly as being against the president’s health care law. I would vote to repeal it, but I’ll make a couple of points. No. 1, as I’ve traveled over the last six months, and particularly, interestingly, in the last couple of weeks, every single day I hear a new story from somebody who says, “I got a notice in the mail, my policy’s cancelled, I was told I could keep what I wanted, I’m now being told that I can’t have what I had,” and also those who say, “My policy has gone from $700 to $1400 dollars.”
I mean, those are the real impacts of that law, in terms of those that are really hurting jobs, and they’re really hurting people. Now, I’ll be the first to say about the president’s health care law: He rightly identified that health care costs are driving up government spending . . . . I’d be the first to say the health care system and the cost of health care need to be reined in, and reformed. I just disagree with the way that he did it . . . And so, I would vote to repeal it but I think it’s extremely important to say, in the same sentence . . . that I also believe we need to have market-based reforms . . . like the ability of insurance companies to sell policies across state lines. My philosophy is, if you want to drive down the cost of anything, we need to have more competition.
RN: Have you seen a system that you think would work?
RH: I believe there are a couple of dozen proposals that, in toto, would comprise a reform package. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It will be difficult. But at least two cornerstones that I think could certainly be the basis for it, would be, again this idea of allowing health insurance companies to compete across state lines, and the second one would be certainly tort reform — having significant tort reform, because the cost of defensive medicine, and the cost of the doctors doing tests just so they can testify in a deposition that they did a test, whether it’s necessary or not, those things add real costs to the health care. A third one would be encouraging Americans to use HSAs, health savings accounts, which I think are very forward-thinking in terms of giving a little more skin in the game to the patients who make the decisions and use those dollars, and encouraging them to use those dollars wisely.
RN: You haven’t heard from any constituents with (Obamacare) success stories?
RN: It’s hard to say. . . . I guess the answer is, I really haven’t. I’m not saying there aren’t people who aren’t very happy with the subsidized policy that they’ve gotten, maybe many people who haven’t had policies in the past, I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m sure they do, but . . . I guess they’re not the ones you hear from . . . you often hear from people who are very upset that they’ve lost their policy or . . . the rates have gotten jacked up. Or their employer has cut their hours from 40 to 29. Or the employer has just cancelled, and said, “I can’t afford to do any more health care.”
RN: Other issues besides jobs and health care that voters talk to you about?
RH: Jobs is the biggest one, no question. The second, I would say, is the spending in Washington . . . That is a long-term, tragic future for this country if we can’t get that straightened out. . . . It’s predicted that the unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security . . . are approaching $100 trillion. So the long-term prospects for strength in this country, and opportunity and prosperity, are dimmed by this outlook. I think people are very concerned about that. What we have done, in a bipartisan way, not an easy way, or a pleasant way . . . we managed to get discretionary spending down to 2008 levels, which is actually kind of remarkable.
And so the answer to your question is, I hear concern about the long-term future for our children and grandchildren, and I think there really is a desire for Congress, in a bipartisan way, to reform these programs, and have a serious, adult conversation about how we reform them, and frankly, there doesn’t seem to be the appetite to discuss Medicare reform in the White House, or in the Senate. And we have offered up on the House side a proposal, the Paul Ryan proposal. We voted on it three or four times since I’ve been there; I’ve supported it every time. It doesn’t have to be the end-all, be-all, just a starting point, but we can’t get the other side to even engage on it, because it’s considered the third rail of politics. Well, you know, we need to get over that. I mean, it may be the third rail of politics, but it’s the future of our country.
And the third thing, it really is a catch-all, is what I hear concern about, and that is . . . frankly, the President’s refusal — in many cases — to enforce the law, like Obamacare, when those laws have provisions in them, like the employer mandate, that don’t . . . you know, I just think Democrats and Republicans together should be outraged that he just changes things in a way, in my own opinion, that he doesn’t have the power to do. And that’s a threat to the liberty of each of us, when you have any branch of government exceeding its authority. I hear about that, and I think you sort of see that theme in the health care law, you see it in immigration issue, you have him stating that he’s not going to enforce certain laws, and then obviously . . . Ebola, ISIL, I mean all the things that we’ve been reading about, all those things are . . . a grave concern.
RN: And what agricultural issues are you hearing about?
RH: There’s a farmer in Nelson County that one time expressed it this way, he said, “You know I’ve been growing peaches on the side of this mountain here, our family has, for generations.” He says, “On my farm I have the Corps of Engineers, I have the EPA, I have the DEQ, I have the USDA, the FDA, the IRS, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor . . . and all I’m trying to do is grow a peach.”
And I think that’s sort of the way a lot of farmers view it, you know, “Look, we have the highest interest in having clean water, and clean air, and having a clean environment, because our products depend on it, our families depend on it, our customers depend on it, and our employees depend on it.”
And so I think that’s sort of the philosophy that I started with. Energy prices again are huge . . .
RN: What about the Farm Bill subsidies?
RH: I’ve read your-all’s opinion on that. And I agree with very much of that philosophy — that we need to get the subsidies out of the Farm Bill. And we did a lot of that in this last Farm Bill. I voted against the first one, when I first got elected. Because there weren’t reforms — it was just kicking the can down the road. And there weren’t reforms on the farm side or on the food stamps side . . .
I voted in favor of this last one not because it’s where we want to be, but because we moved the ball . . . forward in terms of streamlining programs, reducing costs and getting rid of some of these, you know, direct payments to farmers. Because they are offensive, and so that’s why I ended up supporting it. And there are also reforms, welfare-to-work programs, that were built into the food stamp program that I think are really, really important.
The other reason, people say, “Why would you vote for the Farm Bill at all?” And I guess one of the things that I do believe is really important is a government program that supports the crop insurance program. You have to have that. . . . I’m not saying it shouldn’t be reformed or that you shouldn’t seek to always have the private sector and the farmer absorb as much of that risk as possible, but I don’t think those policies would be written if you didn’t have some kind of government subsidy or government backing. That’s something I hear about all the time, from our production farmers.
RN: Is there going to be any debate between you and your opponent?
RH: We don’t have anything on the schedule, and certainly in the early part of the campaign, we were not contacted by our opponent to engage in one, and we’re sort of running out of time. We’d not been engaged by him, but in the last day or so, that’s changed. He’s actually asked for [a debate]. Prior to that, he hadn’t. But it’s 15 days out. We’re running a campaign. We want to reach as many people as possible in that time, and we have 15 days.