The tax reform package passed the House and Senate earlier this month without a single Democratic vote.
But Democrats are hoping to have more of a say in Washington, D.C., soon, as the party gears up for midterm elections in November 2018.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, joined Midday Edition on Thursday to discuss tax reform, midterm elections and more.
Q: Vice-President Pence said it was a shame that no Democrats supported the tax cut bill because President Trump tried so hard to reach out to them. Is that your impression?
A: No, that’s just actually a really unfair characterization. In fact, I would say there are a number of Democrats like me who saw the need for tax reform along some of these lines, I think we did recognize that the corporate tax was too high. President Obama wanted it to come from 35 down to 28. I thought 25 would be a good number. We also know that there’s a lot of profits of American companies that are trapped overseas because of our tax law. We would like to bring those back and invest them. But beyond that, we could have done tax reform, we could have done it in a bipartisan way without breaking the budget and without blowing up the debt by a trillion-and-a-half dollars, which is what the Republicans chose to do. So yeah, I think Democrats felt like they, we, never really had a seat at the table. It was cooked up by Republicans for Republican votes and that’s just the way they did it. Unlike 1986, by the way, in which, where President Reagan and Speaker O’Neil worked really hard to get every single vote of every member of Congress and the Senate and actually had a unanimous vote at the Means and Ways Committee and did real tax reform that was good for the economy, so, this is really a shame I think both in substance and in process.
Q: We've been hearing that 80 percent of Americans will see lower taxes next year because of this new tax law. How do you think the new law is going to affect your constituents?
A: Well, I do think that, my friend Jaquim Jeffreys, he’s from Brooklyn, he says “you know what trickle down economics is? You make it a trickle but you still stay down.” I think there will be small tax relief for a lot of people and I think actually that could be pretty good. People at the lower economic levels will spend their money as opposed to people who get a break who already have all the money they need and don't need to buy anything else. The two things I would say are wrinkles for Californian’s are the elimination of the state and local tax deduction or the limitation of it. We heard that I think 6 million Californian’s take advantage of that deduction and the average deduction is over $18,000. This will limit it to $10,000, so that’s a pretty stiff hit for a lot of people. We think about a third of San Diegans use that deduction. The other thing that is sort of hidden in here that will have an effect on my constituents is what happened with the repeal of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The individual mandate sort of is the forcing mechanism for healthy people to get in the pool. When healthy people are in the insurance pool everyone's premiums go down. The removal of this incentive, we hear, will raise premiums somewhere around 10 to 20 percent even if you are on your employers health care plan. So, it’s going to hit your pocket book pretty hard. I'm not sure that the net will be all that good for my constituents.
Q: Does that removal of the individual mandate achieve the Republican goal of ending Obamacare?
A: Well, not really. There is still a system set up where you have individual markets for which you can have subsidies. If you can't pay, that system is meant to fill in where there is no employer-provided health care. So that exists, it's just that, unfortunately, this is sort of a sabotage of the markets. If you don't have the healthy people, (you have to) think of some other mechanism to get them in and we’re working on that. You will see premiums increase and I think that’s a real shame. That’s the wrong thing to do to people around Christmas time.
Q: Now that the president and the Congress have passed one piece of major legislation, do you think it will be easier for Republicans to move forward on other policy issues, like funding the wall or reforming entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security?
A: You know the problem with the way this tax bill was done and also the health care bill before it, when it's written entirely by one party, we weren't even allowed in the hearing rooms. So, it does create a lot of ill will but also really breaks down trust. So, I think it will be difficult for Republicans to convince Democrats to work together on infrastructure, which I think, we all think we need, we think we could have paid for it with some of the tax proceeds that are going to be given back mostly to wealthy people now, I think it will be difficult. On the wall, I would say Democrats are OK with a lot of border security measures in order to couple that maybe with a solution for the DREAMers, but the wall is not one of them. The wall is a tremendous waste of money and also sends the wrong signal to Mexico, who is our friend and trading partner, particularly here in San Diego. We would support more customs agents, more technology that would intercept bad cargo at the port of entry. I think the wall is a non-starter for Democrats.
Q: There is a lot of energy in the Democratic party focused on the midterm elections. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and even Congressman Duncan Hunter in the East County are two of the seats that Democrats would like to flip this upcoming election. Do you believe Democrats can take control of either the House or Senate?
A: It’s early to say, I think. I would say, I would make a couple of observations that would suggest it’s possible. Look at what happened in Virginia. In Virginia the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, to its credit, it did not do this before, just decided to present a challenge in every district. And one district that they thought couldn’t be won, I think that's the attitude on Congress. The other thing we are seeing in Congress is, the people that I have met that want to run for Congress around the country who are Democrats, it's exciting to see that the quality of these people, they’re veterans, they’re Ivy League educated, they’re MBA’s, they’ve started businesses, they’re parents, it’s terrific and I think people feel called by the last election to really bring honor and bring unity back to the country. So, if the Democrats win, it won't be because of some top down strategy from Washington, D.C., it will be because people ran these races district by district. The transgender winner in Virginia didn’t win because she is transgender. The race was about the road and that's what people care about and that’s how I think there is an opening for Democrats.
Q: How do you think Democrats could let this political opportunity slip through their fingers? What do they need to avoid?
A: Well, we are all very horrified, personally I am very horrified by a lot of what President Trump is doing. We can't just concentrate on that, I mean, clearly the way he is beating up on the FBI, on American institutions, on the fundamentals of our democracy, shock a lot of us and I think we need to resist that. I think we also have to offer though, and this was the mistake we made in 2016, we didn't really offer our own view for the future. And we have a lot to offer, I think we are really the party of investing in our kids future, we’re the party of education, we’re the party of giving everyone an opportunity and I think that we need to emphasize that. If we don't, I think we could bumble this and fumble it away.
Q: The issue of nuclear waste being stored at San Onofre has actually brought local Democrats and Republicans together to support opening a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That is in the process of moving through Congress. Do you expect that bill to make it to the president's desk in 2018?
A: I hope so. I should just say that it’s common for the five of us in our delegation to work together. We really do get along and we often endorse against each other in our elections. Darrell Issa has always endorsed another candidate against me but if the voters send us back we will work together on something like H-1B visas or the border or on this particular issue. This was Mr. Issa’s bill, I supported it and I think it makes a lot of sense to move spent nuclear waste away from the ocean. It seems like it’s got pretty good support except in Nevada and I think that we’ll see but I think that it’s got bipartisan support and there’s a good shot we should be able to get it past, at least in the House and we hope in the Senate and then onto the president.
Q: As a member of the Veterans Affairs committee, you must be aware of the criticisms of the Veterans Choice program, which was created in an attempt to decrease wait times veterans were encountering at the VA. Do you support expanding health care choice for veterans or increasing funding to the existing VA programs as a way of providing better health care?
A: Well, I think veterans across the country support a robust, healthy VA. That’s what we are concentrating on. In some instances where you have a particular procedure that is only done once a month by a specialist, you’re not going to hold that particular physician on your staff at the VA. That should be provided in the community and other instances where periodically before you can staff up you might have delays at a particular VA, there ought to be overflow into the community, that’s basically what the Choice Program is intended to do and we support that. I wouldn't see it as an either or. I think that there are some people who would like to privatize the VA. I really don’t see support for that on either side of the aisle right now. I think the focus is on a Choice Program that’s pretty surgical, pardon the expression, about meeting the needs that doesn't make sense to do inside the VA but with a robust VA to start out with.
KPBS continues to reach out to all members of our congressional delegation to speak with us when they are available.