Since 1994, Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones has represented North Carolina’s third district. Mr. Jones, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives beginning during the Clinton Administration, joined CYInterview for a compelling conversation about America’s finances, the cost of war and how politicians who lead by example are needed in Washington.
The issue of members of Congress taking a pay cut, as part of an ethic of leading by example, was also discussed.
With many Americans fed up with both political parties, Mr. Jones candidly admitted that the way to stop the partisan rhetoric fueled blame game is by enacting campaign finance reform. As a member of Congress for 17 years, he believes too much congressional legislation is influenced by campaign donations. The congressman further noted money is power and power is money and, consequently, Congress is all about raising money.
Featured columnist Jay Bildstein joins me and helps drive this insightful conversation, covering many of the important issues America faces along with some of the changes that are desperately needed. You can read or listen to the entire transcript of the interview below.
Listen to the Congressman Walter B. Jones interview:
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Chris Yandek: Congressman Jones, thank you so much for joining me today. I want to start by asking you, looking at the status of the debt ceiling, do you think it will be raised and if we do get some kind of deal from both sides to raise the debt ceiling, will we get some meaningful cuts you think that will make an impact?
Congressman Walter B. Jones [CWBJ]: “Well, you know the debt ceiling’s now being negotiated with the leadership of the House and Senate and the White House and I really have not been involved in those discussions. I assume that they will reach some agreement in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll just have to wait and see what the agreement is.”
CY: Yeah. I think a lot of people are wondering if we could be close to another financial crisis if something isn’t done quickly. Any thoughts?
CWBJ: “Well, the problem is you know, you continued, that’s one reason that, I’m not an isolationist, but for me personally, here we are a nation that’s called a debtor nation ‘cause we can’t pay our own bills. I’m opposed to all these free trade agreements because all that does is to send good American jobs overseas and we get very few back in return and I just don’t think America can’t continue to police the world.
That’s one reason that I’ve come out against the Afghan war. I’m with Jim McGovern on a bill that would hasten the reduction of troops in Afghanistan. As you know, Mr. Gates [Robert Gates] is talking about being there to 2014, 2015. And actually when I finish this interview today, I’m gonna be going with Pete Dominick from XM Radio P.O.T.U.S [Politics of the United States] over to Walter Reed to visit the wounded.”
CY: How much are the war efforts in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan costing us weekly combined and how is this impacting every day Americans here at home?
CWBJ: “Well, you just take for example the Afghan war since that’s the one we’ve got 100,000 troops. Let me talk about that one. It’s roughly 10 billion dollars a month and it’s going to a corrupt leader named [Hamid] Karzai and the whole thing is there’s nothing we can accomplish there. We’ve already accomplished everything and let me explain that very quickly.”
CWBJ: “We went there initially when President Bush was in office to go after al-Qaeda and Bin Laden because both were responsible for 9/11. Well, if you look at Afghanistan today, the al-Qaeda is pretty much out of Afghanistan. Of course they’re in other parts of the world. Bin Laden has been killed. So therefore those who were responsible for 9/11 have pretty much been driven out of Afghanistan.”
CY: So what are we talking about though as far as these three wars combined? Any idea on what the cost is weekly, monthly, any of that nature? What are we talking about? I’m quite curious about.
CWBJ: “We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. Actually, I think if you combined and I stand to be corrected on this, but if you combined Afghanistan and Iraq, I think it’s well over one trillion dollars, maybe close to two trillion. Then just like today when we go see these wounded at Walter Reed, the debt to these men and women who’ve lost their legs, arms and other parts of their bodies it’s going to be in itself trillions of dollars to take care of them for the next 10-20 years, maybe even longer than that and by God they’ve earned Uncle Sam to take care of them.”
CY: I know that you’ve been involved with fellow Congressmen with trying to get the United States of America to get out of the Libya cause, tell me about the latest there and how longer you believe the USA will be in that country?
CWBJ: “Well, Dennis Kucinich and I as you probably know last week we went to the federal courts with Professor Jonathan Turley. He’s the attorney, he’s the constitutional law professor at George Washington University. And the reason we did that is that Mr. Obama did not come to Congress and therefore made a decision on March 19th that he would bomb Libya. And our thinking is Dennis Kucinich and myself, our thinking is that when you’re gonna spend American money to invade a country whether it’s justified or not, you need to explain it. We’ve already spent close to 800 million dollars in Libya and that will soon be surpassed each and every day.”
CY: Jay go ahead.
Jay Bildstein: Congressman Jones, first of all it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you. I want to say, I’m an optimist, but looking at the facts, I believe the United States of America faces a set of challenges every bit as big as the nation did after being attacked by Japan and having to go to war against Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers in World War II. Of course, the U.S. had suffered tremendously in the decade prior, in what was known as the Great Depression. Now America faces a different kind of enemy, the debt, the federal deficit, debt, a stupendous amount of unfunded liabilities, which threaten to lay the nation low.
Now, solutions exist, but only if leaders lead. Only if the folks in Congress, the Senate, the President of the United States are willing to lead by example. Now I think members of Congress make around $174,000 a year and there are benefits and so forth. Why not cut the congressional salary literally in half, take a drastic, drastic step to show the American people that Congress both Republicans and Democrats are so serious that to use a military metaphor, they will take that hill before asking the average American to.
And by the way, I know you were actually one of the few to give support to HR 4720 a bill by former Arizona Democrat Ana Kirkpatrick, you co-sponsored, again. It sought a five percent reduction in congressional salaries and it appeared to die in committee. I mean, things are so serious, won’t Congress have to say, ‘Look, follow us, we will make the example. We’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna cut our salaries so drastically to show solidarity and good faith with the United States of America.’ Why isn’t this coming up and why does even a bill like HR 4720, asking for a meager five percent reduction, just die?
CWBJ: “Well, Jay, let me answer you this way. I did support that legislation and would again if that legislation came to the floor. I think Congress is trying to make a statement. I don’t think you can ask members of Congress to cut 50 percent of the salary because, thank God, I can say this; most of us here in the House, I can’t speak for the Senate, we’re not rich people, we’re average income people and this place is awfully expensive to live in, but I go back to the point of a five to ten percent cut I will continue to support that and would be happy to do so.
But it’s just like Afghanistan, why aren’t we seeing, I watched the movie Saturday night with Tom Cruise, Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July about Vietnam. Why aren’t the American people out here enraged that our young men and women are overseas dying in Afghanistan for a corrupt leader. That to me is equal to your question I’ll be honest with you. But the American people are worried about trying to pay the bills, making a living and keep their jobs. I understand that, but I would like the media and print as well as your media to start speaking out on this and say get involved.
I intend to write the Catholic Bishops and ask them why aren’t you speaking about Afghanistan in the churches? There are a lot of issues. I do agree with you that I think we could, I would be supportive as I was before for a five, maybe a 10 percent, but at least a five percent cut in member’s salaries. But you know, where’s the outrage? Where’s the outrage about spending 10 billion dollars a month to prop up a corrupt leader and in this country saying to our children we can’t buy you a pint of milk in the school system, we can’t give a senior citizen a sandwich at the senior citizen’s center because we don’t have any money. But yet we give Uncle Karzai 10 billion a month. That’s crazy. That is absolutely.”
JB: Congressman, pardon me, but I’ll tell you what, if outrage were money, I think my outrage alone could solve the deficit. We had on former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura right here on CYInterview.com, we spoke about these same things you’re talking about. He invoked the name of a Marine General from almost 100 years ago Smedley Butler. Who said that unfortunately –
JB: – the American military and brave American men and women who serve who are supposed to be there to protect us are too many times out there protecting amorphous global corporate interests. I agree with you completely. I don’t think we should be in Afghanistan any longer. I don’t think we should be in Iraq any longer. I don’t think we should’ve ever gotten into Libya. I couldn’t agree more completely.
But the thing is we are now facing, I read this incredible number, I think $61 trillion in unfunded liabilities, 14 trillion dollars or more in debt, the deficit, I can’t even keep track with, 1.5 trillion? The numbers change so fast. Someone is going to have to stand up and lead in the same way that a clergy member, there are a lot of great clergy members in the United States of America who are scrapping by making 50, 60,000 dollars a year with five people in their family and they’re doing it because they’re true believers.
They stand up and say, ‘You know what? I’m here for my church or I’m here for my synagogue, whatever it is and I’m not gonna lead the rich life. I’m gonna just scratch by, but by God I’m gonna stand up and lead and I just wonder just like with the bill you cosponsored with Ana Kirkpatrick, five percent reduction. I think there were 29 cosponsors or 32 cosponsors. Why does something like that just die?
CWBJ: “Jay, I can’t speak for anyone, of course you know this, but myself. I know what I do and what I try to do as one individual and I couldn’t agree with you more that it needs to start here in Washington, but I think in a way, in a small way, but not a big enough way, I mean obviously they made a decision, which both sides I’ll be fair about maybe four years ago now, there would be no salary increase at all for anybody in congress.
That’s a very, very minor small step, but it’s a step and there are other things we can do. But let’s look at the bigger picture, even bigger then members and congress and their salaries. Jobs right now, there’s an element in this country pushing the president, including my own party to let’s get these trade agreements on the floor and pass these trade agreements, which I adamantly opposed to. In the state of North Carolina where I’m from, from 1999 until 2009, we lost 376,000 manufacturing jobs. That’s just North Carolina. It’s all across this nation.
And I think it’s, Ron Paul’s one of my dearest friends in congress, I think it’s going to take a leader of this nation that says, ‘For the next four years, if you let me be the president, we are gonna start to rebuild America and to hell with the rest of the world. And if we don’t have that, then we’re gonna keep going down this road that you and I and your listeners, probably Chris included are very concerned about. You’ve gotta have the leadership that just says to the rest of the world, ‘Ok, you attack us, we’re gonna do just like what we did with Bin Laden. We’re gonna go in there, we’re gonna find you, we’re gonna blow the hell out of you and we’re gonna get back home.’ These are the things we gotta have and it does start in Washington, but I think it starts with the President and the leadership.”
CY: Congressman, I’d love to end with you this and thank you so much for your time today. I just think Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, anyone else in between is just tired of the blame game between the Republicans and the Democrats.
CY: I think they just want you, they don’t care who you know made this problem, they just want you to guys to fix it. How do we get to that point and stop this rhetoric?
CWBJ: “Well, I think you would have to change the way we finance campaigns to be honest with you. I believe sincerely that some type of modified public financing and that would be voluntary, let me make that clear for your listeners, but this whole place is about raising money whether you be a Republican or Democrat. All the time, too many policies, decisions are made on what influence would like to see it made this way or that. I hate to say it, but I’ve been here for 17 years. I was in the North Carolina General Assembly for 10 years and money is power and power is money.”
CY: Congressman, thank you so much for your time today and hang on with us.
CWBJ: “Well, this has been very special. Thank you.”
Congressman Jones’s official website is at http://jones.house.gov/
You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com