Friday, March 7, 2014

My response to Birmingham Business Alliance questionnaire

112014 Congressional Candidate Questionnaire
6th Congressional District
February 2014
Response of candidate Shattuck

General response

As between government decisions controlling uses of economic resources, and free markets determining how economic resources are utilized, the presumption should be in favor of the latter (because they generally achieve a better result), and justifications of the former should be required on a case by case basis.
A large, intrusive and pervasive Federal government has deleterious consequences that need to be kept in check.  These include (1) a tyranny and stranglehold by Washington DC over the rest of the country, (2) increased importuning by everyone in the society for the government to favor (and not disfavor) them in their respective economic activities, which generalized importuning can result in an indifference about whether there is “good government” otherwise, and (3) an impetus to corruption of the political process due to a commercial mentality that campaign contributions are simply another business expense incurred to contribute to business profitability. 
My campaign charges that, in Washington DC, there is NOT government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and further that the causes of that condition are also causes of Congress being dysfunctional and not able to do its job properly for the American people.  If these charges are true, it elevates the importance of trying to correct those conditions, and diminishes the importance of having positions on matters of economic policy which are academic until Congress is made to function properly.
Government has an important role of trying to determine proper balance of general societal interests, sometimes in a context where a small number of persons have a special, one-sided interest.  Patent life is a good example.  The general societal interests are that patent life be sufficiently long to entice inventors to expend efforts and resources to invent things that are valuable to society, but that patent life not be excessively long and give inventors more than is needed to entice their efforts.  The inventors have a special, one-sided interest in patent lives being long, so they have long protection and more profits from their patents.  In my view, Congress should disregard the special, one-sided interest of inventors and make its decision based on balancing the general societal interests of giving sufficient incentive to inventors but not reward them more than needed to entice their efforts.  Congress doing this job properly is an example of “good government,” which “good government” activity may be neglected if the deleterious things referred to above are occurring.  

Economic Development
1. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is the largest economic driver in the state of Alabama.  What can Congress do to better support this research institution?  My general response is critical of importuning by everyone in the society to get something from the Federal government.  If that is to be curtailed, everyone must be subject to possible curtailment (including UAB).   To the extent generalized importuning continues to go on, UAB and Alabama should participate with full vigor on that.  I am not currently knowledgeable enough to appreciate how big an economic driver UAB is in that state or to have recommendations about what Congress can do to better support UAB.  If elected, I would inquire of UAB and the Birmingham Business Alliance how Congress can better support UAB.

2. The Innovation Act (H.R.3309) recently passed the House of Representatives and awaits approval of the U.S. Senate.  “Patent trolling” continues to be a concern as technology and innovation interests are significant in our region.  What are your thoughts on the matter?   I specifically mentioned patents in my above general response because I saw this question.  There is important balancing for Congress to do about patents, as described in my general response.  All members of Congress should be vigilant about whether Congress is doing this job properly. The phenomenon of “trolling” is something that comes within the purview of this Congressional balancing.  I do not know whether H.R. 3309 is a manifestation of Congress doing its balancing job properly or not.   If elected, I would do my best to determine whether H.R. 3309 is or is not a proper balancing by Congress, and I would act in my role as a member of the House of Representatives accordingly.

3. The Northern Beltline is soon to begin construction on the first section in northeast Jefferson County.  Do you support full funding and completion of this project?     The Northern Beltline is a very large regional project, which has very significant ramifications for how and where the metropolitan area will grow, and different areas will be affected differently by the project.  Many persons in the metropolitan area have substantial, and varying commercial, environmental and demographic interests in the project.  I personally don’t have strong views about the project.  To the extent there are strong, opposing views about the project, I would endeavor to determine what is  “best.”  For this purpose, I don’t have a view at this juncture whether “best” should be determined with reference to only the 6th Congressional district or with reference to the entire affected metropolitan area.  I further don’t know what the parameters are of the involvement of the Federal government in the project.

4. The latest transportation reauthorization bill (MAP-21) is set to expire at the end of September 2014.  Do you (1) support passage of a long-term, multi-year transportation reauthorization bill?  And (2) would you support a bill that provides for an increase in federal investment in transportation infrastructure?   I am ignorant about MAP-21 at present and don’t have a view at present.

5. What is your view on Common Core Standards (adopted as Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards)?  For more than 20 years we have been hearing about the failure of education in the United States.  I don’t know whether to judge that the failure has gotten progressively worse during the past 20 years, or whether improvements are being made and there is reason to be optimistic, or whether conflicting views and politics have been persistently intractable, so that Federal, state and local governments persistently perform poorly in their roles on the education front.  In all the efforts, theories and ideas about  improving failed education in the United States during the past twenty years, I am ignorant about and don’t have a view on Common Core Standards. 

Health Care
6. What is your view on the Affordable Care Act and what, if anything, would you like to see changed?  The Affordable Care Act is a leading example of government in Washington DC not being “of, by and for” the people, and of a dysfunctional Congress making great and costly errors.  Health care law and health care reform constitute the biggest and most difficult economic, social and political matter to deal with in the United States.  A government in Washington that is “of, by and for” people, and a properly functioning Congress, are not likely to happen anytime soon.  Generally, I would like to see a “public” health care sector and a “private” health care sector. with clear budgeting and taxpayer funding of the “public” sector.

7. Entitlement programs continue to consume a large portion of the nation’s budget (primarily Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security).  Given our region’s significant health care industry, what is your view on entitlement reform?   I agree with those who say entitlements are on an unsustainable trajectory, and either Congress proactively gets control over that trajectory, or else U.S. debt markets enter a catastrophic territory, and there is a unpredictable, undesirable and abrupt wrenching of entitlement programs and other things affecting the country’s fiscal health.

Energy Policy
8. Over the past few years, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have increased their regulatory activity without the oversight of Congress.  Please provide your view on whether or not Congress should play a more integral role in agency regulatory actions?   Regulations are promulgated pursuant to authority given by statutory law.  Sometimes the statutory law gives the agency more discretion and sometimes less discretion in what the agency may promulgate by regulation.  It is the province of the judiciary to determine whether a regulation exceeds the authority granted to the agency.  If the judiciary determines that a regulation is authorized under the existing statutory law, Congress needs to amend the statutory law.   If there are enough votes to amend the law, Congress  should amend the law.  If some members of Congress disapprove of a regulation, but there are not enough votes to amend the law, the members of Congress who disapprove of the regulation are stymied.  [I will make a gratuitous response about energy policy.  There are generalized societal interests that are in need of balancing by Congress, to wit, a societal interest in having energy and a societal interest in protecting the environment.  Acknowledging that different persons could reasonably do that balancing differently, I believe a dysfunctional Congress is impaired in reasonably arriving at compromise in doing the balancing.]

Labor & Workforce
9. Immigration reform continues to be at the forefront of discussion in Washington. Many states have begun or have already passed individual immigration laws due to the federal government’s inaction.  What is your view on this issue?    I think Congress should pass immigration reform.   I think states, if they want to, should be able to pass their individual immigration laws, except that the validity of any such laws depends on their being constitutional, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.  I don’t advocate an amendment to the U.S. Constitution if the U.S. Supreme Court decides that an individual law is unconstitutional in whole or in part.
10. What is your view on a possible minimum wage increase?  I think there should be a minimum wage increase.

Congressional Policy
11. Do you believe Congress should regain the appointment authority of discretionary “earmarks” in the next appropriations cycle?   No. Apparently the argument is being made that Congress is dysfunctional and unable to act because members of Congress cannot be bribed for votes with earmarks.  See this December 29, 2012 Forbes article   My campaign has its own diagnosis of Congressional dysfunctionality, and what is needed to correct that condition, and I don’t agree with the argument that the solution is to return to earmarks. 

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