By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — Editor's note: This is the first of two stories about the Republican candidates competing in Tuesday's primary election to secure a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot to run against 1st District Congressman Tim Walz . On Sunday, The Free Press will publilsh a story about candidate Mike Parry of Waseca.
Anyone who has seen Allen Quist in 2012 has probably seen the chart.
The former state lawmaker, retired college instructor, semi-retired St. Peter farmer and current congressional candidate has carried the posterboard chart to town hall meetings, televised candidate forums, media interviews and fundraisers.
“This is banana republic stuff,” Quist said, pointing to the chart with the red ink skyrocketing over the course of his lifetime. “This is absolutely incredible financial mismanagement.”
Quist paints a gloomy picture of America’s future if the lengthening red lines don’t start shrinking dramatically in the next few years.
Voters will decide Tuesday whether Quist or state Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca will be the Republican nominee against Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato.
Walz made deficit reduction a top campaign issue when he toppled 12-year Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht in 2006, and Gutknecht said he would be a deficit hawk when he persuaded voters in 1994 to make him the successor to retiring Congressman Tim Penny, who was one of the House’s top advocates for deficit-reduction during his tenure in Washington.
So why does Quist think he — as one of 435 lawmakers in one house of one branch of the federal government — will make a bigger dent in the red ink than those who came before him?
Quist said he’s ready to join the Republican Study Committee, a group of the House’s most conservative members. A subset of that committee totaling about 85 members is committed to eliminating the deficit in five years, according to Quist, who is promising on the campaign trail to meet that ambitious timeline.
He believes that if about 40 like-minded lawmakers are added to the 85, they will constitute a majority of the House Republicans and — dragging less committed Republicans along — could force the House to set strict spending limits. Individual budgets for various federal spending categories would be written within those limits, which would gradually decline over five years until spending and revenue match.
Compare that schedule to the House Republican budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s controversial plan makes steep cuts even to popular spending categories, such as veterans benefits and transportation. Opponents have said it would disproportionately harm the elderly, the poor and the middle class and would turn Medicare into a voucher system.
Even with the tough medicine, the Ryan plan doesn’t balance the budget until 2040.
Quist’s philosophy differs from Ryan’s in a couple of respects. Ryan protects military spending from cuts. Quist wouldn’t.
“The military is not sacred,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of waste in the military.”
And Ryan attempts to reduce the deficit while simultaneously cutting taxes. Quist strongly opposes tax increases, but he said he wouldn’t support tax cuts either — unless he were persuaded they would increase federal revenue by spurring economic growth.
“Reducing spending is my priority,” he said.
Asked for specifics on where he would cut spending — and hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts would be required each year under his schedule — Quist mentions only a few items that would have little direct impact on most southern Minnesotans. He opposes “corporate welfare,” including the auto company bailout, and subsidies for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
But he does offer one example of where he would differ from other Minnesota lawmakers, including several fellow Republicans. Quist would end the long-standing coalition that has resulted in federal farm programs that have brought big financial benefits to Minnesota farmers.
The farm bill has traditionally combined agricultural subsidies with food assistance programs that provide food stamps to the poor, supports Meals On Wheels for the elderly, and subsidizes nutritious food for infants and toddlers. The farm programs generate votes from ag-state lawmakers and the food programs bring the votes of lawmakers representing urban areas — traditionally a winning combination for both groups.
“It’s a food stamp bill with a farm bill rider,” said Quist, who wouldn’t support a farm bill unless eligibility standards are made more stringent for recipients of the food programs.
He points again to his chart.
“Solving this is a much bigger factor for the future of agriculture than anything in the farm bill.”
Heat and history
It’s a standard part of Quist’s campaign speech, talking about his 10 children, 37 grandkids (and four more on the way). Concern about what the future holds for them is why he’s running rather than fishing for walleye, he tells voters before presenting the chart and talking about the $16 trillion national debt.
But that other looming crisis — at least the one that’s looming in the minds of many climate scientists — doesn’t concern Quist. Increasing temperatures, melting polar ice, rising oceans, drought and increasingly deadly storms, that’s the future predicted by those concerned about man-made global climate change.
Quist doesn’t buy it. He’s done research, he said, that leaves him unconvinced the current rise in temperatures is different than others in history. Looking back a thousand years to the time of Leif Ericson, Norwegians had a settlement of several thousand people in Greenland, he said.
“Why could that be possible? Because it was warm ... . The climate was warm. There were lush pastures in Greenland, and they brought in their sheep and their goats and their cattle.”
But the settlements disappeared four or five centuries years later as the earth cooled, Quist said.
“So the climate has always changed — before I started up my Chevy SUV,” he said. “Of course the climate’s changing now. It always changes. To blame that on carbon dioxide is a pretty big stretch.”
His skepticism is part of the reason Quist favors a free-market approach to energy production and consumption. America should open up more of its coastal areas and arctic nature preserves to oil companies, should burn the coal it has to produce cheap electricity and should generally let the marketplace decide if renewable energy can compete with fossil fuels.
It’s fair to say that Quist doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act. Often called Obamacare, the reform law set to go into effect in 2014 attempted to bring health care to uninsured Americans while retaining the private insurance marketplace.
The law mandates that most Americans have insurance through their jobs, obtain it through government programs if they’re eligible or purchase it privately. Subsidies will be available to help qualifying businesses and individuals pay for insurance, and tax penalties are imposed on those who refuse.
The law also forces insurance companies to sell coverage even to people with pre-existing medical conditions, prohibits them from cutting sick people off once they hit maximum benefits and requires insurers to cover young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ plan.
Quist discounts the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate that the bill will save money, predicting it will cost trillions of dollars over time. He also said it will penalize some married couples by boosting their insurance costs much more than a comparable unmarried couple.
And he opposes the mandate that people buy insurance.
“If people choose not to, I think that’s their choice,” Quist said.
As for the argument that America is already subsidizing the cost of the uninsured — who end up in emergency rooms with the hospitals recouping the costs through higher charges to paying customers — Quist said that’s the lesser of evils.
“At least it’s not adding $2.6 trillion to the deficit,” he said, referring to an Obamacare cost estimate generated by Senate Republicans.