Voter guide: C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Congress, District 2

C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Democratic candidate for Congress, D2

Age 74

Residence Cockeysville

Occupation Member of Congress, U.S. House of Representatives

Education University of Maryland College Park 1963-1967; J.D., University of Baltimore School of Law 1970

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Previous political experience

U.S. House of Representatives 2003-Present; Baltimore County Executive 1994-2002; Baltimore County Council 1986-1994

Why are you running for office?

I want to continue providing first-rate service to my constituents. My office has opened tens of thousands of cases on behalf of constituents who need us to cut through the bureaucracy. Over the years, we have helped thousands of seniors navigate Social Security and Medicare, veterans access their benefits and families facing foreclosure. Today, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, my offices remain open as we field calls from constituents who need help applying for unemployment, small business owners who want to access relief programs and citizens concerned about the virus itself.

In Washington, I help my constituents through my work on the House Appropriations Committee, which allocates hundreds of billions of dollars each year. I fight to ensure Maryland and the Second District gets its fair share of the pie, securing hundreds of millions of dollars for job-creating infrastructure projects, local schools and police and fire departments.

I have focused much of my time in Congress to our national security, serving 12 years on the House Intelligence Committee and as a current Defense Appropriator. New threats like cyber attacks, nuclear weapons and hypersonics are on the horizon. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a new type of security challenge. We need experienced, end-game leadership if we are to prevail and that is why I humbly ask the voters of the Second District to again support me.


How do you assess the Trump administration so far? Name at least one positive and one negative.

The President is not providing the leadership we need amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. He has been inconsistent: one day, declaring himself a wartime president with total authority and, the next, telling states they are on their own. He has promoted questionable if not dangerous medical treatments and has even encouraged states to defy his own Administration’s guidance on re-opening the economy. I believe he is more focused on his re-election than on saving lives and livelihoods.

Moreover, the constant turnover and drama inside the Oval Office over the last four years has hurt America’s credibility on the world stage. I am perhaps most concerned by President Trump’s attacks on his own federal agencies and leaders, particularly our Inspectors General and intelligence workers. The President needs more advisors who speak truth to power, can manage and deftly navigate policy. And he needs to keep them.

That said, I pledged to work with President Trump wherever I could, and I give credit where credit is due. I support the President’s work toward criminal justice reform, including signing the First Step Act into law. This landmark bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offense and swaps the federal “three strike” life sentence rule for a 25-year sentence instead.


What effect do you believe the federal tax cuts of 2017 have had on the economy thus far or will have in the future and why? Do you support the cuts?

I voted against the 2017 tax reform bill because it did not achieve my goal of a modern code that rebuilds the middle class. While I have supported reducing taxes paid by businesses to promote reinvestment and bring back offshored jobs, this particular bill did so at the expense of middle-class families and failed to deliver what the President promised.

The Trump tax cuts were designed with permanent cuts for corporations and heirs of large estates, coupled with temporary, expiring tax cuts for the middle class. In fact, most of the tax cuts included in this bill went to our country’s corporations and wealthiest citizens.

Not only did the bill add $2 trillion to our debt, its offsets were not acceptable to me. The bill capped the state and local tax deduction and scaled back the mortgage interest deduction – both of which hit Marylanders particularly hard. It ended the deductibility of student loans and medical expenses, the latter of which hurt seniors. It altered incentives for charitable giving. It also repealed the requirement for all Americans to buy health insurance, which increased premiums.

In the mid to late-1990s, our country saw strong economic growth, record job creation and even budget surpluses. It was achieved two ways: by structuring taxes to favor the middle class and by bringing both parties into the tent. Unfortunately, the tax reform bill did neither.


Is the level of economic inequality in the United States a problem, and why or why not? What, if anything, should the federal government do to address it?

Yes. In the United States, income inequality – or the gap between the rich and everyone else – has been growing by every major statistical measure for the last three decades. The top 1 percent of the population owns 35 percent of the country’s wealth. Raising the minimum wage could go a long way toward leveling inequality. When President Clinton increased the minimum wage in 1996, employment soared and incomes improved at every level. We also need to amend the tax structure to support the middle class. When the middle class does well, America does well. To further strengthen the working class, Congress needs to address paid leave and advance robust “Buy American” provisions. I support investing in infrastructure to create jobs, as well as tax incentives for small business. We also have to work harder to make sure all children have the opportunity to receive a quality education that actually leads to a job. As an Appropriator, I help fund educational programs to close inequities in education and champion full funding for formula grant programs like Title 1 and IDEA, which support schools for low income and disabled students, including Head Start.


Should federal gun laws be changed, and if so, how and why?

Yes. I believe in the Second Amendment, but we also have a Constitutional responsibility to protect American citizens from harm. Addressing the sale of firearms to the mentally ill is an important first step. I also support requiring background checks for all gun and ammunition sales, including those purchased online and at gun shows. We need tougher penalties for straw purchases. People who have been convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes, as well as domestic abusers, should not be allowed to purchase guns.

And while we can’t stop every mass shooting, we can reduce the carnage. In addition to banning high-capacity magazines, I support efforts to ban true assault weapons that are designed to inflict as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. When assault weapons or high-capacity magazines have been used in a shooting, the number of casualties has increased 63 percent.

As Baltimore County Executive, I started the School Resource Officer program, which still serves as a national model. Today, in Congress, I support full funding for grant programs that can help put an SRO in every school in the country, which I strongly advocate.

Finally, I have introduced legislation to stop the cycle of gun violence by providing hospital-based interventions for recovering victims, who studies show often become repeat-victims or perpetrators themselves.


What should Congress do with respect to the Affordable Care Act, how and why? If you believe it should be scrapped, what, if anything, should replace it?

The ACA has produced positive results for many – seniors especially. The bill has helped reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and guaranteed they can be insured even if they have pre-existing conditions. It capped out-of-pocket expenses so that illness does not bankrupt families. More than 430,000 previously uninsured Marylanders now have healthcare coverage, which reduces healthcare costs for all.

This is why I would like to see the bill improved rather than repealed. I think Congress should consider a “public option” to ensure all Americans are covered and stimulate competition. We should also allow Americans to buy into Medicare at a younger age.

Finally, Congress must address soaring prescription drug prices that are generating record profits for the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of Americans in need of life-saving medicines.


What role should the federal government play in helping cities? What, if anything, would you do for Baltimore, specifically?

The federal government can and must maintain a reliable funding stream to support Baltimore. Critical grants and funding programs are available to help Baltimore rebuild its infrastructure, hire firefighters and police officers, revitalize vacant neighborhoods and improve schools. As an Appropriator, I have worked tirelessly to ensure Maryland and Baltimore gets their fair share of the federal pie.

Right now, I am fighting for a second round of COVID-19 relief funds specifically to help state and local governments, who are facing unprecedented revenue losses. If the federal government can not step in and help our state and city colleagues, we will see cuts to critical services. Teachers, firefighters and police officers could see pay cuts or even layoffs. Libraries and senior centers could close. Roads and bridges could go unfixed, streets unplowed. Congress must go beyond dedicated funds and give states and cities the flexibility they need to make up for historic revenue losses.

This is in keeping with a strong record that builds on my experience as a Baltimore County Executive. For example, I founded the bipartisan House Municipal Finance Caucus to help states and cities manage the debt needed to take on important public works projects. I also authored legislation that will help cities and states better prepare for or respond to ransomware cyber attacks like the one that hit Baltimore City last year.


Do you back Elijah Cummings’ bill -- which Republicans say is too expensive -- to provide $100 billion over 10 years to fight the opioid epidemic? Why or why not?

Yes, and I was proud to support a bipartisan legislative package to address the national opioid abuse and overdose epidemic. In all, I have helped the House pass 17 bipartisan bills that will expand access to overdose reversal drugs, reevaluate best practices for pain management and examine over-prescription of opioids to student athletes and veterans, among other measures.

But it will also take actual funding to attack this crisis. $100 billion over the course of a decade is not too much – in fact, the public health costs of doing nothing could far exceed this price tag.


What changes, if any, should Congress make to our immigration and deportation laws and policies? Should the DACA program be preserved? Why or why not?

I’d stop the Administration from continuing its raid on our military facilities and families to build the wasteful border wall. I believe in real solutions to challenges like immigration and a $20 billion wall is not one of them. Neither is separating families at the border and housing detainees in deplorable conditions indefinitely.

Rather, we must hire more federal judges to reduce the courts backlog. And we must pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides both sensible border security and a reasonable, but rigorous path, to citizenship including protection for Dreamers.

Specifically, I have long supported a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform bill – S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act – that passed the Senate on a supermajority vote in 2013. The bill included strong border security measures, including a 21st century “wall” made of technology and manpower by funding new surveillance drones, 3,500 new customs agents and additional fencing. It required the Department of Homeland Security to achieve 100 percent surveillance of the southwestern border within five years of enactment. The bill mandated the e-Verify system to ensure employers are not knowingly hiring illegal immigrants at the expense of American workers. It created a merit-based visa system to recruit the best and brightest minds into our country and provided appropriate asylum accommodations for victims of gang violence and sex trafficking.

It also provided a sensible pathway to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants with stipulations that they learn English, stay employed, pass a background check, pay back-taxes and a fine.


How would you rate the Trump administration’s trade stance with China and why?

I applaud the President’s efforts to level the playing field when it comes to China and I give him credit for doing much more than previous Administrations. But I disagree with his methodology.

The President’s tit-for-tat tariffs and threatened tariffs on everything from aluminum to French cheese are hurting all business, big and small, on both sides of the Atlantic. One example here in Maryland is a tariff on scroll compressors used by Danfoss, a refrigerator manufacturer whose North American headquarters are in the Second District. While the final product is American-made, the tariff placed on this component will cost American consumers $2 million annually.

We need a multi-prong approach if we are going to be successful. It has to address currency manipulation as well as human rights and labor violations.


Do you support the president’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal? Why or why not?

No, I do not support the President’s decision to pull out of this deal, which cleared Congress with bipartisan support. While the JCPOA was imperfect, it represented the best opportunity we had to reduce Iran’s nuclear threat and its ability to export terrorism. Before the agreement, Iran was only weeks away from having enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon and the U.S. no longer had the support of our allies to keep international sanctions in place.

The JCPOA was working. In 2016, international inspectors certified that Iran had met preliminary requirements, taking centrifuges offline and selling off excess low-enriched uranium to Russia, for examples. Now, not surprisingly, Iran is again enriching uranium and developing new centrifuges. And, interestingly, the Trump Administration is now using the “snapback” provisions contained in the JCPOA as leverage to pressure the U.N Security Council to extend an arms embargo set to expire this fall.


How should the United States address the rise of North Korea’s nuclear program?

Defending our country against the nuclear threat from North Korea is one of my highest priorities as a Defense Appropriator. We have the technology to counter North Korea if they attack and to stop their missiles from reaching us. Support for military action among the American public remains low. For now, we have to continue exercising diplomacy and sanctions.


How should the United States address climate change?

Our national security leaders have deemed climate change as one of our most pressing threats today. That’s why I am supporting the tenants outlined in the Green New Deal, which affirms that we must take bold and immediate action to become carbon-neutral (offset our output) and protect our planet from both physical and economic harm. I have a strong record in support of aggressive action to mitigate the effects of climate change on our planet and our economy. I have supported cap-and-trade programs, as well as carbon fee and dividend legislation. I have supported tax credits for electric cars and other energy-efficient products for consumers. I believe we must re-join the landmark Paris Agreement. In fact, I am a proud cosponsor of the Climate Action Now Act to require the United States to honor our commitment to the agreement. I strongly oppose gas and oil exploration of the coast of the Atlantic and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as offshore drilling generally. The dangers these pose to the immediate surrounding environment as well as the resulting emissions they would ultimately produce are not worth any perceived benefits. I continue to support full funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is tasked, among other missions, with upholding the critical Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, both of which are essential to mitigating the effects of climate change.


Do you support the Green New Deal? Why or why not?

Yes, I support the so-called Green New Deal. After initial skepticism, I was encouraged by my Maryland colleague, Congressman John Sarbanes to take another look at the bill’s text. The bill is short, straight-forward and non-binding. It lays out broad policy priorities that are difficult to disagree with. After all, who doesn’t want a healthier planet? Who doesn’t want better healthcare and affordable housing?

Here’s what the Green New Deal does NOT do: It doesn’t call for free community college. It doesn’t call for Medicare for All. It doesn’t ban airplanes, cars, and cows. It doesn’t even call for zero emissions. It calls for carbon neutrality, which means we offset what we release.

The Green New Deal simply says we should eliminate pollution as much as feasible. It says we should do this by investing in things like high-speed rail and public transit, by promoting sustainable farming. We should be doing all of this anyway.

Climate change has become a national security issue, according to the Pentagon. For example, parts of Africa and the Middle East are experiencing erratic harvests, heavy storms and the worst drought in the past 900 years. People who are struggling to provide for their families are vulnerable to the influence of extremist recruits who offer them work and food.

I still have lingering questions concerning costs and implementation, but I believe we desperately need a roadmap, and now.

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