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In the first chapter of this series on Bill Hedrick, the exciting Democratic candidate for the 44th Congressional District (San Clemente to Riverside & Corona), we learned about his district and his near victory over 18-year incumbent Ken Calvert in 2008; we learned a little bit about the “manifold failings” of Calvert, by all measures one of the most corrupt and ineffective House members; we briefly met his Republican primary opponent Chris Riggs; and we began our interview with Bill, chatting about his two sons who have served so bravely in Iraq, one of whom nearly died from heat stroke a couple of years ago and is now back stateside serving in the National Guard.
That chapter became so long that I decided to continue it in two more chapters; in this one, Bill and I discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing struggle to provide healthcare for all Americans.
Bill Hedrick, the Orange Juice Interview, part two
The Bush/Obama Wars
OJ: So, I saw in a press release recently that you’re breaking with the Obama administration and a lot of your own party in calling for a withdrawal from Afghanistan?
OJ: So, would you explain how that would make America safer?
Hedrick: Well, I think that this expenditure that the President is proposing is not going to make us safer, I think that there are other ways to do this.
Expense is one problem. This is one million dollars, per soldier, per year. So we’re talking now, with a combined total of nearly 100,000 US troops, of 100 billion dollar a year commitment to Afghanistan, just for the deployment.
100 billion dollars would buy an enormous amount of infrastructure improvements in the United States, and/or health care, and security improvements here. I think that the best way to secure the United States is securing our ports, better intelligence – that’s the way plots have been interrupted.
And, you know, the other thing is just from a practical standpoint, with a guerrilla war in Afghanistan, the military itself has said that essentially you need, for a country that size with that population, 550 to 600 thousand troops to pacify the country.
OJ: We’d need a draft to get that.
Hedrick: You would need a draft to get that, and there’s no way the American people would tolerate a draft for this kind of intervention. And so what we’ve got is a system where the same families are impacted over and over again with repeat deployments, we’ve got… You know, an interesting thing on that million dollar price tag – Soldiers aren’t paid a million dollars, soldiers are paid 15 or 20 thousand a year. There is a tremendous war profit being made off of this operation by a host of corporations, in addition to incredible corruption on the part of the Afghan government.
OJ: Yeah I understand Blackwater (or Xe, now) is more active out there than ever.
Hedrick: I don’t think their business has slowed since they became Xe.
OJ: Hasn’t slowed since Obama took over.
Hedrick: And frankly, I disagree with the Administration, I’d rather see the money invested here, and I’d rather see help delivered through selected non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We’ve found ourselves in bed with a corrupt regime that is compromised with drug traffickers, and I’m not surprised that our enemies there are able to use our presence as a recruiting tool, given who we are currently aligned with in Afghanistan.
OJ: So Calvert, your opponent. Where does he stand on all this?
Hedrick: Oh, he says there should be 40,000 troops added instead of 30,000, and that there should be no timeline for their withdrawal. I think not only do we need to have a plan for exiting, but clearly I think that sending another 40,000 would be even more irresponsible than the current… uh…
Hedrick: Yeah. The current plan. So, in that regard, I think Mr. Calvert and I will have a really strong contrast between each other.
OJ: Do you know if he has ever voted against a military adventure?
Hedrick: No, he never has.
OJ: And conversely, do you know how he managed to stay out of Vietnam, having graduated high school in 1971 at the height of the war? (His office “has no idea.”)
Hedrick: No, but I know he’s not a veteran.
OJ: Does he have any family in the military?
Hedrick: I’m unaware of any family members. I don’t know.
OJ: Well, those of us who don’t need to mind our manners – bloggers, for example – call that being a chickenhawk – to always be eager to send other folks and their kids off to fight unnecessary wars, having avoided serving when it was your turn.
Hedrick: Well, he certainly has no compunction about sending other people’s children, and all I know is we’ve had nine deployments in our family, and I think it’s way past time for control to be turned over to the Iraqis when it comes to that war. And in Afghanistan… I think it’s a really misguided course, damaging to the long-term political, financial, military… there’s hardly an interest for the United States that is not damaged by this. We should have listened to Mr. Gorbachev’s comment when he was asked what the Russians got out of Afghanistan, and he said something like, “Ten thousand casualties and the highest heroin addiction rate in Europe.”
It’s a misguided policy and we need to get our guys and women home.
Health Care Reform
OJ: I know you prefer a single-payer system for health care, like I do. So it’s been pretty frustrating this past year watching the “reform” effort just getting weaker and weaker, not even starting out from single-payer, and then giving up in compromise after compromise till we don’t even have the “public option” any more. And now, after the Massachusetts upset, it looks like they might even give up on reform altogether.
I guess some in Congress right now want to just go ahead and pass the flawed, compromised Senate bill while they still can, and try to improve it later; and some want to start again from scratch and make a better bill; some want to pass a bunch of small reforms individually… Anyway, if you were in Congress right now, what do you think your position would be on proceeding with health care reform?
Hedrick: I think the options are all poor at this point, and it’s unforseeable what the final compromise will be. My preference, as you say, is a single-payer option, which I believe we need to see. The public option – a strong public option – was the compromise position, so now that that has been removed from the bill, aside from the…
OJ: Or the Medicare Buy-in at 55, that was sounding good for a while…
Hedrick: Well, a good public option could be done, I believe, through reconciliation in the Senate, and I think you could find the votes to do it. What they ought to be looking at is a slow implementation by lowering the Medicare age every year or two or three – if we could lower the Medicare age to 55, to be implemented in a couple of years, that would give the Federal Government time to ramp up and include those folks in the plan. And then a few years later, to drop it to 50 or 45.
OJ: A lot of it could be paid for by eliminating all that waste and fraud they’ve discovered in Medicare…
Hedrick: I certainly believe that, and by rescinding President Bush’ tax cuts on the wealthy, I believe that it’s an issue of priorities. You know, I’m not suggesting that we need to return to President Eisenhower’s tax structure…
OJ: He was such a liberal…
Hedrick: The very wealthiest in the country, those who made over 3 million dollars a year, paid a much higher tax rate back then. But over the decades we’ve shifted the burden from the very wealthy and most able to pay, and put it onto the backs of middle-class and working-class families. And that’s where the money can be found to pay for healthcare, and a whole host of other services that we need.
But, I would lower the Medicare age. That’s something that people are familiar with, it’s accessible, physicians are used to dealing with it, it’s a single payer system that we already have a model for.
OJ: Rightwingers are arguing now that Medicare is going bankrupt…
Hedrick: Well, you need to have cost controls, and that’s a problem with the bill that’s come out of the Senate – it doesn’t address costs. And it turns it into a tremendous boondoggle for insurers. I mean, no wonder the insurance and pharmaceutical companies seem to be on board with this plan, because they’re locking in millions of new customers.
OJ: They have enough money to support it and pretend to fight it at the same time; either way they win.
Hedrick: It’s locked in with the mandate that you have to have coverage, you have to buy it, and the Federal Government may subsidize it for some people and that’s all right, but it’s like the Medicare D plan for prescription drug coverage, where we pay full price for those pharmaceuticals, it doesn’t allow bulk discounting, it was a huge boondoggle for the drug companies.
I think someone suggested “Medicare Part E” – E for “everyone”…
OJ: That was Thom Hartmann.
Hedrick: I think that’s where we need to go.
OJ: Okay… What local issues are there here that you’d like to talk about, where you would do things differently from Congressman Calvert?
to be continued… in Hedrick Rocks! part 3