Exclusive Interview: The Chanticleer talks to Republican Incumbent for Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District, Mike Rogers

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(Photo Courtesy NASA HQ Photo)

On Friday October 12, The Chanticleer’s Scott Young interviewed Incumbent and Republican candidate for Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District, Mike Rogers. The Chanticleer’s interview with Democratic nominee Mallory Hagan can be found here.


Scott Young: What are some more recent accomplishments you’ve made in the House of Representatives and how have they benefited your constituents?

Mike Rogers: Well, one of the things I’ve been working on most recently is the federal aviation bill. I had included in there some language from the Homeland Security committee to create a nationwide consortium to establish a domestic breeding program for explosive detection canines. A lot of that happens right here at Fort McClellan, the training of these explosive detection canines, as well as down in Auburn where the research is done to develop a lot of this technology for these dogs to be able to work in our airports, to work in our train and bus stations, whole lot of concerts being used, to try to detect explosives. The problem is we don’t have enough of them and we’ve been having to compete with the rest of the world to buy these dogs from Europe that can do this, to train them here. We needed to establish an infrastructure for us to breed those dogs here so that we can use them in our airports for security. I got that bill passed right before we left for the elections, signed into law by the President, so hopefully we’re gonna see that really improve our situation and provide us a lot more dogs to keep us safe. Another thing I’ve been working on, you may have noticed it came out of my subcommittee, I chair the Strategic Forces subcommittee on the House Armed Services, was the Space Force. That is a product of my work and my committee, and the President has embraced it as you may have noticed and we’re now working on setting up a separate service to focus on national security space, which would be the first new service since the Air Force was created seventy years ago.

SY: That actually kind of leads into my next question. On the day that President Trump announced his intention to establish the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, you released a statement giving your support for the proposal, saying “We must have American dominance in space.” Right now, under the Air Force, we have the U.S. Air Force Space Command whose role is to “provide resilient and affordable space and cyberspace capabilities for the Joint Force and the Nation.” What would the Space Force do differently than this command of the Air Force?

MR: That’s a great question. By the way, Space Force, we’re not talking about Star Trek kind of stuff. We’re talking about national security satellites, GPS satellites, satellites that watch for nuclear launches against us, satellites that we use for commanding control of our nuclear weapons system, a whole host of things like that, so that’s what we’re talking about. We have become heavily dependent on these satellites to fight and win wars over the last ten or twelve years. For example, when you see that we’re using drones to drop bombs in Afghanistan or Syria or Northern Iraq, we’re using our satellites to guide, navigation satellites, GPS satellites to position those drones, so there’s a whole host of things like that that we do. Well, the problem is over the last twenty years or so, as we have become more dependent, Russia or China, who are our principal adversaries, have realized that because they’ve become dependent on them to. So, they have begun to step up their game to try and catch up and, hopefully, surpass our capabilities in space and put our satellites at risk. They have developed offensive capabilities to disable our satellites. So, the whole time, the Air Force, which has most of our national security space responsibilities, has just not been getting the job done. They’ve been very sluggish, they’ve been robbing resources from the space missions to put into air dominance missions, fighter jets, tankers, bombers, and the things that they care about and not taking care of the space mission. So, what we have proposed, and the President has embraced, is taking the space professionals, 90% of which are in the Air Force, out of the Air Force, taking the space professionals out of the Navy and the Army—they have very few, but they have some—and putting them in a separate service, and taking all of the civilian employees that support those space professionals, putting them in that separate service, giving them their own budget, their own promotion system, their own recruitment and retention system, their own educational system—although they would still use the Air Force academy for training—but, allow them to develop a culture and mission around space dominance, to make sure we reassert our dominance in space and let Russia and China know that if they ever mess with our satellites, we will take all of theirs out. Right now, we don’t have that capability. We need to get it.

SY: As you know, in May of 2018, the Board of Directors of the RMC Health System voted to shut down RMC Jacksonville. This is set to be the 12th hospital to close in the state of Alabama since the year 2011. According to Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health, the states that expanded Medicaid saw a “reduction in the number, or the velocity, of the rural hospital closures.” What steps do you believe lawmakers should be taking to slow down the closure of rural hospitals and do you believe that Medicaid expansion should be a part of that process?

MR: Well, first, Medicaid expansion is a state decision and I don’t have a say so in that. The state legislature and the Governor are gonna have to decide if they want to do that. That’s really more of a short-term life preserver. They’ve been having problems long before this opportunity to expand Medicaid came along. We were already having hospitals going under, and it’s not just rural Alabama, it’s rural America, it’s happening all across the nation. I would suggest there are a couple of things that are the cause of that. One is Obamacare. The fact is that it has strangled off the access to health insurance for a lot of families that had it before that just can’t afford it now. If you’ve got a job or small business and you’re not part of a large employer that provides health insurance, you can’t afford $2000 a month for insurance premiums for an insurance plan that has a $12,000 deductible. I mean, unless you get a catastrophic illness like cancer, it’s no use to you, and you’re definitely not gonna go to the hospital if you know you’re gonna have to pay a $10,000 or $12,000 deductible. So, a lot of the folks who had health insurance now don’t have it. A lot of these rural hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid for survival because they don’t have large employers with group health plans so there’s third party payer insurance that would take care of their patients, which means they have poor folks that use Medicaid and older folks that use Medicare. What Medicare has done is they have what’s called a wage index to decide how they will reimburse hospitals for procedures. So, if you live in a large urban area with a dense population, Medicare says “it’s gonna cost a whole lot more for you to hire people in your hospital, so we’ll pay you a dollar reimbursement for every dollar of expense that you have for providing a procedure to a Medicare recipient”. In fact, some hospitals in Los Angeles or Boston, they’ll pay a little over a dollar for each dollar of expense. Then, they come to rural areas and they say “Listen, you live in a rural area, it doesn’t cost as much for wages there so we’re gonna pay you seventy or eighty cents on the dollar for each procedure that you do.” In Alabama, for some of our most rural areas, it’s sixty-eight cents on the dollar. That’s what’s killing them, because they don’t have the third-party payer insurance to offset that. In some places like Birmingham, because it’s a denser population, they might get eighty cents on the dollar, but because there’s a lot of big companies in Birmingham that have good health insurance, and that’s a big part of their patient base, they can absorb that loss. Rural hospitals don’t have that. That’s what’s killing them. That’s why I’ve been a co-sponsor of a bill to say to Medicare “You cannot pay less than ninety cents on the dollar for Medicare reimbursement.” If that passed, that would be a long-term solution for these rural hospitals. The problem we’re having is the larger states that are getting the good end of this Medicare wage index, they don’t want to change it, it’s a pretty sweet deal for them. It’s hard for us to get enough people to go along with our bill, to sign on and support it to get it passed. We’re continuing to work at it and I’m optimistic we can get it done. In the short term, these rural hospitals are really having a hard time getting by.

SY: In an op-ed for USA Today, President Trump wrote a scathing rebuke of the Medicare for All plan endorsed by many Democrats.

MR: Including my opponent.

SY: In particular, he said that “Democrats have already harmed seniors by slashing Medicare by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare. Likewise, Democrats would gut Medicare with their planned government takeover of American health care.” What is your opinion on the Medicare for All plan?

MR: I think that it’s an insane idea for two reasons. The first reason is that there’s no way we could afford it. You would get rid of all health insurance, tri-care, the VA, all health insurance, and you would put everybody in the Medicare system, government run health insurance plan. It would cost, according to think tanks in Washington, $3.3 trillion to pay for that a year. Our entire federal budget is $4.2 trillion. It would wipe out all defense spending, all transportation spending, all education spending, all research spending, State Department, Congress, everything would go and the people who are getting Social Security would see their Social Security checks cut in half. If you’ve got a $4.2 trillion budget, you can’t take $3.3 trillion to pay for Medicare for All. You just can’t. It’s insane and there’s no way to pay for. It would also be unfair to all the people who have been paying into Medicare their entire working life so that they would have an insurance plan for them when they get in their golden years and say “Okay, we’re just gonna throw everybody else in there too and let them get ahead of you in line.” That’s just not right. Second thing is that government run health insurance has proven all across the world that it is low quality and we don’t want that in this country. If you go to Canada or Great Britain where they have it, you’ll see that people wait months to get a doctor’s appointment, and then you go to the doctor the government tells you, you don’t pick the doctor or the hospital, the government tells you. That’s not what we want in this country. I just think it’s an insane idea and it should upset anybody who’s working to pay for Medicare for their golden years.

SY: This December 7, the Violence Against Women Act is set to expire. During the 2013 reauthorization of this Act, you voted against this legislation. Many folks on the other side of the aisle argue that the Act has resulted in a 48% decrease in intimate partner violence, per the DOJ. What would you like to see changed in the legislation for it to earn your support if its reauthorization is proposed for 2018?

MR: That’s a great question. I appreciate you asking. I voted for it when it came out of the House. The Senate had a different version, so it went to conference committee. When it came out of conference committee, they had expanded it and added a whole lot of stuff that we couldn’t tolerate, and it was meant to do that on purpose. The Democrats were still controlling the Senate. They were trying to put some poison pills in it to get Republicans to vote against it so that they could say Republicans don’t care about women. That’s not true, but they went and put a lot of gay rights things in there that they knew a lot of conservative Republicans couldn’t vote for and that’s why I voted against the final version. I fully supported the Violence Against Women Act that came out of the House and would vote for it again when it comes up for reauthorization as long as they keep it Violence Against Women Act.

SY: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the budget deficit for the fiscal year 2019 is $985 billion. This is the highest deficit recorded since the year 2012. In your estimation, what specific areas has Congress failed to act in reducing deficit spending and what do you think should be done to address that issue?

MR: That’s also another great question. I think Congress has failed to do enough to make sure the economy started growing again over the last decade. The government was getting in the way of the economy. The government was taking too much control of the economy, whether it was banking through the Dodd-Frank Act, or the Affordable Care Act, health care is a huge part of our economy. What we have done in the last eighteen months is we have reversed that. We have reduced regulations, we have cut taxes, we have started stripping back the oppressive burden of Dodd-Frank on the financial systems, and now you see the economy is white hot and growing. That’s the way we got the deficit eliminated the last time it happened. President Clinton had just come into the office and he got the benefit of it happening while he was there, but it started under Reagan when Reagan cut taxes and reduced regulations. That started the economy roaring and then it had the added boom of the tech boom coming along, which just exploded the economy, and we grew ourselves out of that financial hole. That’s what has to happen again now. We have to grow our economy so that we’re creating enough tax revenue to pay for our expenses each year and then hopefully grow a surplus, so we can pay down debt. We are starting in that direction right now when you see the economy growing the way it’s been growing, unemployment now is down to 3.7%. We are projecting phenomenal growth over the coming years. Those are the things that are gonna get us out of this hole. You cannot tax yourself out of this kind of situation.

SY: Just to follow up on that, a lot of Democrats have argued that when it comes to the falling unemployment rate, the GDP, the stock market rising, that President Trump inherited a growing economy. What would you say is your response to that?

MR: [laughs] That’s idiotic and laughable. The guy was President for eight years and it was a nightmare. Trump comes in. Don’t believe me, go and look at it; the stock market started going up in November after he was elected because the business community finally felt that they didn’t have an adversary in the White House, and it’s been growing ever since. I mean, get a chart and look at the stock market and look at what happened with the stock market once Trump was elected. Get a graph and look at unemployment and what started happening over the last ten years, at the beginning of Obama’s administration, and go forward. Those people are just insane. Is that a strong enough statement? [laughs]

SY: Yeah, I think so. [laughs] This next question might bring a strong statement as well.

SY: So, last Sunday, I actually interviewed Mallory Hagan, your opponent, and we discussed the event you attended for the Auburn University College Republicans where you brought up your decades of service and residence in the district and how Mrs. Hagan has spent nine of the last ten years in New York and California. When we asked her about that, in response, Mrs. Hagan said “Since Congressman Rogers took office, Anniston, his home town, has been rated one of the top ten worst places to have a child or raise a child. Our rural hospitals have closed, our economy has faltered, and all of those things are direct results of the people we elect to office.” What is your response to Mrs. Hagan’s characterization of your time in office and how would you best overview the accomplishments you’ve made for this district?

MR: It’s just another illustration about how she doesn’t understand how government works, or, for that matter, anything about government. It’s a glimpse into what she doesn’t know. The fact is, I’ve been a local elected official, I’ve been a state official, I’ve been a federal official. There have been a lot of struggles going on in Anniston for decades. That is Anniston city government who is gonna make the decisions to resolve a lot of the burdens that they are experiencing. It’s not gonna happen at the federal level, and frankly, it’s not gonna happen in the state legislature. If she knew more about government, she’d understand that.

SY: In May of 2018, Governor Ivey signed a memorandum to create the Alabama Sentry Program, which is a program intended to make schools safer. The guidelines include allowing approved administrators to undergo training and have firearms stored on school campuses. Do you support this program and what other steps would you take to curb gun violence?

MR: Well, I’m a Republican because I think the federal government ought to not be telling state governments what to do and states shouldn’t be telling local governments what to do. I think local school boards ought to decide those kind of safety practices and I would support whatever the local school board decides is uniquely appropriate for them. Having said that, I think we as a nation are going to have to deal with this gun violence that we’ve been having by doing a much better job identifying people with mental health issues and finding a way to get them off the streets and in a place where they can get the treatment they need. One of the things about my background that you may or may not know, is that when I graduated from JSU, I had a double major, political science and psychology. I spent a couple of years working for a juvenile detention center where they had a behavioral modification program and then I spent four years working on the psychiatric unit at RMC as a psychiatric counselor. I am very familiar with this area of mental health issues, and that was in the 80’s. About that time, our country, in the 80’s, decided that we were going to try to use a community-based approach to mental health care. So, we started closing institutional beds and hospital beds, and setting up community-based treatment for those with mental health issues, as an experiment to see if we could do it better. It has proven to be a failure, and now, these folks who have these problems are in our communities, and we don’t have the facilities or the institutions that we need to get them off the streets and get them the treatment they need. That’s a nationwide problem. We’re going to have to make the investments to get those hospital beds and to give these people a place to go, so we don’t have them in our communities and in our schools killing people. I’ll give you a perfect example where that has hit here close to home, and that’s the Jacksonville hospital. When RMC bought the Jacksonville hospital, they wanted to make it a mental health hospital. They got permission from the state to put, I can’t remember, I think it’s forty or fifty beds in there for folks with mental health issues. I went and toured it with them, and it was working wonderfully. When I say mental health problems, I’m not just talking about behavioral problems, I’m talking about all sorts of substance abuse. Some of the folks were just older folks who had dementia. But, you have to have a place for them. Jacksonville hospital was working wonderfully. They had the whole second floor remodeled. They were using about half of the second floor for these kind of patients, and it was a great resource and it was gonna have a lot more people coming in from different parts of the state who don’t have those facilities. And you know why they had to close it? Because the federal government said you have to have an emergency room in order to have patients that will pay for it. They were losing like $100,000 a month on the emergency room because people weren’t going to it. People were coming down to Springville or Orange City, which, you know, is fifteen to twenty minutes away, and the hospitals could not support it. I’ve called the Medicare people up to my office in Washington saying, “What do we got to do to fix this? We have a lot of these rural hospitals that may not be able to make it as full-blown rural hospitals, but we can turn them into facilities that can treat this segment of patients that we don’t have the capability to take care of.” So, this was a situation where the government basically made it impossible for RMC to keep the Jacksonville hospital open where there was a real need that the hospital could have met.

SY: In a recent statement, President Trump blamed the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes for the recent drop in the stock market, whereas his opposition would argue that the tariffs placed on a number of foreign goods is a factor as well. Do you believe that the President’s tariffs are having a negative impact on the economy or do you see it as more of a long-term strategy to make trade practices fairer?

MR: Yeah, I think it’s the latter. I don’t think it has anything to do with the stock market correction we had a couple of days ago, and I think it’s purely an effort that has short-term turbulence that will have a very long-term benefit for our country. The President has done a great job getting these trade agreements renegotiated and done it in a very timely fashion. As far as the rate hike causing the correction, you know, I love Donald Trump, but I don’t agree with him on this issue. I think that it was just a market correction. The Fed rate increase, while I personally would have rather the Fed not have done it, was meant to try make sure we get ahead of any potential inflation, but since there’s no signs of inflation in the market place, I thought it was premature, but it was a modest increase in the interest rate and it was anticipated by the market, so they had already kind of cooked it in. So, when you look at the 800-point drop in the market from a couple days ago, that was just a market correction, it happens every once in a while, and our stock market has been rising so fast and so high. We’re at stratospheric levels. There are going to have to be corrections every once in a while. It can’t always go up. So, I just view what happened this week as a market correction and when you look at where we are after the correction we’re still in a very sweet place.

SY: What is a particular political issue that you can agree with the Democratic Party on and what are some things you’ve accomplished that have earned bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans?

MR: Best example I can give you is the Space Force. This came out of my subcommittee with unanimous support. We have to go in a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) for classified briefings. It’s a secure facility. When you’re in that SCIF and you’re getting a briefing about what China and Russia are doing, and what we’re not doing, it’ll shake the partisanship right out of you. This is about national security and keeping our country safe. My Democratic colleagues on the subcommittee are just as strong in support of this as I am. When we came out of the full committee of Armed Services, it was on a 60-3 vote, and the three that voted against it were Republicans, and they weren’t against the idea, they just thought we were going to fast. So, that is a bipartisan issue that I’ve lead on and we’re in complete agreement on. Now, you’ll see that some of the Democrats have come out and said they’re against the Trump Space Force. That’s because Trump has come out in support of it. Trump has talked about it being a little bit of a bigger enterprise than what we were talking about. They were still in support of what I proposed and what we think is gonna be the final product, that is a separate Space Force that is just focused on our national security space and not throwing intelligence community assets in there with it.

 

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