Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TX: Noriega Offers Economic Ideas

TX: Noriega Offers Economic Ideas
Houston Chronicle, June 7, 2008

Rick Noriega, a state lawmaker from Houston, is the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee. He spoke at the Texas Democrats' state convention this weekend in Austin. Houston Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe asked him about his race against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who will be interviewed in next Sunday's Q&A.

Q: Texas so far has avoided the national economic downswing, but with interest rates dropping and gas prices rising, the state may not be far behind. What can the federal government do to stabilize the economy at this moment in time? With rising gasoline prices, should the nation adopt a gas tax holiday?

A: I disagree that Texas has avoided an economic downswing as people continually share their financial troubles with me as I travel across the state. We can start to revive our economy by bringing our troops home from Iraq. The war in Iraq is costing this country $12 billion per month, and that is too high a price to pay as we police a civil war. We need to pull that money out of the mire that is Iraq and spend that money at home.The skyrocketing cost of crude oil is being driven by growing demand in the emerging markets of India and China, the free market activities of speculators, and, most importantly, by instability in the largest oil-producing regions of the world, which the current leadership has contributed to by its bungling of foreign policy.The gas tax holiday is a gimmick that would solve few significant pricing problems, and, like the war, is based on a pay-later strategy. The best long-term solution to the gas crisis is to invest in renewable energy.

Q: Should there be a windfall-profits tax on U.S. energy companies? And should we explore for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and on the outer continental shelf?

A: The five biggest oil companies in the world made $36 billion in profits in the first three months of this year. If they continue at this rate, they are set to make $144 billion in profits by the end of the year.These companies were set to make profits when oil was at $65 per barrel, but with the price of crude breaking $130 per barrel, they are now enjoying record-breaking windfall profits.For years, renewable energy has remained a fringe option because this administration and incumbents in Congress remain beholden to the lobbying power of the oil companies. We need investment in renewable energy technology to make it viable on a large scale, and to make it a more stable and potent source of energy. We need an environment in which investing in renewable energy is incentivized.We cannot drill our way out of our energy problems. We cannot solely rely on piecemeal transitional measures like drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. We need to make a commitment to renewable energy now for the energy independence for future generations. Our national security depends on it.

Q: Should funding for the war in Iraq be restricted until a deadline for withdrawal of troops is set? Should we maintain permanent military bases in Iraq? Please, explain your answer.

A: Funding should not be restricted. I would never cut off soldiers, but I think we need to put timetables on withdrawal from Iraq. We need to give our troops the resources they need to do their job, something the current administration has not done in the past. The real problem is not with funding but with the lack of leadership.Efforts to establish permanent bases in Iraq would make U.S. interests in Iraq and throughout the Middle East less secure.

Q: A recent FBI inspector general's report said agents at one time kept a "war crimes" file on military personnel and CIA agents who used tactics that could be described as torture on suspects. Would you favor a U.S. war crimes tribunal that would investigate allegations of torture and prosecute violators?

A: No. If any laws were broken, they should be handled by the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice in line with current procedures and prosecuted accordingly. Torture and similar tactics are unacceptable.

Q: As a Texas legislator you sponsored a bill to give in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Why is this a good policy, and doesn't it encourage continued illegal immigration? And should the Constitution be amended to deny automatic citizenship status to children born in this country of illegal immigrants?

A: No. To suggest that this policy would encourage continued illegal immigration, considering all the economic pressures driving this problem, is ludicrous. The best investment we can make is in our children's education. I favor tax breaks for middle-class families burdened with rising tuition costs and increased financial aid opportunities for all Texans.And no, we should not be amending our most important founding document.

Q: Should illegal immigrants be required to leave the country to apply for re-entry as a condition of gaining citizenship status?

A: The immigration problem in this country deserves comprehensive reform. The incumbent junior senator has filed legislation to impose a "touchback" provision, sending 12 million people underground. This is not a viable solution.We need a comprehensive plan that devotes more resources to recruiting border patrol agents and local law enforcement.This country needs workers, and we need a process that recognizes who they are, why they're here, what they are doing and that allows them to pay taxes. Any bad actors should not be allowed to stay in the country.

Q: A variety of tax cuts enacted under President Bush are set to expire in coming years. Which would you vote to extend, and which would you allow to expire?

A: The Bush tax cuts have been about rewarding a select few. This reliance on trickle-down economics continues to hurt the middle class. The Bush tax cuts have coincided with massive federal spending. While the incumbent has been in office, the national debt has climbed to $9.4 trillion.We have to get back to fiscal responsibility and balancing our budget.

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