This is the second part of multi-part interview with Mark Ellmore, candidate in the GOP primary, where he’s facing Amit Singh (also interviewed at Blacknell.net). The winner of the June 10th primary will face long time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) this fall. Part I is here. I apologize to my readers for the long delay in getting this done. I think I’ve learned a lesson about committing to interview transcripts (instead of summaries).
MB (Mark Blacknell): So then taking that health care issue and turning it towards the General Election, and the public here in Arlington – what is the role of the Federal government in health care? That there is a problem is a point of universal agreement, I think, but how you solve it, well, that’s a different issue, no?
ME (Mark Ellmore): Yes.
MB: So we have this huge issue where the market doesn’t appear to have solved the issue . . .
MB: We’ve got a semi-free market out there. A giant mess. So what’s the Federal government’s role in solving that?
ME: Well, I think we need to keep the Federal government’s role limited. I do not support Hillarycare or the plan Barack Obama would have. I do support the Republican version of the S-CHIP initiative. And people say “Oh, [Mark Ellmore] supports S-CHIP”
MB: S-CHIP didn’t work out so well for Republicans.
[more after the break]
ME: Well, no. It did not. But I support the Republican version, that would only be for children that are maybe two or three hundred percent below the poverty level. So while we have to understand that there are people in this country suffering – there are real needs in this country – you can’t hand it over and say, oh, by the way, the government is going to take it over and have a socialized program. I don’t support that. But what I do support are the health savings plans, I support [providing access to association-based health care plans]. It’s not that insurance isn’t available to everybody, it’s that you can’t afford it.
MB: But what if I’m a waiter, making $20k a year, tops? Does the government have no role in making sure that I have health care?
ME: No. And again, because we don’t want to make it that government tells you . . .
MB: Or making [health care] available. I’m not taking about making it required, but making it available in a meaningful way. If I’m just making $20k a year, I simply can’t afford health insurance, access or not.
ME: Right, but that’s what I’m saying – doing the health savings accounts or [getting access through some waiter-based association is the solution.]. There’s no quick fix answer. I know a lot of young people, they don’t want to spend $200-300 a month on health care. And that’s not the government’s role to make them have it. You can have the choice of having it, but a lot of young people, they don’t want to waste money on it. They choose. And that’s where we have to protect individual liberty.
[ . . . ]
There’s some seniors that don’t want to pay into it. And I don’t want to get to a point where we’re forcing it on them. Once you start forcing something – when they can go, what they can do, what procedures they can get, what medicine you can take [etc.] – that is a slippery slope I don’t want to tangle with. [ . . . ]
I agree that there are people hurting in this country. And for those that cannot take care of themselves, like the least of us – the children in this country, this guy that’s 105 years old who’s just with nothing? C’mon, you’ve got to have a heart, and you’ve got to understand that that’s where the human sacrifice that we need to consider the bigger good.
MB: So the sacrifice there comes from individuals,
MB instead of say, a state solution?
ME: Right. And the states – the state of Virginia could have a solution. But the Federal government, when you go down that slippery slope, the Federal government starts wanting to talk about a nationalized health care program, that’s just something we just could never manage. We’d never be able to get our arms around that. And the amount of money it would cost to fund that, support it, and then, would it consider getting into the individual liberties or the free market society of our medical professionals? So you can do tort reform, stop these crazy lawsuits. Yes, people do need to be properly compensated for that, but some of these are off the charts. Make it so we can focus on getting the medicine to people at a cheaper price. That, I don’t know what we can do with all these big major pharmaceutical firms? Why can’t the pharmaceutical firms help out with that cost? It’s like oil prices, gas prices – when an oil company makes 10 billion dollars, yes, we’ve got a free market, but at what point can we get them to say, “Oh, by the way, can we help?”
MB: But hasn’t the free market led us to exactly what the pharmaceutical firms are doing now? They’re doing very well. But the free market says, “Hey, our only obligation is to our shareholders. We don’t have any obligation to society, or doing the right thing.”
ME: You’re exactly right. They are unpersonal. They are not a people organization. They are there to create a profit. To make money. And again, that’s where it comes down to that fine line, and we either go one way or the other. And some way you have to be able to meet in the middle of that, with responsibility. I think that once you open the door to the Federal government, saying that we are going to take – whether it’s with S-CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare – and taking them beyond their original intent, that’s just where, you know what, there is no canned answer saying what I would do. It’s all philosophical, it’s all . . . . because as one person out of 435 members of Congress, you alone are not going to go out and say, oh by the way, this is my plan and this is what we’re going to do. It doesn’t work like that. Especially not your first few terms in office. You’re just not going to be able to get something like that done. But come time to vote for something like that, that’s where you say “Hey, this is what I would support, this is what I would not support.” And I would definitely support something that would be more along the lines of (what I think is) S 2193, the Republican bill. And I think we could take a look at that, and have a deeper inspection of that. And I just think people as a whole need to take a deeper look at that. There is no answer I can sit with you right here and say that Mark Ellmore says this is what needs to be done.
ME: I’d be a liar and a fraud. [ . . . ] There’s no use to try and BS anybody.
MB: Speaking of fraud, you have some experience with Countrywide [Mortgage] , which has come to be pretty famous – infamous – of late. So I imagine that you’ve got a lot of personal insight as to what’s going on with the mortgage industry.
ME: I have a great deal of insight into the mortgage side of things.
MB: So what’s the role of the Federal government in addressing the problem?
ME: I think the Federal government should not get over-involved in the mortgage piece to the standpoint that they start paying people off. They’re already offering tax credits to companies and that type of thing. You take losses on loans. So that’s part of the plan. And again, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, it going to go down the way. But in theory, we need to get to the crux of the issue – what took place. In the boom, when people started buying homes (and you can take a look here in Northern Virginia) right? A home was maybe a $250k bungalow over here in a low to moderate income area. Well, the people who were renting those homes and paying rent, all of a sudden started seeing those values go up, and the news was “Oh, we’re making money, homes selling left and right.” So here’s what happened? There got to be so much pressure on financial institutions to let everybody live the American dream. So then they had to open up the lending programs to low to moderate income borrowers of all backgrounds. So then you came up with 100% financing. So then you went away from what you or I or anyone else when you bought a home had to do. Now, no downpayment, no responsibility, no accountability – let it ride.
MB: Where did that pressure come from? The people or the lenders?
ME: Well, it came from all over. It came from the people. Not from the lenders. I don’t think that the lenders – the lenders responded because there became a market for it on Wall Street. See there became a way to unload those securities. But the pressure came from the people and from the government. And not only just the Federal government as they came down with a mandate, but in general there was a lot of pressure to say “Hey, how do you open up? Will Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac buy these loans? Will they loosen up the guidelines at HUD and say will you not only buy a loan at 3%, but use a subsidiary financing package to get them the other 3%?” So they came up with a way to sell the note – and when you do that in a free market society, you give them a place to unload a piece of material, the market will create a tool to get it done. Therefore, you had no money down, no PMI, stated income, stated asset, you had investors investing with no money down. That was crazy.
So we need to do this. Shut down the subprime lending aspect of it, banks have gone back into – not necessarily a complete kneejerk reaction – but they’ve gone back to where now, there are different guidelines for buying a home and the money you need to put down, credit score related issues. If you want a home equity line of credit on your house now, some places are not going past 80% of the appraised value. And it’s an equity issue. It’s not an interest rate issue. It’s simply an equity position issue. And the equity position we have now, it’s going to take years to work through it. We’re going to be flooded over the next 12 months to 2 years with foreclosures, and REOs, buy-backs. It’s a cyclical thing. I lived through the gas-crisis of the 70s, I lived through the stock market wreck we went through in the late 80s, I lived through the S&L crisis – I was employed in one when all that got absorbed. Had they not come through and rescued Bear Stearns, we would have had a mess on our hands like you’d never seen.
MB: So the Federal government did have a role in rescuing Bear Stearns?
MB: And the S&L’s?
ME: Absolutely. Had they not stepped up, we would have been out. So there’s a time and a place. And it’s kinda like, there’s a time when you need a ride to the hospital – you need an ambulance – and that’s the backstop. But only in those situations, where you need that backstop. And that’s why, you know, we have the system that’s set up the way it is. Otherwise, it would have led to complete and utter financial collapse.
MB: Do you see any parallels between this, and – going back to health care – where somebody needs an actual ride to the hospital, needs some treatment at the hospital?
ME: Well . .
MB: I mean, you see a role for the Federal government in stopping the collapse of a financial system, but what about healthcare?
ME: Well, that’s why we’ve got Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and we’ve already got S-CHIP coming forward, in whatever form. And those are pretty strong entitlements. So those are things the Federal government is stepping up to do. Because nowadays it’s not like when I got into business. When I got intot he system – I started as a teller in, I believe, 76 – you know, you had a retirement account, and you were [expecting a pension]. All of that is out the window.
Now you’ve got your 401(k). They’ve let the horse out of the barn so now, you’ve come to say “Wow, I better have some social security. And God forbid, if Medicare’s not available for me.” See, you can be young and [say] “Shut it all down!” But you’ve got to look at the monster that’s been created and the dependency on those programs.
MB: Let’s make sure I’m understanding you correctly. You’re saying that there is a role for Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare?
ME: As is. I do not support expanding those. I’d like to see maybe our senior citizens that get Social Security, maybe we don’t Federally tax them. And help out seniors so they’ve got more money so they’re less of a burden. They can’t afford their medications. They can’t afford to eat.
MB: Okay, say I’m 35 years old and looking forward – should I be able to rely on Social Security and Medicare?
ME: Well, I see it as a backstop that we’re not sure is going to be there. I think that there are, over the next 10 to 20 years, going to have to be some drastic measures taken to fund that, or it will run out. But the other thing we can do, is – I believe, not the whole thing – I support privatizing a portion of your Social Security. If you, as a young professional, choose to take your social security money and privatize and invest it a way that you . . .
MB: Well, that’s kinda risky, no?
ME: Well, I don’t mean the whole thing, but . . .
MB: Looking at the past 8 years, I don’t really want my Social Security – which I regard as a bedrock –
MB: in a market like that.
ME: Right, but it’s your choice. You’re an individual who can respond . . . I’m not saying [privatize] all of it. I don’t know what the portion is – it could be $10 or $10,000 – I don’t know. But I think we need to take a look at what the President proposed, because it puts people in charge of their own destiny. And I do believe that government has a role. And then our taxes, too. Obviously, we couldn’t have roads, we couldn’t have streets, you couldn’t sit here today if we didn’t have police, fire, rescue, law and order, structure, a port system. But again, we want to keep individual freedom at its highest level. So that people can operate within that framework. But should you choose to do that, that’s what the beauty of it is. Otherwise, we’re saying that government knows what’s best for you, and the government is going to tell you how and what to do with the money you put into the system.
MB: Ok. Going back to you being a Republican running in a Democratic district – do you approach the job of Congressman as somebody who has to represent the people that elected him, or everybody in the district?
ME: Everybody in the district.
MB: That’s a little tough, because – you’re 100 percent pro-life, and I’m fairly sure that [the district is majority pro-choice].
ME: But that’s a secondary issue. It’s settled law. And I haven’t had one person come up to me [and ask me about getting involved in overturning the law]. My point on the life issue is – with that in place, it is settled law, and for someone to try and run in this district and say [he’s going to work to overturn it] – no. I’m not going to water down who I am. But we can do is say hey, why don’t we stop using as much money as we do to pay for abortion, and use it for prevention. See, because the problem – the consequence of a poor choice or irresponsibility is an unwanted pregnancy. And that’s the problem. See what I mean? I’ve got a way to articulate that message[.]. I don’t support abortion in any way, shape, or form. But you have to be responsible and understand that there are people that say they do. And that you can stand on your moral conscience . . . but [this issue is like] a hypothetical. [Discussing the state of the law is like saying] what if we were going to build a nuclear power plan in Springfield? I mean, you’re talking about a hypothetical.
MB: Sure. But I can give you a couple of less hypothetical topics. Say, stem cell research, which is something a lot of people around here care a lot about.
ME: Absolutely. Here we go. I fully support stem cell research because the science shows that stem cell research – as long as it’s not embryonic stem cells – you see, I support skin cell research. Blood cord research. Embryonic stem cells are going to be like the 64 Impala. They’re proving that skin cells are more productive, and more effective.
MB: [here, he notices my rather skeptical look]
ME: Well, again, it’s proven in science. And in this age of scientific enlightenment, it’s proven . . .
MB: I have to stop you here. [Skin stem cells and blood cord research] is interesting science, so let’s pursue it. But blocking off this entire area that seems to be the core of stem cell research – embryonic stem cells – just because it involves embryonic cells, that’s something that a lot of people have a problem with.
ME: That’s fine. But I can’t water down who I am. I’m for 99.5% of what [researchers] do, obviously, but there’s so much done. So it would be somebody who just wants to pick and debate and say “Oh, Ellmore doesn’t support stem cell research . . . .” but no, I do. I can show you scientists that say skin stems cells are better than the embryonic stem cells. I can’t water down who I am and then say I’m going to jump over here. No, that’s part of the whole thing, it’s just who I am. But I think that we can articulate that message and those others, [that say] an embryo needs to be used, I can show you a scientist that says no, skin cells and blood cord stem cells are just as productive.
[The remainder of the interview will be posted in the near future.]