This is Part II of an interview with Arlington’s Amit Singh, who is running for the GOP nomination in the 8th Congressional District race. He’ll be vying with Mark Ellmore for the votes of 8th district Republicans on June 10th. The winner of that race will face long time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) this fall. Part I is available here.
Getting to the Specifics
MB: Your platform is very focused on reducing spending, sounding like the old – and to me, mythical – Republicans. This, of course, is what we hear from every candidate. And then that candidate gets elected, goes to DC, and it’s back to business as usual. This is both because a newly elected representative doesn’t have much power to change the big picture, and because he or she soon draws a connection – consciously or not – between federal spending and future campaign contributions. In concrete and practical terms, how do you expect to overcome those two challenges? What would you do differently?
AS: “I’m not worried about making a career out of being a politician. I’m not doing this for the money, I’m not doing this for the power.” If I can’t stick to my principles, there’s no point in running. [ . . . ] Yes, I would be one of 435 votes, but my vote would be as equal to the most senior member in Congress as well.”
Singh goes on to cite a The Wisdom of Crowds – part of which examines the idea that “one person in a crowd who stands for what they believe in can start other people – basically, embarrass people into doing the right thing. If I can be one of those votes that can start building that momentum towards fiscal responsibility, that’s important.”
On the matter of trading earmarks for contributions, Singh cites a case in which he believed there was a connection between $17k worth of contributions from a contractor and Moran’s backing of a $35 million nautical magnetic drive project (that the Navy apparently didn’t want) for that contractor. Singh framed these types of situations as simply bad politics – “Whether you’re left leaning or right leaning, I don’t think any American is pro waste.”
Are there specific things that come to mind when you talk about reducing spending?
“Yes, and again – nothing would happen overnight. One of the top [targets for spending cuts] would be the Department of Education, which has been doubled in the last 10 years or 8 years. [Education is] something that should be defederalized and sent down to the local levels.”
Singh also pointed out the Federal Communications Commission is an agency that is not needed, suggesting that arbitration could settle claims of interference between spectrum users.
Singh summed up his general approach to assessing the state of the Federal government as, roughly (this is not a quote) – we have to fundamentally ask ourselves what’s the role of government – is it supposed to take care of us cradle to grave? If so, we keep the existing form. If not, we need to look at getting rid of all these bureaucracies. Singh clearly thinks the latter is the answer to his question. He sees a role for a revived commitment to and reliance on private charity.
Looking at your resume, it seems that almost all of your career has been spent working on government-funded projects. Has that informed your perspective on federal spending?
“Absolutely. If I was conservative before, going through college, it really didn’t hit me until I started contracting with the federal government, and I saw firsthand, so much of the waste and abuse, and how decisions were made politically.“ Singh related some stories about the problems with the budgeting process – situations where cost savings weren’t valued by the contractor, or dealing with the annual pressure to spend up to the agency’s budget at the end of every fiscal year, as “they’ll burn money before they hand it back to Treasury”.
Speaking of spending – do you support the Tyson’s tunnel effort?
“I don’t think so. Well, first off, I think it needs to be rebid. If you don’t have competitive bidding, the citizens of Virginiaa just aren’t getting the best deal they could get.”
[ . . . ]
“My understanding of all the nuances is that the tunnel is going to be generally three times as expensive [as the above ground option] and it’s going to take a lot longer to happen. So my fear is that by trying to go under, instead of over, it will never happen. I’m more of an advocate for the over. But again, being an engineer dealing with a fluid situation, if the facts on the ground change, you have to adjust your view.”
So you’d be open to hearing a case from either side?
“Of course. And that’s what competitive bidding is about.”
Arlington is all about the green, lately. That’s not something that Republicans really have a lot of brand cred on. What’s the proper role of the Federal government in protecting the environment?
“The government shouldn’t be signing treaties that lets Americans export pollution to less efficient countries. If we sign these treaties where we have to reduce our emissions, but we let developing nations off the hook, then the natural thing that’s going to happen is that American industry is going to go to these Third World countries and export their pollution, that’s going to be even dirtier. The Kyoto treaty lets India and China off the hook. If we’d hold them to the same standard that we held the United States, then that’s a different story. But we’re giving developing nations a free ride while they’re putting all the burden on the industrialized nations. That’s not the right formula for having a global environmental improvement.” [MB: a description of the cap and trade mechanisms used by the Kyoto Protocol signatories can be found in this Council on Foreign Relations summary.]
“The other thing I think the Federal government should do is allow for more nuclear power plants. I think even environmentalists have come around and realized that we need a total energy alternative solution, and nuclear has to be a part of the equation. I know a lot of people don’t want a nuclear powerplant in their backyard, I think they’ve shown, time and time again, throughout the world, in the last 20 years, that nuclear is safe, cheap, and clean. I think we really need to open the door again to nuclear power, as part of the overall energy solution.”
Does the Federal government have a rule in investing in research so we can move off of oil, or is that something that should be left to the markets?
“Absolutely, it should be left to the markets.” Singh is against all government subsidies for the energy sector, including soft subsidies such as the costs involved with US defense of private oil operations. Singh also notes that “the government is bad at picking winners” and thinks that consumers should be more exposed to the actual costs of their choices – “If gas goes to $5 a gallon, people are going to stop buying SUVs. The consumer has to play a role [in reshaping energy consumption], but they’re not going to play a role as long as we force gas to be cheap.”
This is a tough sell – what I think I’m hearing is that there’s no tax breaks for development of solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources.
“I think it’s a consistent view.”
It’s a tough sell to both sides. On one hand, you’ve upset the people pushing for development of alternatives to oil, and you’ve also told the oil industry that you won’t be supporting them. Tough spot, no?
“I think even the Republican base is not in favor of corporate welfare.”
You seem to emphasize very strongly, individual rights and freedoms, yet you support term limits, which strikes me as taking away the individual right and freedom to vote for whom they like.
“I disagree. The way our political system works now, Congressmen who have seniority in Congress have a disproportionate effect on the lives of people who did not elect them.” There’s an incentive [to keep electing] the same guy who’s going to bring you back pork, to the district, over and over again. What that ends up doing is making the government very inefficient.
[ . . . ]
“Just as we have term limits on the president and most local offices, I think it’s appropriate to have term limits [on congressmen]. Whether that’s six years, or twelve years, that’s all negotiable. But to have people who’ve been in office for forty or thirty years, and they can get whatever pork they want back to their district, to guarantee that they’ll win over and over again[,] I don’t think that’s how this country was [meant to be] set up.”
But aren’t you telling the voters that you know better than them?
“The voters are doing what’s best for them, for that particular district, but they’re doing it at the expense of all the other voters in the rest of the country. And that’s what I have a disagreement with.”
That concludes Part II. Part III will finish the interview, and examine Singh’s thoughts on the REAL ID Act, government surveillance, and facing Jim Moran in the fall.