Q&A from Congressman Adam Smith’s Des Moines Town Hall

Some of you attended the town hall in Des Moines on June 2, 2010. Chair Omaha Sternberg had several questions to ask, but unfortunately was not able to because of the number of questions and comments at the event. Congressman Smith graciously responded to these questions afterward. Click “more” to read those questions and answers.

Question 1: Both the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with the oil rig explosion/leak and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion in West Virginia are connected to a lax in enforcing safety measures by the companies involved. These safety measures are regulated by government departments that did not enforce them. What plans do you have to ensure that these departments enforce those safety regulations in the future? What culpability do you think that these companies should face for safety regulation violations?

Answer: Laws and regulations exist that have clearly not been followed or enforced in both of the disasters you mention. I will communicate directly with the administration and the DOJ to ensure the enforcement of regulations is improved and that the laws that enable us to hold the companies liable are strongly enforced. BP in particular had literally hundreds of safety violations, compared to between one and eight for other companies, and both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to adequately enforce existing rules.

Question 2: Recent information has surfaced that soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who have been wounded in battle and subsequently given honorable discharges because their injuries prevented them from serving further are being billed for equipment that they lost track of during the time that they were injured. The majority of these situations seem to be outside of a soldier’s ability to control, in that once injured, a soldier can’t determine what happens to his/her equipment. Do you feel that these soldiers should be billed for this lost equipment anyway, and why? If not, what measures do you plan to implement to prevent further billing of these soldiers (and repay those who have already paid)?

Answer: I have looked into the situation with the wounded soldiers being charged for losing equipment. Thus far, in the cases I have looked at including the one here at Fort Lewis, the soldiers were not in fact charged for lost equipment. One had been accidentally overpaid and the Army is trying to get the extra pay back. I am looking into the other cases and certainly feel strongly that wounded soldiers should not be charged for lost equipment.

Question 3: Many investment companies have admitted that they made decisions regarding stock and bond purchases/sales based solely on the rating given by stock and bond rating companies. However, in the 90’s, in order to be more transparent, these same rating companies published their rating algorithms, which means that any company could skew their bond/stock rating by simply using the algorithm themselves on their stock/bond. Do you feel that this is an issue that should be fixed with more regulation? If not, what should be done to prevent the taxpayer from footing the bill of foolish investment company decisions?

Answer: Yes, stock and bond rating agencies must be reformed. It is an issue I am looking at closely as we consider Wall Street Reform. I will look into the downside of transparency issue you raise, and also feel that these agencies must be forced to be completely independent and have no ability to gain a financial stake in the ratings they pass out.

Question 4: A large number of presidential appointees have not been confirmed due to stalling tactics by House and Senate Republicans. These tactics are often archaic rules (such as filibustering) that do not actually promote communication, cooperation, or compromise that is necessary to create good legislation. This is not the first time that Republicans (or Democrats) have used these rules. Do you feel that these rules (such as filibustering, making changes to bills that require a committee to reconvene at a time when that is impossible, etc) should be changed? How would you go about changing them?

Answer: Even though I am not in the Senate I believe that filibuster rules must be changed. For one thing it should not be allowed for appointments. Each appointee deserves an up or down vote in a timely manner. I am also interested in other ways to limit the times when the filibuster can be used. I do not believe it should be eliminated but both it and the ability of one Senator to put a hold on any Senate action should be more limited in scope.