Excerpts from a recent Washington Post online reader chat with presidential candidate Sam Brownback, a two-term Republican senator from Kansas.
Q: My question is about the Biden-Brownback Amendment to push for a soft partitioning of Iraq into three mini-states. Because the Iraqi Parliament and elected officials make the final decision on whether to divide up regions of their nation, isn't your effort more of a debate point? With 18 provinces already set with a long history, and with the Iraqi people not supporting the divide of their nation, how does your plan unify Iraqis?
A: I believe the military has done a fabulous job in Iraq, but ... our political solutions have not matched the commitment and performance of the soldiers on the ground. This is a way forward for Iraq, and I absolutely believe this will be the ultimate structure of the country - one nation, but most power and authority devolved to the regions. Really, it's to keep the country together and away from civil war.
This is the first Iraq resolution this year to get broad bipartisan support, and it focuses on where we're having huge problems. A couple of weeks ago Gen. (David) Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker testified about military progress, and that little to nothing is happening politically. This addresses that lack of political progress.
Q: You have introduced an ultrasound bill in the Senate that would require abortionists to perform an ultrasound before performing an abortion. Can you discuss this?
A: Abortion is the destruction of an innocent child. What this bill simply requires is that before an abortion, the physician must do an ultrasound on the child and offer the pictures to the mother. The mother does not have to look at them. ... This will increase the information available to the mother on whether or not to have an abortion.
Q: The president has called for the renewal of No Child Left Behind. What changes would you like to see made?
A: I would like to see more liberty given to the states to meet the objectives of No Child Left Behind. I would like to see the states be allowed to use their federal money in ways they see fit if they continue to achieve benchmark objectives under No Child Left Behind.
Q: What would you do to improve the United States' reputation in regards to foreign policy? What steps would you take to improve the quality of life for soldiers returning from Iraq?
A: I think we need to walk more humbly around the world. I think we need to engage more in Africa and South America. Particularly in Africa we are seeing growing interest and conflict with Islamic fascists ... We need to go to those places and listen more than we talk. With regard to veterans, I would fund veterans health care and a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder.
Q: How would you balance the budget and work to pay back the $9 trillion national debt?
A: I would not raise taxes. Growing the economy addresses 70 percent of the deficit, and restraining the growth of federal spending is the key to the rest of it. I have been in a Congress that has balanced the budget. These are the two steps needed to balance the budget and pay back debt: grow the economy and restrain the growth of federal spending.
We need a more growth-oriented tax policy. The current code is highly manipulative of individuals' economic decisions. I would like to see us put forward an optional flat tax and allow people to choose whether to stay in the current code or choose the optional flat tax. On spending, there are many programs that have been unsuccessful and yet continue. Corporate welfare programs, like the Advanced Technology Program or its successor, come to mind.
But we really need to change the system for spending, because the system is built to spend. I have represented Kansans the past 12 years in the House or the Senate. I have not had a single constituent come in and say to me that they're getting too much federal money, please cut it. Many say to me, "I'm a conservative, but we need money" for this bridge or hospital or program.
The change in the system I'd advocate ... is to take the BRAC military base closing process and apply it to the rest of government, so that a commission regularly reports to the administration and Congress on what programs should be eliminated; those recommendations would then be voted on by Congress without amendment. That is a systems change that has worked on closing military bases, and that could work for the rest of government.