Note: Lloyd Doggett is a Democratic Congressman in US House of Representatives. Doggett spoke to Daily Texan columnist Amil Malik about important issues in the upcoming presidential election. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Amil Malik: Why should UT students be interested in this particular presidential election?
Lloyd Doggett: Well, so much of our future rests in the outcome of this election. In terms of the immediate future, we have worked with the administration to do all we can to remove financial obstacles from students getting all the education they are willing to work for. So trying to remove financial barriers to getting an education both with the direct lending program to cut out the bank middle person in the equation and increasing the size of pell grants and what I call the 'more education tax grant' that I authored which permits each student or family to take $2500 off their federal tax bill each year to cover or to apply towards the cost of tuition and textbooks. That really covers largely the cost of education in a community college, but it helps some even at a more expensive institution like The University of Texas. And the vast majority of students would be able to qualify for that tax credit.
Then as individuals who will be living in this country fifty years for now, I believe that especially students have stake in the critical decisions we are making about the environment. We will have a world that is more and more polluted. This is the immense harm of climate if we don’t take more effective measures to assure environmental law enforcement. The republican congress again and again and again has attacked environmental law enforcement even to the point of suggesting that the environmental protection administrator should have a permanent parking place over at the House so that I think may have been intended more as a rhetorical force, but that she would be there so much defending any and everything that she tried to do assure the quality of our air and our water. Those are few of the many reasons why I believe it is important to reelect the president and get us a democratic congress.
AM: You mentioned the environment. That was a big issue in the 2008 presidential election, but it seems to have dissolved from the President’s political agenda as his time in office progressed.
LD: Well I do think that more, especially on the question of global warming, is needed from this administration. There have been some actions it took with which I did not agree. But overall its policy has been one of trying to protect air and water and see that we enforce the law in these matters as with other law enforcement and the administration has met sustained attack from the republican house on almost a weekly basis. I believe that our environmental legislation should be based on sound science rather than questionable politics or right-wing ideology. And I would like to see more focus on environment and not less.
AM: What is the most important national issue that UT students should focus on during the upcoming debates?
LD: I think it is very difficult to reduce it to one issue. Certainly education is very important… I don’t see how we can be an effective economic power unless we invest more in education from pre-k to post grad. The interference and reduction in state support for our public schools [is] a real step backwards. The federal government can’t compensate for all of that, but education not only at the university level, but at all levels, is a really critical issue in this election.
But there always- also are always the questions I think that are critical about the future of our country and its role in the world. We, I believe, have generally the correct policy in removing our troops from Iraq and beginning a too slow process of removing them from Afghanistan. And I think the question of trying to have a world in which military force is not the sole way of projecting United States power is really important. And having a president who can go in and take the action that was necessary concerning Osama bin Laden, but who realizes that there are economic limits and real world politic limits on the use of military force to solve all of our problems is in contrast with Mitt Romney who wants to spend more money on the military than the Pentagon has asked for itself.
AM: What’s your opinion of Fisher v. UT?
LD: I’m one of several members of congress who have joined an amicus brief in support of the university admission policy. I grew up in the shadow-almost literally-of The University of Texas tower here in Austin- a university in which courageous action by a number of leaders brought to campus the first African Americans to be admitted to The University of Texas… The campus is stronger, our university is stronger, with diversity. I think there is more work that is needed to diversify the campus. But I think it would be a big step backwards should the Supreme Court interfere with the current admissions policy in The University of Texas.
AM: One of the most frequent criticisms of the Affordable Care Act is that it just pays for people that aren’t buying insurance and doesn’t help the average American who already pays for it. The majority of people in the middle class that can afford insurance will have a higher economic and social burden now that Obamacare has passed. Could you speak on that?
LD: I believe that it is very important that folks realize that even if you have insurance coverage now, you benefit greatly from the affordable health care act. I believe over time premiums will be lower because of the affordable health care act. But immediately eliminating these fine print provisions when you need it the most is important. The limitation on how much of your money the insurance company can keep without declining to pay for your physician, hospital, and other health care bills is very important. The provision with regard to preexisting conditions so that if a young person switches from one job to another they don’t suddenly find themselves without insurance coverage because of some mishap they may have had in job number one being used as an excuse to deny them coverage in job number two… Also one of the big issues we have going forward is the fact that healthcare cost continues to increase at a higher rate than the cost of living generally. And there are some provisions included within the affordable health care act-we might not have enough; this is one of those areas that I would say I wish were better- to focus on how we contain healthcare costs by developing new models for healthcare delivery services.
AM: What are you working on to combat the problem of obesity?
LD: Individuals’ lifestyle choices and specifically choices that help reduce obesity are a significant factor in healthcare costs, both for the individual and society as a whole. Doing a better job of addressing obesity is really critical. We have a provision in the health care act that is opposed, and continues to be opposed, that requires information to consumers at chain food facilities, chain restaurants and the like about the caloric content of the meals being served. I think that I think the idea of getting more information to consumers, being able to make important choices about what they are doing is important... We continue to subsidize with federal dollars sugar and then there is more to be done in the whole area… The discussion is very important to look at whether there are other actions that need to be taken to obesity in terms of choices that are available to consumers.