US Rep. Scott Peters (D-California) serves California's 52nd Congressional District, which is located in San Diego and the surrounding region.
Peters currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Peters joined me in a podcast interview before Thanksgiving to talk about a few critical issues facing lawmakers in Washington, including tax reform, the controversial "SHUSH fund," where taxpayers unknowingly have been paying to settle harassment claims since 1995, and some of the critical concerns facing his constituents in San Diego.
Listen to the podcast below:
Congressman Peters voted against the House bill when it came to the floor before the Thanksgiving holiday and noted in his news release, "This tax plan is irresponsible, counterproductive, unsustainable, and anti-growth because increasing the national debt hurts the economy.”
I asked Peters about his vote and why he's against THIS tax reform.
"I think we should oppose it because it's not a growth plan. This plan will not grow the economy even under the best of circumstances. Conservative economists like Greg Mankiw, who is a Republican Bush guy at Harvard, says you only earn back about a third of the money you lose in tax cuts. So that money will leave the federal government and create a deficit and make it hard for us to fund basic services -- education, infrastructure, medicare, and the military ultimately."
Peters says he wished Republicans were willing to work in a bipartisan fashion.
"If the Republicans were to work in a bipartisan way, I would like to simplify the tax code, lower statutory rates, and no loopholes. And I do believe we can tax multi-national companies in a way that doesn't encourage foreign investment. I think those are two places where we could agree. I think there are dozens of Democrats who agree with that."
"Let's not be fooled that this is some kind of middle class tax cut. It's not; it's a tax cut for wealthy people. It also hammers a few groups who I care about. One is Californians, by eliminating the state and local tax deduction, that's not fair. We're a donor state to the rest of the country. It also hammers students for their deductions."
Removing the "Shush" Fund and Sexual Harassment in Congress
Congressman Peters weighed in on the sexual harassment accusations in Congress, particularly related to Senator Al Franken. I asked Mr. Peters if he thinks Mr. Franken should resign.
"It's a bummer to see all this come out. Al Franken has a lot of work to do to restore trust between him and Minnesotans and I think it's certainly up to him (if he should resign)."
In 1995, Congress created the "Shush" Fund to not only bury harassment claims -- including claims of sexual harassment -- but also have taxpayers foot the bill to settle those claims. I asked Congressman Peters on whether he supports removing the fund:
"Yes I support removing the fund. I'm anxious to get back and deal with this. The one thing that bothers me the most is Congress made it so hard in the 90s for people to bring these concerns forward. People should have remedies for wrongdoings that are easier and I certainly think we should fix this process."
"I actually really like concentrating on fixing the culture so this won't happen to people in the first place. I don't want to be in the position where we are reacting to the bad things that are happening, I want to be preventing the bad things from happening."
Peters has required that he and his staff take sexual harassment training.
San Diego Issues
San Diego has had a tough year. Its homeless population has been exposed to a deadly Hepatitis A outbreak that's killed at least 20 people and hospitalized more than 300.
It's a city that lost its NFL team last year and is now using the ballot box to consider two plans for the 166 acres where that team used to play.
The issues with homelessness and Hepatitis A has long reached critical status.
At least 20 deaths and more than 500 cases are now attributed to the outbreak. I asked Congressman Peters what can be done on the federal level to help the local officials, because clearly, solutions need to be brought forward.
"The priorities of the city has to be to get people off the street. In the last 5 years, I've heard more and more about how awful it is. It's sad that it took third-world disease and death to get action from local officials. There is just too much finger pointing and not enough cooperating to get homeless off the streets."
"On the federal level what we've been trying to do is assist local officials. The federal government isn't in the position to locate housing for homeless folks. I also credit the efforts of local folks like Dan Shea and Peter Seidler who have been pushing solutions for awhile."
A report years ago noted San Diego has the third-largest homeless population in the country while receiving funding as if it was the 18th largest population. I asked Congressman Peters on whether those numbers can come more closely aligned.
"We want our fair share, and we approached the Obama administration and had some luck in getting four alternative formulas, any one of which would have brought us closer and the clock ran out on that administration. We've tried to bring it up with Secretary Carson but haven't received a lot of positive response but will continue to pursue it."
Congressman Peters noted that the Trump administration hasn't been able to fill key staff positions and that is causing delays and backlogs in handling issues like funding for homelessness.
Future of Mission Valley
The City of San Diego lost its NFL franchise to Los Angeles last year. Congressman Peters was a big supporter of trying to keep the team in San Diego. Now that the team has left, the void is being felt at the stadium where the team used to play.
Two plans have come forward to replace that stadium. Each of which will be on the ballot for voters to consider in November 2018.
I asked Congressman Peters to weigh in on the plans.
"I can't understand why we would build a sports facility that doesn't include Aztec football. Aztec football has been here for a long time and it makes NO sense to me to build a soccer stadium that wouldn't include SDSU. The people who are behind that (FS Investors) made a real error in not working that out ahead of time."
"In the 70's Pete Wilson (former San Diego mayor) had the chance to put condos and sell property on Torrey Pines Mesa for the biggest profit, the biggest boost to property taxes, he didn't do it, he thought ahead and said let's make this a science center. Today it's one of the leading bio tech centers in the world. We ought to be having that conversation about San Diego State and that 166 acres. San Diego State needs more land, UCSD could do something in partnership with them, that's kind of my preference."
"If you had to ask me today SDSU West is a far preferable approach."
Leadership Issues in San Diego
"I'm just really frustrated right now with where San Diego leadership is. When I was City Council president it wasn't partisan. We worked together to solve the city's problems. It's Washingtonian out here and it shouldn't be at the local level, and frankly I think Kevin Faulconer (Mayor of San Diego) is too often behind things that he should be out in front of. So I'd like to hear more from him and he's going to be mayor for three years. He's got the opportunity to step up and I'd just encourage him to do that. Get out in front of some of these things and engage the community, lead the community."