MARSHALL - While acknowledging that the state of Minnesota is well-off compared to other areas of the United States, Republican Lee Byberg says the disconnect between Congress and the American people is hurting the country now more than ever, Minnesota included.
Byberg, a businessman from Willmar who is taking his second shot this year at unseating Democrat Collin Peterson in Minnesota's 7th District, said this week that career politicians need to be replaced by people more in tune to their district.
"We are not the norm," Byberg said of Minnesota. "I think most Minnesotans understand that the rest of the country is suffering much more than we are in western Minnesota. But I think it's taking us too long to get business leaders involved. In Congress today, less than 13 percent have practical business experience and they don't connect with what happens at home. We can't just sit here and watch what's happening."
This, Byberg said, is taking place in many different sectors of government and is why a partisan Congress was unable to produce few results before adjourning last week.
Congress did pass a six-month spending measure that will prevent the government from shutting down Oct. 1, but left plenty of business on the table, including balancing the budget, a resolution to the George W. Bush-era tax cuts that expire Dec. 31 and the 2012 farm bill, which stalled in the House as conservative Republicans and Democrats squabbled over cuts to farm subsidies and food stamps.
"It's missed opportunities," Byberg said. "When you have a reality of 200 million-plus people unemployed or underemployed and we have leaders that are not able to balance or even have a budget we haven't had a budget for three years, we have record high unemployment, people are suffering across the whole nation. We have this political system that is totally dysfunctional."
Byberg, a proponent of expanding energy sources, said instead of moving in the direction of energy expansion, the U.S. is shutting down energy sources because of more regulations coming from the Environmental Protection Agency. He said these regulations will soon lead to the closure of 12 percent to 13 percent of the coal industry and pegged the current administration as "hostile" to energy and free enterprise.
"The demand of energy will double; there's no way to fulfill that demand by shutting down energies," he said. "We need to have an energy policy that welcomes all energy sources. Right now the administration is in a war against oil and gas and coal and it's driving energy prices higher. America needs to be on the leading edge of energy."
Byberg's campaign has zeroed in on connecting the residents of the district more to what happens in Washington, and his campaign contributions seem to reflect that. To date, he said, the campaign has raised about $460,000 - 85 percent of which has come from the district - a sign, he said, that local farmers and businessleaders want to be more involved in the system. He said local leaders willing to play more of a role in funding a campaign is proof they have a desire to feel a connection with politicians at the federal level.
"What I learned in 2010 was how disconnected the political system is from the people at home," said Byberg, who lost to Peterson by nearly 18 percentage points in the 2010 election. "My opponent is a prime example of that. When I talk to the leaders and the concerned citizens in the district, they are not happy with what's happening in Washington."
Byberg used milk producers as an example of how those in Washington aren't paying as much attention to their districts and how career politicians are now just part of a system that has lost touch with their districts.
"They stood up this summer and announced that they don't believe that we need to have more government involvement in their dairy operation," he said. "Minnesota farmers are saying we need less government involvement and not turn another industry into a managed system where government will decide how much you can produce."
Byberg said the U.S. is headed toward a future where the interest costs from borrowing will be larger than total national defense spending and will eventually exceed the total tax revenue.
"We are on a collision course with disaster," Byberg said. "We are stealing the future from our children."
The only way to restore fiscal responsibility, he said, is by growing the economy and reducing the size and scope of the federal government by eliminating waste and cutting departments like the EPA, which he said should be cut by 50 percent or more. That would allow free enterprise to grow and put more people in the workforce, he said.
He also said $400 billion in tax revenue could be created by bumping up each segment of society - starting from the unemployed, to those in the lowest tax bracket and so on - by 15 percent. This form of growing the economy from the bottom up, he said, would have a "tremendous impact" on the economy.
"That's the approach that serious business leaders would take," he said. "If we don't do that we will face certain disaster, and our children will say, 'What did you do for us?'"