There are currently three Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in this November’s 2nd District Congressional contest.
As part of our Your Vote 2020 election coverage, Maine Public is asking each of them about the issues that pollsters have identified as being most important to Republican voters.
Senior Political Correspondent Mal Leary spoke with former Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey about health care, the opioid crisis and, of most concern to Republicans, taxes and spending.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Brakey: What happens every few years, when the budgets come out, is Democrats always want to spend more on welfare spending here at home. The Republican establishment, the old guard, always wants to spend more on warfare spending abroad, more wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and it goes on and on. And so they compromise, they come together and say, ‘Let’s just spend trillions more on everything, and won’t we then all be happy?’ Of course, for us, the taxpayers of America, we get stuck with the bill.
We have $23 trillion in debt. We have over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. You divide that out across America, that’s a bill of over $1 million for every single American taxpayer.
So the way that we get taxes and spending under control is that we have to cut a little bit of what both sides want. Maybe we can’t afford the Medicare For All, free health care for everyone. And maybe we also can’t afford to have $1 trillion wars that never end.
That’s why I’m a big advocate both for cutting spending on all sides, especially looking at bringing our troops home from these wars that have gone on for close to 20 years now and haven’t produced results. And if you ask our soldiers fighting over there, nobody even knows what the mission is.
Leary: Well, you brought up Medicare For All, which is one of many health plans out there. It’s also a big concern to Republicans. Republicans really want an affordable health care plan that covers people. So how would you do that, having rejected already Medicare For All?
Well, first of all, we need to understand what the problem is. And the problem is the bureaucracy. Doctors are overworked, patients are overpaying, and yet the bureaucrats, the middlemen are the ones who are making off really well.
If you look at the cost of health care, a full third of it is the cost of bureaucracy. I’m talking about insurance companies, I’m talking hospital systems, I’m also talking about the government bureaucracies themselves. They all justify their own existence by pointing to each other and saying, ‘Hey, you need us to fight these other bureaucrats.’
But really, if you just fired the bureaucrats and put doctors and patients back in charge, not only would you see health care prices come down immediately by a third, you could also inject real price competition back into the system. You put patients back in charge and health care providers are going to have to cater to what patients want, which is high-quality care at lower prices, like we see in other healthy industries, but we don’t see in health care because government has screwed it up so much.
So I’m the only candidate running for Congress who’s put out an actual plan for how we fix health care. Now my Democratic opponent, Jared Golden, wants to socialize it. He wants to put Washington, D.C., bureaucrats in charge. I want to personalize it. I want to put doctors and patients in charge. And you can read about my plan to personalize health care at ericbrakey.com.
The opioid crisis is affecting everybody across political party lines. It’s probably the one thing that unifies among all of the various political, diverse groups. They want government to do something about it, because government didn’t step in and regulate this industry and allowed this crisis to occur. What would you do to try to tackle this and solve that problem? Because we’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of people that are suffering from this disease and need help. And we have to stop it, but we also have to help those folks who have already been addicted.
Well, first of all, let me say that, I think the old-school approach of trying to tackle this problem, of saying that we’re just going to take people and we’re going to lock them in cages if they get addicted to substances, where we treat this as a pure criminal justice problem — I don’t think that that has been working. And I don’t think that that is the approach that we should take going forward.
I think that we need to recognize that this is a health crisis. And these are people who have become addicted to these substances. Oftentimes, it’s because a doctor prescribed them something for pain and that use of that got out of control, it was very addictive, and they find themselves in the situation now.
So I think that we need to have compassion for people who find themselves in that situation. You’re right, it could be anyone, it could be your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your own child. And so when we’re looking at solutions, I think the old lock-people-up-and-throw-away-the-key is not how we should be doing this.
When I was the Senate chairman for Health and Human Services here in Maine, we spent a lot of time working on this and I advocated for both support for treatment, helping people get access to treatment resources, and also for harm reduction strategies to help people not die.
I’m pro-life. And I think that being pro-life means that all life, we should be working to protect, whether that’s someone who is addicted to opioids or other situations.