Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat political writer Louis Peck sat down with the major party candidates for the 6th Congressional District to discuss the issues. This week, Bethesda Beat is running each candidate’s Q&A interview, in alphabetical order of the candidates’ names. For more information on the candidates, check out our 2018 General Election Voters’ Guide.
Monday: Amie Hoeber
Tuesday: David Trone
Age: 63 (born Sept. 21, 1955, Cheverly, Maryland)
Home: Potomac; married, four children
Education: bachelor’s degree, Furman University, Greenville, S.C., 1977; master’s degree (business administration), Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1985
Professional background: founder and co-owner, Total Wine & More, a national retail chain, 1991-present; president, 1991-2016
Political experience: ran for Democratic nomination for U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (2016)
Much of the work of the House of Representatives is done in committee. If elected, to which committees would you like to be assigned?
Frankly, it’s going to depend on what happens with control of the House. If [the Democrats] are in the majority, [of] which I’m very hopeful, there will be a lot more committee assignments opening up … . We’re looking at trying to be in the front of the line. I think the fact that we’re helping out financially across the United States in over 50-plus congressional [races]—my wife and I—should be a positive. That’s going to give us a little more ability to be successful [in getting] on the right committees.
So the top stretch would be to figure out how to land on [the] Appropriations [Committee]. It’s hard to have happen, but, at the same time, if you don’t set your sights high, you won’t be successful. [Editor’s note: It is unusual although not unprecedented for freshman legislators to be assigned to what are widely regarded as the House’s two most powerful committees: the Appropriations and the Ways and Means panels. The first determines how much money the government receives on an annual basis, the second has jurisdiction over issues ranging from taxes to international trade to health care financing.]
And, assuming your party does not have the House majority in the next Congress, on which committees would you be particularly interested in serving?
[The] Transportation [and Infrastructure Committee] is a big one. You get two committees for sure. Foreign [Affairs] … as a secondary type committee, but Transportation to help fix our infrastructure. The other committee I’m interested in, of course, is Education [and the Workforce]. Education is what has made June [Trone’s wife] and myself successful, so the education committee is the other one we’re focused on.
If your party is back in the majority, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi—who was House speaker from 2006-2010—would again be in line to assume that position, given that she is now House Democratic leader. A number of Democrats running for Congress this year have called for new leadership, and said they would not back her for speaker. Would you?
She’s been absolutely fantastic; she’s been great raising money all over the country, and providing leadership to the party. And we’re so fortunate to have Steny in the No. 2 position. [Editor’s note: Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer is currently minority whip, the second-ranking position in the Democratic leadership.] Leader Pelosi came originally from Baltimore, so we have two awesome leaders of the Democratic Party that really have Maryland in the forefront … . I think we’re going to have to wait and see what comes up at the time we’re elected. She’s been a great speaker in the past, but we have to wait and see what comes down the road.
Like many others in your party, you undoubtedly have numerous differences with the current occupant of the White House. Given that you are touting your ability to work across party lines in your campaign ads, are there proposals and initiatives that President Trump has advocated with which you agree, and feel have been beneficial to the country?
Well, it depends on what day of the week you’re getting him on (chuckles). On a good day, there aren’t many. He has spoken about the terrible situation … with the opioid catastrophe. I believe he’s going to sign the bill for $8.5 billion that’s coming to him. [Editor’s note: The reference is to a bill recently passed by Congress that provides funding increases to existing programs designed to combat opioid addiction, along with instituting several measures designed to restrict the supply and availability of such drugs.] And he’s looked at starting a task force on opioids, but he hasn’t funded it. The fact that he at least said, “Hey, we need a task force here,” is good, but he forgot the funding part.
What would you like the federal government to do that it currently isn’t to combat opioid abuse?
We put together a comprehensive 12-point plan that touches everything from education to research [on] pain treatments to funding treatment centers. The Democrats put together—and it’s now very much bipartisan—this bill that passed. But a big bill needs to go 10 years and $100 billion—that’s what the number is that [Maryland Rep.] Elijah Cummings and [Massachusetts Sen.] Elizabeth Warren have put together. Their bill is a lot along the lines of what we’ve been talking about for almost two years now; they came up with numbers similar to what we came up with.
This is a national problem. I think we can work with moderate Republicans, and maybe even some tea party Republicans—because opioids and fentanyl killed 72,000 people in the last year, 64,000 the year before. This started, of course, in the inner cities, and now it’s spread to everywhere. It doesn’t ask what party you’re in, it doesn’t ask what ZIP code you come from, it doesn’t ask your economic status or your religion … . As you know, I lost my nephew.
[The recent legislation] is a down payment, but you don’t fix a problem that’s been decades in the making in the pharmaceutical industry with a one-shot deal. This is going to take a decade to fix. [Republican nominee] Amie Hoeber’s plan is to quote “leave it up to the local governments” to figure it out. I was in Hagerstown; their local government says they can’t figure this out. I was in Cumberland; they can’t figure it out … . If someone wants to get help and they want it now, they’re not looking to drive to the other side of the state.
On another health-related issue, if you had been a member of Congress in 2010, would you have voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—so-called Obamacare—and what, if any, steps do you feel need to be taken to improve its implementation?
President Obama did an awesome job. I was fortunate and honored to be able to host him at my home. Listening to him talk about government in such nuance and depth with great thought—I contrast that to the current president, whose vocabulary reminds me of a fourth-grader and who tries to govern by tweets.
The ACA was a great achievement. Like every policy that is difficult, it’s never perfect on day one. It was a series of compromises, and what was passed wasn’t what President Obama wanted at the end of the day. But to get that done was just fantastic: 31 million more Americans had health care because of it. [Editor’s note: According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, the number of uninsured Americans actually dropped from 48.6 million when the ACA was adopted in 2010 to 28.6 million in 2016, translating into 20 million added to the health insurance rolls. The number of uninsured Americans rose slightly, to 29.3 million in 2017, the first year of the Trump administration, the CDC found.]
Unfortunately, we’re taking a four-year hiatus and we’re going the wrong way … . President Trump and my opponent want to repeal [the ACA]. If that were to happen, millions of Americans would lose health care and be denied health care for pre-existing conditions. We need to continue to improve it until everybody’s covered, because health care is a human right. We also need to get pharmaceutical prices in line. The pharmacy lobby is the No. 1 lobby in Congress: Their PACs gave away $4 billion in the last decade—and you wonder why we have an opioid problem? The pharmaceutical industry prevents the government from negotiating for better prices for drugs [under the Medicare program]. That’s just crazy. Why should prices be lower in Canada than they are here in America?
Do you support a single payer or so-called Medicare-for-all system at the federal level—such as has been advocated here in Maryland by your party’s gubernatorial candidate, Ben Jealous?
I support a public option, for sure. But, at the same time, competition is a good thing. [Editor’s note: A public option, which would have allowed those covered by the ACA to opt for a health insurance plan run by the federal government as an alternative to plans administered by private insurance companies, was dropped from the legislation prior to its passage in 2010.]