Q&A: 'Blue Dog' Dem Heath Shuler on Debt Ceiling, Evangelical Faith
Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) told The Christian Post Thursday that he is “absolutely” running for reelection. He also talked about the debt ceiling, running against a “non-theist,” divisiveness in Congress, and what it's like to be a pro-life Democrat.
Shuler was one of five Democrats to vote for the House Republican's “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill on Tuesday. He prefers, however, the “Gang of Six” proposal which is currently being worked on in the Senate.
“Finally the adults have stepped forward” on the debt ceiling issue, said Shuler, referring to the Gang of Six proposal. “I commend all six [senators] for the work they accomplished.”
The Cut, Cap, and Balance bill is less defined than the Gang of Six proposal in the cuts that would be made and there is no guarantee it would work, according to Shuler. (Cut, Cap and Balance would propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but three-fourths of state legislatures would need to ratify it for it to go into effect.)
Shuler also prefers the Gang of Six proposal because it is bipartisan (three Republicans and three Democrats make up the Gang), and that is “a win for the American people.”
Shuler would like to see the Gang of Six proposal put into place before the August 2 debt ceiling deadline. But if there is not enough time, he hopes that a small increase in the debt ceiling would be voted on to give the Gang of Six proposal time to come together.
Divisiveness in Congress
In the 2006 elections, Democrats recruited a number of conservative Democrats to run in Republican leaning districts. Many of these “Blue Dog” Democrats won and helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives. Shuler was one of those recruits.
Now, Republicans hope to win many of those districts back in the 2012 elections. The Republican Party will be devoting much of its resources to defeating Shuler and other Blue Dogs.
When asked what it would mean for the Democratic Party if it lost many of their Blue Dogs in the next election, Shuler said, “Blue Dogs are important,” because, the parties are becoming more divided ideologically. “Both parties are exchanging moderates for more extremes,” said Shuler.
Shuler compared the divisiveness in Congress to the divisiveness he finds on cable news. He said he found the same types of divisiveness when he watched Fox News and MSNBC coverage of the debt ceiling debate last night. Shuler believes that these extreme views do not represent the majority, but is concerned that “they'll divide our country.”
There is “too much focus on parties,” Shuler said. He said that how he represents the interests of his district and the nation is more important to him than party loyalty.
“Both parties have a lot of work to do” on life issues, according to Shuler. “We need to start being 'whole-life.’” While Republicans share Shuler's pro-life views, “Republicans have work to do after the first 9 months of life,” according to Shuler.
Alternatively, while Democrats are wrong on abortion, they “get it right from birth to death” by, for example, their support for welfare and food stamps, Shuler said.
For another example, Shuler pointed to H.R. 1, referring to the House passed bill that cut spending from the fiscal year 2011 budget. “How they (Republicans) cut WIC (a food and nutrition assistance program for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers),” Shuler said, is “not responsible.”
Shuler said he never considered switching to the Republican Party after they took control of the House in the 2010 elections. “When you look at what we're taught in the Bible” regarding caring for the poor and elderly, said Shuler, the Democrats “get it right from conception to natural death.”
Athletic Director Position at the University of Tennessee
There was a rumor at the beginning of this month that Shuler might leave Congress to become the Athletic Director for the University of Tennessee. Shuler used to be a quarterback for the UT football team and the Washington Redskins.
Shuler said he was “flattered” to be talked about for the position, but he was not interested and is focused on representing his district, getting the nation's finances in order, and running for reelection.
Running Against a “Non-theist”
Shuler is an evangelical Christian. One of his opponents in the Democratic primary will be Cecil Bothwell, who describes his religious views as “non-theist.” When asked if these religious differences would matter to voters in his district, Shuler said that “in my district, faith is very important” and “will weigh substantially in voter's minds.”
“When you look at the beauty found in nature in my district in North Carolina, it's hard not to believe that there is a God,” Shuler said.