Lewis Town Halls

U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis speaks to the audience at a town hall forum at Rosehenge Hall in Rosemount May 19. (Euan Kerr/MPR News)

Tax reform was his top campaign issue in 2016, says U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, the freshman Republican in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District.

Mission accomplished, Lewis is now telling voters as he campaigns for re-election on Nov. 6 in a rematch with Democrat Angie Craig.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed last year by the GOP-controlled Congress is boosting jobs and the economy and bringing tax relief to 2nd District families, Lewis said in a late-August interview with the newspaper’s editors.

The tax cut for an average 2nd District family of four is slightly more than $3,000 and for individuals is nearly $2,000, said Lewis, the senior freshman on the House Budget Committee.

He pointed to second-quarter GDP growth of 4.2 percent, annual wage growth exceeding 3 percent for the first time in a decade and job openings at a 17-year high.

“Getting some of this done is actually what I campaigned on,” said Lewis, of Woodbury, who defeated Craig, of Eagan, by 1.8 percent in 2016. “And having the ability to come back now and say, ‘We did what we said we were going to do,’ is gratifying.”

The tax law makes permanent cuts in corporate rates and cuts in individual rates that will eventually expire unless reauthorized. Capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes and limiting a mortgage interest deduction he calls the “McMansion deduction” curtailed benefits to wealthy taxpayers and allowed Congress to aim more relief at the middle class, Lewis said.

With the economy firing, federal revenues are increasing, according to Lewis.

“So when people blame the tax cut for the deficit, they’re absolutely, 100 percent wrong,” said Lewis, who said tax reforms of similar magnitude over the last century produced years of sustainable economic growth. “It’s a prerequisite to get growth going and get revenues up.”

Claims independent path in Congress

Before running for Congress Lewis was known in Minnesota as a brash, conservative radio show host. He still portrays a fierce fiscal hawkishness but suggests he’s otherwise tougher to pin down.

Lewis said he wants to audit the Pentagon, not feed it indiscriminately. He’s collaborating with a liberal Democrat on criminal justice reform legislation and has signed onto bills easing restrictions on cannabis.

“Goodness, I’ve been working more with the other side of the aisle than with my side on those,” said Lewis, touting a Govtrack.us tally of votes and bill co-sponsorships that he says places him “a tiny bit center right.”

Lewis said he bucked House GOP leadership by voting against omnibus spending bills in 2017 and 2018. The votes placed him among a minority of Republicans, Lewis said.

“I was whipped hard on those but I voted ‘no,’ and I voted against breaking the budget caps (established) in the 2011 budget deal,” Lewis said.

“Spending is the problem,” he said, “and that’s yet to be addressed on both sides of the aisle.”

He voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It passed the House but repeal failed in the Senate. The tax bill he voted for also included repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

Lewis insists the best way to bring young, healthy people into insurance pools and stabilize premiums is to strip away the ACA’s many insurance mandates and let people buy the kind of coverage they want. The House bill would have allowed states to seek waivers from the requirements.

“My parents used to call it major medical. Some people call it catastrophic coverage,” said Lewis, who chided Craig for supporting the ACA but lobbying for repeal of the medical-device tax when she was an executive with device-maker St. Jude Medical.

Given such a choice, young people “will come back into pools voluntarily. They’re paying $300 a month for their cell phone. If they can pay that for health care they’d buy it, but if it’s a thousand dollars, they won’t.”

On immigration, Lewis said there is a “border crisis” and criticized Democrats for scuttling legislation in which President Trump and Republicans sought $25 billion for a border wall.

“I can’t emphasize this enough: DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which we all want a solution to, and family separation, which we all don’t like, are symptoms of open borders,” Lewis said.

On trade issues, Lewis predicted a deal would be reached on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has happened in recent weeks.

China is a tougher problem, Lewis said, adding that he understands the administration’s use of tarrifs. The only way to force change in a trading partner’s behavior “is to, quite frankly, do to them what they’re doing to us,” he said.

Lewis, who serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, joined with fellow committee member Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, to sponsor juvenile and adult criminal justice reform measures. A bloated federal criminal code and too many mandatory minimum sentences have contributed to a skyrocketing incarceration rate, according to Lewis.

The measures have supporters ranging from the NAACP to the American Conservative Union, Lewis said.

He thinks Craig is more liberal than she lets on.

“I know what’s going on here,” he said. “What’s going on here is, in my view, she’s a much more hard-left progressive candidate than she wants to let on in a swing district, which is not that way. The 2nd District is center-right.”

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