U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) visited the Dover Post on Aug. 4 to discuss his recent, legislative doings in Washington, D.C. with Executive Editor Carlene Peterson, City Editor Jesse Chadderdon and reporter Antonio Prado. Content has been edited for length.


U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) visited the Dover Post on Aug. 4 to discuss his recent, legislative doings in Washington, D.C. with Executive Editor Carlene Peterson, City Editor Jesse Chadderdon and reporter Antonio Prado. Content has been edited for length.

Q As a member of the Budget Committee, tell us about your role in the recent debt ceiling debate.

A I’m someone who publicly supported the so-called Gang of Six, which was three Democratic and three Republican senators that ranged from one of the most liberal to probably the most conservative, and hammered out a big, bipartisan, constructive deal that would have saved $4 trillion in federal spending between cuts and revenues – about a three-to-one cuts to revenue ratio over the next decade. I am disappointed that’s not what we did; we instead did a much smaller, $1 trillion deal through caps over the next decade. We’re in the second stage where a super committee is going to try and essentially redo what the old Simpson Commission did last year and what the Gang of Six did earlier this year and come up with a bipartisan plan – God willing – to save another $1.5 trillion in reduced federal spending. … If you fail to meet targets in terms of disciplined spending, then there are triggers nobody wants; in this case it’s $1.5 trillion in cuts to defense spending and domestic discretionary, including to a small extent Medicare.

Q It seems as though all this wrangling over U.S. debt still culminated in a deal between President Obama and the U.S. Congress that will add to our debt. What do you think?

A The Ryan budget plan that was presented by the House Republican-dominated budget committee would increase the debt. It offered dramatic tax cuts and significant spending cuts that did not outweigh the tax reductions. And it would have remade Medicaid into a voucher program. The Democratic plan that came out of the Senate Budget Committee also would continue to increase the debt. Both of them in different ways would reduce the deficit but not tackle the debt, and that’s the fundamental problem. The $4 trillion plan that Bowles-Simpson [a Democrat and Republican, respectively] proposed would … stabilize our debt and reduce our deficits substantially. But we’ve got to do more than $4 trillion in the next 10 years. If we’re going to have any prospect of doing more than $4 trillion, we have to start at something bigger than $1 trillion, which is where we ended up. … For us to be mentioned in the same sentence with Greece, Portugal and Italy – countries about to be downgraded to junk bond status when our economy does not require junk bond status ratings – suggests a political dysfunction that is far greater than our economic problems.

Q You recently made a statement about how this whole debt ceiling issue could affect local municipalities, local governments, with regard to New Castle County, specifically. Could you elaborate?

A By failing to deal with the larger challenges – structural deficits – we [were] still at risk for a downgrade. (It happened when Standard & Poor downgraded the United States’ sterling credit rating from AAA to AA.) Rating agencies made it clear that there are states and localities that rely directly on federal payments at a very high level. They would be the first to be reviewed for a downgrade [after] a federal downgrade. There are only 30 counties left out of 3,000 that have a AAA bond rating. While New Castle County wouldn’t be the first to be downgraded, it would be among the top tier to be looked at. … A downgrade stays with you for years and is typically difficult to erase.

Q When President Clinton was in office, higher taxes led to an actual reduction in the debt. What’s your take on the GOP’s insistence on no tax increase for the wealthy?

A Unlike the ’94-’95-’96 debate, any change in tax policy that doesn’t continue historically low rates is being viewed [by the GOP] as a tax increase. … Our tax code, which was last reformed in 1986, is so riddled with special treatment and loopholes, that you can actually lower the corporate tax rates and individual rates and raise revenue by closing most of the exemptions. … We voted to end tax breaks for Big Oil. With oil over $100 a barrel, companies have had record profits — $35 billion in the first quarter of 2011. We also went after the ethanol subsidy; we’re going to spend I think $6 billion this year subsidizing the production of corn ethanol, which frankly hurts poultry. It’s partly why Allen's went under. Corn almost tripled in price in less than a year – from $3 a bushel to $8.

Q Do you think it’s a good idea for the U.S. Military and the U.S. Department of Defense to use computers made in China, given the spying infractions that have occurred?

A The technology that allows you on an iPhone to flick things with your finger was invented by two University of Delaware professors. I want us to get back to manufacturing in the United States the things that we invent here. … Delaware has had a long history of being at the forefront of cyber security because of the size of our financial services community. We are one of the few states that actually has a network war squadron of the National Guard that has its own building. They have 30 guys in there who ... work for the National Security Agency and the Delaware National Guard. I’m advocating for strengthening it, broadening it. ... There’s been confirmation to what was likely Chinese origin to a series of intrusions that downloaded 23,000 top secret design documents related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. … We don’t have enough people specifically trained in responding to cyber attacks. We need to respond more aggressively than we are. The Department of Defense says that it will take future intrusions of this level as an act of war and reserves the right to respond not just online but militarily. … Last, we need to be investing in hardening our IT infrastructure against possible threat.