News Story

Pricey GOP Primary Race For Michigan’s 4th Congressional District

State Sen. John Moolenaar and retired businessman Paul Mitchell discuss Export-Import Bank, energy and health policy

Michigan’s 4th Congressional District is shaping up to be one of the most expensive House of Representative primary races this cycle in a campaign without an incumbent, according to The candidates are looking to replace Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, who has represented the district for 24 years.

Retiring Congressman Camp has had his sights on three big targets in recent years: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the labyrinthine federal tax code, and the IRS and some of its employees for using tax laws to discriminate against conservative and limited government groups.

It’s doubtful either Paul Mitchell or John Moolenaar will be as big of a force right off the bat, but they, too, are worried about the expanding role of government in people’s lives.

Mitchell is a former business owner from Thomas Township and also previously worked for Chrysler. Moolenaar is a state senator and former state representative from Midland who also worked as a chemist for Dow Chemical and as a charter school administrator. The 4th district encompasses the bulk of north-central Michigan. It includes Midland, Saginaw Township, Mount Pleasant, Big Rapids and Cadillac. The Cook Political Report rates the district “Solid Republican” with a +5 GOP base. Congressman Camp has endorsed Moolenaar in the race.

Roscommon technology business owner Pete Konetchy is also running for the seat as a Republican. He did not respond to the questions before the deadline for the article, but his responses can be read by clicking here.

Capitol Confidential asked the candidates about the Export-Import bank, realigning the health care system with market incentives, changes to Medicaid, energy policy, and federal involvement in the housing market.

The main area of difference was over the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which expires this September. This has become a major issue, splitting current House GOP leadership. The Ex-Im Bank helps with financing for overseas companies who buy U.S. exports. This includes giving special loans to select companies that the private market will not support and it has faced criticism from free-market advocates.

Mitchell would not vote for reauthorization, while Moolenaar supports lending activities with potential reforms.

“I believe there are private-sector alternatives to the Export-Import Bank that would be a step in the right direction in reducing the size and scope of our federal government,” Mitchell said. “By ending federal support and operation of this entity, the private sector would assume responsibility for this piece of our trade system as well as taking on any risks associated with it.”

Moolenaar disagrees.

“As a part of current U.S. trade policy, the Export-Import Bank helps facilitate the sale of goods and services abroad and employ U.S. workers here at home,” Moolenaar said. “As international competitors continue to offer generous export financing packaging, at this time, it makes little sense for the United States to unilaterally cease lending activities. I currently support efforts to reform and improve how the bank operates, including increased transparency requirements and measures to improve the bank’s risk management practices. That being said, I have serious concerns about the reauthorization and use of taxpayer dollars and will continue to monitor hearings on this issue and weigh the arguments presented."

Both candidates say they are strongly against the Obamacare law and favor repeal. But well before the law took place, there were many distortions in the health care sector of the economy which misaligned incentives and drove up costs. One of these is a tax break allowing for employers to deduct health insurance premiums. Both candidates favor removing this and returning market incentives to the system.

Sen. Moolenaar said that the American people “have made it clear that they do not want the federal government involved in their health care in any way.”

“What they want is lower health care premiums; protection of Medicare benefits for seniors, and a plan that strengthens the doctor-patient relationship and keeps their private information private,” Moolenaar said. “We can accomplish the kind of health care reform the American people want without having a government takeover of our health care system, without raising taxes or premiums, and without forcing citizens to buy health insurance they do not want and cannot afford."

He added that turning toward a more market-based system would help accomplish this.

“As a member of Congress, I would support the gradual reduction of the deductibility of health insurance premiums by employers if those reductions returned market incentives to the health sector,” Moolenaar said.

Mitchell agreed. He said this issue deals with two concerns: Tax policy and the health care system.

“Obamacare is a glaring example of the massive expansion of the size and scope of government, and I believe in repealing and replacing it with market-driven policies that strengthen competition within our health care system,” Mitchell said. “My position on our tax system is equally clear. Our tax system must be simplified, special interest ‘loopholes’ eliminated, and the tax burden on our economy reduced dramatically in order to enable investment and growth in our economy.”

Both men believe the federal micromanaging of how states spend health care dollars contributes to higher costs. One potential solution to this is allowing individual states more freedom in how to spend health care money for the poor in the form of Medicaid block grants.

Mitchell said the overreaching involvement of politicians and federal bureaucrats causes bloat.

“Medicaid, and a significant list of federally funded programs, should be block-granted to states with a reasonable, in terms of length and complexity, set of regulations,” Mitchell said. “I believe a block grant approach would reduce the overall cost of programs while empowering administrators at a more local level.”

Moolenaar points out that he fought Obamacare health exchanges and Medicaid expansion in the state Legislature.

“If elected to represent the people in Washington, I will continue to fight against Obamacare and other overreaching policies of the Obama administration,” Moolenaar said. “Further, as a member of Congress, I will work to provide flexibility in federal funding to allow states to meet the needs of their communities, including the support of Medicaid block grants to the states.”

The candidates found more common ground in supporting an “all of the above” energy policy which ends subsidies and mandates for things like wind, solar, electric cars and ethanol production.

Mitchell said that recent issues in the Middle East again show the need to become more energy independent and he believes this can be achieved through the free market rather than mandates and subsidies. He prefers to get rid of those gradually.

Mitchell added, “Ethanol subsidies and mandates are an example of federal policies which distort markets and end up choosing winners and losers in lieu of allowing natural market forces to work. We must recognize that such policies exist during a time when there is potential for an oil production crisis in the Middle East. As a result, until the United States reaches a reasonable definition of a sustainable energy independence, I would support freezing mandates and subsidies for ethanol at current levels. On a long term basis, I support phasing out such subsidies and mandates.”

Moolenaar said becoming energy independent as a nation is important. He pointed out that he opposed and voted against Michigan’s 2008 law that mandated 10 percent of energy come from “renewables” by 2015 and has driven up costs.

“As a member of Congress, I will work towards implementing a comprehensive, workable plan for long-term energy independence,” Moolenaar added. “The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers — we need to allow the market to dictate the industry. We have to explore, we have to conserve, and we have to pursue responsible development of our energy resources, including natural gas, oil, nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel and biomass. It really must be an all-of-the-above strategy.”

The potential congressmen would both support bills that lessen the federal government’s role in the home loan industry and mortgage lending.

Mitchell said he is a long-term business person who believes markets make the best choices in most cases.

Moolenaar said he recognizes the importance of helping low-income, first-time homebuyers obtain financing, but believes it is important to use tax dollars more efficiently.

“I support a reduction of the federal government’s role in private industry, including mortgage lending,” he said.

Capitol Confidential also asked each candidate why they are a better choice in the race than their opponent.

Sen. John Moolenaar:

I am proud to have voted against over $5 billion in [combined] tax increases on Michigan's hardworking families and will continue to fight against tax increases in Washington. My record is clearly distinct from my opponents. I've led the fight in Michigan against Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and Common Core. Washington is broken. We need our elected representatives in Congress to stand up and fight for conservative principles, not just talk about them. I have a record of taking on the tough fights and will work every day to balance our budget, pay down our debt and lead on conservative issues.

Paul Mitchell:

The choice comes down to a conservative outsider who’s created hundreds of real-world jobs or a big spending career politician who’s voted hundreds of times for higher taxes and higher spending. Obamacare is a perfect example: Paul Mitchell will not only vote to repeal Obamacare, he’ll never vote to fund it. John Moolenaar can’t make that claim because he’s already spent billions to fund the Medicaid expansion and to create the Obamacare exchange.

Mitchell’s claim about Sen. Moolenaar voting to fund the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare exchange, and spend “billions” is based on him supporting an overall budget that included money for the programs. A separate article taking a look at these claims more in-depth and can be read here.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to add a link to responses from Pete Konetchy.

Editor's note: Michigan Capitol Confidential will be reporting and writing about key primary races leading up to the election on Aug. 5. The series of stories are designed to provide readers with some insight into candidates who have said they support free market issues. The stories are not endorsements and readers are encouraged to give every candidate a serious look before the election.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.