Two alums of the U.S. House of Representatives — former Republican Congressmen Dave Camp and Mike Rogers — addressed a crowd of 120 people Tuesday night during the Ford School of Public Policy’s final Policy Talk of the fall semester.
Camp served in the House of Representatives for more than 24 years and is known for introducing the Tax Reform Act of 2014, a comprehensive tax reform bill. Rogers worked in Congress for more than 14 years, specializing in cybersecurity and national terrorism policy. Before his time as a representative, he served in the United States Army and was an FBI special agent.
Rogers, who chaired the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence while in office, said he thought one of the biggest national security issues is how the United States prepares for cyber attack, due to the rapidly increasing technical capabilities of antagonistic countries.
“What most people would find shocking is that they are overwhelming us with numbers,” he said. “There are more SBR (Russian intelligence agents), or what you would know as KGB agents operating in the United States than there were at the height of the Cold War, and there are more Chinese espionage operations being conducted than we have ever seen.”
Rogers said the most important first step the government can take toward addressing the issue is cyber sharing, which involves real-time information sharing between the government and the private sector.
“The amount of information that the private sector, a company like Google or Amazon, collects on you every day is staggering,” he said. “They know more about you than you could possibly imagine. The NSA would dream about having a database like that.”
However, he noted efforts to allow cyber sharing, including a bipartisan bill he worked on in office, have been unsuccessful because of citizens' desires for privacy.
“Most Americans don’t know it, but the United States is in a cyber war, and, by the way, we are not winning,” he said. “We are losing this fight because we cannot get over this privacy versus security hangover.”
Camp also spoke about his legislative work, calling for reform in a different realm — taxes. In particular, he pointed to the need to change international tax laws.
“We really do have to make a change here,” Camp said. “Our business tax was changed in '86 under President Reagan, but our international tax laws basically date back to the 60s. Clearly the ability for ideas, people and money to move around the world have changed dramatically since that time.”
In addition to changes due to technology, Camp also pointed to a disconnect between the electorate and the U.S. economy.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it,” Camp said. “I think part of the reason tax reform is being presented is there is this tremendous unhappiness with what is going on in the country, in particular Congress’s lack of response, and part of it is that we haven’t seen the kind of recovery that we wanted to see.”
Both also spoke to the future of Congress overall, citing a need for changes in how the body functions.
Camp said he thought congressional committees need to work on creating groundwork for larger, more controversial issues.
“I think that issues have to be developed. They have get back to work and propose things that might cause some controversy,” Camp said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s the work that legislatures do. We have to get back to that and then have ways to bring them to the floor.”
Rogers said the current gridlock reflects the frustration in the United States toward the country’s lack of progress, and that the body needs to find a way to compromise to move forward.
“Congress is a lot like American,” he said. “We are sending those people there, and they are reflecting their districts in a pretty important way. That dysfunction is exactly what voters are like. They are frustrated about different things for different reasons and we are not telling legislatures to go and try and bridge the difference. We are telling them to go up there and fight and stand their ground and don’t agree to anything, and that gets us to a place where we do not function.”