This Week in Politics: Thune discusses budget, NAFTA, TPP and national security

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Brian Allen: This Week in Politics on KSFY. Good evening I'm Brian Allen. We are joined this evening by the senior senator from the state of South Dakota, John Thune, who is coming to us from the United States Capitol in Washinton. Senator Thune welcome back to KSFY.

Sen. John Thune: Always nice to be with you. Thanks Brian.

Brian Allen: Senator Thune, I want to begin by talking about this budget deal that was hammered out between Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer. Can you give us some insight into what that process was like? To get these two sides to come together in this way?

Sen. John Thune: Well nothing is easy around here, Brian. But I think what happened is, you know, when you've got a crisis then it tends to force action. And I think the idea of having another government shutdown...obviously having to deal with the debt limit here in the not too distant future...were a couple of forcing issues that ot the two sides to come together and negotiate a compromise. We'll hopefully get the government funded for a couple of years and restore what is really critical and that is funding for the military. They are underresourced. Our readiness is really at risk and thats been a big consideration for a long time.

Brian Allen: You know often times, what we've seen recently, in the last couple of months is this idea of Senate Republcans in leadership saying one thing and sometimes you have the White House saying something else. For example, Senate Republican leadership saying we do not want a federal government shutdown...a second one. A couple of days ago you have the president saying lets have another government shutdown if we have to force the issue.

Sen. John Thune: You know is in our own co-equal and independent branch of the government we have our job to do. Obviously when the president says something it has an impact. Most people up here I think are in agreement that a government shutdown is a really bad idea so I think most people would have taken issue with the statement made by the president but not withstanding that, you know, We've got to make sure under the Constitution....Congress has the power of the purse. iI's up to us to get the government funded but in the end we have to come to decisions and hopefully a fair compromise about how to keep the government up and functioning.

Brian Allen: If I've got my numbers right the proposed military spending for both 2018 and 2019 would now be well over $700 billion. Some people will hear those numbers and say it sounds like a lot of money. In your estimation is it enough?

Sen. John Thune: I think it's what the military has consistently, steadily been saying that they need. There are so many different threats out there right now. We really do live in a dangerous world. And I think we have to listen very carefully to our military leadership when they express the sense of urgency they have about getting this necessary funding to them. Is it enough? I don't know if it is ever enough but I think we've all agreed that these are the numbers that get us to where at least they feel we can keep up with the demands that we face in terms of dealing with some very dangerous threats around the world.

Brian Allen: The Winter Olympics are now underway in South Korea but that are of the world has been a hotbed of activity because of the actions of the North Korean regime plus you always have the spectre of global terrorism; international players that would want to do Americans harm. As we get into this Winter Olympic event do you have concerns about the safety of our athletes overseas?

Sen. John Thune: I think that our country does a really good job of insuring that our athletes are protected. As you can about imagine...particularyly given that it is in Seoul, South Korea this year...there is a lot of attention being paid to the national security threats and insuring that our athletes and Americans who are traveling there are going to be safe. But it is. as we all know with the Korean peninsula and North Korea....fortunately, at least, they are participating in these olympics and there seems to be some thawing at least momentarily. I don't put a lot of stock in it obviously we have to see what they do in the long term. But taking the precautionary methods, insuring that our athletes are sufficiently protected as are the American spectators and people who are going to be participating in the Olympics is a very high priority. You don't want to have an incident and so there is a lot of intelligence activities and national security activities that are involved with insuring that that is conducted in a very safe way for American athletes and for all the athletes around the world.

Brian Allen: Senator Thune when the president delivered his State of the Union address one of the things he touched on was the idea of immigration reform and he said he would like to switch over to a merit based system. In other words to come to this country you have to have skills the country is lacking that we could put to good use as a result of allowing you to come into the country. Do you like this idea of merit based immigration?

Sen. John Thune: I do, Brian. I think that we need to be a little bit more discriminating when it comes to who comes into the country. You know obviosuly we are a nation of immgrants. My grandfather came over here a alittle more than 100 years ago and came here for the American dream. Just like so many other people from around the world do and we do have an economy that's got demands for different types of skills and experience and so I think we need to start looking at sort of matching up the needs of our economy and the workplace and obviously the skill sets that are necessary to fill those.

Brian Allen: You have a lot of opponents though that say look if you change to a merit based system...they believe it somewhat flies in the face of what we've done as a country since 1776; welcoming anyone who wanted to come here. Is the argument against that it's a different world and a different situation?

Sen. John Thune: It absolutely is. I mean those were very different times and of course as you said we have been....we're a welcoming nation and always have been. And particularly when it comes to the issue of refugees. We've always been the place. We take way more people into this country by multiples than any other nation in the world. In fact most of the other nations in the world combined when it comes to dealign with refugee populations. People who are trying to escape religious or politcal persecution. But in terms of the overall immigration policy it's a very different country than it was 100 years ago. And I think we have to take that into consideration as we formulate and make policies that are going to consider what the country's needs are as we head into the future and particulary with the economy of the future.

Brian Allen: Senator Thune, how do you feel about NAFTA right now? Is it doing what it should be doing? Does it need to be tweaked?

Sen. John Thune: Well the president has said he wants to modernize it and i don't disagree with that. In fact i was at a meeting with the president yesterday at the White House where we talked about trade matters and of course I conveyed to him the concerns that I have about potentially withdrawing from NAFTA and the impact that it would have on agriculture because we are a very export dependant economy in South Dakota. Agriculture is our number one industry. and if you look at the fact that one in three rows of corn and soybeans gets exported...73% of which goes to either Canada or Mexico and about 91% of our beef goes to either of those countries. So we have a real dependence on the North American Free Trade Agreement in terms of the ag economy and I think they need to understand what the consequences are if they move forward with this talk of withdrawl.

Brian Allen: The president said he was not going to sign on and be a part of the Trans Pacific Partnership. He said at some point he himself would negotiate trade agreements with those Pacific Rim countries. Those agreements have not happened yet. Are we missing an opportunity here?

Sen. John Thune: I think we are. i am disappointed that we haven't seen bi-lateral trade negotiations. Bi-lateral agreements being negotiated because the TPP was a 12 country pact with a region of the world that represents 40% of the world's GDP. And if you really want to make a statement in terms of that region of the world and the growing influence and dominance of China in that region of the world, TPP was certainly a way to do it because it gives those countries....countries like Japan..in fact just from the standpoint of beef as one commodity....Japan was going to lower its' tariff on beef under TPP by 38%. that would be a huge opportunity for South Dakota agriculture and so I think it was a missed opportunity. We need to be...it's a global economy..America needs to be out there leading and when we are it also i think helps on a lot of other fronts. You look at the national security challenges that we face in Asia for example..being a robust player in the economy of those countries around the world is a huge way in which to, I think, avoid the potential of a future conflict.

Brian Allen: The senior senator from the state of South Dakota, John Thune, joining us from the U-S Capitol in Washington. Always a pleasure to talk to you, Sir. Thank you for your time.

Sen. John Thune: Likewise, Brian. Good to be with you.

This past Thursday night we brought you an in depth interview with Kim Reynolds and her place in history as Iowa's first female governor. "I certainly never, ever in my wildest dreams dreamt that i would get a call from former Governor Branstad asking to serve as his lieutenant governor."

To see our full story with Governor Reynolds, search "Iowa governor breaks gender barrier" on KSFY.com and the KSFY News app.