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Congressman Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, answers questions at a meeting of the San Ramon Student Ambassadors Club and economics students from San Ramon Valley High School and Dougherty Valley High School on Thursday, March 24, 2011, in Danville, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

One in an occasional series.

Bay Area News Group periodically sits down with congressional representatives and poses questions about the major issues before federal lawmakers.

Here are selected portions of a recent interview with Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, who sits on the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology, and Veterans Affairs committees.

Q Some House Republicans want to convert Medicare from a government-run health insurance program to a voucher system where seniors purchase private market policies. You oppose the move. Does Medicare need deeper systemic changes?

A We need to protect Medicare. It's a system that too many people depend on. If you look at the health care reform act we passed, we took important steps to protect Medicare and transition away from fee for service to giving bonuses for good outcomes. That is a huge change in philosophy and it will have a huge cost impact.

We'll always have to track our progress and make adjustments as we move forward, but a voucher plan is not what the public wants.

Q The Republican-controlled House voted down a hike in the federal debt ceiling, saying it will block the move unless it receives substantial budget cuts. The debt ceiling is usually a routine housekeeping matter to adjust for spending that has already been approved. What's your take on the issue?


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A The deficit is a huge problem, but I think there are things you can do like pay-as-you-go, looking at specific programs and starting to end our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those sorts of provisions could be put in a debt ceiling vote, so we can start reducing the deficit.

There are ways to raise the debt ceiling in a way that allows us to reduce the deficit. Just voting no on reducing the debt ceiling won't do anything to control the deficit, and I won't be able to support it.

Q You watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress and the U.S. Senate. What did you think?

A He is an impressive orator. He is good. He knows how to talk to people. He knows how to work the audience.

I met him in Israel a few years ago. At the time, I was disappointed in some of the things he had said, and I think he could be more open toward the peace process than he appears to be. But I'm not in his shoes.

Q Much has been made about the "Arab Spring," the burgeoning democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa. What role should the United States play as it unfolds?

A Like all Americans, I want to see those areas become democratic, and we will have a role in terms of leading by example and giving them help building their democratic institution. Getting involved in their actual conflicts is not going to help them or us. We have to be very cautious in how we proceed.

It's like that sign you see that says, "Freedom isn't free." The local folks have to want it badly enough to earn it, and when they do, we should offer whatever help we can.

Q President Barack Obama has said he will begin to draw down troop levels in Afghanistan on July 1. Some fear terrorists will rush in and fill the power vacuum. Is leaving Afghanistan a good idea?

A Yes, I think we need to follow the president's plan. If anything, I think we need to draw down faster than the president may be planning.

It was great that we were able to eliminate Osama bin Laden, but, ultimately, we have to worry about our own economic security, and pouring all that money into Afghanistan is unsustainable. I know that its government is incredibly corrupt on the national scale and our work there seems to be destabilizing Pakistan, which is a huge problem. It's time to aggressively start drawing down.

Q You have had three tough elections in a row. Will you run for re-election in 2012?

A Absolutely. Even as a member of the minority (party), I have an opportunity to get stuff done here. Just yesterday, the House passed two of my amendments to the armed services bill that will benefit veterans. I sponsored the Clean Energy Electric Car Act, which will create empowerment zones around the country. I think the Bay Area will very likely be a recipient.

Q What is your major policy focus right now?

A I still love my veterans! When I was home, I met with a Small Business Administration representative and he gave some specific ideas on how to help veterans get small-business loans and how to help them create small businesses. We will be looking at those ideas.

I introduced the Hiring Heros Act to help reduce unemployment among veterans.

The thing I am most focused on is how to get new energy on the forefront. We are facing high-price gas now. People are suffering a lot and making really tough choices because of it.

Right now, we are at the mercy of the international oil market. We need to move away from that, create electric vehicles and make our buildings more efficient so we can break that cycle of dependence.

Q You had two terms as a member of the majority party and have spent this term in the minority. What is your strategy when it comes to promoting your energy and veterans legislation?

A In the House, the majority works its will. They will do what they are going to do. So, you try and talk with them, you work across the aisle. It's more frustrating, sure. You have these freshmen lecturing us about different things, and it's frustrating having to listen to all of that during the debate, but it's part of the job.

Q What do you think of the Republican presidential candidate field?

A You probably know more about that than I do. I haven't paid that much attention. But I was glad to see Newt Gingrich implode. That gave me some pleasure.

Q You met with constituents during your district break in May. What are they talking about?

A Jobs is the big thing, of course. We did have a cyberbullying forum in Pleasanton, where 100 or so parents showed up, which is pretty good.

But I'm finding that while folks are worried about jobs, I'm not seeing the anger that I saw in the past couple of years.

People were worked up about the health care reform bill, and now that the Republicans are in the majority, the constituents are looking to see progress from that side of the aisle.

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, IBAbuzz.com/politics or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.