On the Record: Democratic Congressional candidate Steven Horsford
Editor’s Note: This is an installment in a series of "On the Record" pieces highlighting the policy stances of candidates running for major offices in the 2022 Nevada election. Check back in the coming days and weeks for additional coverage.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) calls himself a “son” of his district and he’s betting that his constituents will reward him with another term following a slate of legislative victories, including enacting bills to address climate change, lower health care costs and spur domestic semiconductor production.
“As a proud Nevadan, as someone who is the son of this district, and who has had the opportunity to serve, not only in Congress, but in the state Legislature …I'm prepared and ready to put my record up against that of my opponent,” Horsford said in an hour-long, wide-ranging interview with The Nevada Independent.
Horsford, who represents the state’s 4th Congressional District, touted a series of measures signed into law this legislative session, including the first gun control bill to pass in about 25 years, which contained funds for anti-violence programs he championed, bipartisan veterans’ health care legislation and an infrastructure bill.
He also highlighted the climate and health care measure known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed in August with no Republican votes. Signed into law last month, the IRA, among other provisions, allows Medicare to negotiate with drug makers on the prices of certain prescription drugs. The IRA also caps out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare patients at $2,000 a year beginning in 2025 — an idea Horsford introduced as a standalone bill last year.
The measure also includes $4 billion for drought mitigation for Southwestern states such as Nevada, which is struggling with record low levels at Lake Mead, the primary water source for the Southern part of the Silver State.
Horsford is in a tough race against Republican candidate Sam Peters to represent a district that both parties have held since it was created in 2013, though adding more Democratic voters via redistricting last year could help. Nevada's 4th Congressional District covers most of urban northern Clark County, including downtown Las Vegas, and rural areas, such as southern Lyon County, most of Lincoln County, and all of Esmeralda, Mineral and Nye counties.
Horsford was the first person to win the state's 4th Congressional District in 2012, but lost his 2014 re-election bid to former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV). Hardy was defeated in 2016 by former Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), who did not seek re-election following allegations that he made unwanted advances toward a campaign staffer and others. Horsford defeated Hardy to win the seat back in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020 by 8 and 5 percentage points, respectively.
The race will determine if Democrats can buck historical trends and hold on to their majority in the House. Since 1994, the party holding the White House has almost always lost seats in midterm elections. Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to reach the 218 needed to win the House.
Below, we explore Horsford's positions on various topics and policy issues. Click on one of the following subjects to jump to a specific section:
Horsford, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Budget Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, has focused on economic issues such as workforce development, housing affordability, health care affordability and expanding the use of Pell Grants to cover programs shorter than 16 weeks. The federal student aid program cannot fund training programs shorter than 16 weeks.
Horsford is also the second-in-command of the Congressional Black Caucus, an influential group of House Democrats. But Horsford saidhis participation in the group and others he belongs to is, first and foremost, to help his constituents.
“I don't belong to caucuses in Congress for any other purpose but to help position my constituents here in Nevada,” Horsford said.
He noted that he is one of the founding members and co-chair of the Congressional Labor Caucus, which he called “The first ever dedicated caucus to bring the voice of labor into the decision-making process.”
He is also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of equal GOP and Democratic House members who look for areas where the two parties can work across the aisle.
Horsford is a reliable Democrat. He said he would support President Joe Biden if he decided to run for re-election. Biden told 60 Minutes recently that he had not made a final decision about running for a second term.
When asked what letter grade Horsford would give the president for his first two years, Horsford said he would give Biden a “B.”
He said the recent string of bills passed into law represents one of the most substantial "accomplishments of both the Congress and a first-term president…in my lifetime."
“From the American Rescue Plan, to the infrastructure bill, to the CHIPS and Science Act, to the Inflation Reduction Act, to the Safer Communities Act, to everything else that we've both passed, and he has now signed into law, he has helped to get our economy back on track, to save lives, to get us as normal, in the middle of this pandemic, as we come out of this as, as we ever could hope,” Horsford said.
But Horsford said the White House has not hit every issue out of the park.
“There are areas where I think this administration could have done a better job of getting out in front of issues, articulating what we are doing and why we are doing it,” Horsford said.
One example of criticism he offered was the White House response to surging gas prices after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Horsford believes the White House waited too long to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to pump up supply.
“They were slow to move on that,” Horsford said. “I pushed them on that issue.”
The White House waited until March 31 to release oil from the SPR.
Horsford also took issue with a lack of progress addressing affordable housing, which he cites as a top priority, partly because home prices across nearly a dozen ZIP codes in the 4th Congressional District are up by more than 20 percent.
Horsford introduced a bill in July directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate whether corporate owners are manipulating home rent and sale prices.
Many ZIP codes in his district have seen an influx of corporate landlords, with out-of-state corporate investors accounting for up to 26 percent and 25 percent of home purchases in 2021 in two ZIP codes, Horsford said. He addressed the corporate ownership issue at a July Ways and Means Committee hearing he requested.
Horsford added that the institutional investor home purchases coincide with high rents, which increased 30 percent in Las Vegas last year and have hurt hospitality workers.
He also backs legislation to provide tax credits to renters. Renters are treated differently by the tax code than homeowners, who get tax breaks for paying mortgage interest.
“That creates an inequity because a higher percentage of working people, people of color, women who are head of households are renters, more so than they are homeowners, and they're not able to receive the same tax credits or deductions,” Horsford said.
“I need the administration to get on board so that we can provide the same relief to renters that we've provided in other areas of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Horsford continued.
As measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), inflation rose 8.3 percent for the 12-month period ending in August. That is down from a 9.1 percent increase in June, which was the highest in 40 years. Republicans have argued that Democratic legislation, like the IRA and the American Rescue Plan (ARP), caused the current inflation crisis.
But Horsford was quick to defend the ARP, citing the role the funding played in helping Nevada survive and recover from the pandemic lockdown.
“I don't know that I support the argument,” Horsford said. “Let's talk about what it funded, 150,000 small businesses in Nevada, who were able to keep their businesses open, operational and keep their employees on the payroll. That was the goal. And that's what we achieved. It helped state and local governments shore up their budgets, so that they didn't have to lay off police officers, nurses, teachers, and other frontline employees.”
The state secured $6.7 billion from the ARP, including several billion dollars in unrestricted state aid that has since been earmarked for affordable housing projects and other priorities sought by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
"We provided essential funding to our nursing homes and the hospitals who were at the epicenter of fighting the pandemic," Horsford continued. "And for Nevada, we secured an unprecedented amount of money to help, restaurants shuttered and other businesses that were disproportionately affected because of our hospitality economy. And had we not voted for that legislation, the effects for Las Vegas and Nevada would have been much more severe."
He also dismissed studies that project the IRA will have little impact on inflation over the next decade, including one from the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Wharton Budget Model.
He argued that the law would make a definite difference in people's lives, though some benefits won't begin for a few years.
"I don't know about that study from Wharton," Horsford said. "But I know about the seniors in my district who are depending on me to advocate against Big Pharma for them for lower drug costs, and that bill is going to lower the average cost for seniors when it comes to the medicines that they desperately need.”
Horsford doesn’t believe the economy is in a recession, citing low unemployment and job growth.
“Right now, we are not in an economic recession, fortunately, because unemployment and the amount of employment growth continue to exceed expectations,” he said. “We've actually had continued employment growth month over month for the first 18 months of this new administration.”
Like most Democrats, Horsford has campaigned heavily on abortion and warned against a GOP-run Congress that would pursue a federal ban superseding Nevada's law, which guarantees abortion access up to 24 weeks.
“[T]hey want to create government-sponsored pregnancies through a federal ban on abortion if they are able to take control of Congress,” Horsford said.
Polling shows that most Americans oppose a ban on the practice, but allowing abortion in all circumstances also tends to get less than a majority of support.
He declined to say at what point he believed abortion should be limited.
“That's not what happens in real life,” Horsford said. “What happens in real life is [that] if my opponent, and the Republicans in Congress, have their way, they're going to have a national ban on abortion, which will then become government-mandated pregnancies, even in the cases of incest and rape. That's how serious this is.”
Horsford praised Biden for the decision to withdraw troops, but he did acknowledge that the execution left much to be desired.
"That was a difficult decision, one that I believe many administrations, even before him, had to confront," Horsford said. "And I still believe it was the right decision. Yes, there were coordination and logistic issues.”
Horsford added that Congress will conduct oversight of that issue, and he expects policy changes may come forward based on what the administration learned from the Afghanistan withdrawal.
The evacuation was chaotic, as the Pentagon underestimated how quickly the Taliban would defeat the unsupported Afghan army and retake control of the country.
It culminated in desperate scenes at the Kabul Airport last summer, where mobs, including those who worked and supported the U.S. military, sought safe passage to America for fear of Taliban retaliation. Many were left behind, despite an effort that evacuated more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan partners.
Horsford would not put a dollar figure to what he believes the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour and last raised in 2009) should be. He said the wage should vary from location to location to provide a "livable wage."
“A minimum wage is the floor,” he said. “I support a living wage that really helps to move people from poverty to prosperity.”
When asked to put a dollar figure on that, Horsford said, "it depends on the market."
“I have supported $15, but we know, based on the labor shortage, employers have started to pay even higher than that amount because they have to in this market, but that's still not a living wage in some places,” he said.
Voters approved a ballot question in 2019 that created a system of gradual minimum wage increases through 2024 that will bring the rate to $12 per hour for employees not offered health insurance and $11 per hour for those who do receive those benefits. As it stands now, Nevada’s minimum wage is $9.50 to $10.50 per hour, depending on the existence of health insurance.
When asked about Biden’s executive order to forgive up to $10,000 per individual in student loan debt and up to $20,000 for those holding Pell Grant debt, Horsford said the president acted because Congress has not.
“The president did what he had the authority to do because Congress failed to act to address issues around college affordability, which I believe is the crux of the matter,” Horsford said.
He touted his bill to allow Pell Grants to pay for short-term training, which he argued would help his constituents as many open jobs don’t require college degrees but some form of vocational training.
“That would help more people get access to skills training, upgrade training, and do so in a way that does not incur large amounts of debt for the individual or for the taxpayer,” he said.
The issue of gun violence is close to Horsford's heart, having lost his father in a shooting while he was a freshman at UNR.
He gave an emotional speech at a press conference after the House passed the Safer Communities Act, the bipartisan gun violence measure, noting that its passage coincided with the anniversary of his father's death.
The bill included Horsford’s Break the Cycle of Violence Act, which provides $250 million for community-based violence intervention programs, including ones housed in hospitals. These aim to reduce retaliation and recidivism among patients treated for violent injuries by providing in-hospital services and follow-up care through intensive, community-based case management.
Horsford said the funds would also help programs run by Pastor Troy Martinez, who has worked on gang violence in Las Vegas.
"I know this is not going to solve the entire problem, but it's going to save lives," Horsford said. “It's going to reduce crime. I know because it's the evidence-based policies of community violence intervention (CVI) that actually reduces homicides, particularly in urban communities 10-fold, where the CVI programs are implemented."
Horsford said Pastor Troy's Dads In Our Schools program, where volunteers go into schools to help deter violence and fighting, is a worthy funding recipient.
“He's never been funded. He has dads that show up in schools to talk (to) kids about avoiding violence and not turning to guns, and they're not getting paid,” he said. “They're doing it because they love their kids and are trying to keep them safe. Why not invest in more programs like that that actually work?”
Horsford applauded the inclusion of drought funding for Southwestern states in the IRA. He additionally praised funding to provide tax credits for so-called dynamic glass, which tints and clears glass panes automatically to optimize daylight and regulate temperature while maintaining unobstructed views of the outdoors. The material could be used instead of regular glass and sheathing in high-rises and other commercial buildings to help lower energy costs and address climate change.
Last year, Horsford introduced a standalone dynamic glass tax credit bill. The measure was included in the IRA along with subsidies to buy energy-efficient and electric appliances, clean vehicles, rooftop-solar arrays, and invest in home energy efficiency.
“So those measures are going to help create millions of jobs, jobs that Nevadans will be able to compete for and be hired to work in,” Horsford said. “And it's going to help reduce costs for consumers in their energy bill, which always should be the goal.”
The credit can cover up to 30 percent of the costs associated with dynamic glass.