Friday, October 25, 2002
Clear choices emerge at congressional candidates' debate
Who are they?
Meehan introduced himself by citing highlights of his record as a fifth-term congressman and pledged himself to focus on the war against terrorism and the rehabilitation of the U.S. economy. The Lowell resident's background includes degrees from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Suffolk University Law School, as well as service as Middlesex County's first assistant district attorney and deputy secretary for the Massachusetts Securities and Corporations Division.
Ilana Freedman, from Billerica, holds a degree from the University of Richmond, and positions herself as an industry analyst. She is a senior partner of "a management consulting firm specializing in issues relating to rapid and disruptive change." Freedman points to her sixteen-year experience overseas, specifically in the Middle East, where she acquired expertise in "international market development, trend analysis," as a special qualification for a seat in Congress. She has served as an advisor to both industry and government in these areas, as well as in anti-terrorism. She was the only candidate who distributed a briefing book to the press, stating, "As a third-party candidate, I must convince you that I am the best candidate, and that I can win."
The Concord Forum moderator David Stephens asked each candidate, "What is the one thing in which you take greatest satisfaction and that qualifies you to be a candidate?" Meehan's response was his two sons, who inspire him to invest in education and consider the kind of world we will leave to the next generation.
McCarthy said that the turning point in his life came at age seventeen, when he dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marines and was eventually sent to Vietnam. He credited this experience with motivating him to move forward, pursue an education, and build a career.
Freedman was most proud of the expertise she gained as a specialist in anti-terrorism. Since 9/11, she has been helping people throughout the nation to understand the risks and issues involved with terrorist attacks and training them to be the first line of defense in the event of another attack.
Key international and domestic issues
The moderator then asked candidates to identify "the most important international issue and the most important domestic issue facing us today, and to explain what course of action should be taken in each case." All three candidates stressed the war on terrorism as the most important international issue for the U.S. Meehan and McCarthy both spoke of the necessity for a strong United Nations and for disarming Saddam Hussein. Noting that terrorism is "a global effort to destabilize the western world," Freedman argued for the necessity to cut off funding sources for terrorists and improve intelligence communications.
Candidates sparred on issues and solutions for the domestic front. Meehan and McCarthy argued that reviving the economy is the primary domestic policy challenge, and Meehan looked to programs like his "renewal communities" legislation, encouraging tax breaks to encourage private investors, and Federal funding for industry start-ups. McCarthy, however, stressed the necessity to "re-engineer Washington," streamline the federal government, and eliminate deficit spending. "If you have a dollar, you spend a dollar," he said. "If you have only 75 cents, that's all you can spend." Freedman took on the Social Security program, "It is failing and breaking its promises to seniors." She would fight to overhaul it and the health care system, allowing citizens more options and efficiency in choosing and paying for health care and retirement.
Press questions: on education
Responding to the Concord Journal's question on support for education, Republican McCarthy espoused his party's support of federal funding for education, but local administration of funds. Libertarian Freedman went further, recommending "getting the federal government out of the education business," using tax credits for parents, and supporting greater local control over funding sources. Meehan reiterated Democratic support for federal funding for lower class sizes and more teacher training, adding his endorsement of a tax deduction for college expenses and greater federal funding for special needs, mathematics, and science.
On free markets and world trade
The Carlisle Mosquito asked for positions on international free markets, and an explanation of how American industry and manufacturing fit into the scenario of world competition. Asserting that the U.S. can win in the competition for world markets, Meehan said, "In order to live well, a nation must produce well." He advocated breaking down trade barriers with Congress' approval of trade, human rights, and environmental standards. McCarthy argued for federal aid for companies having difficulty competing with cheap labor costs abroad and for training job entrants in service industry skills. Perceiving "new times, new problems, and new solutions," Freedman thought the federal government should look to industry itself for models for competing globally.
On health care
Each candidate targeted a separate area of the health care issue to answer the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune's question on how best to implement a health care program that offers the most to all citizens. Freedman's plan recommended cutting doctors' costs for insurance, breaking the cycle of high-end medical costs for patients required to see a specialist for every problem, and restructuring the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Meehan focused on a patients' bill of rights as a first step to revamping the system, and reducing prescription drug costs. McCarthy concentrated on reducing the cost of benefits to businesses and eliminating what he called the pharmaceutical companies' stranglehold over the regulation of drug costs.
In the last segment of the debate, dialogue between Meehan and McCarthy became more heated as candidates questioned each other and accusations of inconsistencies flew back and forth.
McCarthy challenged his opponents to agree to the no new tax pledge. Freedman, a signer of the pledge, advocated "building the economy from the ground up." Meehan said, "Absolutely not. Tax cuts, rollbacks, and freezes always benefit the wealthiest 1% of the population, while programs like the one signed by President Clinton in 1993 create sustained general economic prosperity."
Meehan's question was, "Is saving Social Security important?" and he accused McCarthy of favoring investing 5% of Social Security funds in securities and government bonds. McCarthy insisted that he opposed privatization in any way, but advocated offering alternative funding for younger workers for greater return. Freedman declared that Social Security should be taken out of the national budget and placed in a separate account that must be held sacrosanct for seniors.
Freedman revisited the issue of free trade and asked her opponents how it will impact the national economy. McCarthy answered that it would gain us service industry jobs, for which we must prepare by breaking down language barriers. Meehan advocated free trade agreements "as long as they are fair," cutting the capital gains tax, creating capital for small businesses, and "patient investment."
Candidates clashed over ways to cut prescription drug costs, laying blame at the feet of opposing parties for present costs and differing again over how much federal presence should be the rule in health care plans.
Freedman asked the last question, polling her opponents on term limits, which gave McCarthy a chance to attack Meehan's reversal on this issue: "Marty, you broke a promise to voters." Meehan rejoined that he decided to run again both to see projects through on the Hill and to preserve the fifth district from extinction by the Massachusetts legislature. Just as the gloves came off, time ran out and the combatants' handshakes ended a debate that left Massachusetts voters a clear choice of three candidates with three different approaches to the issues we face today.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito