Friday, July 20, 2007
Six Congressional candidates speak in Carlisle
There are ten declared candidates for the position of U.S. Representative for the 29 cities and towns in the Massachusetts Fifth Congressional District. A special election is scheduled for October 16 to fill the vacancy left by Marty Meehan who represented the district for more than 14 years and resigned on July 1 to become Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. In preparation for the September 4 primary election to select their respective candidates, Carlisle's Democratic and Republican town committees sponsored "Politics on the Piazza" at Ferns Country Store. This past Sunday, July 15, the capacity crowd heard five Democratic and one Republican candidate respond to questions posed by moderator Tom Raftery and members of the audience.
Ferns proprietor Larry Bearfield set the stage: "This is our town center where dialogs are constant and opinions are many." After introducing the chairs of the town committees and the "supporting cast" for the forum, he turned the proceedings over to Tom Raftery. Midway through the program, thunder and a few lightning flashes in the Northwest were even more effective in keeping answers short and to the point than Raftery's stopwatch. The candidates' responses presented in this article are necessarily truncated, hopefully without losing essential content. Thomas Tierney was the sole Republican. Five Democratic candidates participated.
In opening statements the candidates introduced themselves.
State Representative Barry Finegold from Andover said, "The country is headed in the wrong direction." He favors a better student loan program, leading in developing sustainable energy sources and an end to the Iraq war by adopting Senator Biden's three-Iraq solution.
State Representative James Miceli from Wilmington thinks it a mistake "to telegraph our Iraq departure date to our enemy." He favors a combination private/public partnership to provide health insurance for everyone.
State Representative Jamie Eldridge from Acton introduced himself as the only "clean elections candidate" elected in Massachusetts history and said, "The problem in Washington is not just President Bush's disastrous policies but also too many Democrats who don't stand up for our values. The federal government has systematically walked away from our state and from our towns and cities." He supports universal single-payer health care: "The Massachusetts law is not universal; it does nothing to reduce cost, and it is already bursting at the seams."
Thomas Tierney, consulting actuary from Framingham, offered a challenge to his Republican opponent for the nomination. He asked for help from the audience, "I am the only Republican candidate up here. There is another candidate named Jim Ogonowski. I have never met him. If any of you see him tell him to come out so I can debate him." In summary of his own position on the issues, Tierney said, "Nothing is working in Washington. The one thing that is working is Social Security and they want to destroy it."
Raftery asked the first of five questions: Health care is too expensive in the United States. What is wrong and what would you do in Congress to fix it?
Miceli: "I've been involved in designing fringe packages for companies. The state plan has problems. To get something to work at the national level you have to work within the system — a private/public partnership. You have to get the [health care] industry somewhat involved."
Eldridge: "Universal single-payer is the only way to guarantee health care as a right to every man, woman and child and reduce health care costs. That is why every other first-world country has it." We need to take profit out of health care. We need to take HMOs out of health care and use those dollars to give coverage to everyone in America."
Finegold: "I support what is called Health Markets — a Medicare-based system to compete against a private system. People could opt-in to a single-payer system. No HMO should come between you and your doctor. We are one of the few countries that allow drug countries to advertise. That money would be better spent to reduce cost or on research."
Tsongas: "I support guaranteed access to affordable health care. The Massachusetts system, although not perfect, is a path forward. Until we get everybody under the umbrella we will struggle with the cost of health care."
Donoghue: "I do support single-payer health care — but I am realistic about it. In the meantime I propose that we cover every child, expand coverage under Medicare and mandate that employers provide coverage. But more importantly, that we give employers the opportunity to provide affordable coverage. Let them pool to get coverage.Estimates are that the war in Iraq is costing a half-trillion dollars. When you think of what we could do with that right here at home it is staggering."
Question: What do you think the needs are for the growing senior population and what would you do in Congress to address those needs?
Donoghue: "I recently unveiled a Senior Bill of Rights that is on my web site. We have to let Medicare negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry. Seniors want to stay in their homes — government must provide services so they can."
Miceli: "In Congress I would work hard to make sure that there is enough money for programs so that seniors can stay in their own homes."
Eldridge: "The only way to guarantee prescription drug access without paying so much is universal single-payer health care. The marketplace is an inefficient way to deliver health care. Seniors have problems with rising property taxes. We have a broken way to support schools with property taxes. We have to close corporate loopholes so that corporations pay their fair share. Property tax is an extremely regressive tax on seniors."
Tierney: "Seniors have three needs: income, medical care and housing. We have to protect Social Security. For medical care we have to put in cost control."
Question: The next category is America's standing in the world. Among others the magazine The Economist opines that in the not too distant future India and China will be economically more powerful than the United States. How would you assess America's political standing in the world and what would you do in Congress to address it?
Tsongas: "We have to bring an end to the war in Iraq and begin the process of reaching out and reconnecting to those around the world...High-end jobs in green technology, for example, require education — we have to provide affordable access to higher education."
Tierney: "As an economic power I am not worried about India or China. The world hit population equilibrium about 1972 when the world hit 4.3 billion. That is the point where we use up resources at the same rate at which nature can replace them. Population increases in China and India will hurt them more that it will help them. With regard to our political standing — the Muslim world has great respect for our military, but they truly believe we favor
Eldridge: "We need to end the war in Iraq — we need to have a diplomatic solution. We need to end the outsourcing of torture. We need to close Guantanamo. The Bush administration has done a sorry job. The standard of living will continue to go down in this country unless we establish fair trade agreements. I am a critic of NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. I think it has resulted in a poor standard of living in many third-world countries and is causing many jobs to leave this country. We need to support white-collar jobs but we also need to support working-class jobs. The Fifth Congressional District is very diverse. We need to reach out to every economic group."
Miceli: "I am worried about India and China. I worry about their economies growing and ours maintaining at the level where it is at right now. We should get involved in cutting back on emissions, but I think we should address what is happening in China and India. We haven't heard any decision by those countries to abide by any restrictions at all."
Donoghue: "After September 11 our status worldwide was at an all-time high. This administration has squandered the good will we had. We had earned international respect. We have to earn it back. How do we do that? I think we have to start at home. We have kids who say, 'Politicians lie.' It is a disgrace. Americans have to believe in our government again — then we can go abroad. Instead of fighting in this civil war we have to become the diplomatic giant that we were."
Finegold: "Once upon a time they used to name streets after our presidents and now they are shunned by leaders of the world. We have to end our addiction to foreign oil. It drives our economic policies and our foreign policies. We have 5% of the world population but use 25% of the oil. I propose spending 100 billion dollars over five years for the federal government to 'go green.' As the biggest user of renewable energy it could drive the cost down for all of us. Thirty-two years ago Gerry Ford and Jimmy Carter were telling us that we had a looming energy crisis and had to do something about it. But what have we really done?"
Question: Climate change — what is your perception on climate change and what are you going to do about it?
Finegold: "What we should ask ourselves in this day of global terrorism is what would happen if the oil fields were to blow up? We are not ready for that. We could be a hydrogen economy or go to some other type of bio-fuel. Right now this country doesn't have the will to do that. If elected to Congress, I will vote to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050."
Donoghue: "What is nice about this now is that we are no longer debating whether there is such a thing as global warming. Most of the informed, thinking people agree that we do suffer from global warming. I would not support tax benefits for big oil. The federal government has to provide tax incentives for companies involved in innovative renewable energy. That can happen right here in the Fifth District."
Miceli: "We have no choice — we are all aware of the problem. But I would put a lot of pressure on India and China to start joining with us."
Eldridge: "We need to take dramatic action to stop climate change. I have worked with Governor Patrick to bring Evergreen Solar to the Fort Devens site. I think 'clean coal' is an oxymoron. I am opposed to nuclear power — it is essentially based on fossil fuel to mine uranium. I am opposed to the subsidy for ethanol because it takes approximately six units of energy to create one unit of ethanol. What we need to focus on is sustainable energy. I'm a big supporter of Cape Wind, hydroelectric and solar.
Tierney: "China has three times our population but the U.S. produces more carbon dioxide that any other country in the world. We need step-by-step, year-by-year limits on carbon dioxide and we need sustainable energy. That means nuclear. I have a degree in physics. Nuclear produces some nasty byproducts but that can be handled. We need wind. We need solar."
Tsongas: "I said earlier that the issue of global warming ... is one of the biggest travesties of the Bush administration. We have lost precious time. We have to focus on research on renewable sources. Government must partner with companies and universities."
Question: How can we solve these problems that have been discussed and at the same time handle the enormous national debt?
Tsongas: "We have to end the war in Iraq. We have to reverse the Bush tax cuts. The Democrats have installed a 'Pay-Go' system so that as they put in place a program, they look to where the funds will come from. And we have to get a handle on the cost of health care. The Bush administration has squandered the surplus position we were in after Clinton — it will be up to the Democrats in Washington to bring it back to some equilibrium.
Tierney: "There are two ways to handle it. One is to monitize the debt — you print paper but that would cause tremendous inflation. The second way is to start to run surpluses. That happened during the later years of the Clinton administration and that is the preferred way. The sooner we start generating surpluses to pay it off the better."
Eldridge: "We need to repeal the Bush tax cuts and eliminate the tax breaks for big oil and big gas. But there is another piece. We need to reduce wage inequality in this country. Thirty percent of health care cost goes to administration."
Miceli: "The war will come to an end. That will free up a lot of resources."
Donoghue: "We have to get our priorities straight and live within our means."
Finegold: "We have to use our tax dollars in the most efficient way."
Question: You all talk about the necessity of ending the war. How can we achieve stability in the region?
Finegold: "I talked about the three-state Biden plan. It worked in Yugoslavia."
Donoghue: "I think we work with a date certain. In order for the Iraqi government to get their act together they need to know we are leaving. More importantly it will bring together those countries in their own backyard. It is not in their best interest to have a destabilized Iraq. Right now they are taking a pass — they are letting us fight the civil war."
Miceli: "Set a date and get out — too simple — it won't work. I would support as much diplomatic work on the side."
Eldridge: "The U.S. presence is causing a lot of violence. We went in there, it is our responsibility. We need to do it diplomatically and with foreign aid. I do not support a three-state solution.
Tierney: "It is an 18-state solution. There are 18 states in Iraq. There really are two wars. The first was successful in getting rid of Saddam. The other is about 70% civil war. The way to solve that is with a confederation system of 18 loosely affiliated states. It is working already in the Kurd area. That should be our model for the southern part of Iraq."
Tsongas: "We absolutely need a timetable in order to give the Iraqi government notice that we are firm in our commitment to bring our troops home. It will take the engagement of the international community. Without a timetable there is no incentive to deal with it in other than a military fashion. We do have an obligation to fund non-military needs to bring some peace and tranquility over there."
Candidates' web sites
Eileen Donoghue (eileendonoghue.com)
Jamie Eldridge (jamieforcongress.com)
Barry Finegold (barryfinegold.com)
James Miceli (jamesrmiceliforcongress.com)
Niki Tsongas (NikiTsongas.com)
Jim Ogonowski (jimogonowski.com)
Tom Tierney (TomTierney.org)
Kevin Thompson (Thompson07.org)
Kurt Hayes (kurthayes.com)
Patrick Murphy (SendMurphytoCongress.com)
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