U.S. Senate race: A Q&A with Missouri's candidates

Sunday, October 28, 2012

With the Nov. 6 election drawing closer, Missouri's senatorial candidates answer questions posed by the Southeast Missourian editorial board. The candidates include Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, Republican Rep. Todd Akin (current U.S. Representative) and Libertarian Jonathan Dine.

Here are the questions:

Q: What steps should be taken to create more jobs?

AKIN

Todd Akin

It's clear that the last four years of Democratic economic policies have not gotten the job done. President Obama and Claire McCaskill promised unemployment would not get above 6 percent if we passed the stimulus and instead we had 43 months of unemployment over 8 percent. Small businesses are the engines of job growth in our economy and when I talk to small business owners, no matter what field they are in, they tell a similar story of feeling like their business is under attack by the federal government. I hear three common reasons they aren't able to grow: red tape, taxes and lack of access to capital. All three are due to too much government involvement.

We need to cut red tape. This administration alone has added over 11,000 pages of new red tape. They want to regulate the amount of dust coming off farms and the ages at which children can work on family farms. Some have started joking that the EPA is the "Employment Prevention Agency" which really isn't that far from true.

We need to keep taxes low. Higher taxes mean that small businesses have less profit to reinvest in order to grow and hire. As President Obama himself once said, we shouldn't raise taxes during a recession. It will only slow our growth down further.

We need to improve access to capital. The combination of bank bailouts and consolidation and the Dodd-Frank legislation has made it harder for small businesses to get loans. We should work to grow more local and community banks and credit unions that can better serve the needs of small businesses.

In all three of these areas, the Obama administration has made things worse with the support of Claire McCaskill. We need to turn these areas around to help get more Americans back to work.

DINE

Jonathan Dine

In the last few decades, the federal government has exploded in size. No area of your life or business is free from the meddling of politicians, especially your wallet. It doesn't have to be that way. With less government and lower taxes, you could keep more of what you earn. It would be easier to start new businesses, build new homes and fuel real economic growth. The government can't create jobs, it can only create a friendly environment for job growth. Get the government out of the way so businesses can go to sleep at night not worrying about what new regulations or mandates will be forced upon them in the morning.

McCASKILL

Claire McCaskill

We've come a long way from where we were at the height of the economic crisis, when the economy was in free fall and we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We're moving in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do to keep creating the jobs we need in Missouri. To keep moving in the right direction and create jobs, I've worked hard with Senate Republicans to cap federal spending, end the corrupt practice of earmarks, and eliminate unnecessary regulations that burden Missouri businesses, farmers and ranchers. In the Senate, I successfully blocked proposed rules that would have prevented children from working on family farms and ranches. Bucking my own party, I fought the EPA and prevented it from imposing excessive farm dust regulation that would have added undue costs to farmers throughout the state. I also worked to pass legislation that would put a hold on unnecessary EPA mandates for our power plants. I know that far too often, when Washington regulators get their way, prices go up, good-paying jobs are lost and our economy is stifled.

Q: When it comes to spending cuts, what specific areas would you target?

AKIN

First, I think we can roll back much of federal spending to 2008 levels almost across the board. Nondefense spending has exploded, with federal departments and agencies adding billions to their budgets while our economy is struggling. I think we can cut almost all of that increase. I also think we need to look at whether certain functions really need to be done by the federal government. Education is an example where I think Missourians should be in charge of Missouri schools, rather than bureaucrats in Washington setting the policies for our schools. I am not convinced that the federal department of education has actually improved education for any students in America. We also need to look at our autopilot spending programs. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will go broke if we don't make common sense reforms to them that protects current beneficiaries and ensures that future beneficiaries get a return on their investment.

DINE

Most people seem to think that we can control spending and balance the budget without reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This is just not the case. Considering that 60 cents out of every dollar the government spends is spent on domestic social programs, we need to have an adult conversation about identifying and implementing common-sense cost savings to place Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security on a path toward long-term solvency. I would also get serious about reducing our defense spending. Seventy cents of every dollar spent on defense doesn't actually go to the military but military contractors and manufacturing facilities here in the U.S. and have little to do with actual defense of our nation.

McCASKILL

As someone who's fought for bipartisan caps on federal spending and successfully banned earmarks, I know the importance of getting our fiscal house in order, asking those who can afford it to pay their fair share, and protecting tax cuts for middle-class families. I plan to keep working across party lines to balance our budget and reduce the national debt. I went against my own party to introduce spending caps and I've supported a responsible Balanced Budget Amendment. As the chair of the subcommittee on military readiness, I know we can cut defense spending while still maintaining the strongest and most capable military on earth. We also need more revenue to begin to pay down our deficits, and so it's time we stop paying for Donald Trump's prescription drugs. I believe we need to achieve a balanced approach, similar to the one proposed by the bipartisan deficit commission that cuts $4 trillion off our debt, but does so without jeopardizing benefits for Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. This kind of balanced approach requires us to ask millionaires to pay their fair share, cuts wasteful spending, and puts our debt and deficit on a glide path to long-term stability.

Q: Much has been made about foreign aid, particularly in light of the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Libya. What's your position on foreign aid, and specifically, should the U.S. cut aid to Libya?

AKIN

I have called for a suspension of foreign aid to Egypt and Libya. As long as [the] country cannot protect our embassies and is burning American flags in the street, I do not see value in giving them foreign aid. I also believe that we should launch an investigation into the attacks in Libya. The House has already held a hearing on it, but my opponent, who sits on the Senate oversight committee, has not even called for a hearing. I think that's irresponsible.

DINE

Given our trillion-dollar deficits, America simply cannot afford to be engaged in foreign aid programs that are not clearly protecting U.S. interests. The federal government is spending us deeper and deeper into debt while we shell out billions in foreign aid we can no longer afford. In our current economic crisis I don't think it makes sense to continue to borrow money from China to give to other countries. I think we should suspend foreign aid until we have dealt with our economic problems here in the U.S.

McCASKILL

Sen. Roy Blunt and I, as well as every single member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Sen. John McCain, voted against cutting foreign aid because we know that overly-simplistic solutions in a dangerous, complex world put our allies and American interests at risk. On this important issue, Todd Akin's position is extreme -- he would be one of only 10 senators to cut foreign aid in this time of uncertainty abroad, which weakens America's national security and the security of our allies like Israel.

At the same time, I've led the fight to bring our tax dollars home from wasteful infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, and I'm confident that those who attacked our embassies and our citizens will be brought to justice -- an approach that Osama bin Laden came to understand intimately when U.S. Navy Seals showed up on his doorstep.

Q: Should the Bush tax cuts be made permanent?

AKIN

I believe we need a flatter, fairer tax code. The tax code is extremely complex right now, and obscure loopholes only help people and companies who can afford a small army of accountants and tax lawyers. We need to keep tax rates low to help the economy grow and prevent a longer recession, but simplifying the tax code will also benefit small businesses in particular and encourage economic growth. Meanwhile, Claire McCaskill has voted 50 times to increase taxes on Missourians while not paying her own property taxes and making millions off government tax credits and subsidies.

DINE

Yes and we should eliminate the federal income tax and corporate taxes and replace it with one flat federal consumption-based tax of 10 percent. With no corporate or personal income tax businesses from all over the world would flock to America to set up shop and provide millions of jobs for Americans. With the abolition of the federal income tax the states will be better able to serve their citizens, and because the state governments are closer and more responsive to the will of the people, there is greater chance that the citizens will get their full dollar's worth in services. I firmly believe that all Americans are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor.

McCASKILL

I support permanently extending tax cuts for middle-class families who earn less than $250,000. In an effort to prevent our nation from going off the fiscal cliff, I'm open to a short-term extension of those tax cuts for families earning between $250,000 and $1 million annually if it's part of a compromise solution that helps us achieve $4-5 trillion in debt reduction.

Q: What's your proposal for sustaining Social Security for current retirees? For younger workers, what changes would you propose for the program?

AKIN

I have supported a number of proposals that would ensure that Social Security is on a stable footing and will be there for current recipients and future beneficiaries. I also voted against a 15 percent cut to Social Security while my opponent voted yes on that cut. People pay into Social Security and they should be able to expect a reasonable return on that investment.

DINE

Raising the maximum taxable earning levels will help pay for Social Security. The current limit is set at $110,100 in 2012. A benefit of lifting the cap on the taxable income, but not increasing the benefits, make some suggest that the revenue from high income earners will lead to solvency of Social Security. I also support means testing to help keep the system solvent. This would reduce payments to a recipient if that person is deemed not to need them.

I like the idea of making Social Security voluntary for younger adults and converting it into a defined contribution plan. At least part of Social Security should include private accounts that are counted in your estate.

McCASKILL

Fifty-five million Americans, and more than 1 million Missouri seniors, rely on Social Security for essential benefits. I support a simple, common sense fix for Social Security, and that is raising the cap slightly on taxable income, but only for those making more than $250,000 per year. This approach will put the program on sound footing for the next 75 years without privatizing it, lowering the benefits or raising the retirement age.

While I've consistently fought to protect and extend Social Security benefits for today's seniors and future retirees, Congressman Akin has vocally supported plans to privatize the program in his quest to balance the budget on the back of our seniors. Congressman Akin is trying to distract Missourians from the fact that he has consistently advocated for extreme policies that would impose a triple threat against Missouri's seniors -- privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and reducing benefits.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, and what action should Congress take on health care issues?

AKIN

I stand with 71 percent of Missourians who oppose Obamacare. I voted against Obamacare originally, and I have since voted to repeal it. It's a profoundly bad idea for the government to take over one sixth of our economy. There are already medical professionals who avoid Medicare patients because of government mismanagement and that will only get worse. There is also a 15 person unaccountable board that will be charged with making health care choices that affect all of us. That is simply a bad plan and I support repealing Obamacare. We should replace it with patient-centered health care reforms that encourage choice and competition, not government management.

DINE

Health insurance costs are skyrocketing. Medicare/Medicaid is heading for bankruptcy while politicians continue to pile on the regulations. I'm against the Affordable Care Act because of the individual mandate. Americans should not be penalized for not buying health insurance. I favor restoring and reviving a free market health care system where neither the government nor insurance companies stand between people and their doctor. I recognize the freedom of individuals to determine the level of health insurance they want, the level of health care they want, the care providers they want, the medicines and treatments they will use and all other aspects of their medical care. Congress should pass a law allowing people to shop across state lines to find insurance that fits their budget.

McCASKILL

During the health care debate, I supported a moderate, compromise approach that incorporated more than 150 Republican amendments. In fact, it was because we didn't want government-run health care that the legislation included the mandate -- an idea championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Republican alternative to President Clinton's health care proposals in the 1990s -- in order to lower costs by bringing more people into the private insurance pool. I supported the Affordable Care Act because the law will help to keep long-term health care costs down, promote preventive care that is so important to keeping folks healthy, and finally bring insurance companies to heel by banning practices like discriminating because of a pre-existing condition.

There is a lot of misinformation about what is actually in this law -- what it does and does not do. I believe it's important for folks to continue to separate fact from fiction, and when they do I think they'll be pleasantly surprised. Landmark reforms like this will always require a few adjustments as they take effect, and I'm certainly open to improving the Affordable Care Act going forward. In fact, I've already voted to fix a provision related to tax reporting for businesses that was too burdensome. I know we will continue to make improvements to the law, and I'm eager to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure the Affordable Care Act is achieving the reforms the American health care system truly needed.

Q:How should the U.S. deal with Iran?

AKIN

We cannot allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This administration claims credit for sanctions that Congress forced on the Obama administration. We also need to make it clear to Iran and the world that Israel is our ally and that we will stand with them. This administration has made it clear that Israel is not a priority, which only encourages Iran to be aggressive.

DINE

With diplomacy instead of bombs. The United States should abandon its attempt to be the world's policeman. I believe if Israel feels threatened by Iran they have a sufficient military to stop any threat posed to them. We need to be cautious of the unintended consequences of our military involvement in the Middle East. As soon as we started to drop bombs on Libya gas prices in the U.S. skyrocketed and have yet to come down from the theoretical disruption in supply that never occurred.

McCASKILL

Iran cannot be allowed to build a nuclear weapon -- period. Such a development would only further destabilize an already volatile region and would pose a grave threat to Israel, an unbreakable American ally. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I believe that no options should be off the table. I've supported substantially strengthening harsh sanctions against the government of Iran, including severe sanctions on the Bank of Iran, which we successfully passed despite the objections of President Obama. I continue to support reaching a diplomatic solution to head off Iran's nuclear ambition and protect America's greatest allies.

While I have been leading the charge for tough sanctions against Iran, Todd Akin actually voted to give loans to Iran in the same year he voted against aid for Israel. This is backward. We have to support Israel always, and we cannot be supporting Iran.

Q: Do you support term limits for members of Congress?

AKIN

I think elections are the best form of term limits.

DINE

I believe the biggest political problem in America is the career politician. I believe we need a change now, and across-the-board term limits are the answer. For a Congressman, six two-year terms are enough. Senators should be restricted to two six-year terms. Many of our Founding Fathers believed that serving the people was a part-time profession: serve a few years and then return to your profession. Political service was hardly seen as an occupation. The U.S. Congress should be a revolving door of fresh ideas. I believe every generation deserves the opportunity to govern themselves. The time for the career politician to go is long overdue. Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed often and for the same reasons. Politicians are more likely to confront real issues when they are not busy campaigning.

McCASKILL

While I've never served more than three terms in any office, I do believe that the best term limits are those imposed by voters on Election Day. To artificially impose a deadline on public service is to take power away from voters to hire and fire who they want to represent them.

Q: What should be done to sustain Medicare?

AKIN

We need to give seniors more choice when it comes to Medicare, and we need to introduce market forces and competition into Medicare so that we can drive prices down while improving care. I have supported a number of different legislative proposals which would make common sense reforms to Medicare and protect the program today and in the future.

DINE

Changes are needed to Medicare as all projections see the program running short of money 12 years from now. The only realistic way to sustain Medicare is to substantially change the program, cutting back on some benefits or raising eligibility ages. I would be in favor of turning delivery of health care to those over 65 to the states and allow them to compete and find new innovative ways to provide health care at a lower cost. I don't think there is any one easy answer, but we need to start having a real debate about what is to be done. Over the long term, the federal budget cannot be controlled without restraining spending for Medicare, which is the fastest growing major program in the federal budget.

McCASKILL

I know that rising Medicare costs are simply unsustainable, and it's widely agreed that absent reform, the price of quality care will continue to increase at an untenable pace.

I believe we need to means-test Medicare, because I don't think Missouri taxpayers can afford to keep buying prescription drugs for Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian. We can't afford that as a nation. We've got to figure out a better way to bring down costs, and that starts with incentivizing lower costs within the Medicare system.

Unlike Congressman Akin, who has said he believes that Medicare is unconstitutional and should be privatized, I don't think it works to make seniors arm wrestle insurance companies to figure out if their claim will be paid or whether they can afford the coverage. Todd Akin's extreme ideas about Medicare are not the answer. His plan to privatize Medicare would amount to giving seniors a certain amount of money to buy private insurance, and after that runs out, our seniors are on their own.

What should be the federal government's role in education?

AKIN

I don't think any two students are alike. Parents and teachers should have the freedom to tailor the education of each student in a way that best serves that student. To make this happen, we don't need bureaucrats in Washington setting policies for schools in Missouri. I think Missourians should run Missouri's schools. I think state and local control of education makes much more sense than Washington control of schools.

DINE

Government spends too much because it does too much. We must fundamentally reassess the role of the federal government, always asking the question: Should the federal government be doing this in the first place? What are the unintended consequences? I believe government loans and loan guarantees have made colleges and universities immune to pricing, driving up tuition and leaving students burdened with heavy debts. The federal government should relinquish control of education to the states and the people. I recognize that the education of children is a parental responsibility, I would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from the federal government.

McCASKILL

I am so grateful for my public school education -- through high school, undergraduate and law school. As a proud graduate of Mizzou, my college degree allowed me to grab that first rung on the economic ladder, and for our country, it allows us [to] be that beacon on the hill that causes other nations to look to us with envy -- particularly for our emphasis on public and higher education.

Congressman Akin has been very clear: he wants the federal government completely out of education. No more school lunch program, no more Pell Grants or federal student loans, and no more Department of Education.

More than a hundred thousand students in Missouri are attending college because of federal student loans or Pell Grants. I couldn't have gotten through college and law school without student loans, and I paid back every dime, as most young people do. We have to leave that doorway of opportunity open. Federal loans are not, as Todd Akin calls them, the "stage three of cancer of socialism." The federal government's involvement in public education is important for our country because it's not about bureaucracy, it's about whether or not middle-class families can get ahead.

Q: What makes you uniquely qualified for the office?

AKIN

I vote based on my principles, not political expedience or for the advancement of the party. Missourians know that I will stand up for Missouri against bad ideas and bills coming from either political party. I have stood up against the Democrats and the Republicans, and I will continue to do so. I will fight for Missouri common sense in Washington, rather than bringing Washington red tape and deficit spending back to Missouri.

DINE

Unlike my opponents I am not a career politician; however, I am well educated in many of the political issues which face this country today. I believe we need more ordinary Americans to stand up and take an active role in government. I understand the vices of our government mainly because I am not a part of it. I see life from the ground level. I don't look down to see it or have to ask anybody about it. I live it and feel it every day. I have an open mind and will listen to the people of this state. When I vote on bills, or propose legislation, I'll remember my life experiences and the people I represent. Not a corporation or lobbyist. Supporting my candidacy means supporting a drastically lower tax level, smaller government and more personal freedom across the board. We do not need career politicians telling us who we can love, how much money we can keep, or what we can do with our own body. I will fight to keep the Democrats out of your wallet and the Republicans out of your bedroom.

McCASKILL

As a former auditor and prosecutor, I've aggressively gone after wasteful spending and worked hard to bring the federal government to heel. I've worked across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to the challenges we face, especially when it comes to getting our fiscal house in order. This election gives Missourians a clear choice between my record of fighting for middle-class families at the table of compromise, and my opponent, who wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare, get rid of the minimum wage and affordable student loans. As a mother and grandmother, I know we need to keep America's middle class strong for future generations by protecting tax cuts for Missouri's working families and small business owners. To strengthen the economy, we should also find bipartisan solutions that invest in roads and bridges, get serious about the deficit, and cut through red tape regulations so Missouri businesses can add new jobs. Serving as Missouri's senator these past six years has been the honor of my life, and I'd be honored to serve for another six years.

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