BY GLENN ADAMS
AUGUSTA, Maine — The vacuum left by six-term Rep. Tom Allen’s departure to run for Senate in Maine’s 1st Congressional District has triggered a race between two experienced politicians, Democrat Chellie Pingree and Republican Charlie Summers.
The campaign has touched on themes ranging from Summers’ background as an Iraq war veteran to Pingree’s experience as head of Common Cause in Washington after her unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sen. Susan Collins in 2002. Summers, who has run for Congress twice, is former regional director of the Small Business Administration.
How the two candidates come down on major issues is detailed, in their own words, in their responses to an Associated Press survey that poses questions on taxes, Iraq, energy and immigration. Because of the length of the answers, some had to be shortened. But the words are those of the candidates.
Q: Should Congress continue or roll back the Bush tax cuts on upper brackets, which include a 15 percent top rate on capital gains and a 3 percentage point cut in most income tax brackets, and expire at the end of 2010?
SUMMERS: I believe that the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of 2010 should be made permanent.
PINGREE: Our tax code is in need of significant changes — including a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the highest-income Americans, higher capital gains taxes on investment income, and closing tax loopholes for private equity and hedge funds. We should restrict government contracts to American-based corporations and clarify rules on tax shelters so they cannot be used strictly for tax avoidance.
At the same time, our tax cuts should be focused on areas that will help working families — with credits that support access to higher education, child care costs and tax policies that do not punish wage earners.
Q: What is your vision for U.S. military presence in Iraq over the next six months? The next year?
SUMMERS: There are three things we should be doing in Iraq. First, we must ensure that troop levels remain roughly where they are (approximately 140,000) for the next 12-18 months for two reasons: to continue to help provide security and, most importantly, to continue training Iraqi Security Forces. Second, during that same time period, we need to redouble our diplomatic efforts and expand the current coalition of nations supporting actions in Iraq to include all Western nations. Third, we must employ a second “surge” — not a military surge, but a “peace surge” — to include the deployment of the United States Peace Corps. The only way to “win the peace” in Iraq is by winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis.
PINGREE: We need to end the war and start immediately withdrawing troops in a responsible manner. The American people want the war over and the Iraqi government wants us out. We should start responsibly withdrawing troops now and continue until all remaining American soldiers are out of Iraq. That may take up to 18 months — but we should not wait any longer to begin that process.
Ending the war means more than just bringing the troops home, which is why I support [efforts] to recommit the United States to diplomacy, so military force becomes a last resort, not a first resort; reduce our reliance on private contractors; and strengthen our commitment to our veterans by improving access to health care and necessary services.
Q: Gasoline prices soared above $4 per gallon in mid-August. Heating oil was $4.40 per gallon earlier in the summer. Can the economy sustain those costs or is congressional intervention needed to stabilize prices? If action is needed, when and what action is needed? Do you favor expanded offshore drilling as part of the solution? Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? More nuclear plants?
SUMMERS: The key to solving our nation’s energy crisis is developing a comprehensive strategy. I support Sen. Olympia Snowe’s call for a bipartisan national energy summit to advance a thorough and lasting solution by placing all of the best ideas on the table. Specifically, I believe that it is crucial to provide a bridge to other forms of energy. Therefore, it is imperative that we explore and drill for oil here in America, both offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We need to build more nuclear power plants, which provide some of the cleanest forms of energy available. And we must begin now to build up wind, solar, hybrid, and other alternative forms of energy as this country’s energy future. Every day that America imports a barrel of oil from hostile nations is a day that we are less safe. That must change now.
PINGREE: Congress needs to meet this crisis head-on and help provide short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, we need to increase supply, so Congress should vote to release 100 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which will lower prices and generate $12-$14 billion that can help Americans struggling with high prices. Congress should fully fund LIHEAP and add additional money, both for heating assistance and weatherization. Congress should also pass legislation that reins in excessive speculation in oil markets. I also believe oil and gas companies should be required to take advantage of the thousands of unused drilling permits for 68 million acres of land that they have stockpiled.
Opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling would not bring any short-term relief to energy. Drilling in ANWR is not part of the solution to our energy crisis.
Our long-term solutions include investing in energy efficiency and creating new sources of clean energy, especially those that we can produce locally.
The Democratic platform calls for “tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration,” and Sen. John McCain says he wouldn’t pursue an enforcement-only approach sought by GOP conservatives. Both presidential candidates support a temporary worker program and eventual path to citizenship for immigrants. What specific reforms do you propose?
SUMMERS: Above all, we need to enforce our current laws. We must build the fence that Congress has already approved, and increase the number of border agents protecting our Mexican border. Illegal immigrants presently in America must not be granted amnesty — they need to pay a fine and apply for citizenship to this country like immigrants here legally have done.
PINGREE: I support reforming our immigration laws by focusing first on securing our borders, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, and allowing undocumented people here now to get right with the law by paying back taxes and a fine, and getting in line.