On the Issues
How would you balance the federal budget/reduce the federal deficit?
Over the summer of 2011, members of Congress displayed stunning recklessness with the country's fiscal health by nearly shutting down our government over the debt ceiling. The ceiling had to be lifted or America would default on its debts. Political brinksmanship should not be confused with budget discipline or fiscal responsibility. Too many of the politicians involved presented non-negotiable demands: no tax increases; no cuts to military spending; no end to ear marks; hands off all earned benefits (aka "entitlements") for all recipients, always. Now this same cast of Congressional characters is threatening to replay this artificial "debt crisis."
Now more than ever, the country needs the smartest budget plan possible. Congress needs to respond to the twin economic and fiscal challenges of our time. First, with a stagnant economy and far too many people unemployed, the government should maintain investment on vital infrastructure, education and jobs. At the same time, Congress must be ready to step up the budget balance once the economy is growing and adding jobs. As the private sector grows, the government must scale back spending, increase revenues, balance the budget rapidly and reduce the national debt.
Wasteful subsidies to oil, coal and gas companies and big agriculture should be ended. Congress should cancel contracts for unneeded weapons systems and scale back certain nuclear weapons deployments that were designed to counter cold war adversaries of an earlier era. Allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012 (but extend marriage relief credits and incentives for children, families, and education.) Tax all capital gains and qualified dividends as ordinary income so that hedge fund managers do not pay lower taxes on the money they make than do everyday working people.
What steps do you support to reform Social Security and Medicare?
These policies, Social Security and Medicare, are the least we must do to ensure economic security for working families and retired individuals. These policies have provided a safety net to every American, rich or poor, and prevented generations from falling into poverty in their retirement.
Preserving and strengthening Medicare and Social Security is essential for the wellbeing of most Americans. Social Security is a promise in the form of a contract between generations. It provides baseline security and peace of mind for American seniors, disabled workers, and survivors of deceased workers.
I oppose the reduction or privatization of Social Security benefits. We can help improve Social Security, not by raising the retirement age or limiting benefits, but by raising the income cap for contributions. There is no good reason why a worker who earns $100,000 pays the same amount into Social Security as a person who earns $1,000,000.
Medicare is vital health insurance for tens of thousands of Mainers. It does face major financing challenges over the long term. There are reforms that could help shore it up. First, it is important to defend the Affordable Care Act. Medicare's financing challenges would be much greater without the health reform law, which substantially improves the program's financial outlook. Repealing the law would bring on a Medicare shortfall.
Overall, the Medicare system, like most health care in America, needs greater cost control. Some useful reforms include: competitive bidding by providers; the elimination of perverse incentives to choose the most expensive provider and procedures; and using the government's market power to reduce the costs of drugs. In addition, those participants with highest net worth could also have a higher cap on out-of-pocket costs.
Also, more can be done to reduce fraud and abuse including when committed by physicians, providers, and suppliers. I would support sensible measures to reduce the cost of Medicare but I would fight hard opposing the efforts Republican members of Congress and others to dismantle the core of these essential programs.
Would you sign a pledge to never raise federal taxes? Why or why not?
Many of America's super-rich earn most of their money through capital gains, taxed at just 15%. That one tax rule means that billionaires like Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney pay less than many ordinary working Mainers. When the super-rich contribute less, the rest of us pay more and America goes further into debt.
As the saying goes, the rich get richer. Historically, middle class people and even the poor did better too. For more than a decade now, most people have been economically standing still or falling behind. Any system that rewards risk and effort is going to produce different financial outcomes for different people. Thus, some inequality is to be expected. But when those who control the levers of power rig the rules to create a winner-take-all system, the prospects of getting ahead seem hopeless for ordinary people, and the country as a whole loses out.
The Buffett Rule represents a bow in the direction of fairness. It does not return us to the time when capital gains were taxed the same as ordinary income, as they were under President Reagan, or to the higher tax rates of Eisenhower and Nixon. Instead it simply asks people earning more than $1,000,000 per year to pay a 30% rate to overcome the loopholes and deductions that tax lawyers too often craft.
How should health care be reformed?
Americans will be well served if we achieve health care that adopts proven aspects of the Medicare and veteran's administration systems with an emphasis on wellness and preventive medicine and greater cost controls.
I support a universal, single payer system of health care like extending Medicare to all. Health care should not be denied to those Americans who need it before they reach retirement age. There are more than two dozen countries with better health outcomes at lower cost than the system in the United States. Most of those countries have adopted some form of a single payer system.
The Affordable Care Act was a significant step forward but more work is needed to maximize the potential for wellness and preventive health care and to reduce the costs of treating injury, illness and disease. We can continue to improve our health care system while still instituting greater costs controls.
Do you support a woman’s right to an abortion?
The right to choose is a basic freedom protected by our right to privacy. We must keep government from dictating the private choices people make with respect to their bodies, their health care and family planning. Government should not be putting up obstacles or barring women from making their own decisions. In light of recent policy debates, it is worth noting that women already pay on average 50% more for health insurance.
No one should be denied basic health care services based on the opinions and values of someone else. On a related subject, it is astonishing to me that in 2012, nearly one hundred years after women won the right to vote, conservatives believe that restricting reproductive rights, even limiting a woman's access to contraception is a winning electoral issue.
In Congress, would you support DOMA or legislation to allow civil unions or gay marriage?
I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. I will once again vote for Marriage Equality as I did as a member of the Maine Legislature and as a strong supporter of the "No on One" campaign in 2009. I have followed up on my commitment to marriage equality by dedicating volunteer time and contributing financially to the effort.
This fall, I will work to convince voters that all Mainers deserve the right to marry whomever they love. In the long run, I believe that on this issues love will prevail and overcome government restrictions that have denied people their rights for too long.
Should the federal government have a role in K-12 education?
Providing educational opportunities that our children need to prosper requires that we maintain world class schools, support quality educators and ensure that classroom are well-equipped and connected to the world. We also need to make a college education more affordable. Education is the door to knowledge and prosperity our society. We learn as children that if we work hard and play by the rules, we will succeed because we can go on to college, find our place in society, and contribute to our community.
Today, too many children lack solid opportunity in part because of a shortage of the resources. Local control is critical in our education system. The federal government has a role to play in the development of minimum standards and marshalling of resources to ensure that students everyone have a chance at quality education. The federal government should avoid unfunded federal education mandates like those found in provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.
What are the benefits of school choice? Vouchers? Should they be available for private and religious schools?
Choice is commendable in education as in other policy areas. In an environment of scarce public resources, however, public money should remain dedicated to the public school system. Many of the proponents of vouchers argue that these programs would allow poor students to attend schools previously only available to children from families with means. The facts are contrary. Voucher seldom make enough of a difference for most underprivileged families. Meanwhile the risk that public schools will lack critical resources grows when funds are diverted elsewhere.
As our country becomes increasingly diverse, our public school systems represent one of the last institutions that give opportunity for upward mobility to all Americans. A system that rewards those who can already afford private schools to the detriment of those who cannot, will result in more American children falling further behind their peers.
Do you believe climate change is happening? Do humans contribute to it? What should Congress do to address the problem?
Climate change is among the critical challenges facing humanity. I believe that we need a rapid, global shift away from the activities that give rise to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. We need to rise to this challenge like Maine Senator Ed Muskie did to an early set of environmental challenges like fouled rivers and dangerously polluted air. Climate change requires leadership from the United States. The goal should be to reduce emissions from carbon intensive energy sources, like coal and oil. The target should be to reduce carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere 350 ppm from the current 385 ppm.
During my career, I have worked for public policies to reverse global warming. In 1997, I was an official NGO delegate with the delegation from Greenpeace International to the Kyoto Convention. As a member of the Maine Legislature, I have prioritized strategies to improve energy efficiency and limit reliance on carbon-intensive fuels. These changes, by reducing the demand side of the energy equation and diversifying our energy sources also reduces our energy costs.
Among other things, I helped to lead the way on Maine's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. I have sponsored and passed bills to support energy efficiency in institutions like hospitals, to curtail vehicle idling and to defend solar rights. I shepherded Maine's Property Accessed Clean Energy (PACE) law that is weatherizing homes all over Maine today. I helped to enact a law to support development of offshore wind power. In 2010, I was an active participant in a national bipartisan group of 1,198 state legislators who worked to urge Congress to pass energy/climate legislation. This is a priority for me.
What should the country’s energy policy look like?
I believe the priority for use of public resources in energy should be toward maximizing energy efficiency. Efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest source of energy. We want to get the maximum about of work out of every unit of energy. In Maine, all buildings should be weatherized, tight and warm. Industrial processes and commercial operations should be modernized to operate with hyper efficiency.
Government policy should also require that all energy generation "internalize" its costs. The costs of each energy generation facility should not be passed on to close neighbors of the rest of planet. The 1,100 coal-fired power plants upwind of Maine should not be permitted to send airborne mercury that falls on us. Carbon emissions need to be controlled. Oil spills have to be prevented. Deadly waste should not be left for hundreds of future generations to safeguard. Power plants must insure themselves against the risk of accidents (this would require repeal of the Price Anderson Act that has the taxpayer insuring nuclear power plants in the event of a nuclear catastrophe.) Harm to human health, wildlife and the natural environment needs to be avoided.
If policies require cost internalization, the government can end market distorting subsidies. In this energy landscape, cleaner natural gas would be the key "bridging fuel," as we transition toward hyper-efficiency and genuinely clean and renewable power resources. Offshore wind power, solar power, tidal energy, biomass, and other renewable sources will not only compete favorably in energy markets but will more rapidly come to power our economy.