On the Issues
How would you balance the federal budget/reduce the federal deficit?
Balancing the federal budget, while not a constitutional obligation as it is for state government, is nonetheless an area of priority—at least as far as prioritizing resource expenditure is concerned. We can't do everything, but we should adamantly uphold our nation's obligations. Thus continuing the Bush-era tax cuts makes little sense, as they contribute exponentially to the budget deficit while we continue to meet our obligations through deficit spending. Likewise, continuing large subsidies to oil, gas and agribusiness industries—already highly profitable—doesn't really make much sense. These are priorities that should be realigned.
What steps do you support to reform Social Security and Medicare?
Medicare should be fully funded and restructured to simplify provider reimbursement, with as little burden to the provider and patient as possible. Social Security income limits for contributions should be raised or eliminated, and any interest on money borrowed from the trust fund—something that should be done guardedly—should be reinvested in the trust fund. Means testing and raising the retirement age eligibility should not be considered as alternatives to proper management of the fund or to maintain solvency, as those most dependent on Social Security will be least likely to absorb those changes.
Would you sign a pledge to never raise federal taxes? Why or why not?
I would not sign such a pledge. It may come to pass that I never vote for a tax increase; but that should be because of our nation's needs, not because of a campaign promise. Additionally, in times of crisis when our nation will need the maximum effort of every citizen to not just succeed, but to perhaps indeed survive, as we have seen during such historic episodes as the Civil War or World War II and the Great Depression, thoughtful policymakers cannot be handcuffed by such pledges, and neither should the republic.
How should health care be reformed?
This is an area I hear about most frequently—and not in terms of statistics. The concerns that people share–stories about bare-bones insurance and medical catastrophes–put real emphasis on the size and scope of the health care crisis. The reforms we need are not isolated to insurance coverage or availability of facilities—every aspect of healthcare delivery needs to be reshaped to fit the needs of the modern patient. We are no longer fighting epidemics of communicable disease, and the need for long-term life care must be addressed. The models of the VA system of care and Medicare serve as good starting points to build from.
Do you support a woman’s right to an abortion?
In the debate about abortion, we've lost sight of the days when abortion was illegal—and the sad tragedies that unfolded when women—desperately ill or devastated by circumstances—turned to unsafe, illegal means to terminate pregnancies. The sensationalized "back-alley" abortions were more common and dangerous than we recall because of decades of safe access to women's reproductive care. We should never return to that sorrowful time.
In Congress, would you support DOMA or legislation to allow civil unions or gay marriage?
As secretary of state, a woman came to my office looking for a letter acknowledging her marriage to her late husband. They hadn't believed in government interference in their lives, so never filed a marriage license. Upon his death, she found their estate in question, and she had no access as a spousal survivor to his military survivor benefits. There was nothing I could do to help her. Marriage equality is nothing more than allowing a loving, committed couple to build and secure a life together. I see no role for the government to sort out who among our citizens is fit to access a government filing. In DOMA, the government tries to have it both ways—the federal government leaves marriage questions to the states, but does not acknowledge laws that provide for marriage equality. That should be repealed.
Should the federal government have a role in K-12 education?
The role of the federal government in K-12 education should be more supportive than active. State government and local government have far greater decision making roles than the federal government should have. The federal government could have a larger role in providing materials for education and for funds for teachers, but education policy is not well-crafted at the national level.
What are the benefits of school choice? Vouchers? Should they be available for private and religious schools?
Parents have choices now about where to send children to school if they want a different learning environment for their children—the question comes in as to whether those choices should be funded by taxpayers. I do not believe they should be. With limited public resources, parents who are unhappy with local schools can become more active to reform them, or they can pay to send their children elsewhere. But vouchers and paid school choice further erodes the ability of local schools to find the resources to provide excellent environments for education, and relegates public education to second-class status.
Do you believe climate change is happening? Do humans contribute to it? What should Congress do to address the problem?
Climate change is something that is a firm part of geologic history, but the science is in, and human activity has accelerated the rate of global warming. We need to become far more energy efficient, and in so doing we will save a great deal of individual wealth along the way in heating oil, gasoline, and other fossil fuels. Natural gas has great promise if extraction questions can be reasonably answered, and renewable generation for electricity is an emerging field of possibility. The dangers of not addressing these problems are real and serious, and we need to work with our global neighbors to mitigate the damage being done.
What should the country’s energy policy look like?
The northeast consumes much of the nation's heating oil portfolio. LIHEAP funds not only keep people warm, they keep many alive. We need to find resources to winterize homes so that much of that assistance isn't wafting out through drafty windows and doors and uninsulated walls and roofs. Finding ways to help people in the region convert to natural gas would also be a great investment. Transportation infrastructure needs to be much more intermodal and less dependent on trucks and cars. We can move freight and people very efficiently by rail, and commuter and in-town rail is effective elsewhere in the country. It would also alleviate questions about parking capacity in downtowns as well. These policies can do much to improve our energy efficiency, and in turn lessen our dependence on foreign oil or controversial domestic oil production proposals such as those proposed for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Editor’s note: Because of a technical error, Mr. Dunlap’s in-depth answers were not immediately published. The BDN regrets the error.