Wednesday morning in LPAC, Congressman Joe Sestak (Democrat) and challenger Craig Williams (Republican) participated in a town-hall style debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Delaware County. Below is a summary of the candidate’s responses to the topics covered in the debate.
“I got into this race for health care,” stated Sestak. He shared how, after years of service with the US Navy and as an advisor to Clinton, his daughter’s fight with cancer inspired him to fight for a better healthcare system for all people. Sestak supports the bipartisan Massachusetts health plan that would mandate that all citizens are covered (including young people who often opt out of healthcare plans as they are healthy and would rather not spend the money). Sestak argued that such a plan would cover premiums, benefiting small businesses, and stressed the importance of a bill which would cover health care for children and the elderly.
Williams agreed with Sestak on the necessity of a bipartisan approach but challenged Sestak’s claim that there are currently eighty-million Americans without health insurance. Williams insisted that with an estimated eighteen million illegal immigrants and a number of individuals who opt out of health insurance included in this number the issue requires greater scrutiny. “Tell me what the truthful number is that don’t have health insurance and we’ll find health insurance for those people… We must get cost under control.” Williams also drew on his experience as a federal prosecutor to remind voters that particularly in Pennsylvania, where many doctors are leaving due to high malpractice costs, legal reform is necessary.
Williams discussed the current difficulties resulting from subprime mortgages and connected the seven hundred billion dollar root cost to the country’s payments for foreign oil, suggesting that the best plan for the economy would be to reduce dependence on foreign oil and instead export our own energy obtained through offshore drilling, natural gas, and nuclear energy. He proposed stronger regulation and legal prosecution of government supported enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as investing in stable entities rather than company stocks.
Sestak suggested a three part response. First responding to the “financial firestorm” with more investigations, which he reminded he had been advocating for the past year and a half. Second, Sestak cited the ten trillion dollar debt as a crisis which needs to be addressed. Third, Sestak stressed the importance of investing in education to prevent a further pinch as the mortgage crisis spreads to affect education bonds.
The Middle East
Sestak advocates “rejuvenating diplomacy” claiming that the United States has been increasingly neglecting a necessary “policy of engagement” on the international level. He referenced his thirty-one years of active military duty and noted that a strong military is the backbone of diplomacy. Sestak believes that the nation must find and destroy Al Qaeda, and that we will also need to be active in Afghanistan as it faces it s downward spiral.
Williams argued that the surge in Iraq has worked and that a withdrawal or “redeployment of troops” at this point is tantamount to surrendering a war that we are winning and will result in civil war in Iraq. Williams also cited his twenty-one years as a marine and active duty in Desert Storm. Williams believes that we will undoubtedly have to go to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. He advocates a plan for withdrawal based on conditions on the ground and cites changes in strategy advocated by John McCain as instrumental in improving our situation in the war.
Williams cited this issue as “key” to his campaign, noting that in his time as a federal prosecutor he has prosecuted “around 100 illegal immigration cases.” Williams backs Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler’s bill to shut down borders with greater surveillance by cameras and guards. Williams credits McCain in softening his perception of immigration as a black and white issue of deportation and advocated a system by which illegal immigrants who step forward and accept a title of misdemeanor can receive the status of US citizen by meeting a set of preconditions for citizenship and paying backtaxes. Williams challenged Sestak’s support of this bill as a co-signer who failed to sign a petition to discharge which would help bring the bill into effect.
Sestak objected to Williams’ distortion of his record, asserting that Shuler’s bill was intended as an anti-terrorist measure and was supported by Sestak as part of a 9/11 Commission bill. Sestak advocates secured borders with radars and unmanned air vehicles. He suggests that illegal immigrants be given “one chance” to step forward and apply for citizenship.
Sestak observed that he advocates drilling if it is beneficial to his constituents but pointed out that the pay-off and time line of much offshore drilling as investigated by the Bush department of energy would be too minimal to warrant the costs. Sestak does advocate drilling, however, stating “so let’s drill,” though he added that there is a need for more and better regulated oil rigs. Sestak also advocates nuclear power and tax credits to those businesses using wind or solar power.
Williams believes that one of the best ways to help the economy is to become a major energy exporter. He supports drilling ANWR and suggests that while clean, cheap energy is in our future we still need energy in the meantime. He is concerned that efforts to regulate rigs with a “use it or lose it policy” endorsed by Sestak is ultimately only a roadblock against drilling.
“The Imperial Presidency”
The question, “How can the government limit the power of imperial presidency” led Williams to respond, “I don’t know that we’ve got one.” This led to laughter from the crowd and in turn a call for decorum from Sestak who observed that “anybody who enters politics deserves respect.”
Williams observed that “we’re all angry at the president” but that the way to keep the executive power in check set up in the Constitution is through a strong congress. This is why, Williams observed, “we need good, moderate, common sense conservatives.” Sestak added that “Congress has abdicated responsibility” and that this has to stop.
Sestak opened by stating that the projected date of bankruptcy for Medicare and Social Security are 2018 and 2040 respectively. As Pennsylvania has the second largest senior population in the nation, the economic crisis is especially of concern to those whose families cannot afford to help provide medical care for their elder relations. Sestak argued that we must stop taxing the middle class, redirect funding, and provide free examinations to seniors. A basic problem, Sestak observed, is in the distribution of wealth where one third of the nation’s wealth is held by the top one percent of the population.
Williams observed that the root of the problem is that the federal government has misspent social security money. New jobs, tax cuts, and paying back all citizens who have paid even one dollar into social security are necessary moves for the government. For those who have not yet begun paying social security, Williams believes we need a new system that will allow individuals to control their saving and isolate it from the federal government. He also said the tax on social security should be removed and that government size and spending should be cut, citing Sestak’s spending $630,000 on mail to constituents as irresponsible spending.
Williams supports a bipartisan plan in the long term to improve education but think that right now the best way to help parents find the best possible education for their children is through vouchers. He believes that school performance needs to be measured and that poor funding and inappropriate performance standards are the reasons for No Child Left Behind (NCLB)’s failings. “Tie federal money to performance standards. That’s how you make school’s better.”
Sestak similarly noted that a new model is needed though the accountability aspect of NCLB is good. Sestak cited his record in fighting college loan fraud and explained his promotion of greater transparency in college or university spending. Sestak supports a free education for GIs as well as the Head Start program to “improve the quality of teacher’s pre-K.”
The United Nations
Sestak believes that the US needs to be more active in international leadership through the United Nations. “We’ve walked away from a strategy of engagement.” He cited his own record including advocating intervention in Darfur and spoke to the importance of the US in acting on the international level. “World security is our security.”
Williams noted that this is an issue on which he was in agreement with Sestak on many points. “Our foreign policy has been suspect over the past eight years. The United Nations is an opportunity to show leadership… That was the design and we have fallen off.” Williams particularly cited the economy as an issue with international implications as the US and global economy struggles.