Niki Tsongas and Jon Golnik participated in a debate tonight at the Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford. While the debate format, questions and management left much to be desired, the event made abundantly clear that the candidates have two very different philosophies of government and society. I’ll reiterate here that I’m a Tsongas supporter so if you’re looking for a purely objective account of what happened tonight, find and watch the video, because that’s the only place you’ll get it.
Of the health care reform legislation passed earlier this year, Golnik said “it’s a bad bill that should be repealed and replaced.” He said that nothing can be done to fix health care until we lower costs. To do this he would “increase competition” by allowing all health insurers to sell across state lines, he would eliminate state mandates like mandatory lead testing of children, and he would reduce malpractice lawsuits.
Tsongas said the health care reform bill was an “extraordinary step forward for the American people.” She said that the citizens of the Fifth District have a wide range of opinions of health care reform with some disappointed that the bill did not create a single payer system and others disappointed in the bill period plus a wide range of folks in between. Most people, Tsongas maintains, “want to give it a chance.” She highlighted the “good things” the bill does, like preventing insurance companies from charging more to cover women than men or refusing to cover pre-existing conditions in children.
Social security was another item that dominated the discussion. Golnik proposes that young people should have the option of investing up to 25% of the amount they would pay into social security in the stock market. Tsongas repeatedly pointed out that since current contributions pay current benefits, such a reduction in contributions would necessarily cause a cut in benefits currently being paid. Golnik said he only wanted to give people a choice as to how their money was invested; Tsongas said his plan was privatization of social security just called a different name.
On education, Golnik wants the Federal government to get out of the education business while Tsongas believes the Federal government plays an important “strategic role” in education by funding programs such as Head Start. Tsongas was proud that Congress made it easier for prospective college students to obtain loans directly from the Federal government; Golnik thinks that college loans should be handled exclusively by private lenders.
On stimulating the economy and creating new jobs, Golnik repeatedly said that the solution is to cut corporate tax rates which he maintains will motivate companies to hire more employees. Tsongas said that there is amazing innovation being done by companies right here in the Fifth District and that by targeted Federal support such as Research and Development Tax Credits, the government can ignite a burst of economic activity in the private sector.
Golnik called the recently-passed Financial Reform Bill a “bad bill” and said the newly created Consumer Credit Protection Agency is just another layer of bureaucracy that will impose higher costs on business which will in turn pass those costs on to the consumer. Tsongas strongly supported this Reform Bill, saying the country could not afford another economic catastrophe of the type visited upon us over the past three years. She said every person in America was harmed by the excesses of Wall Street and that this bill does much to prevent a recurrence while at the same time protecting consumers from predatory practices of the credit industry.
On allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire or be extended, Golnik would extend the tax cuts for all Americans, regardless of income. Tsongas would retain the tax cuts for the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000 per year while allowing the tax cuts for those making more than that amount expire.
To me, Golnik’s philosophy is a collection of 30-year old Republican programs that have failed the test of time. His assertion that tax cuts will stimulate the economy enough to cut the deficit was called Voodoo economics by George HW Bush back in 1980. His belief that health care costs will go down by removing regulations and mandates on insurers is absurd. Tsongas accurately called that “a race to the bottom” as insurers provide less and less coverage to only the healthy in a quest for lower premiums. If you’re sick or have a pre-existing condition, well you’re just too expensive to cover. Sorry. As for investing social security contributions in the stock market, George W Bush proposed that in 2004 and broke the 4 minute mile in sprinting away from the idea because it was immediately and thoroughly rejected by America, and that was before the Great Recession hit. Golnik’s statement that the Financial Reform Bill is “just another layer of bureaucracy” ignores how much our past retreat from regulation played in causing our current economic woes. And Golnik takes this collection of warmed-over ideas and wraps them in a cloak of voter anger: “if you feel like you’ve been disenfranchised, then take my hand and come with me” was his closing.
Niki Tsongas, on the other hand, believes that government plays an important role in the lives of American citizens. When we get old or when we get sick, Corporate America won’t help us – the ill and the elderly are just drags on their profit margin. That’s why she supported health care reform and is vehement in her opposition to turning over social security funds to Wall Street. Despite her clear faith in the good that government can do, Tsongas is also a realist. She readily acknowledged that for all the good it does, the Health Reform Bill can still be improved. Same goes for the Financial Reform Bill. But even with any shortcomings, these pieces of legislation were historic steps forward in making better the lives of American citizens. “I want people to have the comfort in their lives that they will have health care coverage, no matter what the circumstances” was her closing.
Like I said, two very different views of government. Two very different views of society.