On issue after issue, Republican Jaime Herrera and Democrat Denny Heck show up on opposite sides of the policy fence.
Debt: Herrera contends Congress needs a balanced-budget amendment to hold down spending. She says every program must be scrutinized, but she has not showed how Congress might balance its books. She also backed off one statement she made to a Seattle radio station, calling for 10 percent across-the-board spending cuts; she explained later that she’d actually meant a 10 percent pay cut for members of Congress and appointed government agency employees. Heck was first to call for such a 10 percent pay cut for members of Congress until budgets are balanced, arguing it would put lawmakers’ “skin in the game.” Heck also wants adherence to a pay-go rule that would require offsetting cuts or tax increase each time spending is raised and favors a line-item veto for the president. But he opposes a budget amendment.
Taxes: Herrera wants to make Bush-era tax breaks permanent. This could add about $3.7 trillion to the federal debt over a decade if offsetting spending cuts are not made. Heck and Democrats in Congress favor most of those cuts but are balking at extending lower tax rates for the top two tax brackets; taxing the high-earner brackets would reduce the revenue loss to government from the tax cuts by $700 billion over a decade. Heck has said that his own income would have been taxed at a higher rate during some years if the top-tier rates he supports had been in effect in the past decade.
Economy: Herrera wants to trust the free market to generate jobs and says Congress needs to stop adding rules that add uncertainty for employers. Heck favors using the tax code to discourage sending jobs overseas, to encourage the placement of manufacturing plants in the U.S., to encourage U.S. businesses to buy American-made equipment and machinery, and to encourage small businesses to hire. Herrera and Heck were split earlier this summer when Congress voted to give additional federal aid to the states for health and education costs in 2011. Democrats said the aid would stave off additional layoffs in state government and schools, while Herrera and Republicans said states should live within their means.
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Energy: Heck is making so-called green jobs a piece of his economic development proposals. He says tax incentives and public investments are needed to encourage alternative energy production and use. But he has offered few details on his tax incentives or their costs. Herrera does not embrace the prevailing scientific view that human activities are contributing to global warming, but she is looking into incentives for “any form of energy that meets efficiency goals,” her campaign said. Heck by contrast says the scientific debate on climate change is over.
Social Security: This is one issue the candidates appear to agree on. Herrera says she is against changes to Social Security that would alter promises to workers that count on the retirement pay. She flatly opposes putting Social Security money into individual private equity accounts and opposes an increase in retirement age, which some Republicans favor. Democrats have tried to hammer Herrera for seeming to contradict that view at a Lewis County Republican forum in April when she held up a sign saying “yes” to privatizing Social Security and letting young workers invest their Social Security in private accounts. She says that was a misstep that contradicted views she stated before and after the forum. Heck also is against private accounts, calling Social Security an effective anti-poverty program that has lifted a large percentage of the elderly out of poverty. He said debate over Social Security distracts from a more urgent problem, that of bringing Medicare costs in line.
Health care: Herrera favors free market solutions and completely rejects the health reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. Herrera said reforms are driving up costs for families and small businesses, but Heck says Herrera is “flat wrong.” Heck said the reform has flaws but offers benefits to small businesses including tax credits and insurance exchanges where policies can be purchased. The reforms also take away insurers’ ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and federal subsidies help individuals buy private policies through new insurance exchanges. Heck said the reform needed to go further by providing incentives that get more medical school graduates to go into primary care, which can lower costs across the system if patients are seen by family doctors instead of specialists.
Wall Street reforms and credit: Heck favored the bill signed into law that provides more accountability for banks and more public disclosure on so-called derivative investments that masked risks in the mortgage market before the 2008 financial meltdown. Heck wanted more restrictions and a return to Depression-era laws that clearly separated commercial banking from investment banks. Herrera opposed the bill, arguing it won’t eliminate the chance of future bailouts. She has argued that hundreds of banking rules still needed to be written, which creates further uncertainty for businesses. On a related issue, Heck favored the small-business lending bill that is making $30 billion available for small-business loans, saying credit is the biggest issue facing small businesses that need to expand. Herrera opposes it. The Treasury Department said last week that Washington would receive $19.7 million as its share of the $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative allocation that is part of the program. That money is supposed to be matched 10-to-1 in loans, producing more than $197 million in loans.