Candidate Questionnaire: Joe Sestak, US Senate (Democrat)

Posted on May 9, 2010 by


Name: Joe Sestak
Office Sought: US Senate – Pennsylvania
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Global Warming: At the G20 summit in September 2009,the countries present made a commitment to end subsidies for fossil fuel. What will you do to eliminate these subsidies? How will you protect the most vulnerable people from the resulting rise in fuel costs?

I support President Obama’s efforts to transition our economy away from fossil fuels and toward a more renewable and sustainable energy policy including the gradual elimination of fossil fuel subsidies and greater investment in the development and deployment of renewable power. To accomplish such a transition and to do so in a way that minimizes or even eliminates the negative impact on the most vulnerable, I support its inclusion in a comprehensive energy bill, such as the one I voted for that passed the House of Representative last June, the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

For too long, this country has been without a comprehensive energy policy. I voted for ACES because it takes a number of important steps that will wean our country off of foreign oil; create millions of new clean energy jobs, save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in energy costs, restore this nation’s global leadership role in efforts to reduce emissions and the effects of global warming. This is first and foremost about our national economic security, but it also addresses the moral imperative to reduce climate change for our grandchildren.

During my 31 years in the Navy, I patrolled the strategic pipelines that supply oil to this Nation and I saw firsthand the expense and risk involved. To support this Nation’s energy independence, ACES will cut the use of oil and petroleum products by 1.4 million barrels a day by 2030, while improving energy efficiency by about 5 percent in 2020. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has calculated that the House-passed bill reduces consumption of oil by 344 million barrels in the year 2030 alone. That is a reduction of more than 12 percent of predicted imports for the same year without the bill.) We must achieve an unprecedented transition to an economy built on alternative, clean, and renewable power.

This bill will have costs, but four separate studies by the EPA, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Energy Information Administration (EIA), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that the initial cost per household will be less than a postage stamp a day or less than one-quarter of one percent of a household’s annual after-tax income. (EIA estimates a cost of just $83 per year per household – or a dime a day per person). More specifically to the point of this question, the approaches included in ACES were found to actually result in a cost savings for those families in the bottom 20 percentile.

One area that I support additional government assistance is helping to build the infrastructure and demand for natural gas as a substitute for more polluting fossil fuels. Use of natural gas can cut carbon emissions in half and help boost domestic economies through the reasonable development of domestic sources. While this is not a long-term solution, it is a way in the short-term how we can begin to transition away from more tradition and more heavily polluting fuel sources.

Health Care Reform: Do you support the public option? If not, what do you propose to assure health care for all Americans?

I support the public option. I believe we need a health care system that ensures every American has affordable, accessible and quality care through a shared duty between society and government. The best way to do this is with a system in which structured competition and transparency of standards ultimately discipline costs while providing high quality care. I sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid stressing the need for a public option, even if it takes reconciliation to pass it.

Gridlock in Washington: What ideas do you have for ending gridlock in the Senate and getting Republicans to work with Democrats for the good of the country?

I am fortunate to represent the district in which I grew up—a district composed of only 38 percent registered Democrats. As such, I am acutely aware of the importance of working across the aisle, as I represent Democrats, Republican, Independents, and the non-registered as well as those who do not belong to traditional political parties. I believe that divisive rhetoric and stubbornness obstruct the political process and stifle efforts to improve the quality of life of those Americans who elected us to serve in the People’s House.

Therefore, I have been committed to practicing a bipartisan leadership style, wherein myriad views are heard, respected and considered before ultimate decisions are reached. I recognize that we need a hard debate of ideas, but that debate must be fueled by a true desire to work together, coupled with the necessary willingness to change and to compromise to achieve our goals.

While I believe the overall goals for America are often the same for the Democratic and Republican parties, I believe the tactic with which we respectively approach our colleagues on the other side of the aisle must change if we are we are to achieve these goals, together, as one nation. Engaging in a spirit of bipartisanship is the only way to get things done that have an enduring impact.

Our nation faced division in the 1960s over myriad issues but—led by President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, and Senator Everett Dirksen, a Republican—compromised to build a coalition and enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When speaking out for cloture on that bill, Dirksen reflected on the lessons learned a century earlier in the Civil War, and cited President Lincoln when he noted: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must first disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save the Union.”

I believe this ability to compromise—to “act anew”—is critical with regard to so many defining issues of our generation, from the war in Iraq to healthcare for our nation’s children. Without it, we may make a lot of headlines and provide a rallying cry for the party faithful, but we will do little improve the lives of the men, women and children of this nation.

During my time in Congress I have seen the best examples of bipartisanship as well as the failures when we do not achieve that goal. The House passed a critical economic stimulus package when Democrats and Republicans each gave way a bit, so that we could find a common ground and help the American people in a time of economic uncertainty. Yet our government is squandering an opportunity at bipartisan compromise in failing to pull together to pass comprehensive healthcare reform.

Our nation faces a rising debt, and we must invest in changed priorities to ensure the health, education, defense, economic and energy security of the United States. What is urgently needed to address these and other important issues is a bipartisan approach that values investment in an accountable manner.

These examples of what I have seen in my time in Congress, both good and bad, serve as lessons learned on bi-partisanship and provide us with excellent examples for moving forward. What I see ahead are the opportunities we have— from issues ranging from education opportunities for our nation’s youth to energy independence—to work together in a bipartisan manner to truly raise the quality of life in this country, thus ensuring our own best national security. At the end of the day, however, after trying to do our best on this issue, good policy—if we truly have tried bipartisanship—should not be sacrificed at the altar of bipartisanship.

Guantanamo: Where do you stand on the closing of Guantanamo? What should happen to the people currently imprisoned there?

I believe that it is time to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. It has proven ineffective in bringing our enemies to justice, incited those who would do us harm, diminished our standing in the world and weakened our national security.

We need to try these people in criminal court. I was stationed at the Pentagon when 9/11 happened. How can we even think about letting terrorists force us to abandon our principles? Keeping them in a black hole away from the rule of law? I defended this nation because I honestly believed it was “a national of laws, and not of men.” What better way to show the resolve of this nation than to bring them into the court system, to show them the strength of America, that the rule of law will show them they were wrong and throw away the keys once they’ve been brought to justice, it’s the right thing to do. In 2007 I introduced legislation to restore habeas corpus review to Guantanamo detainees.

Economy: What do you believe are the most effective means of job creation?

As Vice-chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I strongly believe that to ensure a lasting and sustainable economic expansion that provides security to all Americans, we must focus on job creation through small business development. This must now be our nation’s highest immediate economic priority.

To return our employment rate to healthy levels we need to create almost 11 million jobs by the end of 2011 — nearly 600,000 jobs every month. It can be done, as it was under President Truman in the 1950s, but it is going to take a committed and concerted effort. We have to act quickly.

The economic stimulus passed last February has helped, but we missed an opportunity to stimulate real job growth when Congress allowed a few Senators, led by Sen. Arlen Specter, to highjack the bill, cutting billions for state aid and job-creating infrastructure projects. As I pointed out at the time, independent economic modeling clearly showed that those additional funds would have created millions of needed jobs. That money should have been included in the original package, and now we must move quickly to repair the mistake with a targeted “economic stimulus” that guarantees affordable and accessible loans for small business entrepreneurs.

We know from past periods of economic expansion that the most effective way to create jobs is through small business. Over the past decade, small businesses created as much as 80 percent of new jobs. During the last period of economic expansion, firms with fewer than 20 employees, which account for only a quarter of overall employment, created 40 percent of new jobs.

If we’re serious about restoring the job market we have to get serious about supporting small and start-up businesses. The stock market may be trading above 10,000, but none of America’s job-creating small businesses are represented in the Dow Jones.

That is why, as Vice Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I have introduced the JOBS Act to provide a 15 percent tax credit to small businesses that hire new workers over the next two years. This investment, according to the Economic Policy Institute, will create millions of new jobs and will help boost our GDP, resulting in increased revenues we can then put toward paying down the federal debt, securing the economy for future generations.

And we must do more.

To get credit flowing again to small businesses we need a four-tiered plan that enhances lending programs at the Small Business Administration (SBA), expands upon successful state “work-share programs,” extends relief to state budgets, and protects working families.

First, expanding SBA lending is essential to alleviating the credit crunch small firms still face. We should increase the maximum SBA loan size to $5 million and raise the cap on SBA microloans to at least $50,000. To attract lenders, we should also increase the interest-rate cap and guarantee level for these loans.

Second, state work-share programs are proven methods to save jobs. Instead of laying off workers, employers reduce their weekly hours and pay and then states make up the difference with unemployment benefits. Seventeen states operate some form of a work-share program, keeping Americans in their jobs and saving employers the cost of rehiring and training new employees.

Third, we must invest in state and local governments to close the $160 billion gap in state budgets. Economists estimate that state cutbacks will severely reduce economic growth and cost the nation approximately 700,000 jobs. This must be avoided by extending federal Medicaid assistance and expanding funding for infrastructure projects, especially school repair and maintenance.

Finally, relief for workers who lose their jobs through 2010 will protect working families who are struggling and is critical to ensure consumer spending and confidence. Beyond extending unemployment insurance benefits, we should also expand COBRA health care coverage subsidies for workers. Legislation that I have introduced would temporarily extend subsidized coverage from nine to 15 months and provide an extra six months of undiscounted coverage.

As millions of Americans facing unemployment know, the only real measure of an economic recovery is jobs — for themselves, their families, and their communities. Our recovery won’t be measured in GDP or stock market gains. It’s going to be measured in the number of Americans going back to work.

Afghanistan: Do you support the Administration’s approach to the war in Afghanistan? If not, what would you do differently?

I support President Obama’s call for additional troops and funding for the war in Afghanistan on the condition that clear benchmarks are established which trigger an alternative or exit strategy when certain conditions are met or fail to be met. As the first Director of “Deep Blue,” the Navy’s strategic anti-terrorism group formed in response to 9/11, I understand that we must focus our efforts on the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the real frontline in the war against terrorism. For too long our attention to this mission was diverted by the tragic misadventure in Iraq.

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