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Democratic candidates field queries on Israel, Iran, national debt
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Democratic candidates field queries on Israel, Iran, national debt

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The primary to choose a Democratic candidate to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 13.

The four Democrats in the running are Newark Mayor Cory Booker, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (Dist. 12), NJ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (Dist. 34), and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (Dist. 6).

The special general election has been scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 16.

To help community members get to know the candidates and their positions, the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and New Jersey Jewish News sent each of them seven questions. Their answers appear below:

Mayor Cory Booker

The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish community and the international community. Do you share this concern, and what is your strategy for stopping Iran from having weaponized nuclear capacity? What steps will you take to prevent this from occurring?

The Iranian regime has repeatedly shown its true colors by brutally oppressing its own people, threatening to wipe Israel off the map, denying the Holocaust happened, and funding terrorist groups such as Hizbullah, an organization that is committed to continuing its killing of Americans and to Israel’s extinction. Allowing such a regime to acquire a nuclear weapon is plainly unacceptable. A nuclear-armed Iran represents not only an existential threat to Israel but also a grave threat to the region, the United States, and to global stability. It could well ignite a dangerous regional arms race and heighten the prospects of a bomb falling into the hands of terrorists.

For these reasons, every option — including military action — must be on the table. I will always support ensuring that Israel has the necessary tools to protect itself from the Iranian threat while strengthening U.S. and multilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime. That said, we must continue to vigorously pursue diplomatic and economic solutions because the cost of military action to substantially disrupt the Iranian nuclear program would be extraordinarily high for the U.S., Israel, and our other allies.

What do you feel is the appropriate role for the United States in its relations with Israel and its neighbors, and especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a senator?

In an increasingly uncertain world, Israel continues to be an advocate for freedom, equality, and democracy in the Middle East. My focused study of Israel, its values, and its unique relationship with the United States began during my time at Oxford, where I was the president of the Chabad House’s L’Chaim Society and at Yale, where I founded the Eliezer Society. Since then, during my trips to the country, I have seen first-hand Israel’s dedication to its values and its friendship with the United States.

The United States must continue to support Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Where Israel’s security is at stake, America’s security is at stake. American support for Israel has been at the center of our Middle East policy for over six decades and must continue to be a central component of our foreign policy in the region.

Real security for Israel will only come with an enduring peace. Therefore, I strongly support a two-state solution with a Jewish state of Israel existing in peace alongside a sovereign Palestinian state. The United States should continue to facilitate direct negotiations that seek a two-state solution. However, it is the right of the Israeli government to make the tough decisions that are necessary to secure its future. The Palestinian People deserve a state that allows them to prosper and thrive, but that state must not be a vehicle for launching attacks against Israel. During any negotiation, certain things must remain non-negotiable, namely conditions that speak to Israel’s right to exist as a secure Jewish state.

The national debt is over $1 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits, while unemployment remains high at 7.6 percent. What is your strategy for solving these two problems?

These problems are not just concurrent — they are inextricably linked, and Congress has been responding in precisely the wrong way. A laser focus on immediate and extraordinary deficit reduction to help stabilize the debt at the expense of investing in putting Americans back to work has provided short-term deficit reduction, but has also extended the recession’s tragic impact on unemployment and has hampered our growth.

Our failure to prioritize unemployment reduction and economic growth does more than hurt American families today; it hurts our prospects of growing our way out of our debt challenges.

Make no mistake about it: We must be diligent about our debt, and it is currently too high. The president has already signed into law about $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction between 2013 and 2023. However, we will not be able to cut our way out of our problems, and the sequester remains a blunt instrument cutting in the wrong places. Furthermore, defeat of many aspects of President Obama’s American Jobs Act, on the basis that the country could not afford to invest in critical priorities to alleviate joblessness and strengthen our long-term competitiveness, is emblematic of Congress’s inability to understand the connection between smart spending and investment now and long-term debt reduction.

There is no time to waste. Many New Jerseyans are hurting, and helping them is more than a moral imperative. It is part and parcel to fixing our debt problem.

With the changing landscape in the Middle East, what do you see as the biggest challenge to United States interests in the region? What role do you see for the U.S. concerning Syria? Egypt? How do we ensure the security of the United States and Israel?

The U.S. must continue to promote democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in the Middle East. The Arab Spring will require our patience, and our understanding. The transition from oppression for tens of millions presents many opportunities as well as uncertainties for the U.S., Israel, and everyone in the region struggling for democracy. These efforts begin with protecting America’s special alliance with Israel, and include providing significant, targeted aid throughout the region.

The civil war in Syria is an unthinkable atrocity that has resulted in an estimated 100,000 deaths and has forced over 1.6 million Syrians to become refugees. The U.S. should take whatever steps it can to safely support moderate opposition fighters, aid refugees, and prevent the spillover of fighting into neighboring countries. Putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria is not an option given the complexity of the situation and all we’ve learned from our past 12 years of war. Any military aid or support must be carefully targeted and measured against the risk of arms falling into the hands of extremist, rather than moderate, rebels.

As far as Egypt is concerned, we should continually review the extent and composition of the substantial aid we provide, keeping in mind that this aid is vital to the stability of the region and important to the well-being of the Egyptian people. Despite my deep displeasure with Egypt’s former regime, I have grave concerns about the Egyptian military’s forceful hand in removing a democratically elected government from power and feel that we should be abundantly clear with the Egyptian military that we expect the beginnings of a transition to a democratically elected civilian government immediately. America knows the difficulties of transitioning to democracy. It took us two wars — our revolution and the civil war — before we reached a point where our democratic evolution, which remains in process today, didn’t involve widespread armed conflict. Democracy — self-determination — is a fundamental human right, and we must support it the best we can, wherever we can.

There has been some discussion about changing the charitable contribution deduction. Do you support the existing deductions or do you think they should be changed?

The charitable contribution deduction rewards altruism and plays an important role in promoting philanthropy. Here in Newark, we’ve seen how philanthropy can help transform a city. For example, we have raised over $200 million from innovators to strengthen our schools. This has allowed Newark to create programs such as “My Very Own Library,” which has provided 120,000 books for nearly 12,000 low-income students to help build home libraries. Partnering with private foundations also allowed us to create immediate access to affordable medications for thousands of uninsured Newark residents through the Newark Rx program. Put simply, philanthropy has provided vital support to my community’s collective efforts to transform Newark and solve some of our most difficult problems.

There is plainly a need to clean up the tax code, and close inefficient loopholes that make our code far less progressive and add to our deficits. However, tax reform should not remove incentives to donate to charity. My experience as mayor of Newark will inform how I look at any proposals to change the tax status of charitable contributions, and I will work with members of both parties to ensure that we continue to promote philanthropy.

The health and human service agencies of the Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. Under your leadership, would you seek to change Medicaid? If so, how? What would the impact be on state governments and nonprofits?

Medicaid provides millions of low-income and disabled Americans with essential healthcare services and has been one of the most important programs in U.S. history. I strongly oppose turning Medicaid into a block grant program or capping the amount of Medicaid funding provided to states based on a per capita rate. These changes would likely lead millions of Americans to lose access to healthcare insurance and significantly decrease the quality of care provided by Medicaid.

It is also deeply troubling that over a dozen states have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Elected officials should not deny healthcare to millions of their constituents to advance a political agenda. Rejecting this expansion is the wrong decision from budget, healthcare system quality, and moral perspectives. The states that have turned down expanded coverage will lose $8.4 billion in federal funding and spend $1 billion more on uncompensated healthcare. Here in New Jersey, Medicaid expansion will provide healthcare coverage to more than 100,000 more New Jerseyans and save the state $227 million in one year.

If given the opportunity to serve as your senator, I’ll fight to protect the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid provisions.

As the baby boomers continue to age and retire, how do you plan to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent for future generations?

The strain placed on Medicare and Social Security by retiring baby boomers is undeniable. Between 1960 and 2030 the ratio of workers to retirees will decrease from about five-to-one to almost two-to-one. Despite this demographic shift, we must keep our promise to our seniors and protect these vital programs.

It is important to address the solvency of Medicare and Social Security separately. Rushing to cut Medicare benefits is both unnecessary and unfair, and the problem is best addressed by reining in healthcare costs across the system. Further, increasing the Medicare eligibility age or turning it into a voucher system would increase overall healthcare spending by moving millions of people to private-sector healthcare plans that spend more on administrative costs. Instead, we should protect the long-term solvency of Medicare by enacting policies that reform the fee-for-service system and deliver better quality of care at a lower cost.

Unlike Medicare, the budgetary constraints facing Social Security cannot be solved through increasing efficiency. To ensure the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund for future generations, it will be necessary to do such things as increasing revenue generated from top earners. Ultimately, our top priority for both Medicare and Social Security should be to guarantee their long-term financial stability without cutting much-needed benefits.


Rep. Rush Holt

The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish community and the international community. Do you share this concern, and what is your strategy for stopping Iran from having weaponized nuclear capacity? If you become senator, what steps will you take to prevent this from occurring?

As an arms control expert, I see the proliferation of nuclear weapons as one of the most pressing challenges the world faces and, of course, a particular threat in the Middle East.

The provocative actions taken by Iran to further a potential nuclear weapons program must be stopped, and the United States needs to be fully involved to ensure that Iran alters its dangerous course. A nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the region and threaten the United States and our allies.

When I was the chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, I worked to increase intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel, including critical intelligence gathering related to Iran’s proliferation efforts.

I have supported full funding for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-missile system, which is used to shoot down rockets fired at Israel from Hizbullah- and Hamas-controlled territory. We want Israel to remain strong and to prosper in the face of threats of every nature.

Further, I have supported every Iran sanctions bill passed by Congress. I have also urged the Obama administration to keep the pressure on until Iran abandons efforts to build a bomb and allows international inspectors in to verify Iran has ceased efforts to build a nuclear weapon. As senator, I will continue to support that approach. We must keep the pressure on the new president to force him to make good on his pledge to change Iran’s nuclear activities.

What do you feel is the appropriate role for the United States in its relations between Israel and its neighbors, and especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a senator?

I have consistently supported providing Israel with the financial and other resources she needs. Since joining Congress, I voted for more than $35 billion in U.S. assistance to Israel. I also have worked to ensure that Israel maintains her Qualitative Military Edge.

The greatest progress toward peace between the parties has tended to come when America has been directly engaged politically and in a sustained way. I have called on President Obama to work harder to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

Secretary of State John Kerry is to be commended for his efforts to get the two sides back to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority continues to insist on Israel meeting preconditions before moving forward. America can be most helpful now by pressuring the Palestinian Authority to drop any preconditions and proceed with face-to-face negotiations at once.

The national debt is over $1 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits, while unemployment remains high at 7.6 percent. What is your strategy for solving these two problems?

Some would have us believe that America is a poor, debtor nation. It isn’t. It is a wealthy nation — in fact, the wealthiest nation that has ever existed. We can afford to, and must, make investments that will pay off in the years to come: investments in education, infrastructure, and research.

To be sure, making these investments will require making wise choices. As a former member of the House Budget Committee, I believe that we should cut wasteful spending and remove ineffective programs. I have cosponsored legislation to end tax subsidies for large and successful companies who have used loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and voted to end the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. I have also worked to reduce our bloated defense budget.

While we pursue smart budget cuts, economic growth should be the goal. We also must preserve investments in our economic future, including infrastructure, research, and education, along with safety-net programs. We will not be able to cut our way to economic growth.

Now is the time to make direct investments to keep cops on the beat, teachers in the classroom, and researchers in the lab.

With the changing landscape in the Middle East, what do you see as the biggest challenge to United States interests in the region? What role do you see for the U.S. concerning Syria? Egypt? How do we ensure the security of the United States and Israel?

Aside from Iran’s nuclear threat, the biggest challenge for Israel and America right now lies in the extremely fluid nature of the changes taking place in the Arab world and the bid for power of religious extremists harboring violent hostility toward both our countries.

While I believe it is necessary and important for America to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Syria, we should not intervene militarily or arm Syrian rebels given al Qaida's level of penetration of Syrian rebel groups. Secretary Kerry’s initiative with his Russian counterpart to convene Syrian negotiations offers the safest path to achieve an internationally guaranteed political transition and prevent Syria’s disintegration into a violent Somalia. It would be unwise for our nation to again intervene in a civil war. We need to reduce our military actions around the world and focus on our many problems here at home.

A security policy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” such as we followed in arming bin Laden and the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is bad policy and hurts us for years into the future.

As for Egypt, the United States must take appropriate measures to promote political accommodation and ensure that any post-Morsi government poses no threat to its neighbors. America should condition its economic and military aid to Egypt on that basis.

To ensure the continued security of Israel and her people, we must maintain our foreign assistance to Israel and continue strong intelligence cooperation.

There has been some discussion about changing the charitable contribution deduction. Do you support the existing deductions or do you think they should be changed?

We should not make any changes that would reduce charitable giving. I strongly support the deductions for charitable giving. I have opposed and will continue to oppose any changes that would limit or discourage contributions to charitable organizations and, in fact, favor expanding charitable deductions.

I am a cosponsor of the Public Good IRA Rollover Act to simplify the tax code to make it easier for individuals to transfer funds from individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to charitable organizations.

I am also a cosponsor of legislation that would encourage charitable vehicle donations, which provide a substantial source of service organizations’ annual operating budgets.

In addition to their positive contributions to our society, nonprofit organizations are a cornerstone of the American economy. Nonprofits employ some 13.5 million Americans. Encouraging the work of nonprofits and fostering an atmosphere that will allow them to succeed will improve our society through the philanthropic activities they carry out and through the substantial contributions they make to our economy.

The health and human service agencies of the Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. Under your leadership, would you seek to change Medicaid? If so, how? What would the impact be on state governments and nonprofits?

Obamacare extended the solvency of Medicaid and also expanded eligibility for Medicaid coverage. I was pleased when Gov. Christie announced that New Jersey would expand Medicaid under Obamacare, enabling the federal government to cover the first three years’ expenses and bring health coverage to 300,000 New Jersey residents.

I support Obamacare as a step toward universal health care coverage — but it is only a step toward that goal. Even when Obamacare is fully enacted, millions of Americans will remain uninsured and costs will be only partially checked. The most efficient way to guarantee high-quality care for every American is to create a single-payer system. Such a system would ensure all Americans would finally have access to health care as a basic right.

As the baby boomers continue to age and retire, how do you plan to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent for future generations?

I have opposed the “Ryan budget,” which would dismantle Medicaid and turn it into a block grant. The flawed budget ends Medicare as we know it, and I will fight all attempts to privatize Medicare. I voted for health reform that makes Medicare stronger by extending the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, providing prescription drug discounts averaging $750 per senior and ensuring free access to preventive health care.

Social Security is in reasonably good shape and is able to pay all benefits through 2036 and 77 percent of benefits after that. The right way to address Social Security’s solvency in the longer term is to strengthen its revenue base, not to cut benefits. Right now, Congress has given millionaires and billionaires a free pass: an absolute cap on their Social Security taxes. I will introduce legislation to eliminate this cap and ask the wealthy to pay the same tax rate as everyone else, making the FICA tax less regressive. That would remove any question about the solvency of Social Security and also would allow higher benefits for low-income Americans.


Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish community and the international community. Do you share this concern, and what is your strategy for stopping Iran from having weaponized nuclear capacity? If you become senator, what steps will you take to prevent this from occurring?

No military or diplomatic option should be taken off of the table to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Possession of a nuclear arsenal by a hostile regime in the Middle East would destabilize the region and its chances for peace.

The current leadership of the Iranian government is a threat to world peace. A nuclear-armed Iran would not only destabilize the Middle East but would pose an immediate threat to the world's oil supply. This would have a devastating impact on the United States economy.

I fully support sanctions imposed by Congress on Iranian oil markets and financial institutions. As a Senator I would strongly advocate for their full enforcement, and I support the position of the Obama administration, which is to keep all options open in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

What do you feel is the appropriate role for the United States in its relations with Israel and its neighbors, and especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a senator?

In order to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, direct bilateral negotiations between the two parties is the only viable path — two sovereign, independent, and cooperative states living side by side in peace and security. To achieve this, negotiations must begin with mutual recognition of the need for defensible and secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians. I believe that to achieve this peace agreement, the United States must play an integral role. We must work with the two parties as they seek resolution to the conflict, while maintaining fervent and unwavering support for Israel’s right to exist securely as a Jewish state. We must call on the Palestinian leadership to end their incitement against Jews and Israel and to stop denying Jewish historical ties to Israel.

The national debt is over $1 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits, while unemployment remains high at 7.6 percent. What is your strategy for solving these two problems?

I believe in building an economy from the middle out. We must shift our focus to the information age and jobs of the future. We need an American workforce that is not only competent but excels in science, technology, engineering, and math. This can be accomplished by addressing the skills gap in this county — the gap between our people and the jobs we have available that need to get done. I find this problem is especially prevalent in the healthcare sector. As the baby boom generation continues to age, more and more jobs in the healthcare field will be made available, and we need to ensure that our people are trained to access these rewarding professions.

We also need a plan to rebuild America that has investments in our infrastructure to spur economic development. I also believe we need a plan for America that has a tax and financial services policy component that encourages investment, ensures fairness, and provides deterrents to ensure that jobs stay here in America.

While the debt and deficit remain a concern, I believe that Congress should shift its focus to the problem of long-term unemployment and economic growth. If we make the right investments that lead to a flourishing new American economy we can simultaneously address both unemployment and deficits by putting people back to work and thus dramatically increasing tax revenues. Any debt solution should be balanced in a way that protects the middle class, encourages economic growth, and makes the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes.

With the changing landscape in the Middle East, what do you see as the biggest challenge to United States interests in the region? What role do you see for the U.S. concerning Syria? Egypt? How do we ensure the security of the United States and Israel?

The U.S. and Israel share bedrock foundations and defend democratic values including individual liberties, freedom of the press, and freedom of voice to a wide spectrum of political and social perspectives. These shared values have allowed us to forge such a strong alliance that is beneficial to both countries and critical to helping strengthen our only true democratic ally in the Middle East.

I will be a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship in the U.S. Senate because it is in our national security interests and because it is the right thing to do. At a time in our nation's history, when acts of terrorism and hyper-partisanship have taken our country by storm we must hold strong the relationships with our allies.

In Syria we need to press strongly for a diplomatic resolution. The Secretary of State and his team should be gathering intelligence, and efforts to quell the violence in a peaceful manner should be our top priority. We do not want to move from one war to another in this troubled region without exhausting every possible option. However, I would not take military involvement off the table if there was credible evidence to believe we could be attacked.

There has been some discussion about changing the charitable contribution deduction. Do you support the existing deductions or do you think they should be changed?

I believe we need a major overhaul to our tax policy. Our system is overly complicated and full of loopholes. However, during this process we need to protect items that help middle-class families, like mortgage interest and charitable deductions while taking a hard look at the substantial subsidies given to corporations. Congress must focus on revamping our tax code, starting with fixing the inequity in taxation on our nation’s top earners and making sure everyone pays their fair share. I believe that charitable deductions should be preserved.

The health and human service agencies of the Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. Under your leadership, would you seek to change Medicaid? If so, how? What would the impact be on state governments and nonprofits?

I would seek to strengthen Medicaid and expand it to cover more low-income Americans to ensure that everyone has access to proper health-care services. The Medicaid expansion provisions of Obamacare are some of the law’s greatest attributes because they will allow participating states like New Jersey to cover more people while receiving greater federal subsidies and reducing the burden on the state budget.

As the baby boomers continue to age and retire, how do you plan to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent for future generations?

We must commit to protecting both Social Security and Medicare because they are some of the most successful anti-poverty programs in our nation’s history, and I would not support cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Much likthe reforms we have made at the state level on pensions and benefits, I would support reviewing new entrants into the system and look at ways to reduce program costs without reducing benefits.


Rep. Frank Pallone

The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish community and the international community. Do you share this concern, and what is your strategy for stopping Iran from having weaponized nuclear capacity? If you become senator, what steps will you take to prevent this from occurring?

The United States must prevent Iran from gaining the capacity to assemble a nuclear weapon. A nuclear Iran is not just a threat to Israel, but to world peace. A nuclear arms race would likely ensue in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Iran comes closer and closer to this capacity by the day. Ultimately, all options should be on the table when a state sponsor of terrorism is on the verge of acquiring the world’s most devastating weapon.

A robust sanctions regime is one way of putting pressure on the Iranian regime to stop its nuclear program, and I voted in favor of legislation establishing such sanctions. Considering what we stand to lose, however, stronger sanctions are needed and diplomatic negotiations must take a new and stronger tone. While a diplomatic resolution is the best we can hope for, we need to continue putting the pressure on the Iranian regime to abandon their nuclear weapons program. I support legislation that strengthens existing sanctions by authorizing the president to restrict significant commercial trade with Iran.

What do you feel is the appropriate role for the United States in its relations with Israel and its neighbors, and especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a senator?

First and foremost, it is important that Israel’s neighbors understand that nothing can be done to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel. The U.S. should insist that the Palestinians be willing to engage in direct negotiations with Israel without any preconditions. The U.S. should continue to maintain that Palestinian attempts at unilateral recognition at the United Nations be abandoned. The United States should also assist Israel with negotiations but not force their hand by establishing conditions such as settlement freezes. Further, we cannot negotiate with Hamas, and the Palestinian representatives must recognize Israel’s right to exist.

As a United States senator, I would be committed to many of the same objectives that I currently pursue as a congressman, including providing Israel military and security assistance, transferring military technology, and further developing a strategic relationship that includes economic and national security cooperation. I will also continue my support for Israel in choosing their capital city and officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city with the U.S. embassy located there.

The national debt is over $1 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits, while unemployment remains high at 7.6 percent. What is your strategy for solving these two problems?

Our economy will improve and the deficit will be reduced with smart investments. Our government should be investing in areas such as transportation, education, and research and development to grow the economy and create jobs. I support business tax reforms that create conditions for manufacturers to produce more goods here and bring jobs back from abroad with strategic investments in job training, innovation, and green energy technology.

I oppose the across-the-board cuts to government spending that hampers our economic growth. I voted against the sequestration legislation and have been fighting to repeal it. Rather than implementing arbitrary spending cuts to reduce the deficit, I would focus on cutting federal programs that do not work and increasing the revenue stream by eliminating corporate tax loopholes.

With the changing landscape in the Middle East, what do you see as the biggest challenge to United States interests in the region? What role do you see for the U.S. concerning Syria? Egypt? How do we ensure the security of the United States and Israel?

The greatest challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East is the expanding influence of terrorist organizations and extremism. Our goal in the region needs to be supporting democratic regimes, and countries such as Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon must work with the United States and Israel for stability in the Middle East.

The U.S. should support an Egyptian leader who abides by the country’s international commitments and who will ensure that the Sinai serves as a secure buffer zone where Hamas is prevented from acquiring rockets and other weapons. The U.S. should direct its policy in Egypt toward ultimately creating democracy, a market economy, and rule of law.

The Assad regime in Syria must be stopped from committing human rights abuses. With the activity of terrorist organizations in Syria it must be a priority for the U.S. to ensure that biological and chemical weapons do not fall into terrorist hands. U.S. policy should be directed at creating a democratic and stable regime that will cease human rights violations, cooperate with Israel, and provide security for the region.

As a U.S. senator, I would use my considerable institutional knowledge and connections in the Senate and House to advance legislation that builds a stronger strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel. I will promote foreign policy that supports governments that recognize Israel.

There has been some discussion about changing the charitable contribution deduction. Do you support the existing deductions or do you think they should be changed?

The Senate Finance Committee is working to overhaul the current tax system and is considering whether to eliminate or reduce the charitable contribution deduction, but I do not support such a proposal and will fight against it. I will make the case that important organizations that do good work on the behalf of millions of Americans stand to lose a great deal if we eliminate the charitable contribution deduction. While we would all like to see philanthropy flourish absent an incentive, we also know that tax breaks like the charitable contribution deduction are effective in directing needed funds towards nonprofit organizations.

Other proposals would place a lower cap on the amount donated that can be deducted. I am greatly concerned that such a cap would reduce the amount of giving to nonprofits and in turn reduce the services provided by nonprofits and other charitable organizations. The charitable donation deduction is not a tax break for the wealthy, but a tool that our government uses to encourage donating to worthwhile organizations that better our communities. Reducing the deduction will limit donations. Ultimately, you would be hard pressed to find a tax provision that does greater good for more Americans than the charitable contribution deduction.

The health and human service agencies of the Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. Under your leadership, would you seek to change Medicaid? If so, how? What would the impact be on state governments and nonprofits?

I remain committed to ensuring that a health safety net is available for low-income families and elderly and individuals with disabilities — some of our most vulnerable Americans. I fought hard to make sure that the expansion of Medicaid was included in the Affordable Care Act because it will not only improve access to health care for individuals across the country, but it will improve states’ economic health as well. In fact, I have consistently voted against efforts by Republicans to block grant the program — which would simply shift costs to the beneficiaries and, in the end, lead to a greater financial burden on states.

As the baby boomers continue to age and retire, how do you plan to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent for future generations?

Improving and strengthening Medicare and Social Security for generations to come has always been a priority of mine. In fact, I have dedicated my career in Congress to ensuring that seniors have access to affordable health care options and the safety nets they need to age with dignity and respect. I was one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped to reduce Medicare spending, extend its solvency, and brought growth in per-patient costs to record lows. In addition, preventive services are now free of charge to beneficiaries, and reforms are in place to reward doctors for quality, not volume. I have also opposed vouchers for Medicare and believe the solvency problem can be helped by growing the economy. When we grow the economy there are more people paying into Social Security and Medicare and thus improving the programs’ solvency. I have fought for years against attempts by Republicans to privatize both Social Security and Medicare. I will continue in the Senate to ensure that these programs are strong enough to serve generations to come.

 

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