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Dist. 10 candidates field queries on debt, Israel
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Dist. 10 candidates field queries on debt, Israel

Democrats respond to CRC questionnaire

ON JUNE 5, Democratic primary voters in District 10 will be asked to cast two parallel ballots — one for the unexpired term of the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, the other for the Democratic congressional candidate for the new Legislative District 10. Six candidates are running for one or both of these seats. The candidates are: State Sen. Nia Gill, Newark Councilman Don Payne Jr., Newark Councilman Ron Rice, Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, Cathy Wright of Newark, and Dennis Flynn of Glen Ridge.

The Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ, ahead of a candidates’ forum it was to host on May 23, sent the candidates a questionnaire on issues of concern to Jewish constituents in the district, which includes parts of Union, Hudson,  County and Essex Counties, including West Orange and Montclair.

Below are the responses received from five of the candidates, presented in alphabetical order according to the candidates’ last names.

The questions:

1. The national debt is over $15 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. What is your approach to solving the debt crisis? What is your position on entitlement reform that will protect the most vulnerable who need income security and health coverage?

2. The health and human service agencies of Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. How do you see Medicaid changing over the coming decade to become more efficient and cost-effective?

3. There has been some discussion about changing charitable contribution deductions and the IRA Charitable Rollover. Do you have ideas or modifications on using the tax code to support charitable giving?

4. What do you feel is the appropriate role for the United States in its relations between Israel and its neighbors, especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a member of Congress? What do you see as the biggest challenge to United States interests in the Middle East?

5. The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish community and the international community. Do you think Iran with a nuclear capability is a threat to stability in the region? How much time do you feel we can give sanctions the chance to work? What options would you employ to stop Iran’s nuclear program, if any?

The responses:

NIA GILL

1 Debt Crisis

The Republican-controlled Congress’s culture of careless spending has burdened our children and grandchildren with a national debt that now exceeds $15 trillion. In order to begin to solve the debt crisis, I believe that Congress must cut mandatory spending, implement tax reform, and reduce military spending and subsidies for oil companies. Earlier this month, Republican Speaker John Boehner again vowed to not increase the national debt ceiling unless Congress implemented his conservative political agenda.

As the congresswoman for the 10th Congressional District, I will not stand idly by while Republicans play politics with our nation’s full faith and credit in order to win elections and embarrass the President. Not only is this not the way our nation should be governed, it also hurts our nation’s fragile economy.

The extraordinary Republican national debt is the biggest threat to Social Security and Medicare. The trillions of dollars the Republicans have borrowed will make it more difficult and expensive to meet our obligations. I believe that Social Security is a compact between the government and Americans who have spent their entire lives working. While there are some long-term financing challenges for Social Security and Medicare, in Congress, I will work to ensure that these programs that protect our nation’s most vulnerable are around for generations to come.

2 Health and human services

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health care to more than 900,000 people in New Jersey and over 50 million people across the country. While the federal government pays a majority of the cost of Medicaid, states pay on average 16 percent of their entire budget to this necessary and important program.

In Congress I will work to improve the quality, accessibility and delivery of healthcare. In order to make Medicaid more efficient and cost effective, the federal government must partner with the states to implement innovative policies to coordinate care and expand the use of information technology. For example, as a state senator, I authored New Jersey’s Health Benefits’ Exchange Act; a provision of this legislation created and offered a Basic Health Plan to enable uninsured persons with incomes just above Medicaid Levels to purchase insurance.

I do not support privatizing Medicare, nor do I believe in transforming Medicare into a block grant or voucher program, all of which would potentially lead to dramatic cuts in services and increase the number of uninsured in our country.

3 Charitable contribution deductions

Philanthropy and charitable giving are extremely important for the survival of our nation’s religious organizations, nonprofit social services, healthcare providers and educational institutions that provide important services to our community and country. In order to encourage charitable giving, the United States’ tax code has allowed for charitable contribution deductions and more recently the IRA Charitable Rollover. In Congress, I will support legislation that would make permanent the IRA charitable rollover.

4 Israel and its neighbors

America has no greater ally or friend in the Middle East than Israel. As a member of the United States Congress, I will work to protect and advance the special and strong relationship between these two countries. The United States and Israel not only share common values and a belief in democracy and the rule of law, but also a common history. Both nations fought for independence and were forced to defend their borders early in their statehood.

The United States has a responsibility to Israel and the world, to facilitate a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. In order to achieve peace and a long-lasting two-state solution, both parties must resume direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions and abide by the modest steps proposed by the Quartet.

One of the largest challenges to the United States’ interest in achieving peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the fact that Hamas currently controls Gaza and that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, continues to deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In Congress, I will work to support Israel, our most important strategic ally in the Middle East, to find peace in the region.

5 Iran’s nuclear ambition

The largest threat to Israel, the United States and the world community is Iran with a nuclear weapon. A nuclear armed Iran not only greatly increases the chances of a nuclear weapon falling into the hand of a terrorist; it also will shift the balance of power in the region.

In Congress, I will work with my colleagues to hold Iran accountable for its actions. That is why I supported and voted for legislation that prohibits New Jersey from investing money in companies that do business with Iran, as well as a resolution aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program by urging the federal government to intervene more strongly in Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

As a member of Congress, I will work to ensure that the United States continue its commitment to preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities. The United States must fully enforce and if necessary strengthen sanctions that are targeted toward financing Iran’s nuclear program. I will also work to build bipartisan support to end human rights violations by the Iranian government.


DONALD PAYNE JR.

1 Debt Crisis

I believe the current and preceding Democratic presidents have the right ideas regarding reducing the deficit and dealing with entitlements.

President Obama was right to address the economic crisis of 2008 first, before dealing directly with the deficit, because we needed to get the economy out of freefall and stop hemorrhaging businesses and jobs. I think the plan Larry Summers and President Obama’s economic team put together was the right thing to do. In a real way, pulling us out of the worst depths of the crisis was dealing with the revenue side of the deficit. Any long-term plan to reduce the deficit must include raising more revenue; the best way to do that, and the way that the U.S. has historically reduced deficits most effectively, is by growing the economy. Obviously, we still have work to do until we can consider the economy back to normal. The threat of further economic failures in Europe also imperils our economy, but I think President Obama is on the right track to continue growing the economy and reducing deficits through revenue growth.

We do need to keep an eye on the deficit, which was largely inherited from the Bush administration. We certainly need to be mindful of the major sources of the deficit on the expenditures side, specifically the two wars and the ballooning cost of health care. President Obama has taken steps to reduce all of these through working to end the wars and the Affordable Care Act, but more work needs to be done on all those fronts.

President Clinton, of course, was the most effective president at reducing the deficit in history. While he faced a much healthier economy and a Cold War that had already been resolved by the time he took office, his methods still offer a blueprint for sound deficit reduction. President Clinton began by raising more revenue through commonsense tax increases that simply asked the wealthy to again pay their fair share, nothing too burdensome. I think we should repeal the irresponsible Bush tax cuts and go back to President Clinton’s tax code. President Clinton also focused on growing the economy and reducing expenditures by taking advantage of the peace dividend. I support doing that as well. Finally, President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to supervise an overhaul of the way the government delivered services, with an eye towards creating greater efficiencies. I think we can learn from this example and work to bring more efficiency to our entitlement programs. Specifically, I believe Medicare can learn from the way the Veterans Administration delivers needed medical services. Since she is retiring from the Department of State, Hillary Clinton might be the perfect choice to head up this effort.

2 Health and human services

Medicaid is hugely important. The federal government must not allow already burdened state governments, which are still waiting for the economy and tax revenues to grow, to allow payments to Medicaid to fail. If further help is needed before the economy recovers, I will support giving that help.

That said, I generally support President Obama’s cost-saving initiatives, especially those that seek to reduce costs though efficiencies rather than through cost-sharing or reducing benefits. I would only support cost-sharing for the wealthiest recipients of Medicare services.

Specifically, I support President Obama’s initiatives to develop strategies for reducing the costs of the highest users of Medicaid care by employing models learned from children’s hospitals; the “Money Follows the Person” program that is moving people out of nursing homes and towards more integrated community and home-based services, which also increases quality of life; initiatives to change care and payment models to reduce premature births; promoting better care management for children and adults with asthma; initiatives to reduce the high cost of hospital readmissions; implementing the Health Homes option; promoting Accountable Care Organizations; continuing to integrate health information technology; purchasing drugs more efficiently and giving states more accurate benchmarks to base payments; reducing the high cost of patients who are “dual eligibles” in both Medicaid and Medicare by supporting state model initiatives to integrate care and by providing states with access to Medicare Parts A, B, and D data; and finally by continuing to develop better ways to insure integrity, screen providers, promote payment accuracy, and reduce fraud.

3 Charitable contribution deductions

I support the IRA Charitable Rollover tax provision, which provides persons age 70-and-a-half and older with incentives to contribute to charity out of their individual retirement accounts without suffering adverse tax consequences. I support continued reinstatement and expansion of this provision.

4 Israel and its neighbors

In a dangerous world, the United States must retain its special bond with Israel, which remains in peril as long as she has neighbors who are hostile toward her existence.

Since I strongly supported President Clinton’s leadership in the Oslo Accords, I believe the United States must continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians to find a peaceful and stable two-state solution to the conflict. I support Secretary of State Clinton’s work toward this goal. Such a solution must involve the Jewish State of Israel living in safety with Jerusalem as its capital side by side with a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. I also supported President Obama’s decision to veto the UN declaration of Palestinian statehood because it was not the result of bilateral negotiations.

I have grave concerns about the Hamas/Fatah partnership. Hamas is a terrorist organization that must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and accept previous peace agreements in order to fruitfully participate in negotiations

In Congress, and in my own party, I would advocate for these positions both in Washington and through the bully pulpit at home.

The biggest challenges to United States interests in the Middle East remain to be Islamist terrorism, the threat of Iran’s getting nuclear weapons, and the continued resistance to the democratic reforms of the recent Arab spring.

5 Iran’s nuclear ambition

Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would be an unacceptable threat to both Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

I supported President Obama’s and Secretary of State Clinton’s decision to use whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I support their continuing to increase sanctions for however long it takes to insure Iran has suspended its nuclear program.

I support President Obama’s decision to keep all options on the table regarding Iran.


RON C. RICE

1 Debt Crisis

The crisis our nation faces is a dilemma that could have been avoided if we had not squandered the surpluses of the late 1990s on unnecessary and irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and simultaneously entered into over a decade of preemptive wars, especially the War in Iraq, that were not paid for or included in the Federal Budget under President Bush. Further, at a critical time of structured growth, we relaxed regulations that would have kept our financial system from being able to force the American people to pay for their abject greed with the bail-out that President Bush facilitated.

As a U.S. congressman, I would fight for us to allow the grossly irresponsible Bush tax cuts to expire. The politics of the “debt crisis” are a manufactured fear tactic used by the 1 percent to convince the rest of us to tighten our belts while they sacrifice little while continuing to receive the benefit of loopholes while lobbyists and PAC money influence politicians to do their bidding. I propose we use the resulting “Peace Dividend” we will gain from ending the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to conserve our vital social programs like Medicare and Medicaid and increase our investments in our physical and technological infrastructure in order to create jobs and provide education for our children that truly prepares them for a 21st-century economy.

2 Health and human services

Medicaid is a vital service that literally saves the lives of millions of Americans each year that would otherwise not have access to critical healthcare services. Obviously there is waste in the system that can be eliminated, but I do not believe we need to reduce services or change the requirements for eligibility.

Though I am still an advocate for a single-payer healthcare system that guarantees access to every American, the Affordable Care Act does significantly increase Medicaid enrollment that requires an increase in both efficiency and community-provided health options to be effective. I am committed to increasing aid to qualified programs by eliminating needless bureaucracy and outdated payment structures that currently handicap the system, but will remain steadfastly opposed to any cuts in services.

There are deficiencies that have to be addressed in the ACA. For example we need to make sure the Prescription Drug Plan is adequately serving low-income American seniors, and particularly those who have lost their benefits after being laid off. There are simply too many seniors, veterans, and working people who have to decide whether to buy the medicines they need or to help support their children and grandchildren who are caught in the middle of this economic crisis. Finally, I hope that we can strengthen the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program’s access to funding because it provides a stable and dignified service to people in their golden years — especially those who live alone and are unlikely to have access to care.

3 Charitable contribution deductions

I have been working to become more familiar with the details of the related bill that will be likely be voted on during the lame-duck session. This issue will be one of the first votes cast by the winner of the special election in this race. That vote will probably be one of the most important, besides the inevitable fight with the right wing over the debt ceiling during that period. I think that the roll-over is a needed tax incentive that encourages charitable giving and that it should be applicable to the 2012 tax year and beyond. Further, we should expand the incentive to include charitable gifts to donor-advised funds, certain local support organizations, and private foundations. It should also be applied to gifts above $100,000, planned gifts from wills, and certain other estate instruments. Our nonprofits need to be able to step up to the challenges they are specialized to handle because many local counties and cities are having to scale back on services. A tax incentive on donations allows nonprofits to raise more dollars and will encourage larger, more frequent donations.

4 Israel and its neighbors

A just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians can result in two sovereign, independent, and cooperative states living side by side in peace and security. Negotiations toward this end must begin with mutual recognition of the need for defensible and secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians. Direct bilateral negotiations between the two parties are the only viable path for achieving a peace agreement. The United States, must maintain fervent and unwavering support for Israel’s right to exist securely as a Jewish state and must call on the Palestinian leadership to end their incitement against the Jewish people and to stop denying the Jews’ historical ties to Israel. If Hamas is to play any role in a future Palestinian government, it must renounce terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and agree to abide by agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel.

As an advocate for peace, I firmly believe that education in the region is a path to moderation. Both sides should actively facilitate higher education opportunities for Palestinian students and encourage interaction amongst an educated younger population who would choose a prosperous peace over conflict. However, there can be no doubt that any continued militant actions taken by Hamas will prevent Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students from enjoying the benefits of an open border, which could cripple an effort that prioritizes peace.

With the advent of the Arab Spring, there has never been a more critical time to defend Israel as an ally. I am hopeful that true democracy will spread throughout the Middle East, and that radical elements in Arab society can be marginalized if not completely sidelined by more pluralistic and progressive forces, but also recognize that American influence and support may be necessary to ensure that this happens.

5 Iran’s nuclear ambition

Regarding Iran, no option, military or diplomatic, should be taken off of the table to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The government of Iran is controlled by religious zealots with extreme views that cannot be trusted with the freedom of their own people, much less a nuclear weapon. As a member of Congress, I would have supported recent Iran sanctions legislation, including the Iran Threat Reduction Act and sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. I am concerned that Iran will continue to act on its nuclear ambitions, which is absolutely unacceptable. However, I am hopeful that the crisis can be averted regarding Iran with proper, clear-minded time and attention. The U.S. and Israel are working closely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and I believe that strong working relationship is critical to accomplish our shared goal.

I have worked together with leaders of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious communities in Newark for more than a decade and I believe that the Jewish and Muslim communities in Newark and throughout the 10th Congressional District have established the model for interfaith communication and cooperation. If I am elected, this district can have a critical international role in promoting a mutually beneficial resolution to the conflict.


WAYNE SMITH

1 Debt Crisis

The debt crisis can be solved by increasing taxes of the wealthy. Helping the most vulnerable in society should be the federal government highest priority. The expenditure of the war effort should be decreased adding to reduction in the deficit as a result of the peace dividend.

2 Health and human services

Medicaid should be made stronger by increasing the rates for service and technology enhancements should weed out any fraud and abuse.

3 Charitable contribution deductions

We should continue to allow deductions for charitable giving. The safety net provided by many organizations save the government from providing many services.

4 Israel and its neighbors

Establishing lasting peace in Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be the goal of the United States.

5 Iran’s nuclear ambition

Iran's nuclear capability is a threat to the region. Sanctions should be given enough time to work.


 CATHY WRIGHT

1 Debt crisis

My first approach to solving the debt crisis would be to support the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations.   I would start close to home by strongly endorsing and encouraging the other members to enact reducing Congressional and White House budgets by 15 percent and impose a three-year freeze on Member pay.  Having been in the private sector for over 20 years, I know that this will really let the public know that Congress gets it, and is willing to adjust to the times.  Entitlements can be reformed and still protect the most vulnerable.  Federal health care spending represents our single largest fiscal challenge over the long-run.  The Mayo Clinic approach pays its doctors a fixed salary, freeing them to focus on providing great care, not maximizing fees.  The Veterans Administration, like the Mayo Clinic, pays its doctors a salary, and focuses more on primary care and outpatient services and keeps its patients for life.  This, if used by all of the federal health care programs, will reduce the cost of bureaucracy and paperwork.     

Social Security will have to change.  Part of the Commission’s plan would slow future benefit growth, particularly for higher earners.  Higher earners would receive less Social Security than they do today.  The plan also gradually increases the taxable maximum so high earners pay more into the social security fund than they do today.

2 Health and human services

I would like to see the Jewish Federations receive Medicaid revenue based on the number of people taken care of and the job functions performed.  The waste and theft in the health care industry are now so enormous they are depriving us of funds to pay for other essentials.  We have to stop fee-for-service payment systems, which is the biggest barrier to controlling health care costs in America.  I will sponsor legislation to repeal antitrust exemptions benefiting the insurance industry.  Insurance companies are free to fix prices until legislation is passed.  Paying salaries instead of fees would improve the quality and delivery of Medicaid.   It reduces the bureaucracy and paperwork.  New job descriptions could be created for health coaches and care coordinators who would be paid a salary.  Non profits and hospitals could partner together and set up special care centers that would serve as a clinic designed for patients with chronic conditions.  Everyone would receive a salary.  The Veterans Administration has a medical data sharing system that keeps patient histories and prevents dangerous drug interactions and other treatment combinations.   This software has been offered free on the Internet, and it has been downloaded and used all over the world.  It has not been used here     

3 Charitable contributions and deducations

Charitable giving will have to remain a priority in the tax code.  Tax exemptions will have to be smaller and more targeted.  The tax code has to become less cumbersome, but charitable giving is needed more in these times, not less.  I would like to restore the tax deductions for charitable giving without having to itemize deductions.  Charitable giving should be returned to the 1040 EZ forms because all income levels should be able to take the tax credit.  I support Chuck Schumer and Olympia Snow’s bill the Public Good IRA Rollover Act of 2011.  The legislation would make permanent and expand the IRA charitable rollover, lifting the $100,000 chartable gift limit and allowing for certain giving, like to a charitable remainder trust, to begin as early as age 59 ½.  The House has also introduced the Public Good IRA Rollover Act, as a companion to the Senate legislation. 

4 Israel and its neighbors

The United States has provided political inspiration, financial and military assistance, and diplomatic support for more than six decades.  At the same time, the U.S. has sought cooperation from Arab nations in the Middle East, both to achieve its energy needs and to secure a safe environment for Israel.  Leadership is the appropriate role for the United States.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is I believe at the center of the interests of the United States.  I believe the buffer between Israel and the Arab nations of Jordan, Syria and Egypt, has to be a Palestinian state.   The only possible path to peace is Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries.  As a member of Congress, I would pursue the two state solution as a civil rights issue.  Israel is in the minority in the region, and has always had reason to have safety concerns.  I think the best chances for a peaceful resolution is now.  Syria is fighting its own internal struggles and the Palestinian’s want the same right of self-determination that Israel has, and establishing their state would lead to peace.  The biggest challenge to the United States is the balance between Israel’s security and keeping a steady oil supply.  

5 Iran’s nuclear ambition

Iran is already a threat to stability in the region.  Having nuclear capability would just heighten that threat.  The sanctions have to be given time to work.  I do not want Iran threatened with invasion or regime change.  Their reaction would just make them want to accelerate their nuclear program.   We need serious diplomacy and engagement.  There is a proposal for a nuclear fuel swap between the United States and Iran.  The United States would give nuclear fuel to Iran, and Iran would stop their nuclear fuel program.  In addition to sanctions and diplomacy, I would encourage other Arab nations to exert pressure on Iran to give up their nuclear program.

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