WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Rep. James R. Langevin’s Democratic rivals criticize the Obama administration’s anti-recession policies from the left and the right, he has laid out his economic vision largely by promoting his support for the president’s program — including the controversial overhaul of the nation’s health-care system and the $787-billion bill to prime the economic pump in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Republicans in next week’s 2nd Congressional District primary depict the Obama program as a failure and float competing views on how to promote economic growth with minimal federal spending, cut the burgeoning deficit and avoid tax increases.Most of the candidates gave their views in telephone interviews before Mr. Obama unveiled his new plan for $50 billion worth of public works projects. p>
Five-term incumbent Langevin portrayed himself as striking a balance between an urgent need to invest tens of billions of federal dollars in jobs programs and small-business tax breaks, and a longer-term need to address the economic threat from deficit spending.Langevin gave a spirited defense of the first Obama stimulus bill, asserting that it prevented a bad economy from getting much worse by spending to build highways and other infrastructure and to support state shortfalls in Medicaid and other budget obligations. He also defended the allocation of large sums — as yet unspent — to modernize the health-care and energy economies in years to come.
Langevin said he would await the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s deficit commission before deciding how to address the looming problems with federal entitlement programs. The commission will report after Election Day. Langevin said, however, that the passage of the health-care overhaul represents a huge stride toward Medicare solvency and overall deficit reduction.Elizabeth M.
Dennigan joined Langevin in calling for an extension of the Bush tax cuts only for families with annual incomes under $250,000 a year. Fellow Democrat Ernest A. Greco said the entire regime of tax breaks should continue for at least another year.Declaring herself to be a fan of the Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman, Dennigan said fighting the deficit “cannot be a priority during a recession.” Without offering a specific total, she said more federal money should be spent to revive the economy and create jobs, adding that the 2009 stimulus was not spent quickly enough.Dennigan said there should be an annual review of federal tax and spending policy, with an eye toward reducing the federal deficit. There should be no changes in federal entitlement programs, she said.
Greco sharply criticized the Obama economic program — particularly the 2009 stimulus package. He said the first step toward deficit reduction should be to reclaim what he estimated to be $200 billion from that bill that has yet to be spent.“I wouldn’t keep pretending that it’s creating jobs,” Greco said. “It’s not.” He said he is skeptical of further stimulus spending. “The government has tried for over a year now” to repair the economy through federal spending, he said, “and it hasn’t worked yet.”
Two of the candidates on the Republican side, Mark S. Zaccaria and William J. Clegg III, both expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent at all income levels. As Clegg put it, “I am one of those who believe that if you increase the tax rate, ultimately you get lower revenues” because spending and business investment fall.For economic stimulus, Clegg favored a holiday on Social Security and the other so-called “payroll” taxes for federal entitlements. Zaccaria would seek further cuts in capital gains tax rates.
To address the looming demographic crunch in federal entitlements, Zaccaria said he would consider “means testing” to reduce the benefits or raise the cost for wealthier beneficiaries. He also favored a gradual shift of some part of Social Security to a 401(k)-style pension program under which the beneficiary controls the investment of his or her payroll tax revenues.
Clegg said he would prefer to attack Social Security shortfalls by raising the retirement age — at some point well in the future — by one year and reducing the size of the automatic yearly benefits hike to cover inflation.Another of the Republican contenders, Michael Gardiner, presented himself as the economic moderate in the GOP primary race — and therefore the strongest potential Republican candidate for the general election.
On tax policy, Gardiner advocated only a temporary extension of the Bush tax breaks, but would permit the reimposition of estate taxes. Gardiner stated a preference for low capital gains taxes to promote business and said the current recession may be a time to consider selected changes in the tax code to assist particular sectors of the economy. The tax treatment of real-estate losses might be relaxed, for example, in order to make investments in the housing market more attractive, he said.Gardiner opposed further federal spending to “bail out state and local governments,” as he put it, but favored extended federal unemployment benefits plus limited spending on public works of “lasting value,” such as highways.
Citing the example of then-President George H.W. Bush’s deficit-reduction package — which had critics on the left and the right — Gardiner said serious proposals to roll back the deficit and save the big federal entitlement programs may have to include tax increases as well as spending cuts.Republican candidate Donald F. Robbio has failed to answer repeated telephone calls and written requests for interviews about his campaign.
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