I ripped into Ron Johnson the other day because he wouldn’t schedule an interview with me (or other members of the press). So in the spirit of full disclosure, I made repeated phone calls to Russ Feingold and worked with his press liaison to speak with the Senator, but a time could not be arranged since Feingold is facing the toughest battle of his Senatorial career and needs every vote he can eek out by November 2.
So, as I did with Johnson, I culled through my notes from Feingold’s appearances and found answers to the questions you may have before going to the polls on Tuesday.
Solving the fiscal crisis and specific cuts to lower the federal deficit
Feingold has authored the Control Spending Now Act, which consists of over 40 different proposals aimed at reforming the budgeting system and putting our finances in order. The act could cut the deficit by a half trillion dollars over 10 years by focusing on: 1) Reforming the budget/spending process; 2) Making Congress more responsible; 3) Stopping corporate handouts; 4) Supporting family farmers and reducing subsidies to big agribusinesses; 5) Ending giveaways of public resources; and 6) Eliminating unnecessary spending.
One item in the plan is following Pay As You Go legislation. PAYGO requires that new entitlement spending or tax cuts must be paid for so the budget deficit is not increased.
“This type of fiscally responsible budgeting will help bring us back to budget surpluses,” Feingold said.
The act also includes cutting congressional office budgets by 5 percent, saving $54 million; ending TARP, saving $244.5 million; and setting federal grazing fees to the same level as state fees, saving $155 million
Feingold is also working on bipartisan ways to solve the fiscal crisis. Partnering with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, Feingold has come up with the “Janesville Line-Item Veto,” which would give the president the authority to block wasteful earmarks and improve congressional accountability.
Feingold has worked with Wisconsin business leaders and developed the E-4 Initiative, a multi-faceted solution for the state’s unemployment problem that focuses on the economy, employment, education and energy.
On the economy, Feingold would use the E-4 to seek increases in federal funding for small business innovation research and technology transfer programs. To improve employment opportunities, he proposes uniform skill standards certificates and providing information as new technologies emerge so businesses and workers can adapt and spur job growth.
Feingold wants to institute competitive grants for states and school districts to partner with local businesses, development groups and non-profits to prepare students for emerging industries including green jobs and energy efficiency programs.
Feingold also takes credit for the stimulus bill, which he calls a “job creator.”
“It provided a tax cut to 95 percent of families, avoided layoffs among public employees, increased private job creation and provided jobs in weatherproofing, water treatment and high speed rail,” he said.
Feingold voted for Health Care reform even though it didn’t contain the public option and many constituents were opposed. What is his position on HCR now?
When President Obama signed the Health Care Reform Act, Feingold praised the effort as one good for Americans.
“Health insurance reform gives people more control over their own health care,” Feingold said. “Ninety-five percent of the people have been in favor of this over time and with it the millions with pre-existing conditions will be covered, small businesses will see lower health care costs and seniors and working families will see their out-of-pocket costs go down.”
Beside the addition of a public option, Feingold wants to see the passage of the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, which would allow the import of prescription drugs from Canada, Australia, and England. He has also authored a bill that would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.
Social Security: privatization and confidence for Gen X-ers and Millennials
Feingold is opposed to any type of privatization of Social Security, but he would agree to raising the cap on FICA income eligible for withholding. Currently, the first $106,800 of income is subject to withholding; Feingold would like to raise the level to $160,000 or eliminate it completely, making all income earned subject to FICA taxes.
“I have never been to a listening session where someone doesn’t ask why we don’t raise the income level or eliminate it altogether,” Feingold said. “That would provide more than enough to keep the program solvent.
As for the Gen-X-ers and Millennials who don’t believe Social Security will be there for them at retirement, Feingold said he will work to keep the fund from being used to pay for other government spending.
“I am not going to say I’m an expert on things I’m not an expert on,” Feingold said. “And if scientists say man-made activity has something to do with the warming of the planet we need to heed their warnings.”
Erring on the side of caution, Feingold is a supporter of green industry and legislation that will encourage the development of alternative energies. However, he does see some problems with the proposed Cap and Trade policy being pushed by the administration.
“Cap and Trade is harsh to states that are heavy coal users, such as Wisconsin. We need to do something, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt our state.”
And while alternative fuels will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help reduce global warming issues, Feingold sees another benefit in moving toward a more green energy economy — new job opportunities for Wisconsinites.
“This is an exciting time for research and discovery,” Feingold said.