By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The economy. It's a constant theme in the 2012 campaigns.
Is it improving or not? And what can anyone do to encourage more job-creation?
Politicians seeking offices from the presidency on down have focused on these issues. The Associated Press posed these and other economic and financial-related questions to Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin. The candidates differed in their approach to tax policy, the minimum wage and other issues.
Their answers are below, the first in a series of weekly reports that will examine the candidates' positions on issues that are important to votes in the Nov. 6 election.
The AP on Jobs: The nation's unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent last month, marking the 43rd straight month above 8 percent, but down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009. Other recent figures show the nation's median household income declined last year while the poverty rate remained around its highest point since 1993. Do you think the economy is improving? And what do you believe the federal government can do to encourage the creation of more jobs?
McCASKILL: "We've come a long way from where we were at the height of the economic crisis, when the economy was in free fall and we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We're moving in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do. To keep moving in the right direction and creating jobs, we must find compromises that are more focused on correctly investing our federal dollars and giving small businesses room to grow. In the Senate, I've worked to cut more than $1.5 trillion in taxes for working families and small businesses. I've gone against my party to oppose regulations that hurt our businesses, and I've introduced legislation to take the billions of dollars we spend on infrastructure in Afghanistan and use those funds to build roads and bridges here at home."
AKIN: "The economy is not improving as fast as it should be, and this is due in large part to the policies promoted by President Obama and Senator McCaskill. Small businesses are the source of most job growth in our economy, but as I travel around Missouri I have heard story after story from small-business owners and employees about how the federal government is preventing them from growing or hiring new employees. The number one complaint is government red tape. Amazingly, under Obama and McCaskill, the federal government has added over 11,000 pages of new regulations that translate directly into more red tape. This red tape is crushing small business and preventing job growth. The other common refrain is taxes, and once again Obama and McCaskill want to raise taxes on small businesses. Unfortunately, the more we tax small businesses, the less they will be able to grow and add jobs. Instead of adding red tape and increasing taxes on small businesses, we need to cut red tape and make sure our taxes are lower and simpler. We need to get America working again, and the policies of the last four years are clearly not doing that."
The AP on Taxes: Under President George W. Bush, the federal income tax rate was lowered across all tax brackets and the federal estate tax also was reduced. Those tax cuts expire at the end of this year. Do you support the continuation of all of the Bush-era tax cuts? Do you prefer they all end? Or would you prefer to extend only some of them, such as the income tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples earning less than $250,000? Please explain with specifics.
McCASKILL: "I support extending tax cuts for middle-class families who earn less than $250,000. In an effort to prevent our nation from going off the fiscal cliff, I'm open to a short-term extension of those tax cuts for families that earn up to a $1 million, if it is part of a compromise solution that helps us achieve $4-5 trillion in debt reduction."
AKIN: "I support maintaining the Bush tax cuts across the board. As our economy continues to struggle, with unemployment over 8 percent for 43 straight months, raising taxes on families and small businesses will only hurt the economic recovery. Many Democrats argue that we should raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more, but this will directly hurt many small businesses. Due to the way our tax code is set up, many small businesses file taxes through the owner. A small business with just a handful of employees could easily result in gross income of over $250,000. In fact, the Tax Foundation reports that roughly two-thirds of small-business income is reported by people who have income over $250,000. Raising taxes on these small businesses will mean that small business will not be able to grow or hire as rapidly as they would like, leaving more Americans out of work. That's just simple common sense."
The AP on the deficit: The federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion for four straight years, and the total national debt now has risen to $16 trillion. A bipartisan deficit reduction commission had considered a plan to cut $4 trillion over a decade by raising the Social Security retirement age and reducing future benefits, cutting spending in most agencies, scaling back various income tax deductions and doubling the federal gasoline tax. Would you have supported that plan? If not, how would you propose to decrease the federal deficit and debt?
McCASKILL: "As someone who's fought for caps on federal spending and successfully banned earmarks, I know the importance of getting our fiscal house in order, asking those who can afford it to pay their fair share, and protecting tax cuts for middle-class families. I plan to keep working across party lines to balance our budget and reduce the national debt. I went against my own party to introduce spending caps, and I've supported a responsible Balanced Budget Amendment. I believe we need to achieve a balanced approach, similar to the one proposed by the bipartisan deficit commission that cuts $4 trillion in spending but does so without jeopardizing benefits for Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. This kind of balanced approach requires us to ask millionaires to pay their fair share, cuts wasteful spending and puts our debt and deficit on a glide path to long-term stability."
AKIN: "As most Missourians know, the problem in Washington is not the federal government doesn't have enough money, it's how the government is spending that money. Many Democrats want to increase taxes on American citizens to pay for more government spending and more government involvement in our lives. I simply disagree. I believe the first step to controlling federal spending is to pass a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget combined with a cap on the size of the government, similar to the Hancock Amendment here in Missouri. My opponent claims to support fiscal restraint, but she has voted to increase the federal debt under both parties by the staggering total of $6.9 trillion in less than six years; $6.9 trillion in hundred-dollar bills, taped end-to-end, would stretch back and forth between Kansas City and St. Louis roughly 27,000 times. That's how much debt Senator McCaskill has added to the backs of our children and grandchildren. The solution is not more taxes and more spending, but we simply need to stop spending so much immediately."
The AP: The following series of questions about the economy and finances do not require more than a "yes" or "no" answer unless you believe further explanation is necessary.
- Do you believe the 2009 stimulus act helped prevent an even deeper recession?
McCASKILL: "Serious economists and independent analysts agree the stimulus package was critical to stopping the economic free fall and millions of job losses in late 2008 and 2009. One-third of the stimulus was tax cuts for small businesses and a tax cut for 95 percent of Missourians. Another third included a lifeline to states, which in Missouri transferred billions to Jeff City, which avoided massive cuts to local schools and allowed Missouri to keep building roads and bridges. It didn't make the economy well but definitely stopped the bleeding."
AKIN: "No. President Obama and Senator McCaskill promised an unemployment rate of less than 8 percent if the stimulus passed. Almost four years later, we are still above 8 percent."
- Do you support construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada through the U.S.?
McCASKILL: "Yes. I believe this is a question of when, not if, this pipeline will be built. At a time when we need good-paying infrastructure jobs, it's just common sense to build this pipeline here and now."
- Do you support a ban on the use of earmarks in spending bills?
McCASKILL: "Yes. In the Senate, I fought my party to end the abusive practice of earmarks and I'm working with some of my Republican colleagues to make that ban permanent. My opponent supports earmarks."
AKIN: "I support a ban on earmarks that are inserted in the dark of night or that are used by party leaders to buy support for their wasteful spending bills. However, I want to make sure that Congress does its constitutional duty and retains the power of the purse rather than giving unelected bureaucrats all the power in Washington, DC."
- Do you support a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
McCASKILL: "Yes. I've co-sponsored a responsible balanced budget amendment with Republicans in the Senate, and I'll continue to support responsible efforts to put us on a glide path to fiscal balance."
- Do you believe the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour should be raised?
McCASKILL: "Yes. While my opponent would abolish the minimum wage, I know it's a floor for hard-working Missourians that puts food on families' plates and ultimately makes our American workforce more competitive."
AKIN: "No. Raising the minimum wage makes it harder for small businesses to hire low-skilled employees. A higher minimum wage often means that small businesses either won't hire as many employees or they will hire people illegally and pay them less than minimum wage."
- Do you support the state tobacco tax increase that will be on Missouri's ballot in November?
McCASKILL: "Yes. Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation, and Missouri can still have the cheapest cigarettes in the region even with this modest increase. I'd rather have slightly higher cigarette prices and slightly lower college tuition for our young people. The revenue generated will go straight to education."