The 2nd District race, from farce to actual issues

BDN photo by Gabor Degre.

BDN photo by Gabor Degre.

Let’s start with the farce.

The race for the 2nd Congressional District has included an ad that’s so over the top you might think it’s a parody. As commentator Michael Cuzzi described it, “The piece employs images of armed, black-clad terrorists marching in formation to make the absurd claim that [Democrat Emily] Cain supports greater dependence on ‘Middle East oil’ and opposes U.S. energy independence.” Yes, this is an actual ad (with false claims), not some satire.

But this election is also about real differences between the candidates, on issues like Social Security, Medicare and the economy.

Republican Bruce Poliquin has talked about raising the retirement age and decreasing how much future recipients receive. A later retirement age would be a substantial benefit cut, since people would receive Social Security for fewer years. Regarding Medicare, “adjustments to the programs must be made for future generations,” reads Poliquin’s website.

Poliquin’s views are in line with those of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has additionally supported privatizing Social Security. Ryan proposed raising the retirement age for people under 55.

That would mean that a 54-year-old construction worker who under current law doesn’t get full benefits until age 67 would have to wait even longer. A later retirement age would especially affect people who do physical labor, since they are more worn out by work and don’t live as long as white-collar workers.

Emily Cain

Emily Cain

In contrast, Cain would fully finance Social Security by flattening the Social Security tax rate. Since income over $117,000 isn’t subject to Social Security tax, today low-income and middle-class people pay a much higher rate than the wealthy.

Under Cain’s approach, there would be no reason to cut benefits for people under 55 and no need for them to work until nearly 70.

What do voters want? A Maine AARP survey of people age 50 and older showed, most were extremely or very worried about having Social Security available to them in the future, with 73 percent of low-income individuals surveyed feeling that way.

On health care, 83 percent of women in the AARP survey said they’re more likely to vote for candidates who believe in “ensuring older Mainers have access to affordable prescription drug coverage.”

While the Affordable Care Act closed the coverage “donut hole” and made prescriptions cheaper for seniors on Medicare, Poliquin has said he would “end Obamacare.” While he calls Cain “extreme,” only a third of Americans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In contrast, Cain supports health reform and funding seniors’ programs.

Cain also stresses the importance of promoting opportunity to grow Maine’s economy.

With her career in public higher education, Cain views affordable education as a key to Maine’s future. A pragmatist, Cain received a national award from the National Coalition for Capital for being a “Champion for Small Business.”

Poliquin’s economic approach mirrors George W. Bush’s tax cut strategy, which delivered most to the wealthiest and yielded fewer jobs each month than during the terms of both presidents Clinton and Obama. He also says he wants to reduce the deficit but wants to cut taxes, an approach that President Reagan abandoned because it blew a hole in the budget.

Regarding abortion, Cain believes women should make those decisions for themselves while Poliquin is anti-abortion.

Cain’s approach to the job is also different than Poliquin’s, saying recently, “I know we can get more done if we do it together. . .That’s why I’ve stayed at the table, especially when it was hard to balance tough budgets, to protect the middle class, to protect Maine seniors, to protect Maine veterans. And it’s why I worked across the aisle as the House minority leader to help grow small businesses and pass laws to break the cycle of domestic violence here in Maine.” In contrast, Poliquin criticized his primary opponent Kevin Raye for his willingness to compromise.

In endorsing Cain, Sen. Angus King declared, “We need people who will listen, who will talk, who will collaborate, who will stay at the table and who will solve problems. That’s what Emily has had a record of doing for the past 10 years in the state Legislature.”

In choosing who will fill the congressional seat held by Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, John Baldacci and Mike Michaud, the differences are great.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.