By Jesse Roman Staff Writer
The Salem News
---- — Often lost in the blistering attacks that have saturated the 6th District congressional campaign is the obvious fact that, over the next two years, either Richard Tisei or John Tierney will cast votes in Washington that will impact the lives of North Shore residents.
Beyond the name-calling and fog of negative advertising, the two candidates have significant differences on important policy questions.
“They are starkly contrasting views,” Tierney said at a recent North Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Tierney, a Salem Democrat, is seeking re-election to the office he’s held for 16 years. Tisei, a Wakefield Republican, is a former state senator. Here’s what we know about their stances on Medicare, ObamaCare, taxes and the deficit just a month before the Nov. 6 election.
It’s one of the most hotly debated topics in the campaign. Both men say they unequivocally support Medicare and want to ensure its fiscal survival, but they have different ways of doing that.
Tierney touts 2010’s Affordable Care Act, which he supported, for eliminating the senior prescription drug “doughnut hole,” shedding costs and extending the fiscal life of the Medicare program.
“Do we need to save money with the current program? Absolutely,” Tierney said recently in a speech in Beverly. “Every year, we need to look at ways to keep costs down as much as possible.”
Tierney, however, doesn’t think wholesale changes that would drastically transform the program are warranted, and opts instead to find savings through reforms like the Affordable Care Act.
Tisei has criticized Tierney’s approach. He has pointed to an aging population and huge expected cost increases over the next decade, and declared he wants a more long-term fiscal solution to Medicare’s woes.
“I would not vote for a Band-Aid, but something that fixes the system for the next generation,” Tisei said in an interview.
Tisei has said he would “look at every single proposal on the table” when it comes to Medicare, and has spoken in favor of a plan authored by Congressman Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden. That plan — which Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, has since distanced himself from — would preserve the current program for everyone 55 and over, but give future generations the option to instead purchase Medicare-approved private insurance. The government would provide a “coverage-support payment” to help people purchase that insurance.
Tierney has argued that the proposal would lead to seniors paying more for health care, a claim Tisei has disputed.
Health care law
The Affordable Care Act, the polarizing, 2010 health care law known now and forever as ObamaCare, has predictably spawned much disagreement between the candidates.
Tisei has pledged to join other Republicans in trying to repeal the law.
“The federal bill hurts the economy. There are 21 tax increases in the bill, including the medical device tax,” he said in June, referring to a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that will help fund the reforms. He also said it costs more than was advertised.
“In a perfect world,” Tisei said, “you would start over and work together to come up with a better plan to provide affordable health care to people.”
Tierney, who was among the Democratic majority that passed the law, said ObamaCare has already done untold good for the nation, from keeping young people on their parents’ insurance, to eliminating lifetime caps on coverage, to making sure everyone can be insured regardless of preexisting conditions.
“Caught up in all of this, people lose sight of the reason we passed this bill — the horrible situation of millions of people not covered by insurance, and escalating costs that keep escalating,” Tierney said in June before the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the law. “This bill has tremendous positive effects in both of those areas.”
Tax cuts and the deficit
Tierney has advocated for letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for people with incomes above $250,000, and lambasted Republicans for letting tax rates increase for everyone if Democrats don’t go along with extending tax cuts for the wealthy.
The Democrats, Tierney said recently, want to fix the deficit “in a balanced way” that includes “severe cuts ... but also looking at revenues. The people at the top end maybe don’t need those (Bush-era) tax cuts. ...
“Republicans want to take care of people who are already well-off and hope someday we’ll all benefit from it. That’s radical. That has never worked,” he said.
Tisei has said that raising taxes is the last thing the government should be doing with a shaky economy and high unemployment.
“The way to get out of this mess is to start growing the economy again. We need a predictable tax code. It should be reformed in a way that will promote growth, hiring and business expansion,” Tisei said in an August interview.
Tierney has constantly tried to link Tisei with the Republican budget crafted by Congressman Paul Ryan, which would slash discretionary spending and further reduce taxes as a means of reducing the budget deficit. Tisei has said he would not endorse the Ryan plan, but has called it “a good starting point” for discussion.
“The country is about to go bankrupt. Forty cents of every dollar we spend we have to borrow, just to cover our operating expenses,” Tisei has said. “John Tierney’s philosophy is spend more money and tax more, and it is leading our country off a cliff.”
Both have agreed that closing tax certain loopholes would be beneficial.
Staff reporter Jesse Roman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.