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Hartford - Serious talk about national issues and policy positions has been largely absent in the race between U.S. Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon.
The campaign dialogue so far is characterized by tit-for-tat attack ads and warring news releases over which candidate does or doesn't have a jobs plan and whose past financial troubles are excusable. The four one-on-one debates are not until October.
As Murphy, the Democratic nominee and 5th Congressional District representative, put it last week: "The press is very interested in Linda McMahon's personal attacks right now, but ultimately the voters are going to be interested in her economic record versus my economic record and our plans for the state."
The Day asked both candidates for their positions on some of the bigger recent issues that the nation has faced.
Murphy and McMahon, the Republican nominee, are in general agreement on a few topics, such as preventing Iran from fielding nuclear weapons. They both describe themselves as independent thinkers who are willing to oppose their own party for the interests of Connecticut.
But they diverge on many issues, including the future of the Affordable Care Act and whether government should try to combat climate change. They even seem to disagree on the importance of presenting an issues platform for voters.
"She won't go to editorial board meetings and she doesn't even have an issues page on her website," Murphy said. "There's very little guesswork as to what [issues] I care about. Linda McMahon is a total mystery."
But in McMahon's opinion, Murphy is oblivious to the top issue on most state residents' minds.
"The big choice for voters in this election is which candidate has a plan to get Connecticut back to work and get the economy turned around," McMahon's campaign spokesman, Todd Abrajano, said in response to Murphy's remark, adding that McMahon will do newspaper editorial board interviews before the Nov. 6 election.
"Linda McMahon has released a comprehensive, detailed jobs plan. … If Congressman Murphy can't come up with a plan for the number one issue facing voters today, how can voters expect him to be effective?" Abrajano said.
Candidates on the issues
• Jobs and the economy
McMahon's plan for the economy - the centerpiece of her campaign - involves lowering tax rates on personal income and dropping the federal corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. It calls for rolling back "job-killing" regulations on businesses, and allowing firms to deduct 100 percent of capital expenses in hopes of stimulating business investment.
To pay for her plan, she wants to simplify the tax code and end some loopholes and "corporate welfare," including farm subsidies. She backs a balanced-budget amendment and proposes cutting 1 percent from the federal budget each year until it balances.
McMahon says her tax cuts would save the average Connecticut family of four $500 a month. However, the most detailed outside analysis of her plan to date, by The Hartford Courant, puts the savings at just over $80 a month.
Murphy says all the tax cuts in McMahon's plan would create a big revenue shortfall for the government that couldn't be made up just closing loopholes.
Other critics, including her unsuccessful opponent in last month's GOP Senate primary, former Congressman Christopher Shays, say it's highly unlikely that McMahon, if elected Connecticut's next senator, could drum up much of the necessary support in gridlocked Washington to get her plan passed.
Murphy's ideas to improve the economy and jobs outlook include simplifying the federal tax code, reinvesting in the infrastructure such as roads and rail, more "buy American" provisions to support onshore manufacturing jobs and strong investments in education to bolster the nation's future workforce.
• Health care
McMahon wants to "repeal and replace" the 2010 Affordable Care Act, often called "Obamacare." She says the law as written is unaffordable and limits freedom. She opposes its individual mandate that will require citizens to buy insurance or face financial penalties.
Murphy is a strong supporter of the national health care law, although he wishes it contained the once-proposed government-run care plan popularly known as a "public option." He believes health care coverage "should be a right, not a privilege available only to those who can afford it."
McMahon wants to see all Bush-era tax cuts extended beyond their scheduled Jan. 1 expiration. She would eliminate the estate tax and enact the tax cuts in her jobs plan. She says she's open to future tax increases on the wealthy once the economy improves, but that revenue must go toward balancing the budget or paying debt.
Murphy agrees with President Obama's plan to extend all Bush-era tax cuts, except those currently benefiting couples making more than $250,000 a year. "I don't think there's any honest way to balance the budget without asking the very wealthy amongst us to pay a little bit more," he said.
McMahon is somewhat skeptical of the theory of human-caused climate change. "I think that there's mixed science on that," she told The Day.
She opposes carbon reduction strategies such as "cap-and-trade," which she considers an energy tax. For economic reasons, she wants to build the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline from Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Environmentalists fear that massive quantities of greenhouse gases would be emitted by extracting and burning the pipeline's oil, among other concerns, exacerbating climate change.
McMahon noted how the country's total carbon emissions have been on a downward trend in recent years. "Which is good news. That's without government interference, that's just the private sector doing what it's done," she said. "And so my goal will be that we become more energy independent by continuing to explore for more oil and natural gas, developing renewables and developing more nuclear."
As congressman, Murphy supported the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, which would have set up a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing carbon emissions. He believes in ending oil company subsidies and giving an economic advantage to renewable energy, but allowing the free-market to determine which renewable technologies succeed.
"Smart energy reform like cap-and-trade would grow jobs in this country, it would make our nation safer and it would help clean up the environment," Murphy said.
He said he fears McMahon would vote with Republicans to change environmental laws. "There doesn't seem to be a day that goes by when [Republicans] don't attempt to weaken the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act or our other sacred environmental protection laws."
• Abortion, contraception
Both McMahon and Murphy support abortion rights and access to birth control.
However, McMahon is opposed to the "partial birth" procedure for terminating a pregnancy and opposes federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is at risk. McMahon also supports the "Blunt amendment," which would allow employers with moral objections to opt out of providing their workers services in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, such as birth control.
"For Linda, the Blunt amendment was not about birth control. She supported it because it was about religious freedom, over-regulation of businesses and the government imposing its will on individual citizens," her campaign said.
• Financial industry regulation
McMahon wants the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill to be amended, as she believes it has increased costs and regulations on the small community banks that many Connecticut small businesses rely on for loans.
McMahon said it is too early for a final verdict, as regulators have yet to write many of the law's rules.
Murphy strongly supported financial industry reform following the panic of 2008. He considers the Dodd-Frank law "a good start."
"McMahon seems to want to go back to the good old days when Wall Street bankers used our money in a casino-style trading operation that helped them and hurt us," he said.
• Stimulus in hindsight
McMahon said that, unlike Murphy, she would not have voted for the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
"The money didn't get into the hands of the people who had the projects ready," McMahon said. "It just got tied up in bureaucratic red tape. So therefore you didn't see it have a positive impact on unemployment, and it had very little impact here on the construction industry in Connecticut."
Murphy believes the stimulus saved the country from deep depression and prevented the nation's unemployment rate from rising further. But he wishes Congress had approved "follow-up measures" to assist the economic recovery, such as approving Obama's American Jobs Act, which called for investment in schools, infrastructure and business hiring incentives.
"Connecticut benefited greatly from the Recovery Act. That bill created and saved a lot of jobs," he said.
• Paul Ryan's budget
The budget plan put forth by Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, now the Republican vice-presidential nominee, passed the House this spring on a party-line vote but was rejected by the Senate. Congressman Murphy voted against the controversial plan, which, among other things, would cut taxes, transition Medicare to a voucher system and balance the budget by 2040. McMahon said she too would vote against the plan if it came before her.
"One of the things that I have said I would not do is support a budget that would decrease funding to Medicare, and this budget did that," she said.
• The filibuster
Murphy, like Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, is in favor of changing the filibuster parliamentary tactic in the Senate that, when used, can allow a minority of senators to prevent a bill from coming to a vote. A supermajority of 60 senators is generally required to break a filibuster.
Members of both parties, most recently the Democrats, have at various times bemoaned the filibuster for impeding the will of the majority.
"We're getting lapped by other nations on energy policy, on health care policy and scientific investment because 40 senators stand in the way of progress," Murphy said.
But McMahon is in favor of preserving the filibuster as is.
"The filibuster is one of those Senate rules that's designed to protect the minority in the Senate. So I guess my hope would be that Sen. Blumenthal would be very appreciative of having the filibuster next year," McMahon said with a laugh, alluding to the prospect of Senate Democrats losing their majority in November.
• War and nuclear Iran
The candidates have comparable views on when the nation should go to war.
"I think that we absolutely only go to war when vital interests of the United States are at stake. And if we go in and we commit to war, we need to have a clear vision for victory with a clear military plan to get there," McMahon said.
Murphy said the country must be facing an immediate threat to go to war, and if possible, should act in multilateral action with other nations.
The candidates feel similarly about a nuclear Iran and support the Obama administration's tough sanctions on the country.
McMahon said the nation cannot allow Iran to field nuclear weapons and should keep "all options on the table."
In Murphy's view "we should have a simple policy that we're not going to allow Iraq to get a nuclear weapon." He added: "But we should keep the military option on the table because the threat posed to the United States by a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed Middle East is grave and significant."