Positions on health care act, global warming and the economy set Senate candidates apart
Hartford - The debates are over in the U.S. Senate race between Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy, yet there is still room in the homestretch to Nov. 6 for substance and policy talk.
The Day asked both candidates to explain their views and positions on a few of the bigger issues facing the nation.
McMahon, the Republican nominee, and Murphy, the Democrat, agreed on a handful of topics, such as continuing two-per-year submarine production at Electric Boat and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
But the candidates disagreed on many other issues: McMahon wants to repeal Obamacare, Murphy wants to keep it; Murphy wants to curb carbon emissions, McMahon is skeptical of human-caused global warming. Other differences are more nuanced.
Both candidates have ideas for jump-starting the sluggish economy and jobs market, although McMahon's proposals are more numerous and elaborate.
The centerpiece of the former WWE executive's campaign is a six-point plan for economic growth. The plan aims to keep in place all Bush-era tax cuts and reduce income taxes further for middle-income earners.
Her plan would simplify the tax code, ending many corporate loopholes, while dropping the federal corporate rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. It would roll back "job-killing" business regulations and let firms deduct 100 percent of capital expenses.
McMahon's critics - including Christopher Shays, her unsuccessful primary opponent - argue that it's unlikely McMahon could get her six-point plan passed in Washington as a freshman senator.
Murphy argues that the tax cuts buffet in McMahon's plan would starve the federal budget of revenue and result in a bigger deficit and exacerbated national debt problems.
McMahon counters that her plan would spur enough economic growth that the tax cuts would pay for themselves. McMahon also backs a balanced-budget amendment and proposes cutting 1 percent each year from the federal budget - defense spending excluded - until it balances.
In interviews and debates, Murphy has said he, too, would simplify the federal tax code and lower the overall corporate rate by closing loopholes, although he hasn't suggested what the new corporate rate should be. He also endorses so-called "buy American" provisions to support more onshore manufacturing jobs.
McMahon would eliminate the 25 percent federal income tax bracket. She would then move to the 15 percent bracket individuals who make between $35,350 and $85,650 a year and married couples making $70,700 to $142,700. And those same middle-income individuals would no longer have to pay taxes on capital gains.
Her plan also would end the gift tax and bring a permanent end to the estate tax, "the cruelest of all taxes," McMahon says. She also would create a temporary exemption from the 10 percent penalty on IRA withdrawals for unemployed people, whenever the national unemployment rate is above 6.5 percent.
Murphy, like President Obama, wants to keep nearly all of the Bush-era tax cuts except those for couples earning more than $250,000 a year and individuals earning more than $200,000. He would then take half of that new tax revenue and spend it on infrastructure investments and education. The other half would go to paying down debt, Murphy said.
McMahon in her unsuccessful 2010 Senate campaign signed the Grover Norquist pledge against any tax increases. But she has not signed the pledge this campaign. "I think it locks you in," she said.
Murphy supports the new 2010 national health care law and wants to keep it. But he wishes it contained a government-run insurance option known as a "public option."
McMahon, like Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, wants to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. She believes the law is unaffordable. McMahon has yet to specify with what she would replace it.
Murphy's campaign has made much of a stray remark McMahon made at a candidates' forum in Waterford earlier this year when she appeared to support "sunset provisions" for Social Security. A sunset provision is a policy-making term for ending a program.
McMahon claims Murphy disingenuously took her remark out of context. She insists she would preserve Social Security and keep benefits for current beneficiaries. She says she wouldn't support "privatizing" the program.
Still, McMahon believes both Social Security and Medicare are on unsustainable long-term trajectories and require tweaking. McMahon has declined to give specific reform ideas, vowing instead to work with fellow lawmakers in a bipartisan fashion to fix the programs.
Murphy suggests raising the cap that exempts income above $110,000 from Social Security taxes. That change, he says, would help the program remain solvent.
McMahon says she believes global climate change is occurring but isn't sure whether carbon emissions from human activity are involved. She doesn't support "cap-and-trade" schemes or a tax on greenhouse gases. As part of her jobs plan, McMahon would support the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline from Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Murphy believes in human-caused climate change. "Those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of man-made climate change are not only failing to protect our environment, they're waging a war on science itself," declares his campaign website.
Murphy supported the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act that would have set up a cap-and-trade system that, in effect, would have made it more expensive to emit greenhouse gases. He supports giving economic advantages to renewable energy, as long as free-market principles determine which renewable technologies succeed.
Financial industry regulation
Murphy considers the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that Congress passed in response to the 2008 financial meltdown as "a good start."
McMahon believes the law went too far and has increased costs and regulations on the small community banks that many small businesses rely on for loans. She would amend the law and "freeze" the many regulations that have yet to be implemented, such as limits on speculative derivatives trading.
Murphy wants to change the Senate's filibuster tactic that, when employed, can allow a minority of senators to stop a bill from coming to a vote. A supermajority of 60 senators is generally required to break a filibuster.
Lawmakers of both parties, particularly Democrats, have at various times lamented the filibuster for halting legislation with majority support.
McMahon prefers keeping the filibuster as is. "The filibuster is one of those Senate rules that's designed to protect the minority," she said.
Abortion, contraception, rape
Both candidates generally support abortion rights and access to birth control in most circumstances. McMahon's positions have more caveats.
McMahon and Murphy oppose the "partial birth" procedure, except in cases when the mother's health is at risk. McMahon opposes federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or for the mother's health.
McMahon also supports the "Blunt Amendment" that would have allowed employers with moral objections to deny birth control coverage to employees.
McMahon told the Hartford Courant's editorial board this month that she believes church-affiliated hospitals should not have to dispense morning-after pills to rape victims. "I think that the religious institution has the right to decide what its policies would be in that case," McMahon said.
Her campaign has since said she supports a 2007 state law requiring an emergency contraception option in such circumstances.
Both McMahon and Murphy say they support gay marriage and favor repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. Although McMahon once preferred to keep the Defense of Marriage Act, she recently changed her mind.
McMahon says she agrees with President Obama's timeline for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Murphy wants the troops home sooner. He voted against two major defense spending bills this year in the House of Representatives because they had open-ended funding for military activities in Afghanistan. The bills, which nevertheless passed the House, also contained funding for two-per-year sub production at EB.
Both candidates say it is imperative that Iran not field nuclear weapons and support the Obama administration's tough sanctions on the country. Murphy has called for drawing "a line in the sand" as Iran apparently progresses toward a nuclear weapon. McMahon said she supports racheting up the current sanctions.