WBUR editor’s note: Where does Ed Markey stand on amending the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester? What about Gabriel Gomez on immigration reform?
Over the past six weeks, State House News Service has published four Q&A excerpts with the Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidates. Here, in reverse chronological order, are the written SHNS policy questions and the candidates’ verbatim replies:
From June 24
QUESTION: Do you believe the public had a right to know about the National Security Agency’s previously secret spying programs, such as Prism, and as senator what would you do to protect the country’s secrets and alternately ensure that the public is informed about its government’s activities?
MARKEY: We must be tough on terrorism, but not trample on the Constitution. And I’ve fought to strike that critical balance. After last month’s horrific attacks in Boston, the people of Massachusetts know firsthand how important it is that we do everything in our power to find anyone responsible and prevent such an attack from happening again. But I’m also the co-founder of the Privacy Caucus.
Over the past 20 years, I have written the major privacy laws protecting Americans’ financial records and health information. I am the author of the bipartisan legislation [to] prevent companies and advertisers from tracking kids online. I’ve introduced the Mobile Device Privacy Act. Consumers should know and have the choice to say no to software on their mobile devices that transmits their personal and sensitive information.
We have to protect the information of millions of innocent Americans. We have to make sure the cell phones that millions of Americans use do not become tools that the FBI and CIA have access to. Technology is neither good nor bad. We have to make sure we infuse our new technologies with the values of Americans on privacy. I’m committed to making sure that all of our intelligence gathering – whether done through phones, social media, or simple searches – is done with strict oversight and in full compliance with our Constitution and our way of life.
GOMEZ: We must strike a delicate balance between public disclosure and our nation’s security. I do believe the public has a right to know about programs that are broadly collecting personal data, provided disclosure does not put any lives in danger. I do think we should take steps to ensure that we don’t have other situations like what has happened with Edward Snowden – true whistleblowers should be protected and those that betray our nation’s secrets should be brought to justice.
QUESTION: What steps, if any, should Congress take to address the situation where the Internal Revenue Service was targeting Tea Party groups for heightened scrutiny in its non-profit approval process?
MARKEY: The President was right to fire Acting IRS Director Steven Miller and accept the resignation of Joseph Grant. The President is outraged and wants there to be full responsibility. I support him in holding everyone fully accountable for this unacceptable activity. Whoever did this should be found and fired.
We need a full investigation of this situation. The IRS cannot be used in a way that undermines American principles of fairness and lack of discrimination. When any group is unfairly targeted or singled out, it is outrageous and unacceptable.
Americans deserve a tax system and agency that is dedicated to fairness and blind to politics. It’s obvious there were serious and outrageous lapses in judgment and actions at this division of the IRS.
GOMEZ: There needs to be more accountability in Washington, not just at the IRS, but for the whole federal government. Americans should feel confident that their government is protecting the rights of citizens, not infringing on them. The President and Congress both have a responsibility to hold the government accountable. I’m glad Congress is investigating this matter so that we can determine who knew this discrimination was going on, who (if anyone) ordered it to occur, and how we prevent it from happening again. When our government is so big that everyone involved in a scandal can point their finger at someone else and no one seem to be responsible, it’s a problem. We deserve better from our government.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
QUESTION: What changes, if any, would you make to the Affordable Care Act or other areas of the nation’s health care laws?
MARKEY: I was proud to vote for President Obama’s healthcare law. It ensures that every child has access to health care. It ensures that if you have a pre-existing condition, that the insurance company cannot deny you insurance coverage. It prevents insurance companies from charging women more than men for the same health plan. All Americans deserve these basic patient protections.
But that doesn’t mean we’re done. I was opposed to including a tax on medical devices in the bill and I will stand with Senator Warren and Governor Patrick in supporting a repeal of this tax. But, to make up for it, we have to make sure it’s paid for in a way that doesn’t harm middle class families or their health care benefits.
Also, we need to keep fighting to control the high cost of health care. I will ensure that Massachusetts remains a leader in finding creative ways to lower costs while improving quality of care.
GOMEZ: I will have two priorities when it comes to the Affordable Care Act: one, to repeal the medical device tax, which affects one of our state’s top industries, employing 25,000 people. Two, to secure a permanent waiver for Massachusetts from the ACA. The Massachusetts health care law is working – virtually all residents are insured and we’re beginning to get costs under control. A number of provisions of the ACA threaten to undue (sic) the work we’ve done in Massachusetts, making health insurance more costly for businesses and individuals. Everywhere I go, small business owners are anxious about the implementation of the ACA and fear they will have to lay off employees. In the state that led the way on healthcare reform, that’s just not right.
From June 11
QUESTION: The Massachusetts fishing industry is in economic straits, as federal regulators say there has been a severe drop in the amount of cod and other fish, while the fishing fleet’s skippers and their advocates say the regulators are basing the catch-limit on faulty science. What should the federal government do, and what should it not do to address this situation?
GOMEZ: I stand with the Attorney General [Martha Coakley] for standing up for these fishermen and suing regulators in Washington D.C. who think they know or care more about the ocean than the fishermen who make their lives from it. I’ve sat with the fishermen in New Bedford and Gloucester. They described how their way of life is being threatened and drastic catch limits being imposed by NOAA will bankrupt a proud livelihood that has been a part of our coastal economy since before there was a Massachusetts. This program currently relies on flawed science and overreaching regulations that don’t account for the regional economic impact.
Local fishermen don’t want welfare, they want to be allowed to work.
MARKEY: Massachusetts fishermen and their families are hurting right now. I recently sat down with fishermen in Gloucester, and they told me how they need more help. I’ve heard that in New Bedford, on the Cape, and around the fishing communities of Massachusetts.
First of all, we need to give our fishermen economic assistance right now. The federal government declared our fishery an economic disaster. Yet when Congressmen Keating, Tierney and I offered three different proposals to Republicans to fund relief efforts, they wouldn’t even allow a vote on any of them.
We need to push NOAA and our other fisheries managers to give more flexibility to our fishermen. I successfully lobbied with other members of Congress to force NOAA to allow carryover of catch quotas from 2012 to 2013, and to pay for at-sea monitoring costs.
In the long-term, we need to ensure that the best science is being used, in collaboration with fishing communities. We need more frequent stock assessments. And we need to have a better understanding of what is changing in the ocean environment so we can better plan and help fishermen and their families.
QUESTION: Do you support Cape Wind? What role should the federal government play in either speeding the project toward completion or taking other action?
GOMEZ: I support an “all the above” approach to finding renewable energy solutions to cut our dependence on foreign oil, but this program is a perfect example of what happens when government interferes with private sector growth and innovation without the support of the local community. Cape Wind has become a bureaucratic mess that does not deliver reliable energy at a competitive cost per kilowatt hour.
MARKEY: Yes, I absolutely support Cape Wind. It will herald the offshore wind revolution here in the United States, and as with many revolutions in America, it will start here in Massachusetts. Offshore wind energy will create a new generation of clean energy jobs and fight climate change, two important priorities for our economy and environment.
I pushed the Obama administration to speed up the process for Cape Wind, and they have responded with an aggressive program to develop this and other offshore wind energy. In fact, the first competitive lease sale for offshore wind will occur in just a couple months, offering areas off of Massachusetts and Rhode Island for even more vital wind development. The Obama administration took my suggestions for an auction process that speeds up development by considering multiple factors for lease sales, including whether companies have agreements to sell power and work with states to develop wind farms.
MODEL SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
QUESTION: If elected, you very well may have a chance to vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. What past or current Supreme Court justice is the paragon example of what a judge should be?
GOMEZ: Chief Justice John Roberts.
MARKEY: Justice Stephen Breyer, whose aggressive focus on substantive data as support for his decisions has been an enduring contribution to the Court.
From May 24
INTERNET SALES TAX
QUESTION: How would you have voted on the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require large businesses that sell products online to collect and remit state sales taxes?
GOMEZ: “The “Marketplace Fairness Act” would be anything but fair, increasing costs to consumers and imposing more regulations on businesses. There are nearly 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States; complying with this law would be a nightmare for Main Street and I would have voted against it.
MARKEY: We need to level the playing field for Main Street retailers in Massachusetts and throughout the country. That’s why I would have voted for the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow brick-and-mortar businesses in the Commonwealth to better compete against out-of-state Internet sellers. The legislation would also allow Massachusetts to collect much needed revenue from sellers that reside outsides of the Commonwealth’s borders. The law also ensures that truly small businesses that sell their products online – those with receipts under a million dollars – will be exempt. I commend the Senate for passing this bipartisan legislation, and hope the House can quickly take action to help the businesses in our communities compete fairly and thrive.
QUESTION: What would an immigration bill need to include to receive your support and conversely what elements of an immigration bill would be deal-breakers for you?
GOMEZ: Serious immigration reform starts with securing our borders. I do not support blanket amnesty and I believe illegal immigrants with criminal records should be deported. I support immigration reform which provides a path to legal status for those willing to work hard and commit to the ideals of America. That path would contain elements like passing a criminal background check, paying back-taxes and learning English.
MARKEY: Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to help the Massachusetts and American economy continue to grow. Our broken immigration system deprives highly skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants the opportunity to build their businesses here and enrich our neighborhoods, instead forcing them to construct their companies abroad. It also leaves high tech employers and universities throughout Massachusetts struggling to find qualified workers to fill new positions. That’s why we need to increase the cap on visas for high skilled immigrants. We also need to ensure that Dream Act youth – children who are brought to this country through no fault of their own — who strive to embody everything it means to be an American, should have a quick path to citizenship. Finally, we need to create a path to citizenship for the millions people who are in this country without authorization, but must ensure this path is not overly punitive.
EPA NOMINATION CONFIRMATION
QUESTION: How would you vote on a confirmation hearing for Massachusetts native Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency? McCarthy is currently assistant administrator for air and radiation and has served under Gov. Mitt Romney. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said McCarthy received “a staggering 1,120 questions questions,” more than any other nominee in a confirmation process, and said Republicans practiced obstructionism by boycotting a meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which was unable to achieve a quorum when it was scheduled to vote on her nomination. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly said the Obama administration has continued to “stonewall” Republican questions about “job-killing regulations.”
GOMEZ : As a Senator, I would have a high threshold for determining a president’s nominee was unfit to be confirmed; based on what I know, Gina McCarthy certainly seems qualified for the job. That said, I am concerned about agencies such as the EPA exceeding their authority and setting bad policy. If I am elected, I would support increased oversight and accountability for these agencies.
MARKEY: I’ve known Gina McCarthy for years. She’s worked for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. She is fair, she is tough, and she is smart. Republicans in the Senate are yet again choosing to be obstructive instead of productive, working in lock step with each other to block another capable nominee who will protect our air, water and climate. I would absolutely vote for Gina’s confirmation, and stop these Republican games that distract from the real work that needs to happen to help the American people.
From May 7
EXPANDED GUN BACKGROUND CHECKS
QUESTION: Do you support the Manchin-Toomey amendment for expanded background checks for gun purchases?
GOMEZ: I support the second amendment and the entire bill of rights for that matter. I did support the bi-partisan Manchin-Toomey proposal and was sorry to see it fail in the Senate. I do support closing the gun show loophole for background checks. It’s just plain common sense. I really don’t know why the NRA opposes doing this, they are just wrong. And we simply must do all we can to prevent mentally ill, unstable, or deranged people from getting their hands on weapons. Over 20 states do not even send information that they possess on mentally deficient individuals to the fed database for background checks. That has to change. And of course, we must not take away freedom for law abiding citizens in this process.
MARKEY: While I would vote for the Manchin-Toomey amendment to close the gunshow loophole, I believe we need even stronger gun reforms to protect our citizens, and keep our cities and streets safe. Unlike my opponent Gabriel Gomez, who opposes universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines, I will go to the Senate and stand up to the gun lobby, and lead the fight to pass commonsense gun reforms.
(Note: This question was posed before the United States said it had “high confidence” the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons and, as a result, the U.S. is prepared to offer Syrian rebels military assistance.)
QUESTION: Is there sufficient evidence that Assad has crossed the “red line” and used chemical weapons, and is that a reason for U.S. military involvement in Syria?
GOMEZ: I’m with John McCain on this, it seems we have the evidence we need that Syria has used these terrible weapons and I do support certain steps to make sure that these atrocities don’t continue. Committing troops however should always be our very last resort, but at this point we should at least send equipment and intelligence to the people we trust in the Syrian resistance opposing Assad. America is the beacon of freedom in a dangerous world full of tyrants like Assad.
MARKEY: I continue to support Secretary Kerry and his efforts to build a coalition with our allies to end the conflict in Syria. The United States should continue to work with the international community to increase pressure on the Assad regime to step down and begin the transition to democracy. We need a closer examination of potential targets in Syria that could be hit from the air, including delivery vehicles such as missiles and aircraft, which could be used to transport chemical weapons. If Hezbollah put down its weapons, there would be no more war. If Israel put down its weapons, there would be no more Israel. Israel is right to worry about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining dangerous weapons. Israel is also right to defend itself against threats from terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah.
AMENDING THE SEQUESTER
QUESTION: Congress recently amended the so-called sequester law to send more funding to the FAA. Should other areas of the sequester law be changed, and how should that be done?
GOMEZ: We should replace the sequester with common-sense spending cuts that aren’t as arbitrary. The government can and should tighten its belt and reduce spending, just like families and small businesses have to do quite often. The way the current sequester is written it has to be applied across the board and doesn’t leave any flexibility within agencies or departments to shift the cuts to areas where they can afford to make cuts. I believe there are several bills in front of the Congress right now that would solve that problem and I support them. I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to find common ground on getting our spending under control. The entire sequester gambit was created by politicians in Washington who wanted to push off their responsibilities until after last year’s election. It’s an irresponsible way to run the government.
MARKEY: I voted against the sequester because I believed it was a bad course for our economy and our nation. The entire sequester should be repealed and replaced with smart cuts that don’t hurt working families, seniors and our kids. We need to close corporate tax loopholes, crack down on offshore tax evasion and end tax breaks for things like private jets and yachts. We should end taxpayer-funded subsidies to Big Oil, which add to the debt, weaken our nation’s energy security and undermine our ability to invest in clean energy. We need to make targeted, smart cuts to our defense budget by cutting nuclear weapons programs we no longer need. And we should build on cost-saving proposals to Medicare.