|Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and challenger Barry Hinckley at WPRI debate.
In a one-hour debate heavy on substance and policies, RI Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse articulated his position as a reasonable legislator and champion of the middle class, while challenger Barry Hinckley staked out the turf of a tax-cutting free-marketeer. Moderator Tim White of WPRI was joined by panelists Ted Nesi and Providence Journal reporter Ed Fitzpatrick, and they kept the discussion moving and focused.
Hinckley ran out of time in his opening statement in his rush get in a snarky comment about his position on stage: "I'm little uncomfortable being to your left — I didn't think that was possible." He then spent the rest of his time attacking Obamacare as a "2000-page entitlement program" and saluting unrestrained capitalism.
The Roberts decision on Obamacare was the Supreme Court decision he mentioned when asked which one he'd like to overturn, and he identified his favorite justice as Clarence Thomas.
"The problem with Social Security," Hinckley said, "is that it's managed by the government, not actuaries." If it were turned over to actuaries, he argued, "It could be solved in an afternoon."
He totally dismissed public education. "The government has had a monopoly on primary and secondary education," and was doing such a poor job that he proposed vouchers, which he compared to Pell Grants. "If it's a grant for college, why wouldn't it be a grant [for elementary education]?"
Whitehouse, by contrast, reinforced the need to invest in American workers ("Innovation, manufacturing, and infrastructure — that's where I've put a lot of my work.") and protect middle-class families.
Rather than cutting Medicare benefits, Whitehouse stressed the importance of moderating the growth of health care costs. He noted progress by providers like Rhode Island's Coastal Medical, which recently became a participant in the Medicare Shared Savings program. Whitehouse warned about the effects of "extreme" Republican budgets like the Ryan plan that would impact Medicaare.
He chided Congressional Republicans for refusing to extend the Bush tax cuts for income less than $250K. "They're objecting to it because it lets the middle class 'get away.'" At the same time, he noted, local companies like CVS are paying a 35% tax rate, while corporations like Carnival Cruises, GE, and oil companies take advantage of loopholes. "We need a tax code that's fairer and simpler," he said, but stressed that any changes had to be done "in the context of the deficit."
When asked for a Supreme Court decision he would overturn, Whitehouse cited Citizens United, and he said he admired Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
While Hinckley closed with yet another business pitch ("Wipe away the labels D and R," he said. "I signed over 15k paychecks. I know what goes into a paycheck.") Whithouse reiterated his commitment to defend Medicare and Social Security and protect the middle class from "tax schemes." Said Whitehouse, "I will keep the faith with you on these issues."
Full disclosure: In case it's not obvious, I'm a Democrat and a supporter of Sen. Whitehouse. But despite my admitted Democratic blind spot, I just have no clue how anyone could equate Pell Grants with school vouchers. That is either ignorant of how education funding works, or calculatedly cynical. And turning social security over to unchecked market forces? "Solved in an afternoon?" Brrr. It really struck me, listening to Hinckley, just exactly how much government is *not* a business. I don't want my retirement security appearing as the highlighted cell of low-hanging fruit in some CFO's spreadsheet. I don't want a *boss,* I want a Senator.