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Candidates Plead Their Cases
Domestic Policy Issues
Should the health care legislation passed this year be repealed?
Sestak: Our bill wasn't perfect, but it represents a step in the right direction. It will prevent insurers from dropping those with "pre-existing conditions"; close the donut hole that has forced seniors to pay exorbitant drug costs; allow young people to stay on parents' insurance until age 26; prohibit discrimination against women; and offer free preventive exams. My opponent would get rid of all of that.
Moving forward, we must continue to reduce costs and enhance care by removing the anti-trust exemption that allows insurance companies to collude on pricing, by improving electronic record systems that reduce errors and by encouraging biomedical research.
Toomey: Among other things, the new health care law does real harm to Medicare, and puts the government in between patients and their doctors in a very dangerous way. I favor repealing it, and replacing it with common-sense reforms that will lower health costs and increase choices. Individuals should receive the favorable tax treatment as employers when buying health insurance; people should be able to buy health care across state lines to force health insurance companies to compete and lower costs; and we should have lawsuit reform to reduce the cost of defensive medicine and keep the best doctors in Pennsylvania.
Should Social Security be saved, or is there a better way of providing federal retirement benefits?
Toomey: First and foremost, we must protect Social Security, and those that have paid into the system should get the benefits they were promised. That's why I sponsored legislation to protect Social Security from Washington's big spenders when I was in Congress. But in order for Social Security to remain viable for future generations, we need reforms. Younger workers should be given the option of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a personal savings account where they can accumulate retirement savings at a higher rate of return.
Sestak: Social Security lifts 20 million seniors out of poverty, including 700,000 Pennsylvanians.
But my opponent would break this commitment to our seniors. Congressman Toomey has called for Social Security to be privatized. His plan would allow workers to invest benefits on Wall Street, gutting Social Security and exposing seniors to an extraordinary amount of risk because they rely on the younger generations.
We cannot allow Wall Street to gamble with our retirement security. I understand that we must preserve -- not privatize -- this critical program, to ensure that it remains solvent and able to provide full benefits for generations to come.
Should Congress enact immigration legislation similar to the bill passed in Arizona?
Sestak: Immigration is a federal issue. The failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform has led to a situation in which states such as Arizona feel compelled to take drastic action. Arizona's new law is wrong, not only because it regulates a federal matter, but also because its enforcement will inherently be prejudicial.
My approach begins with securing our borders, and implementing an employer verification system. Then, we can begin to address the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in our country by giving them one opportunity to come out of the shadows, with background checks and fines, among other appropriate measures.
Toomey: Illegal immigration is a very serious problem in our country, and Washington has utterly failed to address it. In Pennsylvania, we're not at such a crisis point where we need to take the kind of steps that Arizona did, but the federal government must work to address the problem of illegal immigration by strengthening our borders and creating an expanded guest-worker program so that states like Arizona do not have to take matters into their own hands.
Foreign Policy Issues
Should Israel extend its settlement freeze as the Obama administration is requesting? How important is it that Israel and the Palestinians get back to the negotiating table?
Toomey: Existing settlements are part of the landscape for a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but no one knows when such an agreement will be reached. In the meantime, natural population growth in those settlements should not be a matter of international dispute. Israel has a right to accommodate and defend this natural growth.
Peace talks are important so long as the Palestinians are genuinely interested in peace. Too often, these talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders.
Sestak: I was encouraged by the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and believe they should continue without preconditions. Open channels of communication are critical for building relationships of trust. I hope both sides will act in good faith to help foster peace.
Our country has a huge stake in these negotiations. An Israel at peace is in our vital interest, so we should play a key role in facilitating dialogue. But we must not dictate terms of the agreement, since it's Israelis and Palestinians who will have to live with the results.
Would you support the current $3 billion military aid package to Israel if and when it comes before Congress next year as part of the foreign aid bill?
Sestak: Absolutely. I have always voted for military and foreign aid to Israel, unlike my opponent. U.S. aid to Israel is critical to the very survival of the Jewish State. Aid forces Israel's enemies to realize that there is no alternative to negotiation. Ending or greatly decreasing it would be seen as abandonment of Israel.
My opponent has voted against it seven times to the tune of $15 billion in military and economic aid, claiming he had a problem with the larger bills. But we cannot afford a senator who will sacrifice assistance for Israel because of his rigid, uncompromising mindset.
Toomey: American military aid to, and military cooperation with, Israel serves multiple beneficial purposes. It helps Israel defend itself against its enemies. It provides America with a reliable location for military activities in the region. And it contributes to mutually beneficial military technological advances, such as in missile defense, and aircraft design and manufacture. Furthermore, unlike many other countries that are recipients of U.S. foreign aid, Israel is, year after year, a consistent supporter of American positions in the United Nations and other international forums. U.S. military aid to Israel is clearly beneficial to U.S. taxpayers, and it must continue.
Are sanctions against Iran working? What else needs to be done to ensure that Iran doesn't attain nuclear weapons? What should America's response be if Israel decides to "go it alone" to strike Iran?
Toomey: A nuclear-armed Iran would pose an unacceptable threat to Israel, the United States and its allies. Merely talking with Iran is not sufficient, and our current approach appears not to be working. As a member of Congress, I supported efforts to put strong pressure on Iran, and today, we should impose the most aggressive possible sanctions against the Iranian regime. These sanctions might not succeed, but certainly, in their absence, Iran will become a nuclear power. Israel is right to be concerned about Iran, and the United States should support Israel in her efforts to stymie Iran's nuclear-weapons program.
Sestak: Iran must never acquire nuclear weapons.
We must now continue rallying international pressure for aggressive sanctions and robust diplomatic efforts. I have supported every sanctions bill during my time in Congress. There is a growing consensus, even among China and Russia, that Iran must not have nuclear capabilities, and U.S. military force should not be taken off the table as an option.
Any nation has a right to defend itself if threatened. It is incumbent on us to make all efforts to ensure Israel's security in any scenario. I am familiar with the available strike options, and Israel isn't capable of a successful strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure without U.S. assistance.
Should the United States be working to bring Israel and Syria together?
Sestak: Syria is an undemocratic police state. Its decades-long role in Lebanon was devastating to that country -- and terrible for Israel as well. While many do see signs of change in the current regime, its role in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and their harboring terrorists make me very skeptical of the Assad regime.
At the same time, neither Egypt nor Jordan are beacons of freedom themselves, yet Israel's peace agreements with both countries have proved very beneficial to Israel and the region. Therefore, if Israel supports it -- and Syria shows true determination to recognize Israel as a state, and respect its sovereignty and security -- the United States should work to bring Israel and Syria together in a peaceful accommodation.
Toomey: The United States should not pressure Israel to engage in negotiations or make concessions that are harmful to her security. Instead of pushing for talks that treat the two states as equals, the United States should push Syria to crack down on home-grown terrorists and to cut off ties with the Lebanon-based terrorist group, Hezbollah. If and when Israel sees it in her interest to negotiate with Syria, then the United States can and should play a constructive role in facilitating those talks.
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What is the best reason why a Jewish voter in Pennsylvania should vote for you on Nov. 2?
Toomey: I will always stand up for Israel's right to defend herself, and will not be shy in castigating Israel's enemies who try to undermine her security or pressure her to make harmful concessions. Unlike my opponent, I will not legitimize anti-Israel groups in the United States, and I will encourage our government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
More broadly, in these times of high unemployment and historic deficits, I will apply my background as a small businessman to bring jobs to Pennsylvania and fiscal responsibility to Washington. I also hope to bring some balance to a government that has become too partisan and too extreme.
Sestak: Not only will I always steadfastly support Israel -- as my background proves -- but I also will put Pennsylvania first, ahead of special interests, recognizing that small businesses and the middle class determine our economic prosperity. I want to invest in them, while Congressman Toomey always prioritizes Wall Street and large corporations. He even wants to eliminate big corporation taxes altogether, adding $225 billion to the debt each year.
I respect my opponent, but Pennsylvania doesn't need a Senator from the extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican Party who until this campaign led efforts to purge moderates from his party.