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Friday, May 04 2012 05:00 PM

23rd Congressional District candidates talk health care, economy, foreign policy

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

In the newly-drawn 23rd Congressional District, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is running for his fourth term in Congress. Challenging him are Eric Parker, an auto-parts store manager from Mojave who's registered as a Republican, and Terry Phillips, a Bakersfield journalist and media consultant who's registered without a party affiliation.

The newly-drawn 23rd district includes most of Kern and Tulare counties.

The Californian asked the three men questions on President Barack Obama's health care reform, the economy and other current issues. We asked them to limit their responses to 100 words; responses have been edited to fit that limit.

McCarthy's responses were taken from an interview with The Californian, while Parker and Phillips submitted written responses.

1. If the Supreme Court strikes down the health care reform law, what would you suggest to reform health care?

McCarthy: It (depends on) how they overturn it, whether it's the individual mandate. I would look at making sure pre-existing conditions, kids staying on their parents' (insurance) until they're 26, and looking within the senior element (are retained). But (at) the core, I support repealing Obamacare. If you look at the (Independent Payments Advisory Board -- which can make changes to Medicare without an act of Congress, though Congress can overrule its decisions) what they create -- a panel of 15 unelected people ... if you look at the health care you have today, you won't be able to keep it. To me, that's the core of what this election's going to be about. I support repealing it; my opponent (Terry Phillips) supports keeping it.

Parker: Medicare is a social insurance program funded by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, payroll tax contributions and by the Self-Employment Contributions Act tax. It is a "single payer" health care system for citizens 65 and older. Most people making $45,000 a year pay about $600 a year into the program. If we tripled that to $1,800 a year and kept the $150 to $650 a month we now pay for private for-profit insurance, that would be an average savings of $1,800 a year, using $300 a month as a base. It could be offered to everyone as soon as they start working and contributing.

Phillips: I consider access to basic health services as important as access to basic police and firefighting services. Promoting wellness is in our national interest and is essential to our quality of life. The skyrocketing cost of medical care is the greatest threat to our economy. Implementing a single-payer system is the best way to control expenses. It is the most fair, efficient and affordable method to fund such services. But there should also be a private option. Those who wish to buy supplemental insurance and get more than basic services must have the right to do so.

2. As a member of Congress, how would you advance the Central Valley economically?

McCarthy: You want to protect the strengths of the Valley first -- water ... energy ... (also) our military installations and Mojave, the private aerospace. Then you want to focus on small business. Small business is the greatest creator of jobs in the nation. But the biggest harm for small business is entrance to market, access to capital and regulation. ... The legislation I had passed this year (was) one of the few things that were bipartisan. My bill (the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act) itself got more than 400 votes in the House, dealing with small business access to capital. ... When you focus on key things that help the economy grow, you can still get (bills) through.

Parker: I would push to have the Fed extend bank rates to American-owned and staffed small businesses and start-ups. This would not only help the Central Valley in particular, but it would be a big help to the rest of the state and country in general.

Phillips: The key to economic growth in the Central Valley is education. Our percentages of high school and college graduates are among the lowest in California. As a result, many people are unqualified for the job market. The obvious answer is to improve the performance of public schools. That requires more than lip service. We need to make education a top fiscal priority. I would sponsor legislation providing tax incentives for private enterprise to invest in public education. I would vote to protect Pell Grant funding for college students as well as for universal national service programs to further reduce unemployment.

3. A growing number of voters in California, about one in five now, are registering without a party affiliation. And it's not hard to find voters who are dissatisfied with what they see as increased partisanship in Washington, D.C. How would you balance your party affiliation with those two factors if elected?

McCarthy: You try to solve the problem. The fastest-growing party in California is decline to state because of the dysfunction of California itself. You look within Washington, you try to fundamentally change that, and that's what I've tried to do -- build a philosophical belief that I have that I run upon so voters know what it is, represent my district, and make sure you're at the table to try to get to an agreement.

If you believe in repealing Obamacare, you believe that government is spending too much, you believe in individual freedom, entrepreneurship and liberty, that's my philosophy and my Republican philosophy.

Parker: Part of the job of being a Congressional representative is to protect the rights of all the citizens in their district, not only the rights of those citizens who agree with them. That wouldn't be fair to the rest of the district voters. I will always err on the side of freedom, because it is always the right side of history to be on. We must always look back to history, but never be afraid to make it. A truly free country is sometimes hard to take, but it's the hard that makes it great and makes it the only country I would want to live in.

Phillips: As an unaffiliated voter myself, I share the widespread dissatisfaction with our two major parties. That's why I am running as an independent candidate. The U.S. Government Code of Ethics requires public officials to put loyalty to country ahead of loyalty to party. But most politicians have a financial incentive to make partisan decisions, leading to government gridlock. Incumbents spend too much time fundraising and not enough time legislating. Their votes often favor the interests of campaign contributors rather than most constituents -- or our country. If elected, I would propose serious campaign finance reform to end this institutionalized corruption.

4. What is the biggest foreign policy concern facing the United States?

McCarthy: An unsafe world. More importantly is where we stand. Will we stand with our friends? Because our friends begin to question whether we'll stand with them, which empowers our enemies to challenge our friends even greater. The other question is, is America going to keep the opinion of being a world leader? Ever since America became the world leader, since World War II, there's never been World War III. By doing so though, we've had to engage in conflict, which protects the rest of the world.

Parker: I think our biggest foreign policy concerns have to be our foreign trade agreements. I think we need to revisit all of them in general and the ones with China in particular. We need to make fair trade policies instead of free trade policies, with the emphasis on our country's manufacturing health being at the forefront. We need to start putting our own country first, if we want our country's economic health to improve.

Phillips: Ironically, our biggest foreign concern is also a domestic concern. America lacks a long-term, effective energy policy. Our dependence on the globalized oil market makes us vulnerable to instability around the world. At the same time, climate change threatens the very existence of our species. We urgently need to develop clean, sustainable domestic energy sources. I would also encourage programs to increase the supply and lower the cost of fuel. That would help make us more self-reliant and protect our environment. Above all, we need to be innovative and plan for the future. Yesterday's thinking will not work tomorrow.

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