U.S. congressional candidates debate at Barnhart forum

Stimulus package, free trade discussed by four candidates

By MIKE ANTHONY

Three candidates seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat in the Nov. 4 election favor privatizing Social Security while Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan opposes such a proposal.

Whether to privatize Social Security was among the issues discussed by Libertarian Kevin Babcock of St. Louis, Carnahan of St. Louis, Constitution Party candidate Cindy Redburn of Concord and Republican Chris Sander of Ellisville during a forum in Barnhart sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Besides Social Security, the candidates discussed a myriad of issues, including whether they supported another economic-stimulus package and free-trade agreements, at the Oct. 16 forum that drew roughly 60 people.

The candidates were asked if Social Security should be privatized.

Babcock said, “… I am a Libertarian and yes I believe that … Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. It was sold to us as something other than what it is currently. First of all, there is no trust fund. When they tell you — when politicians tell you there’s a trust fund locked away, it’s a lie. The money has been borrowed by the federal government and spent and the only way to replace the trust fund is to tax future generations at ever-increasing rates.

“And the number of retirees from the baby-boom generation versus the number of workers is going up. Therefore, it takes more and more workers where their paycheck goes directly to support current retirees. I would eliminate Social Security for all future retirees. You’d have to start saving for your retirement now and for current retirees and people close to retirement, I would sell government assets that they don’t have any business owning like the state of Nevada and buy annuities for them.”

Redburn said, “Social Security is not constitutionally authorized in the original Constitution and under the powers of Congress. I believe that our Social Security system is in deep trouble. I was reading an article today that said that we are going to have to come up with $7 trillion in the next 75 years to meet the obligations — the money is not there. I believe that we should start now phasing out Social Security, meet the obligations of the people who are in it and then begin privatizing it.

“It has never been the responsibility and should never be the responsibility of government to guarantee retirement. That is an individual personal responsibility.”

Sander said, “… I agree that it should be privatized — absolutely. What most people don’t understand is that with your money going to the federal government, it’s not going to Social Security. It’s going to everything else and the current money earns one-half of one-half of a percent. If you would allow people to take that money and start putting it in other, different forms in the open market, whether it be a mutual fund or a stock or whatever you want it to be, your greater return is going to be far greater than what it has been over the life that the government holds it. But I also agree that we need to start phasing it out, allow people to accept the responsibility for their own retirement and their own future and start phasing it out gradually because let’s face it folks, if you’re 40 years of age or younger, it’s gone. It’s not going to be there when you get there and just as Mr. Babcock said, it’s a lie. It’s not there anymore.”

Carnahan said, “I’m so glad I get to talk about this. President Bush proposed a privatization scheme in 2005. It was a bad idea then. It’s a bad idea now. Think of what would happen had the Social Security of millions of Americans been invested in the stock market back in 2005. What a mess that would be. I am opposed to it. I would fight it.

“Social Security’s been rated one of the most efficient programs in the government. It’s never missed a payment and it has protected thousands, if not millions of seniors from going into poverty. So again, it’s a vital program. We have to keep it sound and secure. It does need reform to improve its longevity. Right now, it can make all its payments for the next half a century. So it’s not bankrupt today, but it does for long term need to be reformed.”

The congressional candidates were asked if they would support another stimulus package.

Carnahan said, “The economic relief package that was passed already is not going to solve all of our problems. I think we do need to look at additional economic-stimulus plans when Congress comes back the week of Nov. 17th. As expected, they will look at options and what could be done. One of the ideas I like the most that has been discussed is major investments in infrastructure in terms of our crumbling highways, bridges — all that infrastructure. This is — we don’t have to speculate whether this works.

“This was done after the Great Depression in terms of rebuilding our economy and creating jobs at a time when they’re desperately needed. I think something like that today could be very helpful to our country in growing out of this economic crisis.”

Babcock said, “I’m against the idea of an economic-stimulus package if it means mailing me a check for $300. I’d rather eliminate the income tax and let us keep all our money and stimulate the economy that way. But we can’t borrow and spend … our way out of all our economic problems. And yes, the government did try this during the Great Depression and it probably prolonged the Depression by quite a bit. So the fact that we can take our own tax money and spend our way out of this problem and all of our problems will be solved if we go out and spend, spend, spend, I think is ridiculous and it’s wrong. We need to live within our means. We’ve been getting in trouble by borrowing too much money and spending money we don’t have, so that’s not the solution.”

Redburn said, “It is absolutely not the solution and I agree with everything that Mr. Babcock has stated that we cannot spend and borrow our way to economic success.

“We need to stop spending money in our government. It needs to come to a halt and then once we halt the spending, then we can begin to operate in a free-market economy and begin to bring prosperity back to our country. The solutions of economic stimuluses are pointless and useless. The last one was an absolute joke and it is not the answer to the problems.”

Sander said, “Totally disagree with the stimulus — completely disagree with it. The way to turn this economy around is to create an atmosphere that is conducive for business and this is one thing that you won’t hear any of the politicians talking about: Cut taxes. If you cut taxes, especially the corporate tax, down to a rate of somewhere in the neighborhood of about 15 percent, you will create an atmosphere that is conducive for business. You will bring investment back in to this country. You will bring the jobs that have left this country back in to this country and you will create an economic stimulus without the government having to get involved and hand out jobs to people who would rather be working in the private sector than to be on the hook for the federal government.”

The candidates were asked, “What would you do to stop the new world order and restore our republic? Would you work to abolish the dangerous free-trade agreements?”

Sander said, “Absolutely. I believe in free trade, but I believe in fair trade and unfortunately I believe that our government to this point, the trade agreements that they’ve put in place are not fair. You can use the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) deal. You can talk about the CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) deal that’s now coming up. You can also talk about the Korean trade agreement. Just as an example, look at our car industry. Our automobile industry has been decimated because our government did not protect our automobile manufacturers. Our vehicles, in comparison to the Japanese vehicles, Japanese vehicles are subsidized to the tune of almost $4,000, which automatically puts us in a bind and it puts us at a deficit. Those things need to change. We need to go back and revise these agreements and look at it and make sure that it protects our country. And it’s in our best interest and not in the best interest of other countries.”

Carnahan said, “I have opposed the so-called free-trade agreements. What we’ve seen is a race to the bottom in this country. We’ve seen manufacturers and jobs leaving. First they went south to south of the border. Then they went to Asia and many went to China. And what did we get? We got tainted and deadly drugs. We got lead in toys. We got milk products that are killing people and affecting children over there. And again, that race to the bottom, we’ve got to have safety standards and labor standards and environmental standards. Those kind of fair provisions that not only have to be written in the agreements, but we have to have an administration that actually enforces what’s written. That’s been one of the problems with the Bush Administration that I’ve been so upset about. So my hope is that a new administration will actually enforce trade deals and be tough and look out for our interests for a change.”

Babcock said, “Well, I’m against things like the North American Free Trade Agreement only because it’s thousands of pages of legislation that you don’t need to have free trade. If you want to have free trade, you have free trade and I am for free trade. Protectionism doesn’t work in the long run. You can protect the auto industry for so long, but eventually they’re going to have to compete with the rest of the world. We do have a world economy, whether you like it or not and I think American workers with their productivity can compete on the world scene and I don’t buy the fact that we need protection. And it’s not going to work in the long run and therefore I say we have free trade, but we don’t give up our sovereign-nation status. We don’t have other countries writing our laws for us. I’m against that part of the North America Free Trade Agreement because we are our own nation and we don’t need thousands of pages of legislation to tell us what free trade is. That’s not free trade.”

Redburn said, “I also would be opposed to all these acts. First of all, they’re unconstitutional. We also have a president who has been pursuing agreements … the Security and Prosperity Partnership with Mexico and Canada, which is just a stepping stone to bring us — all of these are stepping stones, incremental steps to take us to a North American union, which our sovereignty would be lost. These are the steps that were applied in Europe, taking them to a European union. Our sovereignty should be protected … I would seek to disband from the United Nations.”