From taxes to health care: Kuster vs. Negron on the issues

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster speaks about her mother Susan McLane interactions with the Birches in Concord during a discussion at the facility on Friday, April 20, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Rep. Ann Kuster talks to members of the media following a campaign stop with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in Concord on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2018 file photo, New Hampshire Republicans Stewart Levenson, left, and state Rep. Steve Negron participate in the 2nd Congressional District debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Levenson conceded the race to Negron in the Sept. 11 Republican primary. (Thomas Roy/The Union Leader via AP, Pool, File) Thomas Roy

  • Annie Kuster and Steve Negron at a NHPR debate last week. Paul Steinhauser

Monitor staff
Published: 10/29/2018 6:17:49 PM

There’s one area where Steve Negron is happy to stand up to President Donald Trump. But it isn’t one that Democrats are likely thrilled about.

After a sweeping federal tax cut package passed last year – championed by the president and supported by Negron – projections from the Congressional Budget Office say the change will add $1.8 trillion in federal deficits by 2028.

Negron, the Republican nominee in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, says the problem is real, and the answer is clear: cuts to existing programs to bridge the gap.

And he says it’s a fight he’s happy to take to the president.

“If I had an opportunity to sit down with the president, I would say ‘Thank you for the tax cuts but you have not done enough, and we need to do more when it comes down to debt reduction,’ ” he said at a meeting with the Monitor editorial board this month.

“We can’t just claim a victory lap, because this debt is looming over us.”

It’s a strong contrast to his Democratic opponent, incumbent Rep. Annie Kuster, who has pledged to roll back some – but not all – of the cuts. And it’s a contrast that does as much as anything to capture the choice voters face in this sprawling district, which spans from Coos County to Nashua and was Republican-held as recently as 2012.

Negron says when it comes to the tax cuts, lowering the rates was never meant to be the last step. Matching rate cuts with spending cuts is a necessary part of a fiscally conservative balance, one that should always have been expected with the tax bill, he said.

And though Trump has done little since the tax cuts to focus on the deficit, it is Congress, Negron said, that should force that as a priority.

Kuster sees it differently. The deficit is critical, she argues. But fighting it should be achieved by raising revenue, not cutting programs.

In her own editorial board interview this month, the Congresswoman stopped short of endorsing a reported plan by Rep. Richard Neal to restore the 39-percent tax rate on the highest earners, but she did call it “the right place to start,” emphasizing that these are taxes the wealthy “used to pay.”

In the meantime, Kuster is looking to “reevaluate the tax law” to better serve the middle class, and cut loopholes to fossil fuel companies and subsidies to large commercial farms, and increase the cap on Social Security contributions to bring in more revenue.

Meanwhile, the impact of the tax cuts, she argued, has diminished the authority of the other side.

“I don’t think Republicans have any credibility talking about debt and deficits anymore,” she said.

It’s one of a range of issues in which the two candidates stand firmly apart. Here are a few others.

Immigration

Kuster has been outspoken in her opposition to the separation of children from families seeking asylum and entry earlier this year, even making a trip down to the Mexican border to observe the situation herself. But when it comes to abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – a rallying cry by some on the left – Kuster draws a distinction from others in her party.

“My colleagues’ response was to say ‘Get rid of the entire agency,’ ” she said. “I don’t think that’s a responsible position.”

Negron, for his part, supports Trump’s requested border wall, calling it important to stem the flow of opioids into the country. But he deviates from the president on the HB2 program, which brings in seasonal workers largely depended on by ski resorts and tourism businesses in the state.

Negron would broaden eligibility for that program. And he says that for those already living in the U.S. undocumented, they should be given a deadline to go through the process of citizenship – or be deported.

“Nobody gets a free pass,” he said.

Health care

Kuster is a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act. Negron thinks it should be replaced with something better.

But while the Republican candidate is critical of the law as ineffective in its goal to provide affordable premiums, he would not immediately repeal it unless there was a plan ready to replace it with, he said. That should be up to Congress, he said.

Other ideas Negron supports: ending restrictions on cross-state insurance policies to lower costs, and introducing cost transparency to allow consumers to better compare care.

“In a free market we comparison shop for everything else. ... Why can’t I do that for my health care?” he asked.

When it comes to health care, Kuster again deviates from among the most passionate in her party. She has strongly disavowed a “Medicare for all” plan, calling it “irresponsible” and saying her colleagues “haven’t envisioned a way to pay for that.”

Instead, Kuster has her own idea, one she’s quietly pushed in office: allowing a set group of older Americans to “buy in” to Medicare before they retire. A bill she introduced would spin off the retiree health program as a health insurance policy available to those 50 to 55 willing to pay a premium. It’s a trial run, she says, that could pave the way to an expansion of Medicare as a pay-in system to all age groups.

Environment

Amid the slew of likely oversight efforts if the Democrats retake Congress, Kuster says to expect environmental hearings. Bringing in experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could help to draw national attention to present problems, she said – problems recently highlighted in a searing report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Kuster would support tax incentives to renewable energy companies to spur investment and wean dependency.

Negron, meanwhile, has a complicated relationship with climate change. While he believes it exists, he is not yet convinced it is a top priority. Weather is cyclical, he says, and past predictions of the severity of climate change have not been born out.

“I’m not necessarily sure that it is as catastrophic as people claim. I’m not saying that climate change isn’t happening, but I just haven’t bought into the fact that it’s as dire yet as (people say),” he said.

Relationship to Trump

To Kuster, a Democrat-majority House would not shy away from oversight hearings for the president and his departments. Key focuses, she said: activities at the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Veteran’s Affairs.

The idea of wall-to-wall hearings could make some voters balk, but Kuster said the party would prioritize legislative goals if it took back power. Still, she said, the party would press for accountability.

“I don’t think oversight is a waste of time for the American people,” she said. “I think it’s sorely lacking.”

Negron has thrown his support behind the president, in some cases wholeheartedly. But it’s not, he stressed, an unqualified support.

“When people ask me do I support President Donald Trump, they want to encapsulate him in his totality,” he said. “But I can’t do that. I will say that the policies that he has actually put out as a Republican, I absolutely agree with. And I’ll stop there.”




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