On the issues: Kuster and Lawrence take opposite approaches on lowering college costs

Monitor staff
Friday, November 04, 2016

Both U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster and her Republican challenger, Jim Lawrence, say rising student debt is a central concern to the country’s future and economy.

“I have two children in college, so I know how hard it is to pay for college tuition,” Lawrence, a father of eight, told the Monitor. “Too many students graduate college with crippling debt – debt that delays financial security and home ownership.”

But the two candidates vying for the 2nd Congressional District have divergent views on how to approach college costs. The topic has particular resonance in New Hampshire, where the average undergraduate leaves school over $36,000 in debt – the highest debt load in the nation.

The two-term Hopkinton Democrat has made education a hallmark of her time in Congress, directing federal grants to Nashua Community College to open an advanced manufacturing program and helping River Valley Community College open a second campus.

She also supports increasing Pell Grants – the subsidy the federal government gives to eligible undergrads – and strengthening the Perkins Loan Program. Kuster has also supported legislation to curb increases in student loan rates and legislation that would give tax breaks to parents saving for college. She introduced legislation to create a tax credit for businesses that partner with community colleges to train workers for skills that local employers need.

For his part, Lawrence, a former three-term state representative from Hudson, believes government investment is partly to blame for the rapidly growing cost of higher education.

“Heavily subsidized higher education has led to more buildings, more waste, more non-essential administrative hires,” he wrote in an email to the Monitor.

Lawrence, who has made cutting taxes and slashing regulations a pillar of his campaign, instead argued easing banking regulations would allow students to get the loans they need – although he has left open the possibility of increasing the maximum Pell Grant award.

Here’s how the two candidates approach some of the major issues of the race.

The economy

Kuster, 60, favors targeted government interventions and investments in workforce training, infrastructure, research and anti-poverty measures like raising the minimum wage.

Kuster strongly supports expending a commuter rail from Massachusetts through Nashua into Manchester, and often touts her work with community colleges when talking about her economic agenda. She also sponsored legislation to expand and make permanent a research and development tax credit for businesses, and introduced legislation to increase the availability of work visas for highly-skilled workers.

She has said she supports raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, but has not committed to a timeline.

Lawrence, 45, believes government needs to get out of the way and let the free market do the rest. He does not support raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25, to which New Hampshire has pegged its minimum, because he believes states should determine their base wage.

Lawrence often points to Environmental Protection Agency and banking regulations, including the Dodd-Frank Act, as key culprits in America’s sluggish economy. He believes “job-creators” should see their taxes lowered.

“I’m going to go down to Washington, D.C., and provide efficiency solutions for the government, get the government out of the way of industry in order to grow our economy, because we know that’s the only way to create good-paying jobs,” he said during an editorial board meeting with the Monitor.

Health care

Lawrence said he does not consider himself a “repeal and replace” Republican, but argues the Affordable Care Act requires substantial reform. He would like to see “market-force driven” reforms, like being able to buy insurance across state lines.

Lawrence also believes the so-called Cadillac tax, a levy on high-cost insurance plans, should be eliminated. Congress has repeatedly pushed back the implementation of the tax, which is growing less and less popular on both sides of the aisle. Kuster, too, would like to see the tax repealed.

Kuster generally supports the Affordable Care Act and often touts the number of people the law has helped to insure. But she does support certain small reforms, like allowing small businesses to write off health expenses.

She thinks the federal government should be able to negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers using its buying power, something current law prohibits it from doing.

Lawrence has said he is emphatically against that proposal – which some Republicans, including Donald Trump, say they support.

He said during an editorial board meeting with the Monitor that doing so could hurt the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, which develops “life-saving medicines for the world.”

“Right now the American people are paying the lion’s share of that wonderful gift that our pharmaceutical companies are giving to the world. So maybe the answer is . . . to force (other countries) to pay their fair share,” he said.

A former NARAL lobbyist, Kuster is pro-abortion rights, and would like to see the federal law which prohibits Medicare from covering abortions repealed.

Lawrence has avoided questions about his stance on abortion during this campaign, but told an anti-abortion blogger in 2014, during his first Congressional run, that he was a “strong voice for the pro-life movement.”

He told the Monitor he did not advocate wholly defunding Planned Parenthood, but said that Congress should “look at what federal funding is being used for in terms of the specific nature of what Planned Parenthood is doing.”

Social Security

On Social Security, Lawrence believes that all options, save cutting benefits for current recipients or those within five years of eligibility, should be on the table. Kuster thinks fixing the program’s solvency is simply a matter of lifting the cap that prohibits the government from collecting Social Security payroll taxes on incomes above a certain level.

Energy and environment

Kuster, who says she believes climate change is real and primarily the result of human activity, says she wants to end subsidies to fossil fuel industries like oil and gas, and invest more heavily into renewable energy. Regarding pipelines, Kuster emphasizes she sees herself as a potential mediator between local communities and the companies that would run pipelines through their towns.

She has not taken a specific position on Northern Pass.

Lawrence believes climate change is real but doesn’t think it is man-made. He says the government has a duty to protect the environment, but frequently cites the EPA’s regulations as a key burden on businesses. He thinks lowering energy prices should be a key priority.

Lawrence has come out against Northern Pass.

“The voters of New Hampshire need to get benefits from any project that we let roll through our state. Right now, Northern Pass does not pass that litmus test,” he said during a televised debate.

Opioid epidemic

Along with U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, Kuster formed the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which eventually got 18 bills through the House of Representatives. They mostly dealt with expanding treatment, prescribing practices and drug sentencing reform.

She also pushed, along with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, for $600 million in emergency funding to combat the epidemic. Kuster also helped draft a law that would require drug companies to label any drug containing opiates.

Lawrence has said he favors a “three-pronged approach” involving bolstering treatment capacity, law enforcement, and education, but contends that the “heavy lifting” will have to be done at the state and local level. He thinks the federal government’s first job should be to secure its national borders to keep drugs from being smuggled in.

Syrian refugees

Lawrence has said he believes the country should not accept any refugees from anywhere, because the vetting process currently in place cannot guarantee they would not pose a security threat.

Kuster last year joined congressional Democrats in calling on President Obama to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees, and in a televised debate this month said the country could “balance our security and our compassion.”

But she took heat from some in her party last year when she voted for a Republican-backed bill that would require the head of several intelligence agencies to certify that each refugee posed no threat to the domestic community. Obama threatened to veto the legislation, and even FBI Director James Comey warned the bill set “impossible” standards.

Kuster has remained ahead in the polls, and now maintains a double-digit lead. Her election war chest has dwarfed Lawrence’s, with her campaign reporting more than $1.3 million in cash on hand in its last filing. Lawrence reported $21,632.