PROVIDENCE — In a televised slugfest that remained competitive and contentious until the final bell, Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin fought toe-to-toe over Social Security, taxes, jobs, health care and a raft of other issues Tuesday.
The two main candidates vying to succeed Democrat Patrick Kennedy as the congressman in the 1st District argued almost every issue vehemently, frequently trying to talk over each other and occasionally they had to be reined in by moderator Tim White of WPRI.
Cicilline once again accused Loughlin of advocating that Social Security be privatized by “taking younger workers out of the Social Security System and putting them in the private stock market,” and of referring to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,” which Cicilline defined as a “fraudulent, deceitful, criminal act.”
Loughlin retorted that he is “100 percent committed to making sure Social Security remains in effect for our seniors who depend on Social Security.” He allowed that he thinks younger workers should have “the option to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private accounts,” but contents it is “unfair” to characterize that as privatizing Social Security.
The Republican noted that Social Security “provides a 0.65 rate of return” while the average return on the stock market over the last 25 years is 11.98.” He said it is congressional overspending that puts Social Security at risk because the Social Security trust fund was abandoned by Democrats in the 1960s and the program was made part of the budget. “It seems to me almost criminal to condemn younger workers to have their life’s work be only valued at 0.65, why not let them have a little bit of a return so they can live a better life as seniors.”
“If you think about what happened in the stock market over the last several years,” the Providence mayor argued, “if we put the security of our seniors or people who are relying on Social Security at risk because it has to rely on the fluctuations of the market, that’s dangerous.”
Cicilline pointed out that Social Security relies on current workers to pay into the system to provide the funds that people collect. He said Loughlin’s plan would destabilize the system and “put the program at risk.”
In one of their few areas of agreement during the entire 90-minute event, both Loughlin and Cicilline said Congress should make an allowance to give Social Security beneficiaries a cost of living increase for next year, or, as proposed, a one-time, $250 increase to offset rising costs. Social Security recipients are not scheduled to get a cost of living increase next year because the cost of living, as measured, did not increase enough to warrant one.
Loughlin suggested that Social Security use a different index of inflation that better reflects the costs faced by older Americans.
When the two started to delve deeply into the details of Social Security, White cut them off, saying, “we have now entered the land of the wonky.”
Loughlin used a question about Cicilline’s record as mayor of Providence to blast what he called his opponent’s “breaches of integrity,” including using his city car and driver to travel to and from campaign appearances earlier in the year, improperly taking more than $20,000 in salary increases over five years above what city ordinances allowed, awarding “excessive” vacation time to department heads and other top officials, and raising taxes in the city after promising not to.
The mayor responded he is “proud of the integrity that I have brought to city government.” He boasted that he “completely restored public confidence in city government” after the Plunder Dome scandals of the Cianci administration.
Each candidate was asked to name an issue on which he differed with the leadership of his party. Republican Loughlin said his party is “far too weak in protecting the environment.”
Democrat Cicilline first noted his opposition to the war in Afghanistan and when pressed further said the bank bailouts that benefitted large financial institutions but did not require them to loan out capital to small businesses.
Cicilline said he would support making the Bush-era tax cuts for middle class taxpayers permanent but said also extending them for “millionaires and billionaires” is not necessary and would increase the budget deficit by $750 billion over 10 years
But Loughln said, “It is absolutely the wrong thing to do to raise anybody’s taxes in the middle of a recession. When you are able to provide tax relief for businesses to grow, you actually end up with more revenue into the general treasury.”
Ending the tax cuts for those with incomes over $250,000, Loughlin said, “would raise taxes on 900,000 small businesses.
“It’s all about a sense of entitlement to other people’s money,” Loughlin asserted. “Why shouldn’t people be allowed to be successful in the United States of America.”
The pair also diverged on the issue of climate change.
“I believe global climate change is real,” Cicilline said, adding that “there is broad scientific consensus on that point. But he said his opponent “mocks it” during campaign appearances.
“It’s not something you believe in,” Loughlin taunted, “it’s not like the Easter Bunny. It’s science and the scientific consensus is not there.
Loughlin acknowledges the planet is warming, but he says scientists don’t agree about whether it is caused by human activity.
In a series of yes or no questions, both Loughlin and Cicilline said they would not support raising the Social Security retirement age to 70.
Cicilline would favor removing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals serving in the armed forces while Loughlin would not.
Loughlin answered he would “absolutely” support term limits for members of Congress, Ciciline said he would not.