Candidates in Pennsylvania's 14th District weigh in on Social Security, immigration
Four Democrats and two Republicans are vying for nominations in this month's primary for the reconstituted 14th Congressional District that includes the western half of Westmoreland County and all of Fayette, Washington and Greene counties.
Candidates are not required to live in the district they are representing.
Two Republicans, state Rep. Rick Saccone of Elizabeth, Allegheny County, and state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler of Jefferson Hills, Allegheny County, are seeking the job.
Democratic candidates are Bibiana Boerio of Latrobe, Westmoreland County; Tom Prigg of Canonsburg, Washington County; Robert Solomon of North Fayette Township, Allegheny County; and Adam Sedlock of Chalk Hill, Fayette County.
The candidates were asked to answer three questions. Here are the responses received:
Question: Social security and Medicare are eating up large chunks of the federal budget. How would you address this issue?
Boerio: “Supporting retirement and health care security for our senior citizens and for families impacted by death or disability is a responsibility of the federal government. Social Security and Medicare are the cornerstone programs to deliver that promise, and I believe that they are not strong enough. We can't talk about these programs without also talking about the revenues that offset these costs. Historically, costs have been largely covered by taxes on earnings paid by employees and their employers, by insurance premiums, and interest. For example, Social Security's funding shortfall — its net cost — is less than 1 percent of GDP.
“The single biggest factor driving the ‘gross costs' is the aging population. Medicare costs also are driven by rising costs of health care. Privatization of Social Security would not fix the underlying any issues. Neither would a ‘Medicare voucher system' or block-granting funding to the states. These would just shift costs and ultimately mean reduced coverage and higher costs for our senior citizens. Rather, we need a full-court press on both reducing costs and raising revenues. This means we must fix the root cause of rising health care costs. The Affordable Care Act was a start, but it needs more work to reduce health care costs without impacting quality. We must look also at increased contributions — potentially raising the caps for highest-earning individuals.”
Prigg: “Much of the cost care caused by the pharmaceutical companies that inflate their drug prices for profiteering. Take Acthar for instance. In 2001, the same drug cost $40 per vial. Today that same drug cost $40,000 per vial. In Canada, the same drug cost $33 per vial. We need to control these unjustified drug cost.
“Because of our privatized health care, we have the most expensive health care in the developed world. We pay 40% more on average per procedure. Much of our Medicare cost is due to these inflated procedural cost.
“It's not the Medicare system that is the problem, it's the supportive health care systems that is hurting our bottom line.”
Sedlock: “We have all paid into the Social Security program and we all deserve its benefits. Many of the citizens of the 14th District depend on this program. It is important that we protect Social Security the same as you protect your bank account.
“Medicare and Medicaid should be expanded to help provide for all those in need of health care. Health care is a right, not a privilege. A society is judged by how well it comes to the aid of the ill, infirm and elderly. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid aid the ill, infirm and the elderly.”
Solomon:“This issue should be addressed like any other involving the federal budget. It must be properly funded. Many elderly and disabled Americans depend on Social Security and Medicare, and they have paid taxes to fund those programs. Congress must assure that the revenue stream that funds Social Security and Medicare is adequate to keep them solvent. Means testing, so that the wealthy do not receive benefits they clearly do not need, may be worthy of consideration. The age of eligibility for Social Security has been adjusted over time. Any further such action must take into account the fact that greater longevity does not necessarily correlate with larger number of productive years in the workforce. Many 68-year-olds are not healthy enough to keep working, especially at physically demanding jobs. Even if they are, the effect of their doing so on the job market for young people must be considered.”
Reschenthaler: “First and foremost, we must honor the commitments made to current and near-term retirees and protect these programs for future generations. The best way to improve the solvency of these programs is to grow revenue into the program through a growing economy. We need pro-growth, job creating policies coming out of Washington to save these programs. The more Americans that are working, the better funded these programs are for current seniors.”
Question: President Trump's call for immigration reform and increased border security has been a key focus of the administration over the past year. What reforms would advocate?
Boerio: “Protecting national security is a primary responsibility of government and one element of national security is appropriate immigration laws. At the same time, history has shown that a strong immigrant community is a contributor to economic growth and can also aid in addressing the challenges posed by an aging population. Our history in Southwestern Pennsylvania is full of stories told by people like my great-grandparents — who came from Italy, Ireland, Germany and Slovakia — for a better life for their children. “I support comprehensive immigration reform. Absent such efforts, I supported DACA and actions to apply judicial discretion to prioritizing immigration cases. These efforts gave millions of people the right to live and work without fear. The recent actions to overturn DACA and to refocus (ICE) are counterproductive to improving American security and the economy. They serve to break up family and community ties, increase fear and potentially incite anti-American actions. They hurt regional economies.
“Comprehensive immigration reform should include a road map to citizenship; mechanisms to evaluate labor shortages and ensure that employers are not bringing foreign workers into the country to displace U.S. workers or to lower industry wages and working conditions; and rational and humane border control measures.”
Prigg: “I believe we need a robust immigration policy that will make it easier for immigrants to become citizens. Immigrants create more jobs than native born American citizens, two-to-one. Between 1995-2005, immigrants created 450,000 new businesses. That's a lot of new jobs. New immigrant-owned businesses contribute $52 billion to the American economy each year.
“Immigration isn't just a human rights issue, it's also a smart economics issue.”
Sedlock: “This country was formed by people who were fleeing persecution and in search of freedom. They dreamed of a place where all could be themselves no matter each other's beliefs. I also hold this dream and hope that we can become a more inclusive country that will treat each other equally regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender. The path to citizenship should be available to all who seek it. If you are in our county legally, you should be able to apply for citizenship.”
Solomon: “It is important for the USA to have control over its borders. At the same time, the issue of a large number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now must be addressed equitably and pragmatically. I believe comprehensive immigration reform must cease being a political football and must be the subject of a serious bipartisan effort. I don't have all the answers, but deporting millions is probably not a realistic component of the solution.”
Reschenthaler: “As the sponsor of SB10, the bill to end sanctuary cities in the state Senate, I know this issue well. We need to build the wall and strengthen port-of-entry security to stop the flow of deadly drugs. Besides building the wall and providing for significant increased border security, we also need to shift our immigration policies away from chain migration and move to a merit-based system. We also need to de-fund sanctuary cities once and for all.”
Question: What other single position do you hold that voters should know?
Boerio: “The short answer is that I believe it's time to prove that good government works for people. I am tired of watching people who don't believe in good government create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that good government demands ‘4 Cs', and I believe my track record demonstrates them:
“The first is ‘competence.' I am a team leader and problem solver with experience in business, public service on Capitol Hill, and in education. That's the ‘competence' factor. I get things done. I am not your typical ‘corporate executive.' Throughout my career, I have demonstrated the values of character and caring. It goes back to my mom's family values and my father's advice when he was at Kennametal — listen to the people who know their jobs. Finally, I also believe that we need to bring ‘civility' back to our government. I want Mr. Rogers to be proud of the campaign run by the little girl who learned to swim in the pool named after his grandparents. We cannot and will not solve problems and build on opportunities for the future if we keep slinging arrows at each other. I learned many things in my time in the auto industry. Probably the most important is that you get the best outcomes when the team of engineers, designers, sales and marketers, purchasers and finance types agree on a shared vision and work together to make the necessary compromises to build a quality product at an affordable price.”
Prigg: “I believe in combating poverty through economic development and educational investment. Rebuilding the economy should begin at the community level with infrastructure, market districts, trade and middle education training and a renewable energy sector and union support, ‘Because we didn't have good jobs until they were union jobs.'
“Change the rules of subsides. The poorer a community is, the larger the subsidy award for a company that opens facilities and provides jobs in that community. In this way, we can incentivize economic development in our poorest areas. We don't have any mechanism or incentive to do that now.
“Infrastructure projects to repair old business buildings. By fixing up these old, boarded up buildings we improve the ‘downtown' areas. We give a new location for a new business owner to move into. That will provide new jobs in that community, thus circulating money to support other businesses. It would build the community's tax base to support their schools and other services.
“Small business grants, not loans, to help kick start new business owners with good ideas and strong work ethic. Not only does this help poorer entrepreneurs, those new businesses would create more jobs in the community and spur circulation of money around local business, which promotes a healthy economy.
“I want to provide daycare services for middle-class and low-income families. These day cares would be structured like Headstart programs where the children will have developmental, cognitive projects throughout the day. This will put many low-income children on par with higher economic status children starting kindergarten. For every $1 we spend in pre-K education, we save $17 in incarceration.
“Creation of a renewable energy sector. We need new industries to serve as our economic base/backbone. That's the renewable energy industry. It's the fastest growing industry in the world. The new energy sectors would provide millions of jobs from the high school to the PhD level. The new energy sectors would also spur on new companies, technologies and other innovations.
“When unions were the strongest, our economic inequality was the smallest. We didn't have good jobs until we had union jobs. That's just a fact. As unions have diminished so have workers' rights, wages and benefits. We have to bring back and empower workers' ability to collectively bargain, otherwise the wealthiest CEOs will continue to exploit the American workers.”
Sedlock: “Pennsylvania was once a leading state for industry. We should ensure affordable training for our citizens already in the workforce and ease transitions into a more innovative economy. With a focus on clean and renewable energy, we can once again become a leader in manufacturing and production of resources.
“We can all agree that our infrastructure is suffering. I believe we can rebuild our roads, bridges, and schools while hiring locally, improving our communities and economy.”
Solomon: “I am not a single-issue candidate, but there is an issue that is the centerpiece of my campaign, and that is reforming the way we finance health care. I favor an approach that is seamless and efficient and covers all Americans. For it to be cost-efficient, it must eliminate the tremendous waste associated with the private health insurance industry. I have 33 years of front-line experience in health care delivery, and a quarter century of studying and teaching health policy. That combination of experience and expertise does not exist in Congress now, and it is much needed.”
Reschenthaler: “In addition to pro-growth, job creating policy positions and increasing our border security, I also firmly believe in protecting America and its allies by projecting strength around the world. I served in Iraq, I dealt face-to-face with terrorists so I know there are people in the world who hate our American values and want to kill us. We must have a robust and well-funded military and be ready to attack America's enemies anywhere, anytime.”