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Candidates for U.S. Congress respond to questions

LTN Staff reports
Lincoln County voters will be deciding this fall on which candidates for a range of federal, state and local offices they want to represent them. The Lincoln Times-News is surveying those office-seekers with questions related to issues they are likely to face if elected. Their answers will be published over the next several weeks. Today’s edition provides the  responses from candidates for North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District.
The current occupant of the seat, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, is a Republican from Cherryville who also owns property in Denver. He is being challenged by a state legislator, N.C. Rep. Patsy Keever, who is an Asheville Democrat. Each of them were the clear winners of three-way primary contests this spring.
The 10th District includes all of Lincoln County, but the rest of the district has been redrawn a bit following the 2010 census. The new district runs more along the South Carolina line and includes more big cities, such as Asheville and Gastonia, and much less of the rural mountain and foothills with Caldwell, Burke, Avery and Mitchell counties now excluded. The old district strongly favored Republicans. Some think the new district will go the same way, but with the new mix of voters that remains to be seen.

QUESTION – GUN VIOLENCE: After a series of shocking crimes involving mass shootings in recent months, some observers have called for stricter federal gun laws or better enforcement of existing laws. Others have disagreed, saying such regulations couldn’t have prevented these crimes. What’s the best legislative approach to balancing gun-ownership rights with the need to protect Americans against violence?
N.C. Rep. Patsy Keever: Those mass shootings were tragedies and should never be used for political purposes. I respect the right that every American has to own a gun if they choose to. My position on gun control is that good laws already exist federally and on the state level that are not being fully enforced, and that needs to change. We need to make sure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to do its job to keep us safe.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry:  I am a longtime member of the NRA and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I believe that further attempts to curtail our freedom to keep and bear arms are not wise or constitutional. In the cases we’ve seen in these recent monstrous tragedies, there were numerous red flags raised about the stability of the individuals who carried out these rampages, and people in authority did not take appropriate action. We must all be more vigilant and ensure that we take threats and other behavior seriously so scenes such as these are not replayed in the future.

QUESTION — FUNDING HIGHER EDUCATION: Federal student loan programs make paying for an education and living expenses while enrolled in school a reality for many Americans. But some people have become saddled with debts they can’t handle. What sort of changes to the federal student loan programs would you support?
N.C. Rep. Patsy Keever: As a former public school teacher — I know the value of a good education. I have seen what works for students and parents and it is one of my campaign promises to fight to make sure that every student who wants to, can attend a post-secondary institution, whether it be a community college or four year degree granting university.
I think that limiting access to federal funding, such as cutting money for Pell Grants (as my opponent has voted to do), is the wrong way to address our nation’s fiscal problems. An educated workforce drives a productive economy. It is in our own best interest to ensure that young people have access to all the education that they need.
The CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, recently said more than a million science and technology jobs are out there right now but only 200,000 workers to fill them. This is a problem with a solution. Students need help to pay for school, and we need people who have gone to school to fill the jobs that we have open, which in turn, will make for a more prosperous economy for everyone.
Students being granted financial assistance should be educated about their responsibilities. They should be given access to information about debt re-payment and they should be encouraged to borrow only what they need. We should crack down on institutions or individuals taking advantage of the system, but we also need to recognize that education is the foundation of any strong economy and we need to invest in it.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry: I am very concerned about the rising cost of attending colleges and universities. College tuition and fees have been rising far more rapidly than household income over the past two decades. Once finished with school, graduates are burdened with debt and struggle to find jobs in today’s economy.
In an attempt to address concerns about the quality of education programs that prepare students for gainful employment and the amount of student loan debt that students who attend such programs incur, the Department of Education recently proposed rigid loan repayment standards to certificate and other non-degree programs offered by public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education and postsecondary vocational institutions, and to nearly all programs offered by for-profit, proprietary institutions.
These are educational opportunities that are disproportionately utilized by minorities, first-generation Americans, single parents, and other at-risk populations. This rule would limit options for non-traditional students. We need to focus on providing more choices for education, so that anyone willing to work hard can reach their goals, not limit the options that are already available.

QUESTION — HEALTHCARE: The previous Congress approved a sweeping package of health care legislation, but after a change in party control of the House, it’s unlikely it could pass again and efforts have been made to repeal it. If elected, it’s likely you would have to take a stand on efforts to repeal or adjust this legislation, as well as related proposed changes to Medicare. Discuss your view of health care reform and how you would expect to approach the debate in Congress.
Keever: This is a hotly contested issue, not just in the presidential race but also in almost every race in the country. My first priority if I am elected will be to listen to my constituents.  I have heard throughout the district from people who both support and oppose the Affordable Care Act. It has benefited some of my constituents already. I’ve heard from parents who have been able to keep their children on their own health insurance plans and people who are now able to get insurance who couldn’t before due to a pre-existing condition.
Most of this law however does not go into effect until 2014 and I see it as a work in progress. Generally, I think that it is a step in the right direction — but again, my first job when in office would be to listen to my constituents. After the law has been implemented, if I begin hearing that it is having a detrimental effect in any way (particularly on small businesses), I’ll be the first one to step up and fight for any changes that we need to make to it.
Getting sick in this country should not mean that you also go bankrupt. It is a fundamental human right to live a healthy life, and that right cannot be infringed upon by an industry primarily seeking profit. Americans want everyone they know to be able to afford quality health insurance; they want their friends and neighbors to be able to afford to go to the doctor if they need to. It is an American tradition to take care of the least among us, one that I am proud of, and one that I will fight to uphold.
McHenry: I believe in the promises we’ve made to our seniors about Medicare.
That’s why I’ve voted to protect, preserve, and strengthen Medicare for current seniors and future generations.
I’ll continue to fight to repeal Obamacare and its $716 billion raid on Medicare, which my opponent, Patsy Keever, supports.

QUESTION – AFGHANISTAN: Americans overwhelmingly supported the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Americans were also mostly pleased with the result when a Navy SEAL team killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in 2011. But tensions between the U.S. military and Afghan civilian authorities have been problematic in recent months while the value of the ongoing U.S. presence in the region seems less clear to many. What’s your view on continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan?
Keever:  As the widow of a man who served in Vietnam, I know personally the sacrifice that our troops are making in order to protect us.  They did their job in Afghanistan and they did their job when they killed Osama bin Laden.  Our presence in Afghanistan no longer benefits their citizens or ours. We cannot afford to be spending $2 billion a week there when we have a struggling economy and people hurting here at home. I think we need to bring our troops home immediately, and I would not vote to authorize any additional spending on this war.
McHenry:  I’ve have always believed that the best approach is to listen to the generals on the ground.
We shouldn’t announce our time table for withdrawal and allow our enemies to wait us out.  I will continue to support funding to keep our men and women in uniform prepared and combat ready.

QUESTION – ECONOMIC INCENTIVES: Portions of the 10th District face higher unemployment than the rest of North Carolina, which has higher unemployment than most of the country. State and local officials have complained that they must offer substantial financial incentives, which pose a burden to taxpayers, in order to lure large employers who are considering bringing jobs to the area. Some say the incentives are essential to remain competitive with other states, even though many officials and voters are philosophically opposed to the practice, so regulating them at the state level wouldn’t work. Would it be appropriate for Congress to enact regulation of this process as a matter of interstate commerce and, if so, what sort of policy do you think would be most desirable?
Keever: I think more regulation should always be a last resort. I recognize that it is often difficult for local officials to draw big businesses to their towns and counties, but I don’t think that congressional regulation of this issue would solve the problem. The greater issue here is the overall health of our economy. We need to incentivize big business to bring jobs back to our state and close the tax loopholes that currently exist that encourage companies to keep capital abroad and which encourages companies to move jobs offshore rather than create and keep jobs in the United States.
McHenry:  As a member of the state legislature, I voted against these types of incentives. It is unfair to businesses already located in North Carolina. However, I also support the 10th Amendment and this is a states’ rights issue, not a matter for the federal government.

QUESTION – ABORTION: A member of Congress running for U.S. Senate in Missouri recently drew national attention for rejecting abortion in the case of rape with the claim that women who are legitimately raped don’t usually become pregnant. Statistics actually show that about 1 in 20 rapes do result in pregnancy. What is your position on abortion, especially in cases of rape, and what role should federal legislation play?
Keever:  Abortion is a choice that I would never want to make personally, but it’s also not a choice that I would want anyone else to make for me either. I think that Todd Aiken’s comments about “legitimate rape” offer an example of how radical and out of touch some members of the Republican Party have become, particularly on women’s issues. As a mother and a grandmother, I know what it means to cherish and care for a child from the time of conception. Yes, I believe that a fetus is the seed of life with the potential to be a human being. I also believe that government interference with a woman’s choices for her body and her health care is unconstitutional. We need to make sure that everyone, and particularly legislators, is knowledgeable about these issues and we all need to respect every woman’s ability to make her own life, and health decisions.
McHenry: First of all, I think the remarks from Mr. Akin were abhorrent and ill-informed. I am pro-life and strongly believe in protecting human life at all stages, from conception until natural death. The United States should be a nation that cherishes life and protects all citizens, including the unborn, infirmed, and disabled. I do not believe that the federal government should spend taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.

QUESTION — REGULATING BANKS: A measure passed in the late 1990s removed the Glass-Steagall Act’s wall between investment and consumer banks that had been put in place during the Great Depression. Some observers say that change led directly to the Great Recession. Other banking and corporate regulations have been put in place with the intent of preventing the types of fraud and excessive risk-taking that led to the current economic crisis. But some say not all of these new rules are wise and they may in fact be limiting economic growth. What’s your view on appropriate banking regulations?
Keever:  The Great Recession of 2008 was the worst financial crisis that this country has faced since the Great Depression. I’m not an economist, but I think that the repeal of Glass-Steagall combined with predatory lending practices, irresponsible derivatives betting and a generally amoral Wall Street culture led to the recession. I think that the Dodd-Frank Act is the right first step to take to ensure that the people of Main Street America are protected; and that their investments are safe. Appropriate banking regulations are regulations that protect regular Americans and help our economy flourish.
McHenry: Massive new federal regulations like Dodd-Frank are an intrusion into the lives of every American. Vast in its scope, it gives financial regulators the power to create years’ worth of financial uncertainty, which has only led to more struggling businesses and fewer jobs. This is not a recipe for a dynamic economy, or the leadership we need to create jobs and protect taxpayers. We need better regulation, not just more regulation. It should restore market discipline, give consumers and investors the tools to make sound financial decisions, and make sure that taxpayers are never again forced to pay for Wall Street’s mistakes.

QUESTION — ECONOMY AND DEFICITS: Despite many efforts and vast expenditures, the U.S. economy has improved less than most of us had hoped. What’s the best approach to getting it back on track while managing the federal budget deficit?
Keever: This country has faced the slowest economic recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Our Congress has been hijacked by extremely radical members who refuse to put the best interests of all Americans before party allegiance. This country needs its infrastructure rebuilt. Thirty percent of North Carolina’s bridges are structurally deficient, 215 of the state’s dams fall short of its safety standards, 27 percent of our highways are in poor condition and 54 percent of them are congested. These statistics have a wide-ranging and devastating impact on our economy. Small businesses need roads and bridges to support their work. People need safe and uncongested roads to get to their jobs. Infrastructure spending not only ensures that people who do have jobs can keep them, but it creates jobs for people who don’t have them. It is critical for our country to invest in its own future. We need leaders willing to work for the people, not merely their parties.
McHenry:  We’re in the middle of the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.  We’ve had 43 consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent, while hundreds of thousands of people have simply given up trying to find a job in the Obama economy.The number one concern of most small business owners, who create the majority of jobs in our area, continues to be uncertainty from Washington. They don’t know if they can afford to hire new employees because they don’t know how much their taxes will be next year and aren’t sure about the true cost of regulations like ObamaCare. We need to get the government out of the way so that small businesses can get on with running their business instead of worrying about the heavy hand of big government.

QUESTION ­— SOCIAL SECURITY: While many seniors already rely on Social Security and many approaching retirement expect to depend on the program, some younger Americans doubt it will be around for them and aren’t interested in seeing it perpetuated in anything resembling its current form. Some adjustments appear necessary to keep Social Security intact. But more radical adjustments could result in a significant change to the program. What do you favor doing?
Keever: Social Security is a promise that America makes to its seniors, survivors and people with disabilities. It is a program that we all pay into over years of hard work. Right now, it faces significant challenges that need to be addressed immediately to ensure its survival.
I favor allowing the retirement age to gradually increase to 67, reflecting the fact that people are living much longer now than they were when the program was signed into law in 1935.
The most important thing that voters can do to ensure the survival of Social Security is to elect leaders who are willing to work together to save it. Social Security faces a long-term challenge, not a short-term crisis and we need Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are willing to address the challenge together.
Without this program, half of our seniors would fall into poverty. We need to keep our commitment to our seniors and people with disabilities, now and in years to come.
McHenry: As the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission recently noted, Social Security was developed in an era when the average life expectancy was 65, and there were 18 workers per beneficiary. Now, with Americans living 14 years longer and retiring three years earlier, there are just three workers per beneficiary, and the system is going broke.
My plan would gradually raise the retirement rate for younger workers, and implement reforms so that the promise of Social Security is available for younger people. I would not propose, nor agree to, any changes for workers at or near retirement age.

QUESTION — IMMIGRATION: The United States is often said to have been built by immigrants, but beginning in the 1920s, the country began restricting immigration, turning many of those who chose to come to America anyway into a class of illegal immigrants. Vast numbers of people have illegally come across the U.S. border with Mexico in recent years, straining the economy, infrastructure and government services of many regions of the country, including North Carolina. A wide range of approaches to immigration — from amnesty to mass deportation, and many other ideas in between — have been proposed. What’s the best answer to this problem?
Keever: I recognize the fact that our immigration system is broken. We need reforms, but we need smart reforms that reflect the values of our great nation and that recognize the tremendous contributions that immigrants have made, and continue to make to our country.
I support toughening border security. I also support providing an earned path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here at a very young age and who know no other country than this one.  Finally, I support holding accountable employers who knowingly violate our country’s immigration laws by hiring illegal immigrants.
Again, we need people in Congress who are willing to work across the aisle to tackle these problems, not radical ideologues who vote strictly along party lines. Governing necessarily involves compromise. As Americans we need to be reminded how much we agree, rather than how much we disagree. We need a Congress that will put the people of this country first. That’s why I’m running. Putting people first is my campaign promise to the voters of the 10th District.
McHenry: First and foremost, we need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.
Our nation was built by immigrants, but they were willing to legally enter our country through places like Ellis Island in order to become American citizens. We can’t punish those who play by the rules by granting amnesty to millions of people who broke the law to enter our country in the first place.

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