Friday, April 16, 2010

Sestak Teletown Hall Meeting

This evening I got a call from Joe Sestak, not just me but a lot of Pennsylvanians. It was a teletown hall meeting. The call was already in progress when my phone rang so I can’t report on the first part of it. Some of the topics were complex and I have only the barest of notes for them. I wasn’t prepared for the call and so hadn’t arranged for uninterrupted time beforehand, so at my attention was divided in places.

For those who don't recognize the name, Sestak is a Democrat running for Senate. He and Arlen Specter will face off in the primary; the winner will run against Republican Pat Toomey in November.

That said, these are the notes I took during the call. He was answering a question when the call came through, so my notes begin mid-answer. As always my apologies for any errors or misconceptions.

JS: …the insurance companies are excluded from anti-trust. The House version of the health care bill took away that exclusions but special interests blocked it in the Senate. Up to 700 Pennsylvanians lose their health care every day. Ran for congress because of his daughter’s cancer. She and others can now get health insurance even though they have a pre-existing condition. Insurance companies can’t charge women more than men for insurance. We lose money from productivity because of the under and uninsured. Seniors will now have free screening tests done, no more co-pays. Respects Arlen Specter but disagrees with him.

Q: concerned about good quality jobs
JS: That is the #1 issue facing us today. I am the vice chair of the Small Business Committee. Small business lost 45% of all jobs. We need to give small businesses a 15% tax credit for every job they create. We should also support community banks. Santorum, Toomey, and Specter all helped big business.

Q: education
JS: I am on the education and labor committee. Education is the long pole in the tent of economic viability. 50% of the youth in Philadelphia don’t graduate from high school. We need to invest in early education, preschool, and pre-k. We need to change No Child Left Behind and include a value added model. The health care bill included more money for Pell grants, Perkins loans and Stafford loans, but did not add to the national debt. We should have merit pay for teachers who perform well or work in low-performing schools. The shipyard is bringing in welders from out of state because welding today requires advanced skills and they can’t find those workers here. We are working with those companies to go into middle schools and talk to the kids about the importance of education and training in getting good jobs. The military makes you save but not strong.

[At this point Sestak was going up stairs into the Capitol to vote on a bill to extend COBRA benefits.]

Q: You have my vote! concerned about LIHEAP cuts, and other issues facing seniors.
JS: [Sestak’s phone connection was static-y and I couldn’t catch his comment but it has something to do with a bill he is working on and he encouraged the caller to get in touch with his office.]

Q: woman Marine veteran. She supports Sestak.
JS: I’m not a yes man. I stood up to the Democratic establishment but I want to be Obama’s strongest ally.

Q: Citizens United case and Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance
JS: There should be public financing of campaigns. We need an ethics committee outside of Congress, with retired judges. We should try to reverse the Supreme Court decision. Shareholders should have a vote on who gets corporate political money and on the message. We need to remove the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies. I support “say on pay” so that shareholders get at least a nominal voice in executive pay. I believe in principals and politics will follow.

Q: What do you disagree with Arlen Specter on?
JS: [blogger’s note: this was along list, I only got a few things]: He did nothing to help on health care until he became a Democrat. We disagree on education; Specter voted on cutting education, voted against Pell grants 4 times. Specter voted to privatize social security. He voted lockstep with Santorum and Toomey. Specter voted against “pay go” which requires government to cut spending when it adds a new program.

Q: retired union organizer. unions created the middle class.
JS: I am a strong proponent of reversing tax cuts to the very wealth. Invest where people work, small businesses. I have a rating of over 90% with the AFL-CIO; Specter’s rating is 60-something percent [missed this number]. People need a fair opportunity.

Q: caller is a feminist. Where does he stand on issues concerning women?
JS: I have several sisters, a wife and a daughter. [tells story of woman fighter pilot and the need to retain bright talented people] There are more women in the workforce than men. I introduced the Gender Equality Act. We need flexible hours, maternity leave, and to end discrimination in the workplace.

Q: returning veterans, backlog to get disability
JS: When elected there was a backlog of 600,000. We passed a bill to get more caseworkers and now that number is going down. We underfunded care and need to fix that. Specter voted against post-traumatic stress disorder funding. Of National Guard members coming back from the war, roughly a third have PTSD.

Q: prove to me you can be elected. why only debate Toomey?
JS: I challenged Toomey to a debate. Specter only wanted one debate, in Philadelphia, on a Saturday night, at the same time as a ballgame. Toomey and I want more debates. In polls Toomey does worse against me than he does against Specter. The GOP feels Specter betrayed them and he doesn’t inspire Democrats. Specter ran away from Toomey. I want to win the old-fashioned way with grassroots support.

Q: financial reform bill.
JS: The Senate bill is too weak. The House bill is stronger. You should “expect what you inspect.” We need better oversight; there must be a referee on the football field. [This answer went into a discussion of derivatives and was too complex for me to follow.]

Q: This was a very broad question from Bruce Slater who ran for Congress against Rep. Joe Pitts two years ago. One part of the question was on free trade.
JS: We need fair trade. NAFTA and GATT were bad. We need to bring lawsuits in the World Trade Organization. We need to encourage innovation. [This was another complex answer that escaped me.]

Q: I heard that social security is now taking in less money than it sends out.
JS: Yes, that wasn’t supposed to happen until 2019 but it happened this year. We are now paying out more than we are bringing in. With social security 20% of our seniors live in poverty; without it 50% of our seniors would. We need to reverse the Bush tax breaks for the very rich and go back to Clinton level tax rates. Specter voted for these tax breaks.

Q: What do you plan to do to get the word at?
JS: I’ve held more than 450 events. You may have gotten a brochure in the mail. We plan to be on tv soon. I will work my toes off. [Here he tells a story I have heard a number of times before, about 19 year olds working in aircraft carriers who have to unhook the planes before the pilot shuts off the engine and then stand in front of the plane until the pilot gets out. If they didn’t unhook it correctly they, the plane and the pilot will go overboard. The moral is accountability.]

Throughout the call he gave his campaign website URL and campaign office phone number several times. He also mentioned that most callers were from the Harrisburg area with some from the Philadelphia area as well.

No comments: