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Live Chat Recap: Kennedy Talks Healthcare, Education

The Democratic candidate is facing off against Republican Sean Bielat in the Fourth Congressional District race.

Democratic congressional candidate Joe Kennedy III joined us for a live chat with Patch readers on Friday, Oct. 12. Many of the questions submitted touched on Kennedy's experience as well as his economic plan, healthcare and budget reductions. 

Kennedy will face off against Republican Sean Bielat for the Fourth District seat currently held by Newton Congressman Barney Frank, who plans to retire at the end of this year. 

Bielat joined Patch for a similar Q&A on Thursday, Oct. 11. 

Read through the following short recap of Kennedy's chat (below), or browse the full Q&A transcript.

On his experience

Patch: Throughout this campaign, your opponent has often criticized your experience. How do you respond? Specifically, what kind of experience and knowledge can you bring to Congress?

Joe Kennedy III: I am extremely proud of my record of public service, as a prosecutor standing up for the people of Massachusetts every day in the courtroom, as a legal aid volunteer and as member of the Peace Corps, helping a community that was being exploited. I have spent my career working to make sure that everyone gets a fair shot, and I believe that is what is at stake in this election.

The question is how do we do that. And that's where my opponent and I strongly disagree. I don't think the Ryan Budget ensures economic opportunity for everyone. Instead, it tells our seniors, our students and our working families that they will have to sacrifice more and make do with less, while giving huge tax breaks to millionaires. 

This race is about the issues that matter to the Fourth District, and on every single one, my opponent is out of step with what the district needs.

On his economic plan

From reader Susan Miller: What are some details on your exact economic plan? What plan has Bielat offered? 

Joe Kennedy III: My opponent has largely embraced the Ryan Budget, which, among many other cuts:

  1. Turns Medicare into a voucher program and passes a huge bill on to seniors to get the same level of care, 
  2. Guts Medicaid for those who depend on it,
  3. Kicks 1 million students off of Pell grants over the next decade,
  4. Cuts education funding by 20 percent across the board,
  5. Kicks 200,000 children out of Head Start in 2014 alone.

All this while passing a tax break of nearly $400,000 on to the average millionaire.

I have a very different economic plan. Our first priority has to be getting people back to work, and that starts with supporting small businesses. That means creating a pro-growth environment, including:

  1. A simpler tax policy,
  2. Smarter business and environmental regulations (like cracking down on unfunded mandates that are crushing businesses across the district)
  3. Investments in workforce development programs, infrastructure projects like South Coast Rail and support for local economic development plans like the redevelopment of the Fall River Waterfront.

The second half of this is dealing with our debt and deficit. Unlike my opponent, I believe we need to take a balanced approach to get our debt and deficit under control. That means a responsible mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Patch: You mention spending cuts to help with the country's debt and deficit -- can you give some examples of what programs or departments where you would cut costs?

Joe Kennedy III: Great question. Here's a couple of places to start:

  1. Ending subsidies for big oil and agribusiness. The top 5 oil companies earned $137 billion in profits last year. I don't see any reason why they need $4 billion a year in subsidies from taxpayers. 
  2. I'd look closely at reducing capital grants for large airports, which can afford to pay for those improvements themselves. 
  3. Trimming the defense budget. We are winding two wars, which will yield a peace dividend. We also have to be more disciplined in how we spend, so I'd cut projects that even the DOD says they don't want, like the Osprey fighter and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

That's a place to start. But the biggest driver to our debt and deficit is the growing cost of health care. That's why I'm a big supporter of the ACA, which begins by extending coverage to every American AND starts to put in place the incentive structures to finally reduce health care cost inflation (moving towards the ACO model, shifting off a fee for service system, setting up incentives for management of chronic conditions and wellness). 

My opponent is an outspoken critic of the ACA. He wants to repeal it all, even though the CBO estimates that will INCREASE the debt by $109 billion over the next decade.

On Medicare/Social Security

From reader Brian Marshall: You have said you want to preserve Medicare and Social Security. Specifically, how will you work to do that?

Joe Kennedy III: These are two of the most successful programs in our nation's history, and we need to protect them. Let's start with Medicare.

The biggest driver to the Medicare budget is the cost of health care, and you got some details on why I'm a big supporter of the ACA above. Many estimates show that we waste nearly $1 trillion a year (about 30 percent of all health care costs) on an inefficient system. That's why we need to reform that system, which the ACA starts to do, to get the savings out before we even think about cutting benefits. 

This is the exact opposite approach of the Romney/Ryan plan, which my opponent endorses. They want to keep the same inefficient system, turn it into a voucher program, and pass a bill of several thousand dollars on to our seniors every year to get the same level of care. They hope that, through competition, those savings will eventually get squeezed out of the system. 

Now on to Social Security.

Current estimates show the Social Security trust fund running out around 2033, depending on the assumptions you make. Social Security is funded through payroll taxes, which are typically shared between the employer and employee. So, by far the best thing we can do to extend the life of Social Security is to get our economy moving again and get people back to work. 

Beyond that, if I had to make any changes, I'd start with the payroll tax cap. It's currently set at roughly $106,000, which means that it captures 78 percent of all income. Historically that limit was set at 90 percent of all income, which would be roughly $160,000. That's a big boost, and will definitely help with the long term solvency of the fund.

One thing I will never do is privatize social security, which my opponent supports. The whole point of the program is that there will be some guaranteed payout to our seniors, which they have earned over the course of their working lives. Privatization forces seniors to take a major risk in their retirement security. Imagine what would have happened to our seniors today if we put their benefits at the whim of financial markets. The average Social Security payout is about $1100/month. This is money our seniors can't afford to loose.

On education

From reader Mike from Brookline: What are some of your ideas about how to improve K-12 public education in the Fourth district and around the country? Do you support President Obama's 'Race to the Top' program?

Joe Kennedy III: Education is by far the greatest factor in economic success, and is a huge priority of mine. I believe this starts with early childhood education, and making sure every child, no matter who they are or where they live, is ready to learn on the first day of school.

This means creating a primary and secondary education system where our teachers never have to choose between holding a class back to meet the needs of a few students or face losing those few to keep the rest on track.

I'm a big supporter of the Race To The Top program of the Obama administration. We need systems where everyone is held accountable for the education of our children.

Looking at our education system as a whole, we need to do a better job of aligning the needs of our workforce with our education system. There are about 200,000 people unemployed across Massachusetts and 130,000 job openings because they require skills that the jobless don't have. Our colleges, community colleges, vocational schools and universities must be graduating students who are ready to work. That means more support for STEM education and investments in innovative workforce training programs like one I just visited at Bristol Community College in Fall River.

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