Editor’s note: Candidates running in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District primary on Aug. 14 responded to a series of questions on a variety of timely and relevant topics. Two Democrats and four Republicans active in the race answered the questions. The candidates are seeking the seat now held by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is not running for re-election. Following is one of the questions and the responses.
How will you handle entitlement reform?
Nick Polce (R): “When we discuss entitlements, we need to break them out into different categories. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and Welfare are usually lumped into one group when we hear the political class discuss this topic. Social security and Medicare are not entitlements. During their working years, individuals had money removed from their paychecks with the understanding that they would then have that money to live off of during retirement and to pay for their healthcare needs. Currently, we have 15.3 percent taken from our paychecks to fund these programs.
“The first step is to recognize that our elected officials have for decades spent the excess money that Americans believe is in Social Security and that they will draw from during retirement. It is not that we take too little in taxes. Our elected officials spend too much. We must stop this spending. Once we end the spending, then we can move to address some of the other parts of the failing Social Security system. Medicare taxes cover approximately 66 percent of the cost of the program that leaves it consistently underfunded. The difference continues to come from the general revenue. We cannot address Medicare/Medicaid separately from the broader health care system. The first step to driving down costs across the broader health care system is to modify how the tax code (works) and address the massive amount of regulations that increase costs. The consistently growing prices in private medical care also affect the costs of Medicare/Medicaid.”
Jeremy Ryan (R): “I believe the best way to reduce the use of social safety nets is the same exact strategy for making abortion rates plummet: put resources into ending poverty. It’s been many years, and trickle-down economics (have) not worked in this country. It never has and never will. I used to do business in a country, United Arab Emirates, where trickle-down economics did work, but there are societal differences that make it impossible here. In order to fight poverty, we need to look at the factors that relate to poverty. And analyzing and putting effort behind those is something we’ve never really done as a country.
“We complain about entitlements, but we don’t actually make it easier to not fall into the point where you need it. The levels are extremely low. It’s very far from a life anyone would really want if they make so little they qualify for it. But we need to look at causes. And one major improvement would be switching corporate tax breaks from giant corporations to small- and medium-sized businesses that actually take care of their employees. There’s no reason the last five administrations should have coddled the Waltons while they paid their employees so little the majority even working full-time are so far below the poverty level they actually qualify.”
Kevin Steen (R): “We must change the trajectory of entitlements. We don’t want a future for our kids that asks them to solve the problems that my generation could not solve.”
Bryan Steil (R): “We need to maintain a safety net for the most vulnerable. In doing so, we must keep the programs sustainable for those retired and future retirees. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are vital safety nets. These are promises that we have made for generations of Americans. Unfortunately, due to our skyrocketing national debt, these important programs are in jeopardy. We need to act now to keep these programs strong now and for the future. It will take a bipartisan effort to get this done. In manufacturing, I’ve worked with diverse groups of people to solve complex problems. This experience has prepared me to work with all members of Congress to solve this complex problem.”
Randy Bryce (D): “For years, Republicans in Washington have been telling us that we need to ‘reform’ Social Security after borrowing it for years to finance their irresponsible budgets. The Social Security Administration is closing offices across the country, including at least one in Wisconsin. As a congressman, I will fight to keep them open, so seniors can access the benefits they’ve paid into their entire working lives. I will also demand that we increase the FICA cap. The wealthy should pay their fair share in order to make the system more sustainable for everyone.”
Cathy Myers (D): “I will protect the earned benefits that working families in Wisconsin’s 1st District rely on. Paul Ryan has led the fight to dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and I will lead the fight to protect, improve and expand those programs to meet the present and future needs of the American people. Medicare should be expanded to cover every American, which would lower our overall healthcare spending by eliminating insurance companies and investing their profits into improved health outcomes. I support allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices on the prescription drugs we rely on. While we build consensus for providing Medicare for all, I support ensuring that every state offers a minimum standard of affordable health coverage by offering a Medicaid public option on Affordable Care Act exchanges, like Badgercare for all.
“Social Security works, but politicians have raided the Social Security trust funds to manufacture a fiscal crisis that shouldn’t exist. Regardless, we know what it takes to guarantee that Social Security will remain solvent for decades to come. I support eliminating the $128,400 cap on payroll taxes to force the wealthy to pay the same amount as a blue-collar worker toward protecting our retirement security. Doing so would allow us to significantly increase monthly benefits, especially for seniors living below the poverty line, while also guaranteeing that the Social Security trust funds will remain solvent for decades.”