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Associated Press - "Maine Candidates Respond to AP Questions"

Interview

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Date:
Location: Augusta, ME


Associated Press - "Maine Candidates Respond to AP Questions"

In one of the nation's most closely watched Senate races, six-term Rep. Tom Allen is challenging two-term incumbent Sen. Susan Collins in an election that will help determine whether the Democrats can hold on to their thin Senate majority.

The Associated Press recently asked the two candidates their views on issues that include taxes, Iraq, energy and immigration, and their responses illustrate the divisions between the rivals. The survey started with one question targeted specifically at each candidate.

Because of the length of the answers, most had to be shortened. But the words are those of the candidates.

Directed at Allen: How do you answer critics who say you have been little more than a loyal backbencher without signature legislative successes during six terms in the House?

ALLEN: I am proud of my record of making the right choices for Maine, voting against the war in Iraq, taking on the big pharmaceutical makers to lower the cost of prescription drugs, voting against the Cheney energy bill that moved $14 billion in tax breaks to Big Oil, or working for tax cuts for our middle class and standing up for small business.

I've worked across the aisle for legislation to allow no permanent bases in Iraq, investigate Iraq and Afghanistan wartime contracts and contracting processes, and ban the export of toxic mercury to name a few.

Directed at Collins: How does your support for the appointments of conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court square with your reputation as a moderate?

COLLINS: My voting record clearly shows that I am an independent-thinking moderate. According to a recent survey by Congressional Quarterly, I am the third least partisan member of the 535 people in Congress. According to the Washington Post, I vote with the Republican Party 68 percent of the time. On average, senators voted with their parties 84.3 percent of the time. My opponent, Tom Allen, voted the party line 98 percent of the time, according to the Washington Post.

I also have a solid pro-choice voting record. I do not, however, apply a litmus test for whether an individual should serve on the Supreme Court ... I have voted against more of President Bush's judicial nominees than I did President Clinton's.

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A Commonwealth Fund survey suggests that nine of 10 adults consider health care reform a top national campaign issue. As a way to achieve universal health care coverage, would you support a government single-payer role? Why or why not?

ALLEN: I am the only U.S. Senate candidate in the nation to author a universal health care plan. My bold plan drives down cost while providing access to affordable, quality health care choices. It builds on the strengths of the existing American health care system by providing new and better choices for businesses, families and individuals who are left out of the system or lack the health care security they should have throughout their lives.

All Americans, including the self-employed, and owners and employees of small businesses, will be guaranteed the freedom to purchase a quality plan that is affordable and best for them. Every American will have new options and choices. But Americans who like their current health care coverage can keep it.

Piecemeal measures to fix health care won't fix the problem and are just more of the same.

COLLINS: Providing affordable access to quality health care for all Americans is one of the most significant domestic challenges facing our country. I support the goal of universal health coverage.

I have introduced bipartisan legislation that builds on our current public programs and private health care system to make quality health care more available and affordable for all Americans. Our legislation creates new tax credits for small businesses to make health insurance more affordable and provide funds to help states form group purchasing cooperatives which will enable small employers to join together to purchase health insurance jointly.

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Should Congress continue or roll back the Bush tax cuts on upper brackets, which include a 15 percent top rate on capital gains and a 3 percentage point cut in most income tax brackets, and expire at the end of 2010?

ALLEN: I voted against the Bush-Cheney tax breaks for the superwealthy and big corporations because I knew they were bad for Maine. In hindsight, they weren't just bad for Maine, but disastrous.

My focus has always been on strengthening our middle class. My plan focuses meaningful tax cuts to help hard working people raise their children and earn a decent living.

My Middle Class Opportunity Act includes additional tax credits to help families raise their children and care for older family members, and to make college more affordable.

A property tax deduction for people who do not itemize on their income tax would be particularly helpful to senior citizens. So many of our seniors have a significant property tax burden but do not itemize. My plan makes it simple for them to get the relief they need. Relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax is central to my plan.

COLLINS: The issue of taxes highlights one of the most fundamental differences between my opponent and me. Simply put, I believe that Mainers, particularly those who are middle and lower income, pay too much in taxes. My opponent does not think they pay enough. For example, I supported the tax relief that Tom Allen opposed and has benefited 500,000 Mainers.

The tax relief bills in 2001, 2003 benefited low and middle-income taxpayers by reducing the marriage penalty, lowering income tax rates and increasing the child tax credit to $1,000 per child. I support these tax relief measures and believe they should be extended so these middle-income families do not experience a tax increase during these already tough economic times. This includes taxpayers earning as little as $33,000 annually.

If Congress does not vote to extend current tax rates, taxes will leap automatically by $1.2 trillion nationally. A half million Maine families will see their taxes increase at a time when they can least afford it.

I do believe that wealthier Americans can and should pay higher tax rates, and I have voted in support of higher tax brackets for these taxpayers that have an ample ability to pay a higher top rate.

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What is your vision for U.S. military presence in Iraq over the next six months? The next year?

ALLEN: I voted against the war in Iraq and have consistently opposed the Bush Administration's policies to keep us in an endless, religious and bloody civil war. For more than two years I have advocated setting a deadline to safely and responsibly bring our troops home. Sen. Barack Obama agrees with me. The Maliki government wants us to set a deadline, and now even the Bush Administration is signaling it may be ready to sign an agreement to that end.

I have passed legislation banning permanent bases in Iraq. That measure passed in the House and Senate and was signed into law. We need to bring our troops home in a safe, responsible manner and take care of our people here at home.

COLLINS: I have long called for a change in U.S. strategy in Iraq. Our country needs a new direction that sets the stage for a significant, but responsible, drawdown of our combat troops and that encourages a lasting political solution for Iraq. I have authored a bipartisan proposal that would require the president to immediately transition the mission of our troops away from combat operations to focus on counterterrorism operations, border security and the training of Iraqi forces. This change in strategy would allow tens of thousands of our combat troops to start the process of coming home and would demonstrate that our military commitment to Iraq is neither open-ended nor unconditional.

I also believe that it is time for the Iraqis to pay more of the costs of securing and rebuilding their own country.

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Gasoline prices soared above $4 per gallon in mid-August. Heating oil was $4.40 per gallon earlier in the summer. Can the economy sustain those costs or is congressional intervention needed to stabilize prices? If action is needed, when and what action is needed? Do you favor expanded offshore drilling as part of the solution? Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? More nuclear plants?

ALLEN: First we have to give immediate relief to Mainers, and my plan does that through a $2,000 refundable tax credit to help people afford home heating oil this winter. My plan includes other tax credits and low interest loans to help with weatherization and home heating fuel costs.

We have to crack down on speculators and market manipulators who are driving up costs. I strongly support pressuring oil companies to drill where leases currently exist but are not being drilled. The oil companies currently have more than 90 million acres under lease but do not drill on 68 million acres -- an area three times the size of Maine. I also believe we should release 100 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase domestic supply.

A smart long-term plan that stresses conservation, efficiency and investments in alternative and renewable energies is a must to help wean ourselves from foreign oil dependency, curb climate change and create jobs. Wind, solar, water and wood chips for making cellulosic ethanol are all in great abundance here in Maine.

Growth in the renewable energy industry will create high-paying manufacturing jobs.

I am open to considering nuclear energy, which currently supplies about 20 percent of our energy needs, as one of the options for achieving energy independence and lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. However, we must be careful in our approach and ensure the proper environmental safeguards and input from local communities.

COLLINS: Our nation is experiencing an energy crisis. It is unacceptable that Congress voted to adjourn for the August recess without addressing the energy crisis in a meaningful way.

Oil is not our nation's future, but it is our present. So we must immediately produce more here at home and pursue conservation and alternative sources of energy.

I support a bipartisan consensus energy plan that was proposed before Congress adjourned. This bill would provide for increased production in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of states from Virginia to Georgia, while prohibiting any drilling in the Gulf of Maine. It also leaves in place the current moratorium on drilling anywhere off New England's coasts. I continue to oppose drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This consensus bill calls for expanded production in the Gulf of Mexico, which could yield results relatively quickly because the infrastructure of pipelines and refineries are already largely in place. And the plan includes environmental safeguards as well as protections for states that decide against drilling.

The bill also would double funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program eliminate needless tax breaks for big oil companies.

I am open to considering nuclear energy. However, we must be careful in our approach and ensure the proper environmental safeguards and input from local communities.

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The Democratic platform calls for "tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration," and Sen. John McCain says he wouldn't pursue an enforcement-only approach sought by GOP conservatives. Both presidential candidates support a temporary worker program and eventual path to citizenship for immigrants. What specific reforms do you propose?

ALLEN: I believe that any comprehensive immigration reform legislation needs to be both fair to taxpayers and focus on securing our borders. In 2006, I voted for comprehensive immigration reform in the House of Representatives. Although the legislation was not perfect it represented an important step towards reform.

COLLINS: I do not believe that individuals who are in the United States illegally should be granted a priority path to citizenship over those who are trying to enter this country legally. Instead, Congress should adopt legislation that secures our borders, deters illegal immigration, and recognizes the critical difference between those who have and those who have not abided by our immigration laws.


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