By Gerard Shields
Landrieu runs on her record; Kennedy embraces GOP positions
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her Republican challenger, State Treasurer John Kennedy, both opposed the package passed by Congress to shore up the nation's financial sector.
And while they often agree in general on what problems need to be addressed, such as Social Security and health care, they often disagree on how to do it.
Landrieu, a 12-year incumbent, is standing on the votes she has cast, while Kennedy has gained the support of national Republicans and supports GOP positions he hopes will carry him over the finish line. Three other candidates, representing minor parties or running unaffiliated with any party, are also on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Unlike in most state and local elections in Louisiana, the candidate with the most votes wins the congressional race. A candidate does not have to get 50 percent plus one to win.
Here is a wrap-up of where Kennedy and Landrieu stand on the issues.
On the economy: Both Kennedy and Landrieu have experience as Louisiana's state treasurer. Landrieu served for eight years before becoming a senator in 1996.
Landrieu voted against the $700 billion rescue package for the nation's financial industry.
"I felt that it did not include adequate safeguards for taxpayers and also gave too much benefit to those who got us into this mess in the first place," she said.
Kennedy, the current state treasurer, also opposed the bail out, saying it left taxpayers on the hook for the financial problems.
He argues the federal government should have waived a rule that requires mortgage-based securities to be considered worthless even though some of the mortgages they are based upon are sound.
"We didn't get into the problem in 10 days, and it wasn't realistic to get out of it in 10 days," Kennedy said. "I disagree with what they did because I thought you can't make good policy with a gun at your head."
Kennedy said he also thinks the nation could have created a public company for the financial industry to invest in order to receive dividends.
The entity would buy mortgage-backed securities and give investment bankers shares in the corporation. In return, the investment banks would get the special corporation securities and shares of stocks guaranteed by the government.
Landrieu voted for the 2001 Bush tax cuts.
"It was the biggest tax cut in two decades, and I felt that we enjoyed surpluses and it was only fair to return some of the money to the taxpayers," Landrieu said.
With the federal deficit now at $482 billion, Landrieu says, she would let the tax cuts expire for wealthier income earners. Landrieu did not vote for the 2003 Bush tax cuts, saying they would benefit mostly the wealthy at a time of increasing deficits.
The 2001 cuts reduced tax rates based on income. The 2003 reductions targeted capital gains and dividend gains mostly associated with businesses.
Kennedy, who opposed the Bush tax cuts when he ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2004, now supports extending them, citing the economic climate.
"The worst thing you can do in a recession is raise taxes," Kennedy said.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Kennedy contends decisions on whether to stay or leave Iraq should not be made by Congress but by the generals on the ground. A hasty exit would upset the stability in the Middle East, he said.
"I think we ought to listen to the generals," Kennedy said. "If we leave Iraq too soon, Iran will take Iraq. Iran will move in."
Landrieu said she opposes arbitrary withdrawal timetables but supports setting benchmarks. She backed legislation that established 18 benchmarks, ranging from military to political goals. The Iraqi government failed to achieve 11 of the benchmarks.
"It is clear we need a new direction in Iraq," Landrieu said. "We owe our troops more than a failed strategy."
As to whether the U.S. should step up its efforts in Afghanistan, Kennedy said he again would leave the decision up to military leaders.
Landrieu has introduced legislation that would shift military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. Afghanistan borders Pakistan, where U.S. military leaders have said they believe Osama bin Laden is hiding.
"Our chief objective in the war on terrorism is to eliminate al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden," she said.
Both Landrieu and Kennedy oppose the idea of a government-run insurance plan for the nation's 47 million uninsured.
Landrieu has signed onto legislation that would encourage the uninsured to buy private insurance, with federal subsidies going to those who need it.
"It is clear to me that we need health-care reform that ensures that every American has access to affordable care," Landrieu said. "But we have to be smart about it."
Landrieu also supports increasing federal funds to community-based health-care centers and hospitals as a way to keep prices for medical care down.
Landrieu backs efforts to let small business owners join regional insurance pools so they can get the discounted rates insurers offer larger employers.
Kennedy said he would offer a $5,000 tax credit for people to buy insurance. Kennedy would also allow people to purchase insurance across state lines for cheaper premiums, action that is currently prohibited.
A rise in Social Security recipients and a decline in the number of workers paying into the system mean the program's trust fund is projected to run out of money in 2042.
Kennedy said he would vote to halt the use of the Social Security trust fund to pay for other federal services. The money could be replaced with funding preserved by eliminating wasteful federal programs and cutting earmarks, he said.
"The Social Security plan is in jeopardy because Congress spends it on other stuff," Kennedy said.
Landrieu also opposes using the Social Security trust fund for other federal spending and says the best way to prevent raids on the fund is to balance the federal budget and achieve surpluses.
"The best step we can take towards ensuring the solvency of Social Security for generations to come is to restore fiscal discipline and return to the surpluses that we enjoyed in the 1990s," Landrieu said.
Neither Kennedy nor Landrieu supports increasing payroll taxes or cutting benefits.
Landrieu opposes allowing private companies to invest Social Security collections. Kennedy would give younger contributors the option of putting some of their contributions into private accounts.
Landrieu said she would like to add 8,000 new border agents, increase surveillance along the Mexican border and fund a fortified fence to stop illegal immigrants.
"We need to crack down on illegal workers who take jobs from American workers," said Landrieu, who opposes amnesty for the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants.
Kennedy said he also opposes amnesty.
"All amnesty does is lead to more amnesties," Kennedy said.
Kennedy supports the fence, which is being built in many places along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Oil and energy
Kennedy supports more domestic drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and pushes the use of oil shale. He also supports alternative and renewable energy, though he emphasizes that his immediate focus is drilling.
"We have to drill in order to buy time to develop alternatives," Kennedy said.
Landrieu is known as one of the most fervent domestic drilling proponents in the Senate. She has been criticized by Kennedy for not pushing for the tapping of oil shale.
In 2006, Landrieu co-authored legislation that opened 8.3 million acres for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Landrieu was recently part of the "Gang of 20," a bipartisan group of senators who proposed a combination of domestic drilling and tax incentives for alternative and renewable fuels.
"Everywhere I stop as I travel across the state, people ask me: What should we do about rising gas prices?' " Landrieu said. "My answer is simple: Everything we can.' We need more drilling, more conservation and more alternative energy investment."