It's the economy, stupid. That was clearly the theme of debate between tenth district candidates Robert Dold and Dan Seals during a forum at Glenbrook South High School Wednesday night.
Dold and Seals emphasized the issues of job creation, taxes and the economy during the debate sponsored by Glenbrook South, the League of Women Voters and The Union League Club of Chicago.
The candidates are vying for the seat now held by Republican Senate hopeful Mark Kirk, in a district that includes Northbrook, Glenview, Northfield, Glencoe and Winnetka, among other north suburbs. Seals is a Democrat and business consultant who is running for the seat for the third time after losing to Kirk in 2006 and 2008. Dold is a Republican and president of a family pest extermination business who is making his first congressional bid.
At the debate in Glenview, the issue of taxes was a clear differentiator. While both candidates said they would initially vote to extend Bush's tax cuts, which expire at the end of this year, they were divided on how taxes fit into a long-term economic strategy.
"I want to make sure that these taxes stay low so that we can have small businesses invest back in their businesses, so that we can invest back in individuals," Dold said. He emphasized that individuals, not the federal government, were the engine of job creation.
But Seals said that in the long-term, raising taxes--at least for those people in the highest income-earning brackets--was important to the economy as a way of reducing national debt.
"While our economy's in a fragile state, don't raise taxes," he said. "But we have to end the tax cuts in the long run, certainly for the wealthiest Americans, so we can start to pay down that debt."
To tackle unemployment, Seals said the government should "close incentives in the tax code" that reward companies for outsourcing jobs and also invest in green industries.
But when it came to creating jobs, Dold said taxing corporations was not the answer.
"We've got the second highest corporate tax rate in the world," he said. "What's going to stop corporations from taking all those jobs overseas?"
Dold compared Indiana to Illinois, saying that Indiana was attracting businesses--and therefore jobs--while Illinois did not have an environment favorable to businesses.
Social Security was another economic issue on which the candidates differed. Dold said that America was suffering from an "entitlement crisis," due to dwindling Social Security reserves. To address that, he said he would support gradually increasing the age at which people can collect.
"If we want to make sure, for your children, and your grandchildren--if you want social security to be there for them--we have to make some changes," he said.
Seals said he did not think Social Security was in crisis, citing a report by the Social Security Administration's board of trustees.
The report predicts that Social Security will be able to pay benefits at 100 percent until 2037, at which point tax income would support 75 percent of scheduled benefits for retirees until 2084.
Seals also said that Dold wanted to privatize Social Security, but Dold said that was not true.
"I don't want to privatize Social Security; you heard it from me," Dold said, then repeated the statement three times.
While economic issues dominated the debate, abortion was another hot-button topic.
"There's only one pro-choice candidate running, and that's me," Seals said.
But Dold challenged that claim, saying it depended how one defined "pro-choice." According to his campaign website, Dold supports abortion, with limitations. He is in favor of parental notification laws and opposes partial-birth abortion and the use of federal money for abortion procedures.
"I have the moderate stance on this issue," he said.
Although there were clear divisions between the candidates, there were common points as well. Both said they supported stem cell research, pay equity for women, a strong alliance with Israel and campaign finance reform, among other issues.
Coming out of the 90-minute debate, some attendees were cynical.
"I think all politicians say what they want us to hear and then do nothing," said Bobbie Piell of Northbrook.
Tom Kimmel, a Highland Park resident, said he was disappointed in both candidates. "They spoke in generalities," he said. "We need some fresh thinking."
Outside in the parking lot, Glenbrook South senior and debate team member Chris James said he shared Kimmel's sentiment.
"I felt like it was more politics than actual content," he said.
James watched only about half of the debate because he had homework to do, he said, but the forty-five minutes he did see left him unmoved by either candidate's stance on the issues.
Besides, he had a little economic issue of his own to attend to--selling chocolate bars to benefit the debate team.