Feingold defends voting recordSen. Russ Feingold didn’t back away from his support for health care reform or the stimulus bill during a campaign stop in Hudson on Sunday afternoon.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Sen. Russ Feingold didn’t back away from his support for health care reform or the stimulus bill during a campaign stop in Hudson on Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t apologize for those votes. Those were the right votes. Those were an attempt to try to solve the leading problems that the American people face,” the Democratic senator told about 50 supporters on hand when he paid a visit to his campaign office at 206 Second St.
Feingold voted with the Democratic majority in adopting the health care overhaul last March and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009.
He said his Republican opponents cite the votes as reasons to throw him out of office. And Ron Johnson, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate to replace him, has said the first thing he’d do is work to repeal the health care act.
“So remind people what that means,” Feingold encouraged his supporters. “Thirty-two million Americans who are finally going to get health insurance would no longer have any. … A million people in Wisconsin with pre-existing conditions are finally protected from insurance booting them off. He would get rid of that.”
Repealing the health care act would also end the provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, he said. And it would take away tax credits to help 80,000 small businesses in Wisconsin provide insurance for their employees.
Feingold called Republican assertions that the health care act cut Medicare “an absolute fraud.”
“It did not cut Medicare benefits,” he said. “What it did do is begin to close the donut hole.”
The reference was to the current gap in Medicare coverage for annual prescription drug costs between $2,800 and $6,000.
“Mr. Johnson and the Republicans would eliminate that for seniors and leave them with that huge bill,” Feingold said.
“You can win this argument. You just can’t be afraid. You’ve just got to stand up and be proud of the fact that Barack Obama had the guts to be the first president in 70 years to get the job done. It’s something to be proud of!”
The line brought a round of applause from supporters.
Feingold also defended his vote for the $787 billion Recovery Act.
“Remind people, first of all, that it provided a tax cut to 95 percent of all working Americans on their withholding. That’s one of the largest tax cuts in American history,” he said. “That’s not government spending for the public sector. That’s for everybody. The idea was that they would get the money and they would buy something — which they undoubtedly did. That’s how you stimulate the economy. And I think it helped.”
Tax cuts accounted for $288 billion of the cost of the Recovery Act, according to the government website www.recovery.gov. The act provides $275 billon for projects and $224 billion in assistance to state and local governments.
Feingold blasted Republicans for criticizing the use of stimulus dollars to retain teachers and state and local government employees.
Johnson, he said, talks “like public employees are evil.”
“When his house is burning down he doesn’t consider a public employee evil. We saved the jobs of firefighters. When somebody robs one of his kids and they call the police he doesn’t think a public employee is evil. We saved the jobs of many police in this state.”
“Thousands and thousands” of teaching jobs were saved, too, he said.
“Guess what, if those folks wouldn’t have had a job, they wouldn’t have been buying anything and the situation would have been even worse,” he added.
Feingold also attacked Johnson for saying the Recovery Act hasn’t created private-sector employment.
“He’s completely, flat-out not telling the truth … that’s completely wrong,” he said of Johnson.
Feingold said that three days earlier Johnson had visited RexCon, a Burlington company whose CEO lauded the Recovery Act as one of the largest and most comprehensive highway construction bills in the last 30 years.
Feingold said that seven times more highway projects will be completed in the country this year over the past year, and that tens of thousands of weatherization and clean water projects are under way.
“Who do you think is doing that work? It’s not IRS employees,” he said, drawing laughter from his supporters. “It’s your local contractors. Heating and cooling people. You name it. It’s local jobs.”
Feingold also noted that funding for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee, and eventually to the Twin Cities, came from the Recovery Act.
He said President Obama was right in saying that people attacking the recovery “are playing politics with the economic recovery of the American people.”
“They are taking advantage of people’s suffering for political reasons and talking down the economy. We are not. We are trying to solve the problem.”
President Obama inherited the worst set of economic problems faced by any president other than Franklin Roosevelt, Feingold said.
There was no budget deficit when President Bill Clinton left office, he said. But “horrible deficits” accumulated during the presidency of George W. Bush because of unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy, unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a Medicare Part D program that was a gift to the pharmaceutical industry.
“You know, these things start adding up. A hundred billion here and a hundred billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. This is what they left us,” he said.
Johnson’s plan for creating jobs is to give the wealthy like himself a much bigger tax cut, Feingold said.
“Period. That’s his plan. Not just the Bush tax cuts. More, more, more, more – without any obligation to actually do something to create jobs,” he said.
Feingold was one of 10 Senate Democrats to vote against the $700 billion financial industry bailout adopted in late September 2009.
He also voted against the financial reform bill recently approved by Congress.
“I promised the people of the state of Wisconsin that I would only vote for a bill that did the job,” Feingold said, explaining his opposition to the financial reform bill to a reporter before addressing his supporters.
He said he opposed the bill because it doesn’t address the issue of financial institutions that are “too big to fail,” and because it doesn’t restore the Glass-Steagall Act restriction on banks combining with investment houses.
“I’m not going to pretend to the people of Wisconsin that this thing does the job, because it doesn’t do the job,” he said.
“I was one of the eight senators to vote against getting rid of Glass-Steagall, so I wasn’t about to let the same people who told me that was a good idea tell me this was a good idea. They were wrong before and I think they’re wrong again.”
He didn’t mention David Westlake, the other Republican Senate candidate. A Sept. 14 primary will determine which Republican’s name is on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
Feingold is finishing his third six-year term in the U.S. Senate. He defeated two-term incumbent Bob Kasten in his first run for the Senate in 1992.
The 57-year-old Feingold grew up in Janesville. He’s a graduate of Janesville Craig High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He also received a degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 1977 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979.
He served in the Wisconsin Senate for 10 years before moving on to the U.S. Senate.