The candidates on our concerns: The Senate race
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The candidates on our concerns: The Senate race

The Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ sent New Jersey’s 11 senatorial candidates a questionnaire on issues of concern to Jewish constituents.

Below are the answers sent by the four candidates who responded – Sen. Robert Menendez, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13), David Dranikoff, Independent; and Kenneth Kaplan, Libertarian Party.

The questions:

Preventing a nuclear Iran – The threat of Iran’s nuclear ambition is of great concern to the Jewish and the international communities. What is your strategy for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons?

The Israeli-Palestinians conflict What is the appropriate role the United States should play in its relations between Israel and its neighbors, especially when to comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What role would you hope to play as a senator?

U.S. Role in Mideast – What do you see as the biggest challenge to the United States’ interests in the Middle East? What role do you see the U.S. playing with the new governments forming in countries like Egypt and Libya? How do we ensure the security of the United States and Israel?

Charitable deductions – There has been discussion about changing the charitable contribution deductions and the IRA charitable rollover. Do you support the existing deductions or do you think they should be changed?

Medicaid – The health and human service agencies of the state’s Jewish federations receive a substantial amount of their revenue from Medicaid. Would you seek to change Medicaid? What would the impact be for state governments and nonprofits?

Social Security and Medicare – While the baby boomers continue to age and retire, how do you plan to keep social Security and Medicare solvent for future generations?

The national debt – The national debt is over $16 trillion and has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits, while unemployment remains high. What is your strategy for solving these two problems?

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Sen. Robert Menendez, Democrat

Preventing a nuclear Iran

Iran’s nuclear ambitions threaten our ally, Israel, pose a serious threat to America’s national security, and could result in a Middle East arms race and lead to the dismantling of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have strongly opposed Iran’s nuclear activities and have led the effort for tough sanctions against Iran. I authored and led the effort to sanction transactions with the Central Bank of Iran, passing the Senate by a historic vote of 100-0. I also led the effort to further sanction Iran – ending financial messaging services to Iran, designating the National Iranian Oil Company, and imposing sanctions on the insurers and shippers of Iranian petroleum.

As a result, in the last 10 months, Iran has seen its currency fall 60 percent, its petroleum export sales drop by half, and a loss of billions in monthly revenue. I am currently working on new sanctions to further reduce Iran’s foreign currency reserves, weaken their economy, and force the termination of uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons program. Should sanctions prove insufficient or not work quickly enough, I support President Obama’s commitment to place all options on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The Israeli-Palestinians conflict

While the United States has been and should continue to be a facilitator in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it should be clear that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. However, we have and must continue to make clear that the only path to peace is the one that involves direct negotiations between the affected parties – without outside influence – and that excludes any entity that does not recognize the State of Israel.

As your United States senator, I have been and will continue to be a strong voice in helping to influence the Administration’s policy toward the region and in providing crucial defensive and offensive support, such as Iron Dome, to Israel to ensure that in the absence of peace, Israel has the capability to protect and defend itself from any threat.

U.S. Role in Mideast

While one would hope that the Arab Spring might be an advancement of democracy, as of now it has produced tremendous risk. The rise of fundamentalist movements in parts of the region is a tremendous concern for the United States and Israel, particularly in Egypt. We should recognize that the foundation of these movements was the political and economic disenfranchisement of large portions of the population by repressive and authoritarian regimes. Extremism is fed by poverty and lack of opportunity.

Our goals must be to promote the national interest and security of the United States, which include promoting the voices of moderation and democracy as well as seeking to create economic growth and political stability. At the same time, we must insist that these new governments keep their treaty obligations and promote peace with the State of Israel.

Charitable deductions

I support tax benefits for charitable donations. The work done by charities and nonprofits makes a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans, and I don’t think Congress should make it more difficult for charities to do their work.

We have a difficult job ahead of us to fashion a bipartisan agreement that will cut spending and raise enough revenue to put us back on a sound budget path. I believe that any budget solution must be balanced and ask everyone to contribute their fair share. We have a moral responsibility to continue serving those most in need, so we cannot simply cut programs that working families rely on to make ends meet without seeking other revenue like closing tax loopholes and expenditures.

However, if a tax-cut plan like my opponent’s goes into effect, it would put the charitable deduction at risk. Independent studies have concluded that even if he were to eliminate practically every tax break that high-income earners enjoy, he would still have to raise taxes on middle class families to cover the cost of those tax cuts. The math just doesn’t add up, which threatens provisions like the charitable deduction.

Medicaid

Medicaid is a lifeline for low-income families, those with disabilities, and seniors in need of long-term care, which is why preserving Medicaid is a top priority of mine. I have consistently opposed dismantling the traditional federal-state partnership and turning Medicaid into a block grant, as proposed in the Ryan budget. Block-granting Medicaid would cost New Jerseyans $39.1 billion in health benefits, including $8.3 billion for seniors, and lead to 465,000 residents potentially losing coverage entirely.

I strongly supported the Affordable Care Act, which strengthened Medicaid by incentivizing primary care, increasing access to lower-cost home and community-based services and promoting care coordination to help manage chronic conditions. Thanks to language I authored in the law, community health centers – the primary point of care for many lower-income families and Medicaid beneficiaries – will receive the long-term financial support they need to continue providing high-quality care to our communities. The ACA also provides 100 percent federal funding for those newly eligible for Medicaid coverage when states expand the program in 2014. This expansion means more than $9 billion in federal funding for the State of New Jersey over five years, which is why I have strongly advocated for expansion of New Jersey’s Medicaid program.

Social Security and Medicare

My mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s, relied on Social Security and Medicare during her twilight years. That is why I support solutions that shore up the long-term financial stability of these programs and protect those who rely on these programs – people like my mother or the mothers and fathers of New Jerseyans across the state who deserve to live with dignity.

The Affordable Care Act that I supported strengthens Medicare, extending the life of the Trust Fund an additional eight years to 2024, after which Medicare will be able to pay 87 percent of hospital insurance costs. Health reform will save seniors and taxpayers $700 billion over the next decade without touching benefits. Since 2010, NJ seniors have saved more than $169 million on their prescriptions, approximately $800 per senior. Social security is solvent until 2033, so we should not fall into the trap that we must completely overhaul the program today in the name of deficit reduction. That is why I do not support the Romney-Ryan budget that would put Social Security in the hands of Wall Street speculators and end Medicare as we know it, turning it into a voucher program that will raise costs on seniors.

The national debt

We must find a balanced approach to spending cuts and tax reform. While I am willing to compromise to enact meaningful reforms, I don’t support deficit reduction solely on the backs of the middle class and the most vulnerable while protecting wasteful corporate tax subsidies for oil companies making record profits and companies shipping American jobs overseas.

I have supported $46 billion in spending cuts the last two years, consolidating duplicative programs, eliminating unnecessary defense spending, closing $6 billion in ethanol loopholes, $24 billion in oil subsidies, and offshore tax havens.

To create jobs, I helped shape a bipartisan transportation bill that creates or maintains 54,000 jobs in NJ, and helped 133 NJ biotech companies keep researchers working; helped secure an eight-year extension of the solar investment tax credit, supporting 10,000 NJ solar workers; helped create incentives for clean-energy manufacturers; and secured $75 million for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants in NJ.

I am fighting to create 57,000 jobs in year one by helping local communities leverage private investment to rebuild aging water and sewer infrastructure. I also authored tax credits for local companies to partner with community colleges and train unemployed workers to fill available positions.

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State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, Republican, Dist. 13

Preventing a nuclear Iran As Israel’s ally, we must continue to assist Israel to mitigate the new and heightened risks they face. And it starts with never allowing Iran to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. The policy of the Iranian regime is to eliminate Israel – to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Armed with nuclear weapons, they would possess the means to do so. The Iranian threat to our joint history, our joint interests, and the interests of our allies in the region is unacceptable. The world’s leading state sponsor of terror and one of the world’s worst human rights violators can never be allowed to acquire the world’s most deadliest weapons.

That is why I support aggressive legislation to accelerate enforcement of sanctions on Iran, as well as expand the scope of sanctions on Iran and those that do business with Iran. While Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, countries, companies, and individuals around the world should be given a simple choice: you can either do business with us or with Iran – not both. All options with respect to Iran must be on the table.

The Israeli-Palestinians conflict

The Israeli and American peoples share a deep and abiding friendship based on a commitment to core values including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of the press and religion. Both of our nations endure as symbols of liberty and freedom in a world threatened by intolerance. Our nations stand together – shoulder-to-shoulder – devoted to our common interests of deterring war, promoting stability and prosperity, and achieving peace. So when our friends ask to meet – the right thing for the President to do is meet with the Israeli Prime Minister. The United States and Israel also share an economic philosophy – based on entrepreneurial initiative, open markets, free trade, and an approach that places its faith in the abilities and imagination of the individual, not their respective governments.

As a United States senator, I would work tirelessly toward a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it starts by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Second, like Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe in a two-state solution. It’s the policy of the United States and a policy I will continue to support. But right now Israel does not have a negotiating partner. Before any negotiation can proceed, the Palestinians must recognize Israel and renounce violence.

U.S. Role in Mideast

The world has become a more dangerous place. We have witnessed the collapse of long-held assumptions on the apparent stability of Middle Eastern dictatorships. Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have ended longstanding autocracies.

The Syrian dictator has turned his guns on his own people and has shown no limit to his cruelty and willingness to murder to cling to power. We have seen a similar unraveling in Egypt. For over 30 years Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, supported by U.S. aid to Egypt, has relieved Israel of the need to prepare for large-scale conventional war from Egypt. Since Mubarak’s fall, Egypt has all but lost control of the Sinai, creating a lawless void through which arms are shipped freely to Gaza and terror attacks designed to disrupt Egyptian-Israeli relations have occurred.

The U.S. – with still strong ties to Egypt’s military – must make clear to the Egyptian government that U.S. aid to Egypt will be conditioned on Egypt reaffirming its international commitments – Egypt must uphold its peace treaty with Israel. Period.

Charitable deductions

We need tax reform to increase opportunity, raise revenue, and unleash job creation. While we’re at it, we need to end the policy of picking winners and losers through the tax code. I agree with the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission that we have to overhaul our complex and outdated tax code in a fiscally responsible way. My plan calls for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut for all taxpayers and employers. That will spur job creation, entrepreneurship, and growth. And I’d paid for that cut by scaling back a lot of the special tax breaks and loopholes that junk up the tax code and allow those at the top to shelter a lot of income. You can read my full Jobs Plan at joekyrillos.com/america-works.

Medicaid

Poverty levels today are nearly identical to the levels that prompted Lyndon Johnson to declare a War on Poverty, and almost 50 years later people in our society are being left behind. We have an obligation to care for society’s most vulnerable, and I support a generous safety net for those who need it most. Medicaid is an integral part of that safety net and must be strengthened. This requires our elected officials to make the tough decisions and finally get government spending under control. Failure to do so would cause our entitlement programs to go bankrupt. That is why my economic plan will limit government spending by capping it to 20 percent of the overall economy. This bipartisan program to shrink our deficit will pave the way to long-term growth and job creation that will strengthen our economy and safety net programs.

Social Security and Medicare

Social Security and Medicare are going broke. Some propose staying the course. One bipartisan commission concluded that that course would lead to an immediate 22 percent across-the-board cut. Our seniors deserve better than that. They deserve better than elected officials with no solutions. My plan preserves Social Security and Medicare and changes nothing for those over 55. For those under 55, I would support President Obama’s bipartisan committee’s recommendations that gradually raise the retirement age to 67 by 2027. For everyone over 55, the retirement age would stay at 65. We would also gradually increase benefits for all Americans, but allow smaller increases for the wealthiest Americans. These reforms would strengthen Social Security and Medicare for generations to come. Moreover, I am the only candidate in this race who has not voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare.

The national debt

The greatest threat to the future of our country is unemployment. We need jobs. To date, we have not recovered the jobs lost during the recession, and Washington has made it worse by not making the tough decisions that would give the economy the certainty that job creators need to invest, expand, and create jobs. That is why I am the only candidate who has put together a comprehensive jobs plan that holds the line on taxes so businesses can reinvest and expand and reduces over-burdening regulation on small businesses. My plan also calls for private sector stimulus. Currently there are $1.8 trillion in corporate profits locked out of our country. Companies won’t bring that money back because it will get taxed twice. By reforming the tax code, companies can bring those profits back to our shores and invest in America rather than Europe or China.

My jobs plan restores fiscal responsibility, reduces job-killing red tape, builds a competitive workforce, and restores America’s place as the home of innovation. It will spur economic growth that will bolster middle-class families and pay down our debt. You can read my full Jobs Plan at joekyrillos.com/america-works.

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David Dranikoff, Independent

Preventing a nuclear Iran

As chair of the Israel and World Affairs Committee of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest, I can tell you that we struggle mightily with this issue. Iran is the number one supplier to organized terror groups around the world. Iran supplies Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, so-called freedom fighters in Libya and Egypt. They also fight side by side with Assad in Syria slaughtering men, women, and children. Iran kills fellow Iranians that challenge the government’s authority. Iran plans and executes assassinations in Eastern Europe and here in America. A nuclear Iran is a danger to the whole world and especially to Israel. Sanctions are great but red lines must be put in place. I am a peaceful person but a nuclear Iran is beyond frightening to me. The last thing I want is another Middle East war but we know that pacification is not an acceptable solution. If I was elected to the Senate I would encourage our President to deliver a very clear message to Iran: “If you continue to enrich uranium we will have no choice but to use everything in our power to stop you.”

The Israeli-Palestinians conflict

I would join with the other 93 percent of senators and fully engage and embrace the Israel-American partnership. America’s most important role is to help Israel and the Palestinian Authority implement the Oslo agreements. The U.S. should encourage each party to firmly live up to the clauses in the Oslo Accords. For example Israel agreed to give the PA land for peace, and Israel agreed to help build a PA police organization. Israel agreed to make sure that their population understood that land for peace is a formula for peace. Israel further agreed to supply water and collect taxes for the PA. They agreed to be good neighbors. The PA agreed to establish a country based on democratic principles. The PA agreed to stop incitement. The PA agreed to prepare their population for peace. If elected to the Senate I would do everything possible to help both parties implement the Oslo principles. The U.S. is uniquely qualified to encourage peace, but on its own it cannot force agreements on nations.

U.S. Role in Mideast

Sometimes even a great and powerful nation can sit on the sidelines and watch history unfold. The U.S. can rush in with enthusiasm or carefully sit back on the sidelines while evaluating the ever-changing terrain in the Middle East. It is clear to me that we made mistakes in Libya. Let’s not compound the errors. I recommend a slow-as-you-go policy with the newly formed [governments in] countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. They are new and, not surprisingly, quite fragile, clawing their way to the future. We can help in many small ways, but less is more.

Charitable deductions T

Charities embrace the biblical concept that humans should help repair the world. Nations that throw away the less fortunate are nations without principles. Helping those in need is a core value of our country. There are those who would challenge me on this position, saying that we are a country of self-made, hard-working, responsible people, and that is true. But we also are a nation that embraces the orphans, the battered, the injured, the unemployed, the uneducated, the wounded, and victims of tyranny. Our country has 53 million people on food stamps. We have 23 million without jobs. These are critical problems we cannot walk away from. The best and most efficient way to heal the sick and protect the injured is to work with efficient organizations that have excellent track records delivering services with limited budgets. All these organizations rely on the charitable deductions system in place within the IRS statutes. To disturb it would be foolhardy.

Medicaid

We can make small adjustments to save these programs for future generations. Both Medicare and Medicaid share the same destructive roots, which untreated will ultimately destroy both programs. It simply costs too much money to care for the needy within our current hospital systems. One suggestion is to revisit the Medicare and Medicaid drug policy approved by the Republican Congress during the second Bush administration. Congress agreed to give the pharmaceutical companies a no-bid drug contract. That is why Americans pay twice as much money for the same drugs made in the same plants as Canadians. By changing this from no-bid to bid contracts, we can save the program $150 billion.

Social Security and Medicare

Medicare and Medicaid if not fundamentally changed will bankrupt our federal budgets, but before we take a hatchet to both programs let’s consider the course rather than the symptom. The true problem is that health care in America costs too much money. The U.S. Institute of Medicine recently wrote a 450-page report and Channel Thirteen recently reported in their segment on “Money in Medicine” that our hospital systems waste roughly $750 billion dollars a year. Therefore, before we kill the most important medical safety net systems, shouldn’t we first work with the hospital systems around the country so they can deliver affordable and functional health care? Social Security is a smaller problem that can be solved by adjustments to the age requirements or threshold.

The national debt

We start by using an accounting term called zero-based budgeting. This system requires our government to review every agency’s budget from dollar one.

Congress and the President must declare a moratorium on EARMARKS! Absolutely no earmarks in any upcoming budgets.

According to the Cato Institute, the federal government spends about $90 billion annually to a select group of corporations. Let’s end that for the next three years.

We were spending $100 billion per year fighting in Iraq. The war is over; we should return the $100 billion to the treasury.

We deposit 70 percent of the savings to the treasury and we use the rest to: carefully and responsibly fix our roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids, creating millions of new construction and engineering jobs. We need to prepare our country for the future, not the past. A strong America is our most powerful international weapon. The federal tax system is broken. It contains over 70,00 pages of regulations. It has to be simplified and made more transparent.

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Kenneth Kaplan, Libertarian Party

Preventing a nuclear Iran

Personally, I am a strong supporter of Israel, from buying trees as a child through the JNF, to demonstrating in front of the French consulate when I was in college because of a refusal by the French to fulfill a contract for gun boats meant for Israel, and continued to support Israel throughout my adult life. However, as odious as I find the posturing and policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the U.S. must respect Iran’s sovereignty unless we are ready to declare war, something we should never do unless we have been attacked or are in imminent danger of being attacked. We are not at that point, nor are we a good poster boy for “No Nukes.” The U.S. is the only country to date to have used nuclear weapons as weapons and not just for test purposes, and we used them on a civilian population. I agree that their use shortened the war and saved thousands of American lives, as well as thousands of Japanese. That does not lesson the horror of their use. Diplomacy at the highest levels must be used to dissuade Ahmadinejad from ever using such weapons, as their victim would more likely be Israel than the U.S. While I hope Iran never even develops nuclear weapons, sometimes the confidence that comes from strength curtails the bullying that comes from insecurity. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad should be respected and negotiated with rather than backed into a corner, because backing him into a corner could provoke drastic measures.

The Israeli-Palestinians conflict

The U.S. should play a secondary role in the negotiations. No matter what we do going forward, we are viewed as a friend of Israel and not trusted by the Palestinians and their Arab allies. The peace process must be organic to the region. The eventual peace that is negotiated, G-d willing, must be acceptable to the Palestinian leadership and people as well as the Israeli leadership and people, because a treaty that is unpopular will likely result in a toppled government and a disavowed treaty

U.S. Role in Mideast

I think Israel is up to the challenge of providing for its own defense. My research indicates that U.S. foreign aid to the Arab countries totals about two and a half times what Israel receives. I am for ending all foreign aid to all nations. Americans should be allowed to contribute without limit for health, education, religious, and welfare purposes, that is to any organization abroad that does work similar to organizations in this country that are tax exempt under section 501(c) of the IRS Code. I am confident that Israeli institutions would continue to receive as much or more from individuals, Jewish and non-Jewish, than they currently receive in official foreign aid. I would not expect Israel’s declared enemies and lukewarm friends to do as well.

Charitable deductions

I am for drastic changes in our tax system. I would seek to repeal the federal income tax, which is fraught with inequalities and loopholes. While I would eventually like to shrink the federal government so it can be sustained on excise taxes alone, that is not immediately possible, so an alternative must be put in place. The alternative would be the so-called Fair Tax, essentially a national consumption or sales tax. Charitable giving would not be taxed at all under the system I propose.

Medicaid

Gary Johnson, two-term former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian Party candidate for president this year, says the following, “Government has never managed any segment of the economy successfully. To expect that it can do so for health care – one of the largest segments – is insanity. Nowhere is it more important that the best possible services and products be available at affordable prices than in the area of health. Government simply cannot fulfill that mission. Rather, real competition, freedom to innovate, and a working marketplace will provide Americans with the health care they want and will demand. To the extent that we, as a society, want to help those who are truly in need, that help can best be provided by the states – with any federal assistance coming in the form of block grants to be applied to best practices, innovative programs, and the most efficient delivery of services.” What he says has merit. Also, I am aware of a local NJ clinic where volunteer doctors and nurses provide quality care to the poor. This model clinic could take government out of the equation entirely except for providing malpractice insurance. I suggest you look into the Zarephath Health Center (www.zhcenter.org).

Social Security and Medicare

Changing the rules on retirees and those close to retirement would be a violation of their trust. They must receive their benefits. Going forward, payroll deductions to fund Social Security and Medicare need to be actuarially based. Workers just starting out should be free to choose other retirement plans, and those in the middle of their working years should have the option of taking a lump sum distribution to be used to buy annuities or otherwise provide for their retirement and medical needs.

The national debt

The most effective way to stimulate the job market is for government to get out of the way! Not just the federal government, but state and local government as well. Multiple layers of regulation and taxation put a stranglehold on existing businesses and make it extremely difficult for new businesses to start. Rather than singling out certain businesses or business sectors (usually the ones who spend the most money on lobbyists) for government bailouts or subsidies, we need to give new businesses a chance to innovate and succeed on their own, in the process creating new products, new services, and new jobs!

If we want to shrink the deficit, we have to shrink the government! The federal government has reached way beyond what our founding fathers envisioned. Successive presidents and sessions of Congress have gotten the federal government involved in activities that should have been left to the states or the people in accordance with the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. We must start returning these functions to the local level. Deficit spending must end immediately. If elected, I will only vote to approve a balanced budget.

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