Candidates in local Congressional races talk about jobs, economy
Unemployment last month dropped to 7.8 percent, exactly the same rate the month President Barack Obama took office.
But the ongoing slow growth means jobs and the economy remain uppermost in voters' minds as the election approaches.
Only 114,000 jobs were created last month and many millions more people remain out of the workforce, having given up on finding a job, prompting Republicans to say the picture is far worse than Obama would have the nation believe.
Locally, the unemployment rate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area was 9.4 percent in August, the only metro area with a more than 9 percent rate. The region's unemployment rate has been highest of all metro areas for more than two years.
In the local congressional races, the candidates offer varied reasons for why unemployment remains so high and a menu of potential solutions.
17th Congressional District
In the 17th Congressional District race, attorney Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, and home health nursing agency owner Laureen Cummings, a Republican, differ sharply on boosting job growth. The district includes Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pittston and surrounding areas.
Cummings said the "progressive policies" - mostly regulation and taxes - pushed by Democrats are "killing businesses."
President Obama's middle-class tax cuts mostly took money out of the Social Security Trust Fund more than doing anything to solve the economic slump, Cummings said.
Her solution to the jobs crunch and the nation's complex tax system is to adopt a national sales tax that includes clothing and food. Referring to it as "a fair tax," she said it would replace the income tax and the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare, rescuing both entitlement programs, she said.
The idea has been around for years but has never gained any traction in Congress.
"All federal taxes will be gone. They will be gone," Cummings said. "Employers will no longer have to match those federal taxes, which will allow them to have more money to hire more employees or lower the cost of their products or services ... That will create huge amounts of jobs."
Democrats favor raising taxes on the rich, she said, but that won't work because the rich can afford lawyers and accountants to fight for tax breaks, she said.
"So where does the money come from? It comes from small businesses because they want to increase capital gains taxes," she said.
She also favors rolling back regulations that she says cost the nation jobs because businesses must spend money to comply.
Cartwright also thinks regulation is a problem, but with an entirely different outlook.
He said unemployment remains high because trade policies that encourage companies to shift plants overseas hurt the nation's manufacturers.
"We put a lot of regulations on our American businesses, regulations to protect the environment, to protect children, to protect workers, to pay them enough, to pay them a living wage," he said. "And a lot of our trading partners don't have the same kinds of regulations."
If other nations refuse to match the regulatory structure here, "reasonable tariffs" on goods exported to the U.S. are appropriate "to level the playing field," he said.
"I will be a strong advocate for a much more aggressive trade policy with our trading partners," he said.
Cartwright also said he will pursue a more extensive program to fix the nation's numerous deteriorating roads and bridges.
"Nowhere in America do we need it more than in Pennsylvania," Cartwright said. "Those are good-paying (construction) jobs."
Cartwright said he favors increasing taxes on the wealthy to rates seen under President Bill Clinton, who produced several budgets with surpluses.
"We have to enact responsible revenue legislation. I think that's the crux of the debate," he said. "We have people who don't believe that the government should do much of anything ... And those are the Tea Partiers. And they're the ones gumming up the works in Congress right now."
11th Congressional District
The 11th Congressional District contest pits Republican Rep. Lou Barletta against Democratic activist-consultant Gene Stilp.
Stilp said he does not understand why the private sector is not creating more jobs. The district encompasses all or parts of nine counties, including what is roughly the western part of Luzerne County and all of Wyoming County. The district stretches south into Cumberland and Dauphin counties.
"You'll have to ask them why," he said. "I'm not the person with the money."
To create jobs, Stilp said, he would work with local governments and economic development agencies to keep and attract jobs, concentrate on expanding the workforce at the district's military installations such as the Tobyhanna Army Depot and provide more money for education.
"The better educated workforce we have here, the better institutions we have here, it becomes a destination for people to move into and also to enhance the communities," Stilp said.
He would also work to provide more money to upgrade roads, bridges, the electrical grid, water treatment plants and other infrastructure.
He favors revising the health care reform law to ensure it does not hurt small businesses and ending large companies' control of tax policy via their lobbyists.
"The tax burden that some of the largest corporations have in the world, they're not sharing the burden," he said.
Stilp said he favors cutting the corporate net income tax by taking away special tax breaks for corporations such as the oil industry, raising the top income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans and finding ways to ensure veterans find jobs.
Barletta said the president's policies keep joblessness high. Businesses are afraid to invest in job-producing expansions because of the uncertainty over taxation levels next year, the effect of the health care reform law and new regulations.
"You want to make sure that the business climate/environment provides some certainty that investment or adding more employees, that it's a good time to do it," he said. "This has been self-inflicted."
Barletta points to 39 bills designed to create jobs passed by the Republican House majority with his support. They include bills to curb regulation, lift bans on offshore oil drilling and allow for freer trade with Colombia, Panama and Korea.
None have passed the Senate. Last year, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said "Republicans have wasted their time with Tea Party-driven bills that independent economists say will fail to create jobs."
Barletta chastises the Senate for failing to even bring the bills up for a vote.
"We've been ... handcuffed in what we've able to do," he said.
Barletta said one measure necessary to create jobs is to reduce the corporate income tax - one of the highest in the world - by closing loopholes that benefit bigger corporations to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.
"Smaller businesses, they can't take advantage of loopholes," he said. "Lower the taxes that all the small businesses in the United States could be more competitive, can profit more, where they can expand and hire more people."
Repealing the health care reform law would also help, so would removing regulations strangling the cement industry and forcing farmers to control dust.
"Every hearing we have has been about the overregulation of ... industries," he said.
For example, banks hire numerous people just to comply with regulations that grew out of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, he said.
"The United States was at one time the leading manufacturer of cement. Because of all the regulations ... the United States now produces only 4 percent of the cement in America," he said.
Barletta said he favors making the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush permanent. Otherwise, the nation will lose an estimated 700,000 more jobs, based on an Ernst & Young study, he said.
"It will be the largest tax increase in the nation's history," he said.
Obama's proposed tax increase on the wealthy will actually increase taxes on small businesses and damage their ability to create jobs, he said.
10th Congressional District
In the 10th Congressional District contest, Republican Rep. Tom Marino and Democratic insurance industry management consultant Phil Scollo actually share some similar views. The district includes part of Lackawanna County and all of Susquehanna, Wayne and Pike counties.
Like Barletta, Marino thinks corporate tax rates must come down or corporations and small businesses will not invest in expansions and favor eliminating loopholes that benefit big corporations.
"Most of the democratic world has tax rates at 20 (percent) or below and we're pushing 40 (percent)," he said. "If the tax rates come down, they're going to invest, they're going to build and when they build, that's going to create jobs because we're going to buy more."
Marino said tax rates for middle class also should be lowered.
"That's going to put more money in our pockets and what do we do in the middle class? We go out and buy a new refrigerator or a new car. And if we do that in mass volume, like history has proven, production-wise they're going to have to step up production and that means they're going to have to hire people," he said
Eliminating tax loopholes for corporations is key, he said.
"They can't have a lower tax rate and have the loopholes, the tax advantages that they have," he said.
Marino also said repealing the health care law, which he has voted to do without Senate agreement, will create or save jobs.
"I've had endless small businesses say to me, 'If I'm going to get hit with this Obamacare tax, that means that I'm going to have to lay some people off and even go out of business," he said.
Marino said he also favors eliminating unnecessary regulations such as the kind hurting the coal industry, roofing contractors and others.
Scollo also thinks the government might be "overregulating small business."
The nation is also not training enough people for available jobs and not focusing enough on innovations in technology, science and engineering, he said. He'll try to change that as congressman.
Scollo points to his proposals for creating jobs, which include focusing on restoring manufacturing, simplifying the tax code, reducing regulation, upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, national parks and other infrastructure, developing policies that encourage "buying American" and "made-in-America" tax breaks.
He would also promote policies that favor high technology and tourism.
He said he would oppose raising taxes on the wealthy as Democrats propose, saying only that he thinks "the wealthy need to pay their fair share." But he favors simplifying the tax code and ending oil and gas industry tax breaks, he said.
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