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Tammy vs. Tommy

The race for U.S. Senate gets serious

Oct. 17, 2012
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You won’t find two candidates more diametrically opposed, former Gov. Tommy Thompson told a Milwaukee Press Club gathering earlier this month about his attempt to beat Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin on Nov. 6.

You know what? It’s true.

The candidates for U.S. Senate couldn’t be more different.

Thompson was a popular Republican governor who served in the Bush administration and then, based on the contacts he made in Washington, made millions of dollars as a consultant and corporate board member. He barely survived a bruising primary this summer, just beating a newcomer who hadn’t lived in Wisconsin in decades.

Now, the former governor is anxiously fundraising and trying to disguise his moderate record to shore up the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Perhaps his son’s joke last weekend that voters should send Obama “back to Kenya” was part of that strategy.

But some things never change, like Thompson’s ego.

“People love me,” Thompson told the Press Club crowd in a performance that became more unhinged as the hour progressed. (You can watch it in full via Wisconsin Eye at www.wiseye.org.)

Thompson’s campaign did not respond to the Shepherd’s request for an interview.

Then there’s Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. Although her political opponents have done their best to paint her as a free-spending liberal and an out-of-the-mainstream lesbian, the soft-spoken Baldwin has stayed calm on the campaign trail and promoted her all-American agenda. Possibly even more infuriating to the Thompson camp, she’s consistently led in the polls against her rival and has outraised him at every turn.

In addition to personal style, the two candidates are “diametrically opposed” to each other on the issues.

Here’s where they stand:


Government Spending

Baldwin: The congresswoman voted against the biggest unfunded policies of the Bush era—the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq and the Medicare Part D drug benefit. Baldwin supported President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, which, in addition to providing funds for state and local governments during the Great Recession, included tax cuts for middle- and lower-income Americans.

Baldwin also supported the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ People’s Budget in 2012, which would end the Bush tax cuts and create tax credits and new brackets that would benefit the average earner, among other things. The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute calculated that this budget would end the deficit in 10 years and provide a $31 billion surplus in 2021.

Thompson: Although Thompson claims to be a budget-cutter, as Wisconsin governor he is largely responsible for the state’s structural budget deficit. Thompson left office in 2001 with a $3.2 billion structural deficit, and state spending increased 118% under his watch.

Now running for U.S. Senate as a budget-cutter, Thompson has endorsed Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would not eliminate the national debt until 2040—at the earliest—and would provide steep cuts to state and local governments, Medicare and Medicaid programs, and federal agencies such as the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency—although Pentagon spending would increase far beyond the budget request of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Income Taxes

Baldwin: The congresswoman was one of the lead sponsors of the Obama-favored Buffett Rule, which would close tax loopholes used by those earning $1 million or more annually, so that they would pay the same tax rate as middle-income earners, or about 30%. The taxed income would include capital gains and dividends, money earned from investments. The rule would add another $20 billion annually to the nation’s coffers.

Baldwin has released 10 years of her personal income tax returns.

Thompson: The former governor wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent at all income levels and backs Ryan’s budget plan, which would substantially reduce taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans and also preserve tax loopholes used by high-earning investors and Wall Street types—and the man at the top of the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney, who paid 14% in federal income taxes on his multimillion-dollar income last year. Thompson proposes to phase in a flat 15% tax as an option for all taxpayers. His website does not state how much revenue the government would lose via these tax breaks.

Thompson said he would not release his income tax returns.


Outsourcing Jobs

Baldwin: Along with Republican Congressman Reid Ribble of Neenah, Baldwin introduced the CHEATS Act, which would allow the United States to impose a tariff on goods heavily subsidized by the Chinese government. Baldwin said the act—which was passed as part of a larger bill this spring—would help to shore up Wisconsin’s paper industry, which has been hit hard by unfair Chinese competition. Baldwin also has a long record of voting against tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

Thompson: The former governor proposes to “repatriate” overseas profits instead of taxing them—the Romney-Ryan plan in a different package. Thompson argues that eliminating taxes on overseas profits—if it is invested in domestic plants, training and research—would spur growth. But corporations received this sort of tax holiday in 2004. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that corporations used the “repatriated” profits not to invest in the American economy, but rather to buy their own stock, pay bigger dividends, benefit corporate owners and lay off workers.   


Health Care Reform

Baldwin: Beginning in 2000, Baldwin started introducing bills that would allow states to create their own systems for universal health care, although they did not pass Congress; her 2007 version was co-sponsored by 35 Republicans. Baldwin supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and introduced the amendment that allows young people up to age 26 to be included on their parents’ insurance plans. More than 6 million young people have utilized this provision to obtain health coverage. Baldwin supported the People’s Budget, which would provide a public option for health insurance. The ACA also closes the Medicare Part D doughnut hole to help seniors pay for their medication.

Thompson: Like Romney and Ryan, Thompson, the former Bush administration Health and Human Services secretary, claims that he would repeal the ACA—although there are some provisions that he appears to support, superficially at least, such as creating federal-state partnerships, rewarding quality and cost savings, covering pre-existing conditions and reforming insurance.



Baldwin: Baldwin voted against the Bush-Thompson Medicare Part D and has voted to require the federal government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Baldwin also has a long history of fighting for SeniorCare, which is a waiver granted to Wisconsin by the federal government—initially by Thompson’s Health and Human Services, ironically—to allow the state to negotiate for drug prices for seniors. Baldwin supports the ACA, which includes Medicare cost savings and reform.

Thompson: Although Thompson was the Health and Human Services secretary when the Medicare Part D program was created, he claims that the unfunded drug benefit and the prohibition on negotiating with Big Pharma is the Democrats’ fault. He also claimed that Democrats, Baldwin included, did nothing to try to fix the problem—Baldwin’s own voting record refutes that charge—and that the drug benefit has cost less than originally assumed. “It works, it’s effective,” Thompson told the Milwaukee Press Club.

Thompson’s plan to save Medicare differs from the Romney-Ryan reform. Thompson’s plan would allow those under age 55 in 2020 the choice of staying on Medicare—“knowing that it is going bankrupt in 2024”—or getting on the Federal Employees Health Benefits, in which federal employees can select to purchase private insurance from a wide variety of providers.

He didn’t provide any details about funding his program or his claim in another venue that he’d “do away with” Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s the Tommy Thompson plan,” he said. “Once again, innovation that will make Medicare protected for people forever in this country. We may have to adjust a few things.”



Baldwin: The congresswoman supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body, health and future.

Thompson: The former governor believes abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest or protecting the mother’s health—exemptions that were not included in the Republican Party’s platform.


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