GOP Senate Hopefuls Debate But Target Casey

Borys Krawczeniuk
Scranton Times Tribune

Seven Republicans candidates who would like to replace Democratic Sen. Bob Casey generally advocated the party’s conservative platform and avoided criticizing each other during a debate Friday.

When they had anything bad to say about anybody, they targeted President Barack Obama and Mr. Casey.

“The Obama-Casey agenda has failed America; it has bankrupted our country,” Camp Hill lawyer Marc Scaringi said. “It’s put America on its knees.”

“Sen. Casey and President Obama, they’re a team effort, and we need to break that team up,” said Laureen Cummings, a nurse and small business owner from Old Forge.

The candidates gathered in a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel on Central Park for a debate sponsored by the Pennsylvania Business Council in hopes it was another small step toward gaining their party’s nomination next April and defeating Mr. Casey in November. Mr. Casey was not invited.

Taxing opposition

The candidates’ synonymous adaptation of party orthodoxy was most pronounced when the questions were about taxes. All seven said they oppose raising taxes – even to pay for wars and road and bridge repairs – oppose trading higher taxes on millionaires for lower Social Security payroll taxes that primarily benefit the middle class.

Pharmacy software developer Tim Burns of Johnstown said he favors a “fairer” flat tax on everyone.

He said the tax trade-off doesn’t make sense because it taxes “the people that are making payroll so there aren’t as many people on the payroll.”

“It doesn’t make any sense unless you are a subscriber to Obamanomics,” Mr. Burns said.

Philadelphia defense-plant owner David Christian, who repeatedly recalled his interactions as a congressman three decades ago with President Ronald Reagan, said the nation needs to cut spending by re-evaluating its “war on poverty, war on borders, wars overseas.”

“We have to look at these taxes. Is everyone paying fairly?” Mr. Christian said. “Those that pay the most and work the hardest should get rewards.”

He also favors a flat tax and making President George W. Bush’s tax cuts permanent rather than a temporary payroll tax cut.

Ms. Cummings said she supports a “consumption tax” that would allow citizens to look at receipts and “how much the government is charging.”

“I’m against class warfare,” Ms. Cummings said. “We have to stop saying that government has to find a way to pay for our tax cuts. That’s our money. It is not the government’s job to invest in anything.”

Former state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County said he never voted for a tax hike in 18 years as a legislator and faulted what he called “a (federal) government behemoth.”

“We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” he said.

He said “tax policy should never be used … to reward one sector over another.”

Mr. Scaringi said cutting tax on individuals and businesses and regulations would make them more “productive and efficient” and said he favored the congressional Republicans’ “cut, cap and balance” plan.

His top priority is getting Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the constitution.

“I oppose class warfare,” he said.

Biotech developer and venture capitalist Steve Welch said businesses need stable tax policies and Congress can start working on taxes by rewriting the federal tax code.

“It needs to be thrown away,” he said.

The payroll tax cut’s temporary nature is the best example of Mr. Casey’s failure to understand business.

“Let businesses create wealth for themselves which creates wealth for all of society,” he said.

Philadelphia commercial financier Robert Allen Mansfield simply said no to the questions about the trade-off and tax hikes without elaborating.

Penn State discussed

On other issues, all seven said they would oppose abortion and back overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized it, would back constitutional constructionists for judicial nominations and would consider abortion when deciding whether to favor a nominee.

They also all said they would never limit gun rights, and all but Mr. Welch said they do not believe climate change is real. Mr. Welch said climate change has always gone on, but the key is to create an energy policy “that is core to everything we do.”

It prompted one of the few exchanges between the candidates when Mr. Scaringi questioned why Mr. Welch would favor decentralizing government, but also favor having a national energy policy.

Mr. Welch said he does not favor having a national energy policy.

The candidates also were asked if Penn State officials were right to fire longtime head football coach Joe Paterno and whether federal involvement in the case is necessary.

On the federal involvement, they all said no and generally agreed Mr. Paterno should have been fired, though Mr. Rohrer hedged a bit by saying it was appropriate if Mr. Paterno had knowledge of what happened.

Mr. Christian surprised everyone when he revealed that he had been sexually abused by a man as a 7-year-old “when the victims were the bad guys.”

“This is personal for me as well,” Mr. Mansfield said without elaborating.

Mr. Scaringi accused Mr. Casey of “pandering” for pursuing a congressional hearing into the matter, calling it “appalling and unconscionable.”

The debate coincided with day one of the annual three-day Pennsylvania Society weekend when the state’s movers and shakers gather in the Big Apple to honor a prominent state resident and hob-nob at receptions, fundraisers and parties.

Three candidates — Tom Smith, John Hensinger and John Vernon — did not appear.

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