By Cameron Smith
Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District, which encompasses the suburbs of Birmingham, may be the only hotly contested election this cycle, but that is no excuse for voters to give the remaining federal candidates a free pass on detailing their solutions to the challenges facing Alabama and the nation.
Unfortunately, the difference between candidates who have real solutions and those who simply memorize their party’s talking points is challenging to tease out in short sound bites, particularly when many of the candidates appear to agree on major policy themes. With that in mind, here are five questions that will help Alabama’s voters differentiate between federal candidates:
1. What inefficient, ineffective government program or spending priority would you cut or reform?
“Eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse” is a favorite bipartisan slogan, but it rarely happens because every federal program has guardians capable of creating political headaches. Candidates should have specific ideas of their own or take advantage of taxpayer-funded work like the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s annual report which identifies inefficient or duplicative federal programs.
2. What is one piece of legislation or policy priority offered by a member of the opposing party that you could support?
Regardless of political perspective, no candidate or a party has cornered the market on good ideas. While principled differences will always be present in political life, candidates should have an interest in working on positive solutions with those who might disagree with them on other issues. A prime example of the effectiveness of this practice was President Reagan’s work with Congressman Dick Gephardt and Senator Bill Bradley, both Democrats, on the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986.
3. How would you improve the healthcare marketplace and access to healthcare in America?
The Affordable Care Act has become a political liability for many of the politicians who supported the law. At the same time, candidates joyfully throwing around the “repeal and replace” mantra should be prepared to provide specifics about their alternatives rather than soft theories or promises that will be difficult to honor. Candidates must also focus on the drivers for the high cost of healthcare itself rather than aiming predominantly at health insurance.
4. How do you plan to address the growing financial challenges facing Social Security? The 2013 report from the Board of Trustees for Social Security found that Social Security reserves will “become depleted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2033.” Social Security is a tough political issue, but voters should look for candidates with the courage to discuss practical solutions in a way that does not isolate voters. Otherwise, Social Security’s financial problem compounded by a political problem will become our problem.
5. What are your ideas for alleviating the increasing cost for small businesses to comply with the growing number of federal regulations?
In 2010, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy released a report that totaled the annual cost of federal regulations in 2008 at $1.75 trillion. To put that figure in perspective, the total amount of corporate and individual federal income tax collected in 2008 was only $1.45 trillion. According to the same report, the regulatory cost facing small businesses is 36 percent higher than that of large corporations. Regardless of the merits of specific regulations, candidates need to have an answer as to how they plan to alleviate the ever-expanding quagmire of federal rules on the average business.
Even in less-contested or unopposed federal races, Alabama’s voters perform an important function in our Republic by engaging their elected officials, posing tough questions and expecting to hear reasonable answers.