Social Security, ISIL, immigration debated

Republican Senate hopefuls trade barbs during FPU event

  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.
  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.
  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.
  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.
  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.
  • Republican candidates for U.S. Senator duke it out during Franklin Pierce University's debate series on Thursday night.

RINDGE — Six Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls squared off on Thursday during the Monadnock Debates, with heated exchanges between candidates Bob Smith and Andy Martin passing across the podium at several points throughout the night.

Mark Farnham of Lebanon, Walter Kelly of Lancaster, Robert D’Arcy of Keene, Andy Martin of Manchester, Bob Heghmann of Wolfeboro and Bob Smith of Tuftonboro all came out for Thursday night’s debate, a series being presented by Franklin Pierce University, the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript and New Hampshire Public Television. The six are vying for the primary vote on Sept. 9, with three other hopefuls, including former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, whom many consider the front-runner. The winner will face off against Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Care for the elderly and social security

When asked about the responsibility the federal government has to care for the aging population, candidates were split on the issue of how, or if, the government should continue to manage Social Security.

Mark Farnham of Lebanon referred to the current model of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, and spoke of the need to phase out Social Security and end the ongoing moral commitment to pay it out; he talked of honoring the commitment to those who have already begun paying into the system.

Bob Smith of Tuftonboro said that Social Security will need major structural changes in the way it is run, if it is to continue as a viable system. He suggested that in return for voluntarily choosing to accept a reduction in benefits, people could have a percentage of their monthly FICA payment deposited in a fund account for investment.

Andy Martin of Manchester would later say that he disagreed with Smith’s assessment, noting, “People are not good at investing out money. The good thing about Social Security is you can go to bed and not worry about it.”

When asked about whether they would support raising the cap on Social Security wages, Smith responded that he did not think that would do the job, but candidate Bob Heghmann of Wolfeboro suggested that it could be a step towards fixing the overall issues of the program.

Candidate Walter Kelly said that raising the cap might have to be done, but a better solution might be to put a higher burden on those in a higher income bracket, suggesting suspending the Social Security tax for incomes $35,000 or less.

Robert D’Arcy said he was not an advocate of raising the cap and suggested that funds for Social Security could be found in other places in the federal budget; streamlining the Internal Revenue Service, a flat tax for businesses or reducing foreign aid were all places to start, he said.

Most candidates also said they would not be in favor of raising the age to receive full benefits of Social Security.

“No,” said Farnham to the question. “We made a promise. We tricked people into paying into this.”

D’Arcy simply said he would not be an advocate for the move. Heghmann said more and more people are being forced into early retirement by a dwindling job market, and said raising the age for benefits would be an unfair punishment to that group. Smith again reinforced that small measures would not do the trick, and advocated for larger-scale reform.

Kelly and Martin, however, pointed out that when Social Security was first implemented, lifespans were far shorter than they are today, and suggested that a modest increase to the Social Security age would make sense.

Stimulating economic growth

When asked how they would grow economic opportunities, Kelly said that stimulating higher education should be a priority. The cost and debt associated with colleges are too high, he said, and suggested that government subsidizing of education would pay off in the long-run in terms of the nation’s economy.

Martin said that putting government weight behind ending job exportation is in his plan.

D’Arcy said that he would continue the lack of a state income tax in New Hampshire, and would work to lower business tax rates and towards the repeal of Obamacare.

Farnham proposed a guaranteed minimum income equal to the poverty level for everyone legally in the country. This will assist in ending “under the table” jobs and make more income taxable, he said.

Farnham also said the government should end corporate taxations, calling it a false tax that is passed on to consumers, and further suggested that the legalization and regulation of all street drugs would stop a money drain currently going to the war on drugs.

ISIL and Iraq

When asked how the U.S. should engage the growing crisis involving the Islamic extremist group ISIL, D’Arcy said that he felt the American people were weary of being at war and that, instead of a full-scale war, he would suggest limited bombings, if extremists could be located.

Kelly said of ISIL, “I think we should bomb the crap out of them.”

Martin sniped at a previous statement by Smith, in which Smith said he was not in favor of engaging ISIL without a concrete goal and exit strategy, and didn’t see an interest there for the United States. Martin said anyone who isn’t aware of the country’s interest in the region, “they’re not a serious candidate.”

Smith responded in his turn, saying that warfare between various tribes has been ongoing in the Middle East for hundreds of years, and that attempts by the U.S. to nationbuild in Iraq are not in the country’s interest.

Heghmann said he lacked faith in President Barack Obama, saying “Nobody fears us. They’re sitting there watching us destroy our own military.”

Undocumented immigrants

Candidates differed in their proposed approaches to undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“Send them home,” said Smith. “It’s immoral, wrong, and it’s costing us hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Kelly said he was for sending criminals out of the country, but most people are coming here for a better lifestyle. He also said it’s a more complicated issue when immigrants are refugees or have family in the country.

D’Arcy said he thinks the country should enforce the immigration laws it has, and make sure that businesses are hiring only legal residents.

Heghmann said he was in support of a recent U.S. Senate bill on immigration, which failed in the House. The bill would have significantly tightened boarder controls between the United States and Mexico, while also providing an option for illegal aliens already in the country to become valid citizens, though the options might take as long as 13 years.

Heghmann called attempting to oust 11 million people from the country “ludicrous,” and said there should be a path to citizenship for those people. Those that sign up to support the American Armed Forces, for example, should be at the front of the line for citizenship.

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