News Column

Pa. Sen. Race: What's Next to Aid Economy?

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Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith refers to Sen. Bob Casey as "Senator Zero," claiming his Democratic opponent has done little or nothing in office, including when it comes to creating jobs.

Mr. Smith says he would remove obstacles to job growth -- unnecessary regulations and President Obama's health care reform law, for example.

"It's just almost impossible for businesspeople like I was to expand and grow," said Mr. Smith, a farmer and former coal mine owner.

Mr. Casey points to his votes for middle-class tax cuts in the economic stimulus package and his leadership on the fight for Social Security payroll tax cuts. Both helped spur the last two years of job growth, he said.

Mr. Smith, as the founder of a tea party chapter, would be an obstacle to growth, the senator said.

"The question, though, in my race and in the presidential race and I bet most congressional races will be what comes next. Do we stay on the road we're on, which means continual recovery, strengthening of the economy and dealing with difficult issues? Or do you take a right turn and go right back into the ditch? Because that's what I hear from the other side," he said.

The two men were asked by The Times-Tribune about their plans to deal with unemployment and create jobs along with their feelings on taxation.

Mr. Casey said he wants to see more bipartisanship focused on creating jobs rather than more of the roadblocks Republicans have set up repeatedly since Mr. Obama took office.

With monthly job growth down somewhat from last year and not nearly as robust as it must be, "we're not growing nearly fast enough, and I'm not at all satisfied with where we are," Mr. Casey said.

Mr. Casey says he has tried to reverse the decline.

He points to his vote for Mr. Obama's economic stimulus package, which contained a major tax cut for 95 percent of Americans.

"That never gets talked about," he said, referring to frequent criticism of the package.

He also points to his sponsorship -- he was the chief sponsor -- of the Social Security payroll tax cut extension for this year, which dropped workers' share of the tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

"That was essential, I think, to keep job creation moving in the right direction," he said.

Noted economist Mark Zandi has said the unemployment rate would be 0.3 percentage points higher with 500,000 fewer jobs available without the payroll tax cut by the end of this year.

Mr. Casey also touted his push for $49 million in federal money for the Port of Philadelphia for a project that will boost imports and create jobs there.

"If you take me out of the equation, I'm not sure we would have gotten that," he said. "I was an indispensable part of that because I lobbied the president directly, one on one, and lobbied incessantly the vice president. And the administration, led by the vice president, worked very hard to get that done."

Mr. Casey said he also fought to re-obtain federal money for the County of Lackawanna Transit System's downtown transportation center project, which will host buses, retail business and eventually trains.

"That's not a bill, but it's action and momentum and progress," he said. "There are a lot of ways you get results, and it isn't just introducing a bill that you hope will be pristine by the end of the process. Sometimes, it will be amendments; sometimes, you get part of it, not all of it. I'm pretty proud of the results we get."

Mr. Casey said his vote for a transportation bill in June will create thousands of jobs across the state.

He also continues to push a 10 percent tax credit for employers who hire new employees and bills to encourage natural gas-using vehicles and natural gas development.

"We've got to keep pushing strategies like that, that we know work and that we know will create jobs in the near term. But it's difficult when the other side's blocking things like that," he said, noting much initial Republican opposition to the transportation bill. "At the root of most of the obstruction here is the Tea Party. I think that's been an impediment to getting a series of bills passed and measures put in place to create jobs. ... My opponent's not just in alignment or agreement with the Tea Party, he founded a chapter, and that's the agenda he's going to bring to the Senate."

Mr. Casey said he will oppose extending tax cuts for the wealthy, though he is willing to consider extending them for only those making less than $1 million a year rather than the $250,000 threshold Mr. Obama has pushed.

Mr. Smith said unemployment has remained high because "we're stifling our businesses" with the complex Internal Revenue Service tax code and overregulation.

He points to the financial system reform laws known as Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley, new mining regulations and the health care reform law, which he says contributed to 43 months of an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent. The rate dropped to 7.8 percent last month.

"Don't get me wrong. Reasonable regulation for business, absolutely, I'm 100 percent with that," Mr. Smith said.

But Congress followed the Enron scandal and others rooted in faulty accounting during the early 2000s with the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, which were too much, he said.

"Ninety-nine percent of business and people will do things the right way," Mr. Smith said. "They don't want to be caught and go to jail. --What happened then with Sarbanes-Oxley is what happens every time. The federal government came in and put layer and another layer and another layer on top of the 99 percent that does do it right."

Farmers, manufacturers, homebuilders, banks and others all tell him they face too many regulations, he said.

"It's all the same; we're getting killed with regulation," he said. "You can't even keep up, and they don't know if they're in compliance half the time, there's so many of them."

Mr. Smith said he will also fight unemployment by emphasizing development of natural gas, coal and other energy sources to make the nation energy independent.

"We still import 30 percent of our domestic energy needs," he said. "That's not a good thing, especially when we have the wherewithal and we have the energy reserves right here in this state and in this country."

That means scrapping the Department of Energy or replacing it with something that works, he said. The department was created to wean the nation from foreign energy sources, but that hasn't happened.

"In the business world, in the real world, if you hired somebody to do something decades ago and billions upon billions upon billions of dollars wasted, and we're still importing all this oil, I think they need to examine very, very closely what their mission is, and if they're not doing it, replace it and do away with it," he said.

Mr. Smith also favors simplifying the tax code by introducing a flat tax. He does not know what rate the flat tax should be, but says it will help eliminate a 70,000-page tax code "that no one can understand."

"It takes an army of accountants just to hope that you're in compliance," he said.

Everybody would pay at the same rate with the rich paying more because their wages are higher, he said. The tax would be revenue neutral because tax loopholes that allow the rich to avoid taxes would be gone, he said.

But Mr. Casey said the flat tax is regressive by its nature. The tax rate paid by the rich will automatically be lower, putting more of a burden on the middle class.

"And by the way, I don't think there's any substantial support for that in Washington," he said, noting years of Congress rejecting the idea.

Efforts to obtain comment from Rayburn Smith, the Libertarian Party candidate for Senate, were unsuccessful.

Contact the writer: bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.comU.S. Senate

Robert Patrick Casey (Democrat)

Age: 52

Lives in: Scranton

Education: Graduate, Scranton Preparatory School, 1978; bachelor's degree, English, College of the Holy Cross, 1982; law degree, Catholic University of America, 1988.

Employment: U.S. senator.

Experience: Lawyer, private practice, Scranton, 1988-1997; Pennsylvania auditor general 1997-2005; Pennsylvania treasurer, 2005-2006.

Family: Wife, Terese; children, Elyse, Caroline, Julia and Marena.

Thomas Joel Smith (Republican)

Age: 64

Lives in: Plumcreek Twp., Armstrong County

Education: Graduate, Elderton High School, 1965

Employment: Farmer/trucking company owner

Experience: Farmer, 1968-present; bus company operator, 1968-1977; surface coal miner/heavy equipment operator, 1977-1988; owner, three mining companies, Thomas J. Smith Inc., 1989-2010, TJS Mining Inc., 1990-2010, and Penn View Mining, 2000-2010; owner, TJS Trucking Inc., 1992-present; owner, TJS Coal Sales, Inc 1997-2010.

Family: Wife, Saundy; children, Malinda, Allison, Jessica, Guadalupe, Daisy, Kimberly and Domingo.

Rayburn Douglas Smith (Libertarian)

Age: 65

Lives in: Beaver Twp., Clarion County

Education: Keystone High School, Knox, 1964; bachelor's degree, earth science, Clarion State College, 1973; certificate, ornamental nursery management, Penn State University.

Employment: Curator, Children's Creativity Garden, Clarion County; instructor, master gardener program, Penn State Cooperative Extension Service.

Experience: Retired carrier, U.S. Postal Service, 1977-2004; developer and curator, Children's Creativity Garden, 2002-present; instructor, Penn State Cooperative Extension Service, 1978- present.

Family: Wife, Arlene; children, Karl, Marshall and Adam.

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