In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, few races are as critical as the one between freshman U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and his Republican challenger, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
The race is one of the most watched in the nation and, given the amount of outside money pouring in to attack or buttress both candidates, will likely end up being the most expensive Senate race in the country when the bill is fully tallied after the election.
The Plain Dealer reported last week that total spending on television and radio advertising against Brown was $19.32 million through the end of September. Brown backers have spent $5.89 million against Mandel, the paper reported. And both candidates’ individual campaigns are spending heavily from their own massive individual war chests as well.
Brown, 59, is a veteran politician, who served in the Ohio legislature and as secretary of state before he was elected to Congress in 1992 to represent a district that included Lorain County. He defeated then-Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006, winning his first term in the Senate.
Mandel, 35, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with two tours in Iraq as an intelligence analyst under his belt. He was elected to Lyndhurst City Council in 2003 and served there until being elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2006, where he remained until defeating then-Ohio Treasurer Kevin Boyce in 2010.
Cliff and taxes
One of the most pressing issues facing Washington is the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a reference to the automatic expirations of tax cuts dating to President George W. Bush’s first term in office and massive across-the-board reductions that will target federal spending from defense to Medicare. Those increases and cuts were put in place as part of a deal that allowed the nation’s debt ceiling to be raised last summer, but only go into effect if an alternative solution isn’t found before the end of the year.
Brown said Friday during an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram that there are still bipartisan efforts in Washington to craft a solution that will prevent those drastic measures, which politicians on both sides of the political divide say would be disastrous, from actually going into effect.
“We have to do something in November or December to soothe the markets,” Brown said.
Brown said he wants to leave the tax cuts for the middle class in place, but at the same time allow the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year expire. He said the rich can better afford the hit than the middle class.
“The middle class in this country, in many ways feels like the system’s rigged,” he said.
But Brown also said he’s willing to do more than just increase taxes on the wealthy, he believes there needs to be cuts to federal programs, including to defense spending and farm subsidies.
“Nothing solves the problem standing alone,” he said.
Mandel, who also was interviewed by The Chronicle on Friday, said he too wants to avoid taking the nation over the fiscal cliff. He said he differs from many of his fellow Republicans in that he wants to put every federal program and tax loophole on the table in discussions to fix the budget.
“The problem is so large that we can’t just cut our way out of it,” he said.
For instance, Mandel said he wants to examine one of the sacred cows of Republican fiscal policy — defense spending. He said the U.S. should look at closing military bases abroad. Some of those bases are no longer necessary, he argued, now that the Cold War is over.
He said the best way to fix the problem is to take a look at everything rather than exempt things. Although he said he probably wouldn’t support eliminating popular tax breaks such as those for mortgage interest or the child tax credit, they should at least be looked at. The idea, he said, would be to perform a cost-benefit analysis on everything in the federal budget and tax code.
The best-case scenario, Mandel said, would be to dismantle the entire U.S. tax code and start over with a more streamlined and easy-to-understand tax system that small business owners could comprehend without the aid of tax lawyers and accountants. He blamed carve-outs for special interests for creating the convoluted tax code loopholes exploited to allow some companies to have an effective tax rate of zero.
But he categorically opposes any sort of tax increase. Mandel is among those who have signed Americans for Tax Reform, President Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes under any circumstances.
“Raising taxes on job creators and folks in the middle class is not the way to grow the economy,” Mandel said.
But Brown said there needs to be movement on both sides in order to find a solution Republicans and Democrats alike can live with.
“As long as their goal is tax cuts, it’s going to be very hard to get an agreement,” Brown said.
Brown also criticized the intransigence of many Republicans, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, who have refused to consider raising taxes even as they make spending cuts. Those members of the House most closely aligned with the tea party movement have stalled efforts to reach bipartisan accord to find a way to fix the problems, effectively holding moderate Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner hostage to their demands, Brown said.
“It’s just been irresponsible behavior on their part to do those sorts of things,” he said.
Mandel said he was able to work with Democrats during his time in Lyndhurst, which he described as a predominately Democratic community, and in the Statehouse. He can do the same in Washington, he said.
He complained that Brown is the most liberal senator in the nation and nearly always voted with Obama, which he called hypocritical considering Brown criticized DeWine for voting in lockstep with Bush six years ago.
Mandel said he’s “fed up with hyper-partisanship (and) the gridlock” in Washington.
“Sherrod Brown is part of the problem,” Mandel said. “If he was the answer, our problems would have been solved long ago.”
Brown argues Mandel is far to the right on most issues and blasts him for his stewardship of the treasurer’s office. His campaign has routinely complained that Mandel has been an absentee treasurer, missing important meetings to do fundraising and campaign. An ad now running points out that Mandel campaign staffers and friends have ended up on the state payroll.
In addition to the back-and-forth of accusations of who’s doing a worse job, the race between Brown and Mandel has been marked by accusations that both candidates have bent and broke the truth as they wage their war of words on the campaign trail and in their nearly omnipresent advertising.
Of the 26 statements by Brown evaluated by PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of The Plain Dealer, one has been given the worst rating of “Pants on Fire.” Brown also has had four statements rated False and two rated Mostly False.
Of the 24 Mandel statements checked by PolitiFact, six have earned a “Pants on Fire” rating, while three were deemed False and four others determined to be Mostly False.
Brown doesn’t deny that he’s misspoken from time to time and said the fact checkers backed by media outlets have made his statements more accurate because he’s more likely to do better research.
“When they say I’m saying something false, I fix it,” he said.
Mandel, on the other hand, said that PolitiFact has gotten it wrong when it’s accused him of speaking falsely. He insisted that he’s told the truth throughout the campaign while arguing that Brown has deceived voters.
Environment and trade
Mandel said he has been a strong advocate for opening up public lands for oil and gas exploration. Those types of exploration, including fracking, are good for the economy, he said, bringing new jobs, affordable energy and new revenue to local communities.
He also said increasing the United States’ energy independence is a key element of enhancing national security because it cuts down on reliance on energy sources in politically unstable areas of the world such as the Middle East.
“I think we’re most safe in America when we produce energy in America,” Mandel said.
He also points out that the U.S. gives foreign aid to many nations he classifies as being opposed to American interests, such as Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Not only do those countries have anti-U.S. policies, he said, but they also don’t uphold American values.
“I don’t think we should be supporting that,” he said.
Reducing or eliminating foreign aid to those nations could also be a key to dealing with the national budget crisis, Mandel said.
In terms of the environment, Brown argues that the Republican Party has lost sight of science and common sense. He said less than a decade ago a lot of Republicans agreed there was a problem with climate change, but Republicans who hold that view are dwindling in government.
There are compromises between protecting the environment and the needs of the economy, he said.
“I just reject the false choice that you can’t have good environmental policy and good jobs policy,” Brown said.
Mandel contends environmental regulations have gotten out of control, causing harm to jobs. He points to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that limited mercury emissions as an example. That rule, he said, led to the planned closure of Genon’s coal-fired power plant in Avon Lake and has harmed coal miners in the southern part of the state.
He said he’s not opposed to regulations, either for the environment or for businesses, but believes they need to be scaled back to protect the economy in addition to the environment. Brown, he contends, sides with environmental activists over the interests of Ohioans.
At the same time, Mandel criticized Brown for the bailout of banks teetering on the edge of collapse following the 2008 economic meltdown that led to the Great Recession. Although those who backed the bill, including many Republicans, argued it prevented the country from slipping into a depression, Mandel said it’s impossible to say what would have happened. He’s also a critic of the government intervention that Brown backed to help General Motors and Chrysler weather their own economic crises.
And while the banks were helped, Mandel said, small businesses weren’t.
“There was no one from Wall Street or Washington who came to bailout the guy who owns a hardware store in Elyria,” he said.
One idea Brown said he’s a strong proponent of is a “border equalization fee” that would be charged to companies who ship products in from China or other countries with looser environmental regulations that allow them to manufacturer products cheaper.
Brown has long been an advocate for trying to rein in the trade excesses of foreign competitors, particularly China. Among the successes he points to are new regulations that have stopped China from dumping steel into the market. That effort, he said, has led to growth in the steel industry, including at Republic Steel in Lorain.
“Trade is a job creator if done right and it’s the opposite if done wrong,” he said.
Mandel said he too is concerned about trade, particularly foreign currency exchange manipulation, a problem he said he’s worked to address as state treasurer.
Brown said Republicans haven’t offered up solutions that would do as much as the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to fix the problem of health care costs that have risen steadily for the past two decades. He said the genesis of what eventually became known as ObamaCare were actually ideas put forward by conservatives in the 1990s.
Democrats are quick to point out that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instituted a similar health care reform law when he was governor of Massachusetts.
But Republicans were so fixated on preventing President Barack Obama from winning a second term that they opposed his health care reforms simply because the president proposed them, Brown said.
“It’s pretty hard to dispute that they didn’t want Obama to succeed on anything,” Brown said. “It he was for it, they were against it.”
Mandel said he’s strongly opposed to ObamaCare and would vote to repeal it if elected.
“It’s a government takeover of health care,” he said.
Mandel said he favors health care reform but would focus on tort reform to limit lawsuits against medical providers and allow for the purchase of health care across state lines, something now barred by law. Those changes would lower costs, he argued.
He also said that ObamaCare raided Medicare to pay for part of ObamaCare, a charge Democrats, including Brown, have denied.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.