Whitehouse outlines key election issues

News Editor
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The November election represents a nationwide referendum on the best way to fix the economy and the importance of social entitlement programs, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said at Tuesday night’s Brown Democrats meeting. 

Whitehouse described the choice as one between supporting the middle class or cutting taxes for the wealthy. The other major component of the election, he said, is protecting Medicare, Social Security and Pell Grants.

Safeguarding such programs “is more than just a social contract,” Whitehouse said. “It’s good for our country.”

Whitehouse, who was elected in 2006, is currently running for re-election against Republican challenger Barry Hinckley, Jr

“I think it’s very important Rhode Island has a strong voice, and a strong voice who will stand with the seniors and the small businesses and the environment of Rhode Island,” Whitehouse told The Herald. “And I think I can be that voice. And I would very much like to be that voice.”

If re-elected to Congress, Whitehouse said he would fight to pass the Buffett Rule – which would require those who earn at least $1 million per year to pay a minimum 30 percent tax rate – as well as the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would require major campaign donors to disclose their names. 

He also promised to advocate for the creation of a National Endowment for Oceans, which would create a pool of funds for which states could compete to protect local oceans and lakes. “Climate change is clobbering the oceans,” Whitehouse told the Brown Democrats. “We’re the Ocean State.”

Global warming is a critical issue that must be addressed, Whitehouse said, comparing the value of environmentalism to that of the 1960s civil rights movement. 

“This is a battle we should not fear,” he said, adding that emphasizing global warming could galvanize young voters who did not turn out for the 2010 midterm elections.

“The young generation stayed home in droves because we weren’t speaking to that great issue that you are all going to live with,” he said.

Increased partisanship has made it much more difficult to work with Republicans, who “won’t even concede” climate change’s existence, Whitehouse told The Herald. 

“That makes having discussions with them pretty difficult,” he said. “And while they control the House, it makes getting anything done trying to avert the consequences pretty difficult.”

Speaking to the Brown Democrats, Whitehouse also criticized Republicans for filibustering on more than 350 occasions and then missing the subsequent 30 hours of debate.

“Think how much time gets lost in the Senate floor,” he said. “That puts immense pressure on the majority to get what must be done in the remaining time.”

In the next legislative session, he said, Democrats hope to change the rules to require senators to be present for all debate following a filibuster. 

“That’s the Jefferson Smith, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ filibuster,” he said, adding that he would welcome more discussion on the floor of the Senate. “Bring it on. I want to talk about that stuff. That’s the difference. They don’t want to talk about that stuff.”

Whitehouse also criticized Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited political campaign contributions. Though he said he believes the decision will ultimately be reversed – either by another court verdict or by legislative action – it is “one of the more embarrassing” verdicts in the nation’s history. He compared it to Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that legalized segregation.

In an interview with The Herald, Whitehouse cited the budget plan shaped by Republican nominee for Vice President Paul Ryan – famous for cutting government spending and reducing taxes and praised by high-ranking Republicans including presidential nominee Mitt Romney – as an example of why the upcoming national election matters to Rhode Islanders.

“It’s a very extreme document that is a huge transfer of wealth from the middle class to the uppermost,” Whitehouse said. “There’s some very, very serious changes that are being proposed to regular families’ expectations about life in America, and I think that issue resonates in Rhode Island – we’re a middle class, small-business state.”

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