Outside his southeastern Pennsylvania district, or the U.S. Navy, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak admits he is not well known. So, he’s not surprised to be trailing Sen. Arlen Specter by 44 percent to 25 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll. But the primary election is still seven months away, and the first-term congressman and retired rear admiral plans to continue crisscrossing the state in the interim.
“Yeah, I get it. I’m up against the established power,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board Oct. 6. “But I’ve been there before when the Navy wanted 300 new ships and I told them they could do the same job with 200 if they spent the money on the right systems.”
Though he supports nearly all his policy initiatives, Sestak is also bucking President Barack Obama, who asked him to drop out of the race barely a month after he announced his challenge to Specter.
“I understand he’s looking at protecting a possible 60 votes this session,” said Sestak. “But we need someone for the next six years. Pennsylvania needs someone different. So, if you’re comfortable with where you are, I’m not your guy.”
Sestak notes that he has favored a government option to reform health care costs, co-sponsored the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill, and also supports the Employee Free Choice Act; all positions Specter opposed until switching to the Democratic Party in April.
“I’ve made him see the light,” Sestak joked. “He now says ‘single-payer’ (government health insurance) is on the table. Dust is on the table. I support the public option, as one of several, to control costs and insure everyone. But single-payer, over the long term, is unsustainable.”
Part of the reason Sestak supports the public option is to eliminate the burdens on small businesses that drive the U.S. economy. He “absolutely” favors mandatory enrollment of everyone, and fines for those companies and individuals who do not want to enroll.
“Entrepreneurship should be the norm, but small companies are paying 18 percent in health care costs,” he said. “That’s why I support subsidies for small businesses working in green energy and nanotechnology. I support giving them a tax break—zero capital gains taxes for five years.”
But to rebuild the middle class, Sestak says educational opportunities must be enhanced, especially for people of color, so they too, can have the wherewithal to join the entrepreneurial boom.
During his time in Congress, Sestak has had more bills passed than either of Pennsylvania’s two senators, and he sits on the three committees aligned with his priorities; the Committee on Education and Labor, the Armed Services Committee, and the Small Business Committee, of which he is vice chair.
“It’s time for a new generation of leaders to assume responsibility,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
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