The first and probably only live, televised debate between Rep. Ed Case and Sen. Daniel Akaka took place tonight. Organized by AARP Hawaii, moderated by UH communications chair Gerald Kato, and broadcast on PBS Hawaii, it was not available online nor via other networks. It will nevertheless be closely watched and heavily reported, as this primary race is remarkable on both the local and national level. HawaiiNews.com has transcribed the debate to benefit those who were unable to watch it live.
Other real-time coverage and discussion:
- A “live thread” was set up at HawaiiThreads.com for real-time commentary on the debate, and post-debate analysis.
- Honolulu Advertiser political writer and blogger David Shapiro liveblogged the debate.
- Hawaii Election Watch posted a post-debate audio commentary as part of its Hawaii Political Watch podcast series.
Following is a rush transcript of the debate. It may be periodically updated and therefore may not be in its final form, and while we strive for accuracy, it cannot be guaranteed. Please cite and link this transcript if referencing it for separate coverage or commentary, and do not reproduce it elsewhere.
NEIL HANNAHS (PBS Hawaii): Introductory remarks.
BARBARA KIM STANTON (AARP Hawaii): Introductory remarks.
GERALD KATO (Moderator): Introductory remarks. Gentlemen, good evening and welcome. Sen. Akaka has won the coin toss and has elected to go second. Congressman Case will now give his opening remarks.
CASE: Sen. Akaka, friends, good evening and aloha. In just 23 days, you will have a crucial choice. Who can represent you in our U.S. Senate, not just today but for the next generation. You must choose Dan Akaka or Ed Case, and it will be decided in the democratic primary in which everyone can vote. I thank AARP and Hawaii Broadcasting for this event. I send a special aloha to our wonderful campaign ohana across the islands. I’m deeply grateful to the people of Hawaii for the privilege of serving you in Congress. And I thank you for listening because this is your choice. This is a crucial event so I asked for advice. I went to mom and she said relax. I went to our volunteers and they said smile. I went to my wife Audrey and she said lighten up. Well I can take a hint: lighten up. But that’s hard to do when it’s about our future. Because a U.S. senator should and must be a national leader, responsible for the well being of all. A person who accepts the obligations of national leadership and is able to persevere through hard work and commitments to find workable solutions. We do have the greatest country in our world. A country which does stand for good, for peace, for opportunity, for justice, for opportunity, for freedom. But our country is going through some rough times. Facing some major challenges, from energy, the environment, health care, our relationship with our world, and much more. Your U.S. senator must find a way when the path is anything but clear. What must your senator address, not just today, but over the next generation. And where do Sen. Akaka and I differ? First, we must balance our federal budget. We’ve been running it into the ground, running up huge debts to countries like China. This is our top challenge, and I voted for budget reform and against increasing our debt. Sen. Akaka doesn’t seem to agree. He’s criticized my votes and voted against a balanced budget amendment. Second, we must secure our homeland in a rapidly changing world. That’s our government first obligation, to protect us. Some threats are direct, like Iran, North Korea. Others are more difficult, like terrorism. Terrorism is real, it is naïve to pretend otherwise. Let’s talk about Iraq, a crucial, complex, and tragic engagement. Who doesn’t mourn our losses? Who doesn’t want to bring our trops home now. Who doesn’t think we’ve made mistake. But a U.S. senator doesn’t have the luxury of dwelling in the past or making decisions emotionally or based on what some want. Sen. Akaka has misstated my views. I don’tsupport a permanent occupation of Iraq, and I don’t support an indefinite, status quo commitment. The question is not whether to disengage, but how and under what circumstances. The outcome in Iraq does matter, not just for Iraq, but for the entire Middle East, and yes, for our country. We and most Iraqis want a country that Iraqis can govern and secure. They are close to having a fighting chance of doing so, and we must get them there, and then disengage. We cannot simply pull out immediately, unilaterally, unconditionally, and on a firm timetable. That would guarantee chaos in Iraq and the entire region, and would come back to haunt us. But that’s what Sen. Akaka voted for. Third, we must find a better way of governing. The party first, party only politics of Washington has gridlocked our country. We desperately need moderate, mainstream solutions that put country first, not party. Sen. Akaka’s part of the problem, not the solution. On that subject, let’s talk about Pres. Bush. You know there’s an old saying in politics, if you can’t run against your opponent, run against someone else, and that’s what sen. Akaka is doing. I don’t believe congress has done a good job of oversight, and I’ve disagreed with our president in many areas, from environment to energy, budgets, tax cuts, and civil rights. But I refuse to live in Sen. Akaka’s party first, party always world. That’s not going to get things done. You and I know we can overcome our challenges if we decide to, but it will take change. Transition and change are never easy, but there does come a time, and that time is now. It is time for the next generation of leadership for us and our children. We just need the courage to choose it.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your opening remarks.
AKAKA: Congressmen Case, my fellow Americans, Aloha. It’s a pleasure to be here and to have this opportunity to speak to all of you today. What I like about appearing before an AARP audience is that my age is not necessarily a bone of contention. It’s not something about that’s out of the ordinary or an excuse for not being able to participate in or contribute fully to society. Nor do I have to apologize for the more deliberate speed of my words, because it’s not seen as a handicap, but rather a sign of thoughtfulness and care. Nor is the color of my hair a handicap. To the contrary. The fact that I have hair at all is a plus. Besides the issue of age, there’s been a lot of talk about debates. The need for debates. So much so that the issues themselves are now — seem to have gotten shortchanged. But for the moment, let’s talk about debates. I’m a school teacher by profession, and communication has always been about listening and dialog, and not about confrontation. I could not have been a very effective teacher if my primary method of communication was confrontational. Neither could I be an effective legislator today. I believe this is why I have not only been able to sponsor significant legislation, but get people to support it, even people from across the aisle. For anyone who’s spent any time in a legislative body, whether locally or in Washington D.C., they know that what takes place on the floor, public debates, come only after the real work of deliberation, communication, and compromise hae occurred. That’s why I believe the real strength of a legislator is in the ability to build relationships that matter. Showing respect to others. And even when their opinion may not be the same as his own, to work with and to communicate with his peers. Many of my peers have spoken on my behalf, and I’m humbled and thank them for their support. This is not a boast, but this is about saying, this is my record, and these are the people whom I work with, who will vouch for my effectiveness and my strength. But more than that I would like to see this campaign move from discussing the need to talk about issues to actually talking about issues. And I for one don’t need congressmen Case standing opposite me to talk about my record and my position on the issues. My opposition to the war in Iraq, my call for a timetable and a strategy for piece, my opposition to the Bush adminstration’s dismissal of privacy and civil liberties. My opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy and the need for a strong alternative voice in Washington to counter this administration’s determination to undermine social security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits, and environmental protection laws, even while grandstanding on some of these issues. We do have a lot to talk about it, so let’s get to it. Mahalo a nui loa and aloha.
MODERATOR: Thank you gentlemen. The first question goes to congressman Case. Given that this debate is sponsored by AARP, an organization of Americans 50 and older, I think it’s appropriate to begin by asking by age. Do you feel age is an important criteria for judging effectiveness in the U.S. senate?
CASE: Not in and of itself. This campaign and my candidacy have never been about age. They have always been about transition. It’s a difficult issue for us to talk about here in Hawaii, but we do have two U.S. senators who are nearing the end of their careers. We want and need to provide that transition as we go forward, we want and need to bring in the next junior senator now so that senator can build up seniority, experience, relationships, before the career of Sen. Inouye ends. So this is not an issue of age. There have been many U.S. senators who have served well into their 80s. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is how you provide for a transition in leadership as you go forward, in the same way that any business provides that transition, in the same way AARP provides that transition, in the same way that any nonprofit thinks to the future and tries to understand how do we ensure the betterment not just what we are doing today but what we seek to do over the next 25 years. You know, the state of Oregon had a comparable situation 10 years ago where they had two senior U.S. senators, both of them having served for a long time, both of them having served well for a long time. And yet, in 1995 and 1996, those two senators left the U.S. senate at the same time. They had not provided for a transition. It was not about age, it was about transition, it was about the fact that they had not provided for a layering of their leadership in the U.S. senate. And the state of Oregon has never really recovered. These are tough things to talk about, but I reject the proposals and the movement that has been put forward by Sen. Akaka that this is about age. This is not about age, this is about reality, this is about transition.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your response?
AKAKA: Yes. Age is something that is revered something that is much esteemed for. When we think of age and those who have come along in age, they’re usually people who have gotten seniority, people who have been able to accomplish some of their goals, and these are people who have served well over the years. When I think of those who are up in age in the U.S. senate, those men are considred to be the deans, the deans of the senate. Other senators go to them for advice, and they are the ones that keep the senate stable. Age makes a difference. I can think of a football team…
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, senator, you’ll have to wind up.
AKAKA: Yes. Age does make a difference and it’s something that we need to continue to use the seniority and the wisdom that they have.
MODERATOR: The next question is directed at Sen. Akaka. President Bush attempted to create private accounts carved out of social security in 2005 and has promised to bring this issue back up in 2007. Do you support or oppose private accounts paid with social security dollars?
AKAKA: I firmly believe that we must not tamper with social security. I know that social security began in the 30s, served our people well, and I strongly support social security as a social in service program that has been most successful and effective retirement and anti poverty program. And I oppose President Bush’s privitazation proposal. It turns a guaranteed benefit into a risky investment scheme. Social security has served as an important safety net for a long time, and I view the continuation of this program as a top priority. What’s happening now with the adminstration privatizing the bill, privatization will not address social security term fiscal challenges which is a problem. And social security is something that we really need and need to continue to fund over the years.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, your response?
CASE: Well, let’s start with some basics. SS has to be fixed. SS will become insolvent inside of 10 years, meaning the revenues coming in from SS taxes will not be sufficient to cover the expenses going out. We’d be in pretty good shape if we’d only lockboxed the SS trust fund and not diverted all of those moneys into our general fund and spent it as part of that budget decline that I referenced earlier in my remarks. So I commend Pres. Bush first of all for putting the debate on the table. I think we do have to fix SS and it will take some tough choices. I have opposed his specific privatazation proposal as I understand it — and by the way we need to note he never submitted specific legislation to congress to evaluate — on two grounds. First of all I do think we do have to maintain the basics of SS, that basic safety net. Second, to jumpstart the privatization would have cost $2 trillion plus accelerated onto our national debt which is tough enough already, and I couldn’t find a way to pay for that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question goes to congressman Case. Health care is in crisis in the country. There are people in Hawaii today struggling with the cost of, quality of, and access to medical services. What changes would you recommend to make quality health care affordable and available to all residents of Hawaii?
CASE: Well, again, let’s broaden that out. Because the responsibility of a U.S. Senator is to the entire country, and not to the one state. And as we take a look at the challenges it faces that I referenced earlier, I talked about health care. Because I think anybody that understands what’s happening in healthcare in any shape or form in this country today has to list that as one of our top ten principal challenges going forward. We have 40 million plus Americans that have no health care insurance, tens of million with underinsurance, and those of us that do have insurance know full well that the costs that we pay for that insurance are constantly going up, and many times we have questions in terms of the availability of quality services. There are a couple of things that I think we need to work on immediately with respect to health insurance that could make a difference. I have support a bill to provide small businesses with the opportunities to pool their resources in association health plans so that they can create the same kind of critical mass that large businesses can create to be able to manage their health care costs. If you have one small business sitting there — and by the way of course all of our businesses in Hawaii, virtually all of our businesses in Hawaii, are small businesses, but imagine that you have tens of millions of small businesses across our country, and if they can pull together in association health plans they can in fact manage those health care costs a little bit more and spread the risks more. That’s an issue and an initiative that Sen. Akaka and I disagree on because he opposes that. We can’t talk about health care without talking about the costs of specific parts of health care, the health care drivers. Prescription drug costs, specifically. Two major initiatives that I believe we need to put forward and accomplish right away, in which I have opposed the Bush administration’s position, are first of all to allow re-importation of safe drugs from overseas that are FDA approved, and second to allow bulk purchasing of those drugs for Medicare for the 40 million plus Americans that do get Medicare. That can help.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your response?
AKAKA: Yes. There’s no question that we must continue to try to improve our health care infrastructure so seniors can have access to the level of care they want and they need. And we must ensure that everyone in Hawaii has health care coverage. Unfortunately, the majority in congress has cut and weakened existing safety net programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. And I have fought these changes and will continue to advocate for expanding and improving Medicaid and Medicare to meet the health care needs of all people. And to do that, we must take steps to help reign in health care costs without reducing access in an attempt to keep coverage affordable for employees and individuals.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, you have the next question. Both you and your opponent supported the Native Hawaiian Government Recognition Act, which stalled last June. What steps would you now take to achieve this federal recognition?
AKAKA: As is history now, my bill went to the floor under, a procedural vote on cloture to proceed to the floor. And we’re shy four votes out of 60. I feel that we made tremendous gains in the six years to educate the American public and to educate our colleagues as well. And to make it a bipartisan bill that’s supported by the Governor of this state, the Legislature, most of the Hawaiian organizations, and most of the Hawaiians in Hawaii, and the population of Hawaii as well. This bill really brings parity to an indigenous group of Hawaii, the state of Hawaii, which are the Native Hawaiians. The American Indians have that recognition. The Alaska natives have that recognition, and the Hawaiians should have that recognition also. I will continue to strive to move it forward. Talking to the Majority leader at this point. It seems as though we’re not going to be able to bring it up to the floor this year, but possible changes in the election in November, we will be able to bring it up to the floor. If not in the remainder of this session, it will be the next session. This bill is very very important to the people of Hawaii and to the Native Hawaii, and it is something that this nation owes them.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, your response?
CASE: I continue to believe in the establishment of a relationship between our federal government and the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, the Native Hawaiians, which is similar to the relationship that has existed between our federal government and other indigenous peoples of the Mainland and in Alaska for over 150 years. I believe this is not only fair and just for Native Hawaiians, but also good for our Hawaii, because I don’t want to live in a Hawaii that does not have a core of the Native Hawaiian peoples and cultures. What and how that relationship would evolve is up for debate and discussion as we go forward. I by the way don’t believe that it should end up with any form of independence as Sen. Akaka speculated publicly some months ago. But I do believe in some form of autonomy for Native Hawaiians within Hawaii, similar to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. For now, I believe this issue is best left in the Native Hawaiian community, so that they can deal with the failure of the Akaka bill in the U.S. Senate and decide the way forward.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, you have the next question. We hear a lot of rhetoric about Iraq today. Cut and run, stay the course, failed policy. What strategy do you recommend for America in Iraq.
CASE: Well, let’s go back to the comments that I made in my introductory statement because I want to discuss Iraq and I think that this is one of those issues that is probably worthy of a full debate between Sen. Akaka and me. Basically, my position on Iraq is that Iraq is not just about Iraq. Let’s paint the bigger picture here. Reasonable Americans disagree on what my position is. This is what I believe. Iraq is not just about Iraq. For us to pretend that what happens in Iraq is not going to affect the rest of the world, is not going to affect the countries around Iraq, crucial countries like Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia, not going to affect the way forward for the Middle East, not going to affect the potentiality for peace between Israel and its neighbors, and yes, not going to ultimately affect our country, is naïve. Of course what happens in Iraq makes a difference. Iraq is going through a tough time and has been going through time. But I do not believe that civil war in Iraq is inevitable, and I do not believe that we or Iraq want civil war in Iraq. I believe the consequences of such a civil war are disastrous. Not just for Iraq internally but because I do believe that if terrorism — which is in Iraq today, we can argue about whether it was or wasn’t in Iraq previously, but it is in Iraq today — would find a safe haven there is not a result that we want. Our goals are straightforward. Easy to express, hard to accomplish. First, a government in Iraq that can govern, and a police and a military that can provide security. The government is in place. The police and military, according to the leaders of Iraq, are within six months, nine months, of being in place. At that point, it would seem to me that our way forward to disengage was there. But we cannot withdraw unilaterally, unconditionally, and on a firm timetable, and expect that there are not going to be negative consequences. We must accomplish these goals, and disengage.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your response.
AKAKA: Yes. In October 2002, I was one of 23 senators who opposed the authorization of force in Iraq. And I did that because I felt that the president’s proposal did not have correct information. The Weapons of Mass Destruction was used. I was on a committee that was studying it for two years, and we did not find any Weapons of Mass Distruction there. I was looking for a post-war strategy. It wasn’t there. And so these are factors that caused me not to vote for the authorization. And now I’m calling for the withdrawl of troops from Iraq by July 2007, and I’m doing it because I feel we must put pressure on the Iraqi government to take responsibility for its own security.
MODERATOR: Next question is to Sen. Akaka. This is a question submitted by two self-proclaimed grandparents via the Internet. They have this to say. “In view of the fact that recruiting is down and reenlistments are not keeping up with the current needs of the military, how can we maintain America’s commitments at home and abroad without reinstating the draft of our young men and women?”
AKAKA: One way of doing that of course is to have a recruitment program that would interest our young people. We do have a recruitment program that has been able to meet the needs of our troops. We also need to have a program to attract these young people to the military and to retain them. And so I’ve been working on a program as a member of the Armed Services Committee, to recruit, retain, and also to have a retirement program for the military that might interest young people in looking at their lives and the lives of their family as well. And also to look after their family. And so we are doing that as ranking member of the readiness committee, we are working on that, and this will attract I believe the young people of our country, as they want to continue to join the military to keep our country free. Our military has done a great job in training and educating our young people, and this is also a step in the direction of retirement for our troops. So with all of this, I feel that we’ll be able to attract the young people we need without resorting to a draft.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, your response.
CASE: Well, first of all, it is not true in all Armed Services that recruiting is down. In some of the Armed Services the recruiting is okay, in some it is more of a problem, and that is the reality of what we face. Let me be real clear, we don’t need a draft today, I don’t support a draft today, we don’t have to enter into a discussion of the draft. But we do have to confront the reality of an all-volunteer military, which has been incredibly stretched by our engagements oversees. And as we all know here in Hawaii — I spent time with the 29th Brigade combat team in Ft. Polk and in Iraq — we have tapped out our guard and reserves in well. I think one of the things we have to say besides Sen. Akaka’s comments on recruiting up front, is that as we honor our commitment to our veterans, we let people know that we will keep our promises. That has been a problem with this administration. We have fought hard in congress to make sure those promises are kept. As we honor those promises, people believe they will get what they signed up for.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, you and your opponent voted differently on the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, which gave expanded powers of surveillance to the federal government. How do you balance the rights of individual against the need to protect society against terrorism.
CASE: Well let’s start with exactly what we did and didn’t do. The original PATRIOT Act was voted on before I entered congress in late 2002. So when you make reference to the PATRIOT Act, what we’re talking about is what we call PATRIOT Act II, and PATRIOT Act II was a reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. And it was passed after a very long and very vigorous debate. A bipartisan debate. And it was passed with my vote, and let me tell you why. We have had a basic deal in our country for over 200 years, and that deal can be expressed pretty simply. We want our law enforcement community to have the tools it needs to protect us, investigating, surveying, wiretapping, but we want our law enforcement community to have those powers only if there’s a check and balance placed on that law enforcement community against abuse, i.e. a search warrant and court supervision. The problem with the PA was not the tools that were in the PA, there’s no question that the tools in the PA were necessary to defend ourselves against terrorism. These are the same tools that have existed since 1968 to for us to fight organized crime in our country, but those tools weren’t available in the fight against terrorism, and that’s what the PA did, and there’s no question that those tools were necessary and are necessary going forward. The question was whether those protections were in place. They were not in place in the original PA, became the original PA, a real question in my mind. But they were in place in PATRIOT Act II. They were inserted in PAII provisions to provide those protections, to assure those search warrants and third-party checks. By the way for the same basic reason, I oppose President Bush and this administration’s NSA surveillance wiretapping without search warrants, without authority. I don’t doubt that that is valuable intelligence. What bothers me about it is that it is unauthorized, and we haven’t honored the second part of that deal. So that’s where we have to go, especially after the federal court struck down that program.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your response.
AKAKA: I voted aye when congress authorized the PATRIOT Act the first time. The reason I did that at that time was that, that bill granted limited powers, and I voted for it. But I opposed the second PATRIOT Act, because I felt they were being overrun by the administration. National security must be a priority of the U.S. government. However, civil liberties are equally important, and the reauthorized PATRIOT Act failed to provide checks against abuses against civil liberties, and the Bush administration I feel abused the PATRIOT Act, and this is the reason why I voted no against it.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, there’s a crisis in the lack of nursing home beds today in Hawaii. But at the same time, 80 percent of the people surveyed in Hawaii by AARP said they would prefer to receive long term care at home. Do you support shifting funds from nursing homes to allow more funding for home and community based care, including trained caregivers? If so, how will this be done?
AKAKA: I feel that there should not be transferring of accounts. We’ve worked so long on setting authorizations and also appropriations on programs to help those programs. And that this should not be transferred. There’s no question we need the nurses in all of these programs. I belong to the committee on federal workforce, and the projections tell us we are going to be in trouble in filling these positions. And so again we need to set up programs to attract the nurses, caregivers as well, to these programs, and give them the kind of salaries and training that they need to give good care. These are important positions in health care, and we need to do all we can to make that the best for the people who need that help.
MODERATOR: Congressmen Case, your response?
CASE: Well, I don’t believe we have to be put in that choice. We don’t have to deal with this as an either or, we don’t have to say that money has to go to nursing homes or to training home health care. That’s a choice being advance primarily by the administration and others at this point. I think the priorities should be on health care period. And I believe that the priorities should be directed to health care as it can and should be delivered to people in need. For those people that need nursing home care, and are in desperate need, they should be taken care of. For those people that can function in a home healthcare environment, we should find the authorization and the funding to be able to find that. You know, a couple of months ago in terms of my outreach into my community, I was invited to spend some time with a crew that does in fact go out into home health care. And I remember distinctly going to a home in Waimanalo where a gentleman with advanced diabetes was being taken care of at home. That gentleman would not be alive if he had to be institutionalized, but he was at home with the loving family he had there. We have to make that happen.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, you and your opponent differ on the Jones Act, which requires that cargo ships between U.S. ports can only travel in ships built, owned, and crewed by Americans. Should Hawaii be exempt from the Jones Act?
CASE: Is it fair that our federal government creates a monopoly over any key aspect of life in Hawaii? Is it fair that our federal government provides one company, effectively, with the ability to control, to dominate, the lifeline that we have between here and the Mainland for all of our goods? Because that’s exactly what the Jones Act does. Yes there’s another company, but between them they’re a dupoly and frankly Matson dominates that other company, they cross-ship cargo, as an example. 97, 98 percent of our goods come down here from the Mainland. They all come by shipping. We don’t have the ability to go to rail, to buses, to trucks, even to air cargo — that doesn’t work, it’s too expensive. So when somebody gets a hold of our lifeline, that’s a dangerous sign for us. And we’re paying for it in spades, thousands of dollars for each and every citizen of this country and this state, far more money for businesses that employ people and have to deal with those goods and services. That’s not fair, and that’s not the way it should be. We have laws in this country against the creation of monopolies, we believe monopolies are bad. Yet in this case, a federal law creates a monopoly. By the way, it’s not just goods and services coming down from the mainland, it’s also getting our products to the markets on the mainland. Let’s take the cattle industry on the Big Island, or any of the other neighbor islands that I represent. That cattle industry wants to get its products to market as fast as possible. To ship from Kawaihae, in the case of the Big Island, to Stockton, California. They can’t do that. Why? Because there’s no shipping that can come in because Matson won’t do it. Instead, they have to ship it to Honolulu, sit around Honolulu Harbor for a while, waiting for a ship. Consequence? Time is money. That’s not the right thing, that’s not the right business for our federal government to be in. I do believe in the repeal of the Jones Act, at least with respect to insular parts of our country like Hawaii.
MODERATOR: Senator Akaka, your response?
AKAKA: Yes. The Jones Act is a critical component to protecting local jobs and national security. There has been bipartisan support of that bill by all of the presidents. These leaders recognize as I do, the strategic importance of our ports and our high quality labor force working in the maritime industry. And the Jones Act protects all of these. The Navy League of the U.S. says that the Jones Act is critical to U.S. national security, and it also helps our economy. The domestic shippers and ship builders that come under the Jones Act do contribute in terms of federal taxes. Hawaii receives $232 million in taxes every year on this.
MODERATOR: Senator Akaka, Hawaii has by far the highest inflation rate in the country, at 5.8 percent for the first half of 2006, a full two points higher than the national average. With gas prices in Hawaii being the highest in the nation, what can the federal government do to help Hawaii residents with these spiraling energy costs.
AKAKA: I am a member of the Energy Committee. I have been working since day one to try to alleviate dependence on oil, especially in Hawaii. We must work towards weaning our dependence on foreign oil. For example, I’ve done this by crafting and offering and passing bills to change this. And one of them is a hydrogen bill that will bring about research and development. Another is a bill for natural gas that’s called methane hydrate. And these are efforts to help the future in getting out of oil and being self sufficient. This is so important to Hawaii. And right now, I’ve put in $36 million in demonstration projects to convert sugar cane into ethanol, and hopeful that this will happen soon. And also another $50 million to do the same in several projects for ethanol manufacturers. So these are ways that we can alleviate dependence on oil, and through that, hopefully we’ll be able to take down the high gas prices that we do suffer from at this time.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, your response.
CASE: There are a number of things we can do with respect to gas prices here in Hawaii and in our country. the first and foremost thing we can and should do is investigate the large oil companies for price fixing, price gouging. Those investigations haven’t even gone forward because the current administration won’t let them go forward. Maybe there has been price fixing and gouging, maybe there hasn’t. But if you don’t even investigate it, especially as we see the evidence in the market, how are you going to find out whether it has actually happened. This is an example wehre congress hasn’t done its job of oversight of the executive branch. The second thing of course is to provide for far more efficient automobiles. One of the tragedies of recent years was when we let go the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, we being the administration and the majority in congress, to require higher efficiency in our cars. We need to reinstate that. I agree with Sen. Akaka in the development in alternative energy. I agree that’s where we have to go, and I agree that could be a tremendous boon to us here in Hawaii. I’m on the renewable energy caucus in the House, I would certainly want to continue renewable energy efforts in the senate.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, in 2001 and 2003, congress passed a large number of tax cuts, some of which were controversial. The tax cuts were set to expire in 2010 to hold down the apparent cost. The administration now wants to make these tax cuts permanent. Do you favor making the tax cuts permanent, or, if not, which cuts would you let expire.
CASE: Well let’s start with some basics because you can’t consider tax cuts unless you consider the big picture of the federal budget and what has happened in recent years. Over the last number of years — and by the way, why I believe it’s our number one challenge — over the last number of years we’ve had incredible annual deficits. Deficits of $400 billion per year, and by the way that’s after we took out $150 billion plus per year out of the social security trust fund which we have to pay back sooner or later so the deficits have actually been a lot higher. Now the consequences of that of course are significantly higher date. $6 trillion when I started in congress total debt, to $8.5 trillion, almost, today, $27,000 for every single American, including every baby born in Hawaii today started life with a $27,000 debt owed through his or her federal government. Now in that context it’s pretty obvious that we can have some tax cuts but not all tax cuts, and we can have some increases in government spending, but not all increases in government spending. That’s the reality of the budget situation and the budget crisis that we face today. I believe in a system called “paygo,” or pay-as-you-go, meaning that whenever you have a proposal for a tax reduction or a government spending increase, you have to offset it so that it’s budget neutral. So you have to provide for a budget balancing. Now where does that fit into the discussion of the tax cuts. First of all, I wasn’t in congress in 2001 when the first big tax cut was enacted, and I was in congress in 2003, and I voted against that initiative. Why? Because I felt that it was unaffordable, especially as we had already intervened in Iraq, and one could see the writing on the wall, that that was going to be far more expensive than anybody projected in the beginning of that. I voted against some extensions of those tax cuts already, especially those for the very upper income of our family, because I don’t think it’s fair, or necessary. But I have voted for some extensions that I think have very targeted purposes and are targeted for the middle class. That’s where we have to go, a balancing of the tax cuts.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, your response.
AKAKA: We cannot make tax cuts permanent. The reason for that is that our country has increased our debt so much that the future generations will be in trouble in trying to keep up our nation with those huge deficits. Already this year it’s projected that we will have a deficit of $600 billion. And this will be passed on. We have to borrow money from China and now Japan as well. And so if we cut taxes at this time, our country will be much deeper in the deficit. And the Bush administration took us from a surplus to a multi-trillion dollar federal deficit and that’s where we are now, and government should be taking care of those in need help the most and not take care of the richest.
MODERATOR: This will be the last question of the evening and we’ll start with Senator Akaka. Will you support or oppose allowing Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate lower prices for needed prescription drugs?
AKAKA: Yes, I believe that Medicaid and Medicare should be used in such a way that it will continue to make health care affordable. For instance Medicare has a huge bulk of purchasing power, and they should be using this bulk purchasing power and the millions that they have in it to lower drug costs. And this needs to be done, and that’s one way of helping out. And Medicare Part D prescription drug farmer should be adopted as well. So, these are ways that we can continue to help those who need the health care. As I’ve said, I have voted against the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act because it falsely promises seniors that it would make prescription drugs more affordable. But this has not happened. And it hasn’t happened because it contains coverage lapses, burdensome means tests, provisions that benefits drug companies over taxpayers. And so we need to really look hard at this and move in areas that can fund these programs to help the people that need it.
MODERATOR: Congressman Case, your response.
CASE: Well let’s lay out the issue for the specific question asked. A couple of years ago we created Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. 40 million plus Americans today enjoy that benefit. Now you would think that with it, with a market power of 40 million Americans, that we can negotiate a lower unit price for drugs when we buy those drugs from the prescription drug companies. After all this is the largest market for prescription drugs in the entire world, a huge market. Now if I go down to the grocery store and I say to the grocery store, I’m going to buy one box of cereal for $1, they’ll say, okay, one box of cereal. But if I go to that grocery store and I say, I’ll buy a hundred boxes of cereal, but I’ll pay you 75 cents per unit for that hundred boxes. The grocery store is going to take that deal, because it’s a good deal for the grocery store, and it’s a good deal for us. But we can’t do that under federal law, because the administration said the drug companies wouldn’t like it. I think that’s criminal, I think we must have bulk purchasing for Medicare Part D.
MODERATOR: That brings to an end our question and answer section. Congressman Case, you now have three minutes for your closing remarks.
CASE: Well, time’s up, that hour sure went fast. I wish we could go on, tonight and in other joint events. That would help your choice and be good for democracy. But unless Sen. Akaka changes his mind, that’s all the time we’ve got together before you decide. So what does it come down to? What should you consider in making your choice? I ask you to consider this. First, transition. As I discussed we have to provide for our future in the U.S. senate, and we have to start now. We are at great risk if we don’t. We need to bring our next senator on now, because we want our next senator to build up as much seniority, experience and relationshipsas possible before Sen. Inouye’s career ends. We don’t want to face the same situation I mentioned earlier in Oregon, when they lost both senators at the same time. It is time for a change, time for new blood, time to move on. Second, representation. Which of us can best represent you in our federal government in tens of thousands of decisions on your and your children’s welfare and security. Not that we’ll agree all the time, because we won’t. But who can best represent most of Hawaii today most of the time? I believe I can better represent you than Sen. Akaka. Third, effectiveness. Who has the tools to get the job done? Who has the ability, and energy, and drive, and commitment? Who can best work in a less partisan way to develop those mainstream solutions we need? Who knows the Hawaii of today and tomorrow? And who has shown a commitment to staying in touch? In my congressional work I have had 172 personal talkstories across my district. Sen. Akaka has had none. With great respect, I don’t think Akaka has much to show for 30 years in congress. I believe I can do this job better. Fourth, change. Do you think our political culture is serving you well, or do you think it’s broken? A culture that told me I should have asked permission before I decided to run and ask for your permission. A culture of special interests too often making back room deals and not looking out for our Hawaii’s and our overall countries welfare, just their own. A culture that perceives any innovation, any advance, any progress and even any disagreement as a threat to their power. Sen. Akaka is a product of that culture and is beholden to it. This election is your chance to say what you want for our Hawaii going forward. This is a choice between the past and the future, between the old way and a better way, between the status quo and change, and it’s your choice. Don’t let anybody else make it for you. Vote the democratic primary ballot on Sept. 23rd. Vote Ed Case for senate. I promise to serve you and our country honorably and to the best of my ability, both today and for the next generation. Mahalo and aloha.
MODERATOR: Sen. Akaka, you now have three minutes for your closing remarks.
AKAKA: Before I close, I would like to thank AARP for this opportunity to speak with all of you today. My friends, we do need a seasoned congressional team working together to counter the direction of the bush administration. But more than that here in Hawaii we need individuals in Washington D.C. who understand who we are as a people, and who embodies our values or beliefs and sensibilities. In Hawaii, that means understanding what ohana is all about, because you grew up without lots of money but with the love and care of a close knit family and saw first hand the value of the family bond to yourself and to society. In D.C. as a representative for Hawaii, it means that laws and legislation that support families matter. In Hawaii it means understanding what hard work is all about, because you grew up watching your parents work hard to just make ends meet. And so, things that protect workers and working familes and improve their quality of life matter to you. In the U.S. Senate and in Hawaii, you persuade by the wisdom of your words and not by the force of your voice, and in the end, it’s your action that speaks louder than words. In Hawaii, aloha means more than just a greeting. It dramatically affects your sensibilities and how you conduct your life. It defines how you treat others no matter how they treat you. In many ways, elections have always been about who we want to represent us. We need legislators who have character and believe in strong values, and integrity to support those values, no matter how unpopular, or how uphill the battle. And we need individuals who embrace the spirit of aloha and believe in the traditions and the sense of family and community that have always been the trademarks of this great state and our people. I have always held these beliefs as my own and I ask that you allow me to continue to do so in Washington D.C. Thank you all, mahalo nui loa and aloha, god bless all of you god bless America.
MODERATOR: That concludes tonight’s debate. Closing remarks.