by Kia Marie Green
With less than a week left in the campaign season, democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and his challenger, Oshkosh manufacturer Ron Johnson, are vying hard for Wisconsinites’ votes.
The two candidates are in a heated race for the U.S. Senate seat that Feingold currently occupies.
Many have attributed Feingold’s come-from-behind rise to Johnson’s evasiveness and failure to provide substantive details about his positions on a number of hot-button topics.
Among them: federal government overspending, tax cuts and healthcare.
Standing behind his long, 18-year career in the Senate, Feingold said that he is and will continue to “push measures that cut wasteful spending and budget discipline so that future generations won’t be saddled with our country’s ever-growing debt.
“Fiscal responsibility is a basic duty of the federal government. Cutting wasteful spending and spending taxpayer money wisely must always remain our highest budget priority,” Feingold wrote on his Web site.
He highlighted his “Control Spending Now Act,” a bill that consists of over 40 different proposals aimed at reforming the current budgeting system and putting the government’s fiscal house in order by focusing on six areas: making Congress more responsible; stopping corporate handouts; supporting family farmers; ending giveaways of public resource; and eliminating unnecessary spending.
According to his Web site, Feingold also pledges to enforce budget discipline and balance the nation’s books; end the automatic pay raise for members of Congress; and cut wasteful government spending to make current spending smarter.
Whereas Feingold is standing on his experience, Johnson is using that very same experience to his advantage.
“Because many of our politicians have been so grotesquely irresponsible, we have a huge financial mess ahead of us. We cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer,” Johnson has said.
On his Web site, Johnson notes that the nation’s debt is at a record high of $13 trillion. He believes that reducing the size of government will reduce spending.
“Robbing the bank accounts of future generations of Americans while creating unsustainable debt is a threat to our freedom and we must stand together to stop it,” he writes.
While Johnson is adamant that Americans must stop “creating unsustainable debt,” he doesn’t outline a plan or specify any programs to do so.
He has even been reported as saying: “There’s billions of dollars…that from my standpoint would be available for cutting.
“But I’m not going to get in the game here and, you know, start naming specific things to be attacked about, quite honestly.”
Johnson doesn’t go into detail on his plan for reducing the nation’s debt and cutting taxes. He is also somewhat mum on his plan for education.
He supports reforming the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to reduce waste in education spending and return more flexibility and decision-making powers to states, local school boards and teachers.
Using his experience in education – he has served on several Oshkosh educational-based organizations and boards – Johnson says he approaches education with passion.
He does not, however, outline a plan to improve the nation’s education system other than noting that he will vote to reduce federal mandates and instead provide for more local control over education.
Johnson and Feingold are in agreement with reforming the NCLB Act. In fact, Feingold acknowledged that he was one of ten senators to vote against the act in 2001.
Said Feingold: “While I support fair and responsible accountability for Wisconsin’s schools, we should leave decisions about the means and use of assessment up to the states and local school districts that bear the responsibility for – and most of the cost of – educating our children.
Every state and every school district is different. A uniform federal testing policy, like that enacted as part of NCLB, is not the best approach for students.”
As lead sponsor of the Improving Student Testing Act and the Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act, Feingold says he would work to reform NCLB’s reliance on low quality multiple choice tests; reform the federal testing mandate altogether; provide the flexibility to state and local districts to design growth models to measure students’ achievement; and require states to separate data on graduation rates of different categories of students.
Feingold also believes that lawmakers should receive input from teachers when passing laws that affect the nation’s educational system.
To that end, he has created the Teachers at the Table Act, which would create a Volunteer Teacher Advisory Committee to advise Congress and the Department of Education on the impact of NCLB on students, their families and the classroom-learning environment.
He also believes in improving the nation’s high schools and increasing access to higher education for all students.
While the candidates can agree that changes need to be made to the NCLB Act, healthcare reform is one of the many areas where a stark contrast exists between the two.
Sen. Feingold stood with other members of Congress to pass the healthcare reform bill that President Obama signed into law.
If elected, Johnson said he will vote to repeal the Health Care Bill, instead replacing it with “market-based solutions that will include: portability, malpractice reform, mandate reduction, insurance purchase across state lines, lower costs and a safety net for those with pre-existing conditions.”
Johnson has used Feingold’s vote for the healthcare reform bill as a major thorn of contention and a high-selling point for his campaign.
In one television commercial, Johnson uses a narrator to say that when it came to the healthcare bill, Feingold voted along party lines instead of listening to the people.
In another ad, he uses actresses to represent ordinary voters disgusted with the bill. One actress says that she voted for Feingold in the past, “but not this time.
Feingold, however, stands by his decision to support the healthcare reform bill.
“If health insurance companies had won, they would have been able to continue denying coverage to people when they get sick; costs would have continued to increase for small businesses; and higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs would have continued to break the budgets of working families and seniors. A lot of people in Wisconsin and across the country won because we didn’t walk away from this fight,” he wrote.
When it comes to the biggest fight of his career, Feingold has vowed not to walk away nor back down.
He and Johnson both hope that voters will agree with their respective positions and show up to the polls next Tuesday.
Currently, according to the “New York Times’ ” election forecast, Johnson is expected to win the race by 4.5 percentage points, with a margin of error of +4.5%.
What began looking like a virtual landslide victory for Johnson and the Republican party is proving to be something different.
From the looks of the polls and expected outcomes, whichever candidate wins the victory will be marginal.