ESCANABA - Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard) is re-challenging his 2010 opponent and incumbent Congressman Dan Benishek (R-Iron River) for Michigan's 1st Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this November. McDowell stopped by the Daily Press Monday to discuss his campaign and his goals if elected to the position.
McDowell said his campaign has been working hard to meet with people throughout Michigan's 1st Congressional District, where the same issues continue to resurface - creating strong, middle class jobs, reducing debt in a responsible manner, protecting the Great Lakes, as well as Social Security and Medicare.
McDowell said Benishek voted twice "to cut Medicare" by his support of Paul Ryan's budget in order to give more tax breaks to the wealthy.
"That cut would go to give the richest in this country more tax breaks ... but on top of that, the Ryan budget reduces the Medicare program to a voucher system," he said, also saying it shifts the cost to seniors. McDowell said figures from the Congressional Budget Office estimate the average senior citizen would pay $6,400 more each year for health care costs under the Ryan plan. He also claims the plan would increase national debt by $8 trillion over the next 10 years.
"My plan is to make sure that there are no reductions in benefits to our senior citizens," said McDowell, who noted an August 2011 article on Crain's Detroit Business that estimated a large savings for the Medicare program if Medicare prescription drug prices were negotiated with pharmaceutical companies.
"Right now they set the prices, and Medicare, with this huge buying power, just takes the prices - whatever they are told to pay for them," he said. "We can save $4.9 billion a year right there alone."
McDowell also claims that prescription drug costs for the Veteran's Administration are 58 percent lower than Medicare costs for the same medication due to the VA negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.
"I will promise I will protect Medicare and Social Security," said McDowell. "There will be no reductions in benefits and we're going to make sure the program is strengthened and preserved, not just for this generation, but for future generations, and that includes Social Security too."
McDowell said a bipartisan commission should be formed like it was during the Reagan administration, to make recommendations on where Social Security should be strengthened for the long term.
As for the Affordable Care Act, McDowell said he agrees with many portions of the act, including provisions that insurance companies cannot deny coverage when someone gets sick or for pre-existing conditions, that children can stay on their parents' health plan until age 26, and to end the Medicare "donut hole" for senior citizens.
"I'm not going to vote to take those away like Congressman Benishek has proposed, but also there's problems with (the ACA)," he said. "I don't know what the long-term problems are going to be. With the costs to small business, I oppose that. I don't like mandates either."
He added that any problems with the act will need to be corrected immediately to make it work.
However, another priority he has besides Medicare and Social Security is to ensure the creation of strong middle-class jobs so children can grow up here, get a good education and not be forced to leave the area for employment.
He also said the Great Lakes are of the utmost importance since the 1st District has the most freshwater coastline of any Congressional seat in the country.
"Congressman Benishek ... has proposed to allow cement companies to be able to dump more mercury into the Great Lakes," said McDowell, who noted that one major cement company located in Alpena has exceeded EPA requirements regarding mercury and would be at a "competitive disadvantage" if other cement companies were allowed to dump more under the proposal.
McDowell also noted Benishek's vote to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, aimed to clean up toxics, combat invasive species, protect watersheds from polluted run-off, and restore wetlands and other habitats, among others.
"He's also had an opportunity on the Asian carp infestation, to start the process of putting rules in place to stop that infestation and he voted against that," he said.
McDowell said the 1st District needs a congressman who will fight for the Great Lakes, which he believes is their responsibility.