Congressional candidates Scott Peters and Brian Bilbray were scheduled to square off in front of the Ocean Beach Town Council last night as a part of the council’s Candidates Forum, but apparently someone forgot to inform Mr. Bilbray. Instead, Democrat Scott Peters held the floor to answer questions from the audience.
It was noted that the council had invited Mr. Bilbray, and that he and his campaign had confirmed that he would attend. No explanation was given for his absence.
“I want to cut costs to save the program,” Peters said when asked about the attack ads by his opponent regarding his stance on Medicare. “Mr. Bilbray has voted to cut benefits and end the program.” He said that savings in Medicare can be achieved by allowing the government to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, which it currently by law cannot do; by reducing fraud and overbilling; electronic record keeping that will help increase efficiencies; and taking it from “a sick care system to a healthcare system that incentivizes prevention.”
Significant savings in the program, he said, can be achieved without cutting benefits to seniors.
Peters also was eager to discuss one of the other main criticisms of his opponent: His vote on the City Council to continue to underfund the pension system. He said that for three decades San Diego had been underfunding its pension system, and that in one of his first votes as a new member of the City Council, he voted to continue that practice for one more year. That vote, he says, was “a mistake.”
Peters said that according to the actuary, reversing that vote would have saved three percent off of the pension deficit. “It doesn’t really qualify me for the ‘father of the pension crisis,’ which he’s calling me, or the Bernie Madoff of San Diego. I think that’s a little bit of an exaggeration.”
Subsequently, Peters pointed out that the City Council hired outside consultants, followed their advice, and ended the underfunding of the pension system, making it illegal. After making several changes to the way the city handled the pension system, he said, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) called San Diego “a model for other cities to follow.” As a result, he said, employees now pay a higher portion of their benefits, and the changes instituted for new hires as of 2004 saved the city $23 million per year.
Asked about his thoughts on the role community college system, Peters acknowledged that community colleges are the place where today’s workforce gets trained, and that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on not only getting people to go to college, but to make sure they graduate. He noted that while the United States leads the world in the number of students in college, we are 16th in the number that graduates. “You can’t compete in a brainpower economy unless kids can go to college,” he said, which means making college affordable and ensuring a reasonable pathway to be able to pay back student loans.
Pivoting to immigration, Peters noted that the border is often looked at as a threat instead of an opportunity. He said that border crossing delays cost the California economy $3.5 billion per year with a similar effect in Mexico, and that while Mexico has already finished a major renovation on its border crossing with San Diego, the U.S. has not even begun theirs. The average border delay in San Ysidro is two hours, sometimes four, which is hurting the economy on both sides of the border. “That’s an example that If you want to stop immigration, why aren’t we facilitating better economics along the border on both sides? That helps reduce the draw and the pressure to cross,” he said.
As far as the undocumented people already in the States, he said it is simply not possible to deport 11 million people. “Mr. Bilbray has taken a hard line against any kind of comprehensive reform.”
Peters said that he does support the DREAM Act. “We have to sit down and be a little more reasonable than the Tea Party folks have been, and my opponent has been, really, one of the harshest voices.”
This article first appeared at San Diego Free Press.