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The Post-Gazette’s Tom Barnes was there as Rep. Joe Sestak sought to frame Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race as a confrontation of biographies and related values.

In a speech at the Harrisburg Press Club, the Democratic Senate nominee repeatedly criticized his opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey, as a handmaiden of the wealthy.

Contrasting his background in the U.S. Navy with his rival’s record as an investment banker and busi9nessman, Mr. Sestak said, “He has dedicated his life to working on Wall Street and for Wall Street.

“He spent six years in Congress fighting to deregulate Wall Street and kept [derivative trading] off the books and away from accountability and transparency to taxpayers.

Mr. Sestak also blamed Mr. Toomey and the Bush administration for the tide of red ink washing over the federal budget.

“The Bush budgets _ that Congressman Toomey voted for every time _ gave us a structural deficit,’’ he said, adding that “Congressman Toomey helped write the law that broke down the firewall between savings banks and investment firms.’’

In answer to a question he acknowledged that Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, had also been key figures is supporting financial deregulation.

Responding to the Sestak criticism, Mr. Toomey’s spokeswoman, Nachama Soloveichik, blamed spending, not tax cuts for the ballooning deficits.

“The biggest spending program from the Bush Administration was the Wall Street Bailout, which Joe Sestak voted for, and Pat Toomey strongly opposed,’’ she said.  “Only a Washington politician like Joe Sestak would think that letting taxpayers keep more of what they earn in the form of tax relief causes Washington deficits.  The problem in Washington is over-spending, and Sestak is the head cheerleader for even bigger Washington stimulus spending and more bailouts.”

In answer to another question at the Press Club, Mr. Sestak said he thinks the U.S. House would approve additional federal Medicaid funds that many states, including Pennsylvania, urgently need, but added that he was not sure it would ever emerge from the Senate.

Echoing Gov. Ed Rendell, he warned that Pennsylvania could face the layoffs of up to 20,000 state, municipal and county employees if Congress doesn't approve $850 million in additional Federal Medicaid Assistance Program funds for the state. The $28 billion state budget for fiscal 2010-11, recently enacted by the Legislature, includes that FMAP money.

Now that the additional Medicaid funds have been severed from a bill extending federal unemployment aid, Mr. Sestak thinks the House will approve it, but he called the Senate "the deep freeze,'' where many bills approved by the House are awaiting action.

"I think we can get it out of the House but I can't predict what the Senate will do,'' he said.




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