Republican congressional candidate Sean Bielat joined us for a live chat with Patch readers on October 11. Many of the questions submitted touched on Bielat's experience as well as his stance on health care, student loans and budget reductions.
Bielat will face off against Democrat Joe Kennedy III for the Fourth District seat currently held by Newton Congressman Barney Frank, who plans to retire at the end of this year.
Kennedy will join Patch for a similar live chat Q&A tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Read through the following short recap of Bielat's chat (below), or browse the full Q&A transcript.
On his experience
From reader Brian Marshall: You often criticize your opponent for his inexperience. Why do you feel you are much more qualified for the job in Congress?
Sean Bielat: Joe has two and a half years of work experience. If his last name weren't Kennedy and he hadn't raised so much money, he wouldn't be taken seriously. My experience in business and the military are important given the challenges we face. Now is not the time to be sending people to Washington with almost no experience or qualifications.
From reader Paul Prew: Sean, How do you feel your military experience compares with your business experience, and which one do you think will benefit you most as a congressman?
Sean Bielat: I think there are aspects of both that overlap and are equally beneficial. Leadership and management, the ability to define objectives and achieve them even when not everyone agrees, the commitment to excellence and improvement are all relevant qualities. I would say more specifically, that my experience in business has given me a lot of insight into what works and what doesn't work, what government can do to help and what it shouldn't. The same is true of the military; first-hand experience helps inform how we should equip and use our military. People who haven't been close to the military experience are often too ready to get involved in conflicts which we shouldn't be involved in, for example.
I think Joe's lack of experience in both these areas will lead to another member of Congress who has academic knowledge of issues without real world experience, and that is the last thing we need.
Patch: What is your stance on the Affordable Care Act? Is there any part of it that you would keep? What is your alternative?
Sean Bielat: Any time legislation is written that is so long and convoluted that most of the representatives voting for or against it don't know what's in it, you have a recipe for disaster. Such is the case with the [Affordable Care Act]. The legislation tries to micromanage decisions that should be made at the state and local levels to meet specific needs of their residents. I believe we need to repeal it in whole because there are so many interdependencies that trying to cherry pick portions to amend will only further the problems. The federal government can and should enable interstate competition, increase the options for flexible savings accounts, address tort reform, and many other market-based solutions. Once those are in place, then we should turn to regulatory solutions because we will be addressing a much smaller set of challenges.
On the Paul Ryan plan
From reader Bill Bradley: Sean, your opponent has said you support the Paul Ryan plan. Is this true? And if so, what parts do you agree or disagree with?
Sean Bielat: This year, a big part of the Democratic Party's leadership talking points has been to link any and all Republicans to Paul Ryan and then launch into a litany of ways in which the plan will allegedly hurt various groups. The crux of the matter is this: the Ryan plan offers a serious set of policy ideas on how to address the threat posed by our massive debt. If Joe or other candidates want to veer from talking points and engage on specific policy discussions, that's fantastic! That's the set of discussions we should be having rather than commercials and talking points laden with nonsensical demagoguery and scare tactics.
On the cost of education
Patch: If elected, would you work to control or reduce cost on education? If so, how?
Sean Bielat: I am fortunate to have been able to earn a college degree as well as two graduate degrees, as has my wife. I had to pay my way through school with part-time jobs, scholarships, the GI Bill, and LOTS of student loans. It's an unfortunate reality that many students today finish college with massive amounts of loans and limited employment prospects. About half of students graduating in the past three years are currently unemployed.
Part of the problem with the rapidly growing student loan bubble is that government programs have, and continue to, enable it. With the best intentions the government has made cheap credit available to anyone who wants it, regardless of their ability to afford it. (Similar to the housing bubble.) Bankruptcy law and subsidy programs protect lenders from risk so they don't bother looking at individual situations.
Meanwhile, colleges have no incentive to keep tuition costs down because students are always able to pay--via every increasing student loan limits.
Any solution must put market forces back in play. Lenders must assume risk so they make better lending decisions. Colleges must be forced to stop ever-escalating tuitions, most likely via federal loan limits to colleges whose increases pass annual COLAs. I also favor public service loan forgiveness.
Long answer I know, but this is an important issue to me.
On budget reductions
Patch: Many people have been following the comments made by Mitt Romney about cutting funding to PBS. The current Fourth District Congressman, Barney Frank, is a proponent for cuts to military funding. If elected, what budget items would you focus on reducing?
Sean Bielat: I think there are reductions to be made all across the government. I agree with Mitt about PBS (even though it's obviously a minuscule part of the federal budget). I also agree that we need to reduce defense spending. There's a smart way to do it, though. We should focus on the massive defense bureaucracy, the horrible acquisition process, and the huge amount of waste. The criteria for all decisions on spending cuts, big and small, should be: does this program really provide a necessary public service and is it be run effectively and efficiently? If the answer to either aspect is no, then that's an area to look for savings.
On campaign finance reform
From reader Nancy Jones: How do you think Campaign Finance Reform could potentially even the playing field in a race such as yours against Joe?
Sean Bielat: That's a great question because it's so important to getting the representation we so badly need! About 98 percent of incumbents are reelected each year, and a big part of the reason for that is the massive war chests that incumbents are able to accumulate. Joe Kennedy has raised well over $3 million, mostly from high-dollar, out-of-state donors. I have raised a fraction of that, mostly from in-state donors, and low dollar out-of-state contributors. Joe is raising money as if he's an incumbent. He has raised well into the six figures from PACs. I have raised almost none. He has received huge amounts of party support, I haven't focused on that. One result of this is that I'm not beholden to any special interests or to my party leadership as he is.
What we can about this is limit campaign spending and/or the ability to accept contributions until parity between campaigns is reached. Elections should not be bought. They should be earned through voter contact, idea, character, and experience. And it should be easy for voters to send home representatives who aren't meeting their needs. We don't need more careerists in Congress.
Let me just add, I have held 14 town halls open to the public; Joe has held none. I have agreed to all 16 debates that have been offered (although I obviously never expected that we could reach agreement on all 16); Joe has grudgingly accepted those with less live media coverage. I have been a guest on dozens of TV and radio shows; Joe has done almost none. Joe will be spending millions on commercials; I will not. I trust voters to evaluate which of these two approaches they prefer and which of these two approaches represents the style of representative they would like.