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Betsy Sweet On The Issues That Are Most Important To Maine Democrats

A.J. Higgins
Maine Public/file
Betsy Sweet fields a question from the audience in East Orland, Maine, Aug. 10, 2017.

There are currently four Democrats in Maine seeking their party's nomination in next year's U.S. Senate race. In recent weeks Maine Public has talked with each of them about the issues that are most important to Maine Dems, according to pollsters.Maine Public's Political Correspondent Mal Leary spoke with Betsy Sweet about taxes, the opioid crisis and - of most concern to Democrats - her views on health care.

SWEET: I strongly support Medicare-for-all. We need a universal coverage system that not just provides access to everyone, but covers everyone - and everything.

LEARY: But do you require everyone to take Medicaid - Medicare, excuse me - as opposed to, for example, Vice President Biden's proposal, which would allow you to keep your private insurance?

No, I don't support that. I support everybody being in one universal coverage system because it's cheaper. Then, you don't have to deal with premiums. You don't have to deal with co-pays. You don't have to deal with doctors out-of-network, and it is for everybody. So everything is covered and everyone is covered. When we do these hybrid plans, it becomes more bureaucratic and more expensive than what we already have, which is a system that's the most bureaucratic, expensive system in the world, with some of the worst outcomes.

Well, how do you sell that to Maine people who are happy with their private insurance that their employer's providing them - like at Bath Iron Works or some of our major corporations?

Yeah, I think - I don't know too many of those people that are happy, because every year what they pay in increases, their deductible increases, what they get decreases, who's in the network changes. So I don't know that many people - I think that's a false talking point about what people are going to lose. The only thing people are going to lose in this situation is, again, their premiums, their deductibles and spending all their time [figuring] out what's being covered.

Among Democrats, the second issue that comes up is taxes. The tax cuts that were passed by the Trump administration - they, really, pushed them, they were passed by the Congress - they're really targeted at the most wealthy, with the idea that if you give these big tax breaks, that money will be reinvested. Is it working?

No. It's absolutely not working. And we see that what happens is this idea - this trickle down idea - which has long been proven not to work, this idea that they were going to reinvest, we already know now - it's been in place for two years, and it hasn't worked. And, you know, Sen. [Susan] Collins was the deciding vote on that tax cut. And so what we need to do - something is very wrong. When we have five people in this country who own as much wealth as the bottom 50%, something is wrong. And, now, for the first time in history, people at the top highest brackets of taxes are paying less than you and I, and middle-income and working-class families. That has got to change, and it's going to require steadfast work.

And that tax cut also increased the deficit. You know, we talked about lowering the deficit. Now the deficit is huge, which affects all of us in terms of interest rates and mortgage rates and all of that stuff. So we have got to have a tax system that is fair - that, actually, people pay their fair shares. And we have to look at corporate taxes. We have the top 10 companies - the top 10 most profitable [companies] - in this country: Amazon, Netflix, General Dynamics pay zero dollars in taxes. That is not right. We can't sustain an economy based on that kind of taxation.

So how do you craft a system that is fair? Because, as you well know, fairness - it seems to be the eye of the beholder.

Well, I think that we have to look at a progressive taxation rate. You know, after World War II, the top tax rate for people was in the 70th percentile. Now we're down below 30%. So I think we have to look at ability to pay. There's even millionaires and billionaires saying, "Tax us more" - some of them. We have to look at ability to pay and what's fair. And we also have to keep an eye for the common good - this idea of, "I'm in it for me and only me" - we have got the opportunity now to say what is in the common good. How do we fund our schools, our roads, our bridges? And how do we make sure that property taxes is not the only tax left, which is the worst, most regressive tax for people, that keeps [people] out of their homes? So I think we have to just talk about what's real, show the numbers, show the graphs. People are smart. They get it, and they believe that everyone should pay their fair share.

The third area that Maine Democrats seem to be most concerned about is the ongoing opioid crisis. How do you deal with that from the federal level, since it seems that most of the procedures that work to help people are really very local in nature?

Yeah. First thing is, I think we've got to change our attitude. I don't think we're going to arrest our way out of this problem. And the war on drugs has really become a war on low-income people and people of color. So we have to look at what the underlying pieces are. And we go back to Medicare-for-all. One of the things that happens is people don't have access to care. They don't have access to affordable prescriptions. So they go on the black market, they turn to heroin after they become addicted to opioids. Those are some of the things that we can do at a federal level - we have to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and we have to stop concentrating all our efforts on what I call the wrong end of the pipeline. Yes, we have to help people who are addicted. But we have to look at mental health services, at health services, at adverse childhood experiences. Those are the things that lead to addiction. And we are not spending our resources or our energy there. And I think the federal government could do a lot to direct resources and attention to those parts of the problem.

Betsy Sweet, candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, thanks for stopping by the office.

Thank you Mal. Great to see you.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.