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For GOP U.S. Senate candidates, Ryan budget doesn't go far enough

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 30, 2012 - Although U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, voted for the so-called “Ryan budget’’ that passed the U.S. House this week, Akin acknowledges that he doesn’t think the plan – which seeks to privatize much of Medicare and Social Security -- cuts federal spending as deeply as he would like.

That’s fine with his two major Republican rivals for the U.S. Senate, Sarah Steelman and John Brunner, who both fault House Budget chairman Paul Ryan’s much debated budget plan because it doesn’t balance the federal budget until 2040.

All three of Missouri’s major Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate each sought to be the most conservative as they laid out their principles and promises at a forum hosted by the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

Their audience was small, but influential, representing many of the region’s top companies – and campaign donors.

The three are among eight Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in August, to take on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in the fall. The other five Republicans are little known and, so far, not campaigning.

All three major Republicans called today for curbing federal regulations, cutting spending and tossing out the federal health-care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

All three opposed increasing any taxes to help balance the federal budget, saying that they would only support spending cuts.

Steelman, a former state treasurer and former state senator, calls for trimming all federal spending back to 2008 levels and raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare. (She did not specify a minimum age for obtaining benefits.)

She recalled how New York’s Empire State building was constructed in 1931 in five months without any government aid or federal regulations.  Now, she asserted, government “stifles our ingenuity, taxes our wealth.”

“We need to gut the entire tax system and start over again,” Steelman said.

Brunner, a St. Louis businessman, didn’t specify any particular federal cuts, emphasizing instead that the focus should be on increasing federal revenue by “unleashing the productivity of our citizens and our farmers.”

Brunner did say that he supported a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced federal budget, ending the estate tax and “rolling back taxes.”

“We just need the federal government to get off our backs,’’ he said, adding that a key focus should be “energy independence.”

Later, Brunner said he was concerned that the Ryan plan does away with some popular deductions, including the interest on home mortgages.

Akin was the most blunt: “Back off of the ‘red tape,’ back off of the taxes, stop the regulation of the banks.”

“We’ve created a toxic atmosphere for business,’’ the congressman continued, adding that it stemmed in part because the federal government  has “promised too much stuff.”

He singled out Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SCHIP (the health care plan for children) and food stamps, saying all consume way too much in federal resources.

“We’re overtaxing the people who work and overpaying the people who don’t work,” Akin said.

The Missouri Democratic Party was quick to pounce, saying the trio’s stances make clear they continue to favor “big tax breaks for big oil” and the wealthy.

"It's very clear that Todd Akin, John Brunner and Sarah Steelman all agree that they would end Medicare as we know it, but the devil is in the details,” said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. “Brunner has no idea how he’d do it. Steelman has her own, far more extreme plan. And Akin would carbon copy another politician’s ideas to claim as his own. Missourians should be very skeptical because all three of these tacks would put health care for Missouri’s seniors at serious risk."

On foreign policy, all three pledged to support Israel at all costs and accused President Barack Obama, a Democrat, of failing to do so. Akin and Steelman also called for doing whatever was necessary – including military action – to make sure that neighboring Iran did get a nuclear bomb.

Akin recalled that more than 200 years ago, then-President Thomas Jefferson had gone to war against “radical Muslim city-states” ringing the Persian Gulf, and implied that military action may be needed again.

Said Steelman: “We have to be prepared militarily to do what is necessary.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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